Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Octopath Traveler Review: A Return to Form for Square Enix Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:42:30 -0400 Ashley Gill

Though the turn-based JRPG genre is far from dead, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who is able to give you list of ten stellar titles of the genre from the past decade. Doubly so if such a list would comprise of only larger non-indie releases.

Tastes change, and the market changes with them. As the market shifted to FPS games in the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era, the demand for turn-based titles seemed to be at an all-time low. For myself -- and many others at the time -- it seemed like JRPGs wouldn't be able to recuperate.

In the genre's heyday, Square Enix (then two separate companies: Squaresoft and Enix) ran amok with creative RPG titles. You had well-known series like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Chrono, and Mana; as well as some lesser-known but still relevant games like SaGa Frontier, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Grandia, and Valkyrie Profile.

The list of titles fans could pick up between the Super Nintendo and PlayStation 2/Game Boy Advance era is nearly as varied as it is extensive. The Final Fantasy series is best known for each game being as different as night and day outside of the battle and exploration elements, but it seemed every series was trying something new with each iteration at the time. And if they didn't, there was another great game with new bells and whistles sitting at your local game shop to pick up and play to keep things interesting.

I mention all of this now because Octopath Traveler seems a remnant from that time, rather than a product from the current market. Steps the genre took forward, for better or for worse, have been reversed in this time capsule of a game in ways that I thought Japanese developers had simply given up on in the quest to satisfy the almighty otaku and its endless spending budget.

Fans of the SaGa series, particularly SaGa Frontier for the PlayStation or Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song on the PlayStation 2, will find much to love in Octopath Traveler. Though this game was promoted as being similar to Final Fantasy VI and the like, Octopath takes several pages out of the SaGa series and binds them into its own book to make for a more approachable variation of virtues SaGa has clung so heavily to over the decades.

How a game like this can break out onto the market and make waves in 2018 is a wonder, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The virtues of the Octopath

There's no reason to draw comparisons between SaGa and Octopath Traveler throughout this whole review. There is a need to go past the shining virtue they both share: freedom.

One of the first things you're going to realize after you finish your first story mission is that Octopath Traveler gives you virtually no guidance. You'll get some short tutorial screens covering most of the game's mechanics, and you can see where the other party members are located as well as your next story destination but the game doesn't tell you much more than that. It sets you loose and tells you to have fun. I have to tell you, as a 20-year SaGa fan, the freedom granted absolutely tickled me.

Being given no guidance on where smaller dungeons or objectives are is only one part of the openness the player can experience here.

Each character is able to perform Path Actions, which allow them to interact with NPCs in town. Path Actions are generally used to get items off of NPCs, move them out of the way, or find out more about them but they are not that cut-and-dry.

There are technically only four different types of Path Actions, with each type having two variations. For example, both Alfyn the apothecary and Cyrus the scholar are able to extract the same information from NPCs. The difference is Alfyn's Analyze will always succeed, while Cyrus's Scrutinize may fail and reduce your reputation in the town the NPC is located in.

This trend continues with the other characters. Both Olberic and H'aanit can fight NPCs in town, but Olberic fights alone via Duel and will not lose reputation on loss. H'aanit fights using only her captured animals via Provoke and, upon loss, will lose reputation in town if you lose.

This system allows for a couple of things, the first being the ability to essentially ransack a town, and the other being Octopath's side quest system.

Like the SaGa series (I'm sorry, I just can't help but compare), side quests are noted in your journal to keep track but the solution to these issues is almost never obvious. A fisherman's complaining about the lack of fish in the local river, what do you do? There seems to be a guy out in the field catching the fish the reach town, but telling the other NPC won't help. You have to beat the illicit fisherman up via Duel or Provoke to teach him a lesson about sharing.

This is about the amount of information you have when setting out on a new side quest.

These sorts of quests are found all throughout the game, from the first chapter all the way to the end. Much of your time chasing side quest objectives ends up boiling down to talking to NPCs in town, Analyzing or Scrutinizing them, and reading the text to get hints about what to do. Sometimes a side quest's relevant NPC is all the way on the other side of the world. Once you figure it out, it's up to you to take the time to complete the quest or not. It's easy to imagine non-completionists ignoring side quests that are particularly troublesome. There are several potential steps to finish any given side quest.

The ability to traverse and explore the world on your own terms is a rare one among Japanese RPGs, particularly today. Fortunately that's not the only throwback worth mentioning in Octopath Traveler's array of classic mechanics. The game also features a class system reminiscent of certain older RPGs to allow for party and gameplay flexibility, something that's fun in both function and thought. It also features a battle system that some older RPGs would have died for.

Turn-based goodness and random battles galore

You just can't talk about a game like this without bringing up the battle system, particularly since you end up spending so much time in battle.

There are two things to specifically note about the battle system here: much of combat boils down to weakness exploitation, and the default encounter rate is high.

You spend a great deal of your time in combat in Octopath Traveler due to both of those factors. You will rarely do heavy damage to enemies without breaking their guard, and the high encounter rate means you'll be running into them every few seconds when exploring.

This is something I have a hard time finding fault with, even if I want to try. I find myself thinking about skill usage regularly because the game demands you exploit their weaknesses to thrive, which makes frequent random battles fun more than frustrating -- though it would be disingenuous to say that sometimes the high encounter rate is not frustrating. Sometimes, when you're just trying to get a chest on a side path and want to keep moving, it truly is.

You can curb the high encounter rate using the Evasive Maneuvers special skill, which you'll get first on Cyrus. Evasive Maneuvers is great when exploring areas where the enemies are weaker than you are but can be a real detriment when you are exploring the unknown and need the EXP from battle. I recommend using it sparingly. 

Your party characters play very differently from each other in battle, which is a boon to the combat system. H'aanit can capture monsters and use them as skills in-battle, Tressa can hire mercenaries to swoop in and wail on your enemies with a strong attack, Alfyn can concoct restorative and elemental-exploitative skills in battle by consuming herbs; the list goes on.

The variety in gameplay options between each character keeps battles interesting. Though often the solution to easier battles is to let Cyrus or whoever you are using with the scholar subjob nuke enemies into dust, more often than not each battle will be a little different depending on what you have available and enemy weaknesses.

Along with all of the above is the use of BP, or Boost Points. Each character starts a battle with one BP and accumulates one more (up to a maximum of five) each turn. You can choose to consume up to three of a character's BP to increase the effectiveness of the skill they're using that turn. If you use it on a damage skill, it will increase the amount of damage it does. If you use it on a restorative skill, it will increase its effectiveness. If you use your BP on a regular attack, that character will attack multiple times within a turn.

There are a lot of good things to say about the battle system in Octopath Traveler, and the Boost Point system is probably one of the best aspects. It's great that each character has its own unique skills in combat, but the ability to break an enemy's guard and then just tear them to shreds with some BP-enhanced attacks is extremely satisfying at times and adds a whole other layer to combat as a whole. You have no choice but to learn to use your BP to your benefit.

Considering the amount of time you have to spend in battle, it rarely gets boring outside of those times when you really just don't want to fight anything. Though I do have to admit, I've made at least one comment about the encounter rate approaching Xenogears-levels of incessant.

The classic look done modern

I knocked the Final Fantasy VI comparison earlier in this review, but there is one way Octopath Traveler does resemble its classic predecessor. Character and enemy sprites do have the sort of detail one might expect from a modern 2D remake of the aforementioned Final Fantasy titan.

The main party character sprites are detailed and lively, and would not look out of place in a PlayStation-era RPG aside from their high-def pixels. The outfits that come with subjobs are the icing on top of a cake that's already plenty filling.

Enemy sprites are also highly detailed and would fit in right at home with enemy designs of yore, and some bosses... Well, let's just say you should see them for yourself.

Such attractive sprites would almost be wasted on any other graphical style as they mesh perfectly with the game's pseudo-3D environments. The game's environments almost look like pages out of a pixelated popup book. The effect is much more impressive when playing the game yourself than in screenshots or videos, especially if you turn off corner shadows in options.

It would be a disservice to the fine people behind the game and especially composer Yasunori Nishiki not to mention Octopath Traveler's fantastic soundtrack at this point. As with the visuals, the music is a creative fusion of old and new.

The game's music is more complex than the RPGs it takes inspiration from, but that doesn't make the battle themes less memorable nor the town themes less distinct. The soundtrack behind the game stands on its own and is an impressive effort from Nishiki. It would not be a surprise if we see him in the credits for more RPGs in the future. His compositions here are perfectly suitable.

All the praise.. so why a 9?

There are some games you play and you know you will be able to recommend them to everyone you know. I certainly would like to do that, but there's a caveat that comes with freedom in these sorts of games: an inability to figure out what to do.

This isn't something I had much trouble with in the game as a long-time SaGa player, but most people haven't played or even heard of SaGa for a reason. Trying to figure out where to go or what to do can be frustrating, and a lot of people don't have the patience for that.

Octopath Traveler is easily my favorite Square Enix RPG in years but the fact is these sorts of RPGs are not for everyone. Just because I enjoy stealing from and analyzing every interactive NPC I come across in the hopes of stealing something good or getting a hint about a quest doesn't mean the gaming populace as a whole will like it. I like messing around in menus, grinding, and getting lost in RPGs. It's likely you may not.

In addition, the game is not particularly story-focused. There is some party dialogue after story events after chapter 2 (provided you initiate it), but the plot is a big part of the experience for most RPG gamers. It is not an especially large factor in the overall Octopath journey. I found myself not caring about the plot in the least. I just wanted to progress my party and explore, which I did and am still doing with my Switch in sleep mode next to me.

If any combination of facets mentioned here sounds good, you may very well fall in love with Octopath Traveler much the same way I did. It has been so long since I've played a completely fresh Japanese RPG with such freedom, that in my case this game is a completely welcome but familiar experience from start to finish. I did not know games like this could still come out of Japan today sans the odd remake. In some ways Octopath Traveler feels like a return to form, and I am very thankful it's finally come.

[Writer was granted a free copy of the game for review purposes.]

Sonic Mania Plus Review: Simply the Best Tue, 17 Jul 2018 15:51:38 -0400 Ashley Gill

I'll be the first to admit I make some bad purchasing decisions when it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog games. Those decisions being buying them, then buying them again. And maybe again. I'm not really sure how many platforms I have Sonic 3 & Knuckles on, but it's more than five.

Last year's release of Sonic Mania brought back the feel and style of classic 2D Sonic that Sonic Team and Dimps struggled to recreate with the episodic Sonic 4, and it quickly became regarded as one of the best -- if not the best --Sonic games to date. There is something to be said for the Sonic fangame developers behind Mania and their understanding of what made the classic games memorable and fun.

Sonic Mania Plus brings the experience of the original Mania release back with a few tricks up its sleeve, some that may seem insignificant on paper but bring the whole game together into a complete package. It's a package that can satisfy both fans and newcomers with its signature '90s style.

What's in Plus?

The most obvious addition to Sonic Mania Plus is the characters Ray the squirrel and Mighty the armadillo, both of which have their roots in the arcade-only SegaSonic the Hedgehog. These two characters aren't just for show, either -- each has its own unique maneuvers for you to play with.

Ray, an enthusiastic and nimble squirrel, is able to glide mid-air much like Mario with his cape in Super Mario World. You tilt backward to catch some air and hover, tilt forward to take a dive. Unlike Knuckles and Tails, Ray can get some tremendous momentum when airborne provided you take the time to master his gliding ability.

Mighty, an armadillo in name and function, is immune to spike damage when jumping or spin dashing. Often you can jump onto spikes a single time and bounce right off. Mighty is also able to slam down into the ground with a double jump press, and he has a slightly higher jump than the rest of the cast. Ray is fun, but Mighty's slightly higher jump and mid-air spike immunity bring huge benefits.

These new characters and their brand-new abilities are perfectly suited to the new, remixed levels found in Sonic Mania Plus's new Encore mode.

Encore mode looks different at first glance, and it doesn't take long to figure out you're not in regular ol' Mania mode anymore. The levels in Encore mode have been tweaked to allow for Ray and Mighty to shine, with obstacles just for them, along with a wealth of new challenges spread throughout each zone.

Encore as a whole is the more difficult of the two modes, no contest. The new pinball-style special stages are more forgiving than the Sonic 3-style special stages in the original release, but the new Chaos Emerald stages (which are functionally the same as the original release) are brutal. I think I hate them, but practice makes perfect.

Along with the new obstacles found in Encore mode is the new character-swapping feature, which has you control two characters at once much like you would with Sonic and Tails normally. You can swap between them with a button press, but the characters you have will rotate frequently. Special boxes are scattered about to swap your characters, culminating to no two playthroughs ever being the same. You can also use the new characters for individual playthroughs in Mania mode.


The new Competitive mode is a throwback (pullback?) to the multiplayer modes of yore found in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles, with little to no changes to how the mode worked in those games. This isn't a complaint -- I loved racing friends and family in those multiplayer modes -- but it is something to note.

In Competitive, you can change how many rounds you face off in, whether there's a time limit, and which item sets are available. You are also able to choose whether you want the screen to be stretched out like in the old days or squished to not look awful. I recommend the second choice, but purists will go for the first without question.

His face is about right for the old stretched screen view.

Something you may notice is that the game is advertised as having co-op. You expect that in a 2D Sonic game that lets you have both Sonic and Tails out at once, and I had hoped Encore mode would allow for two players as you have two characters out at a time. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Encore mode is entirely singleplayer, meaning the only co-op you'll find here lies in the Sonic and Tails combo in Mania mode. This is the only thing I have to complain about with this release, but even that is a small complaint. It doesn't matter in the face of all the good found here in Sonic Mania Plus.

The best around

It's rare an original game can take me back 25 years, gaming the hours away in front of the T.V. with my Sega Genesis and Nintendo. Sonic Mania did that last year and Plus does it even better with the addition of Ray, Mighty, and the remixed stages in Encore mode.

Exploring with Ray and Mighty's abilities in Mania mode and Encore mode make the game feel brand new. More than that, it makes me feel like a bright-eyed kid who just got the latest Sonic game and is discovering that it is just as awesome as the commercials claimed it would be. I almost want to buy some Bagel Bites and Capri Suns to complete the illusion.

Sonic Mania Plus did the impossible and made what was already the best new 2D Sonic since the Sega CD even better. There is only one word to describe Sonic Mania Plus and that is rad. I am not sure what Christian Whitehead and the others behind the game have in store for the future, but I hope it leads to more stellar '90s-style platformers like we see here with Mania Plus. The only thing keeping this baby from a 10 is the lack of multiplayer in Encore mode, but one can still call this the perfect Sonic game regardless.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of the game used in this review.]

Shining Resonance: Refrain Review -- Dragons be Chopin Sun, 15 Jul 2018 18:58:44 -0400 Autumn Fish

I'll be honest, JRPGs just don't grip me unless there's something truly unique about them. I've probably only played a handful in my life that I can say I've actually enjoyed. I'm not entirely sure what it is, considering I tend to enjoy many western RPGs, but that's just the way of things I suppose.

So when I say I found Shining Resonance: Refrain rather interesting, that's not a statement you should take especially lightly. It definitely came with its fair share of problems and features I wasn't quite fond of, but its theme resonated with me in a way that I can't say many other RPGs have.

Shining Resonance: Refrain -- A Sweet Melody or Dissonant Chords?

SR:R is a remake of a PS3 game that never made it out of Japan. It's the last game in a series with roots that stretch all the way back to 1991 on the Sega Genesis. It's about a boy, Yuma, who discovers he has the power of the strongest World Dragon inside of him, the Shining Dragon. It's a great and terrifying power that threatens to rend the world asunder if he ever loses control of it.

At the start of the game, he's saved from the dank cells of the Empire's prison by a Princess of a warring nation and a renown Dragoneer, wielding one of the seven legendary Armonics -- a powerful magical instrument that can commune with dragons and serves as a weapon in combat. And this is where the game hooked me.

Not only does this title promise you the rare opportunity to beat down your foes as a mighty dragon, but everything about it sings to the music geek inside of me. The strange and fascinating fixation on dragons and music was enough to keep me playing for dozens of hours. On the flip side, however, I regret to say that this concoction was most of what kept me going that whole time.

I didn't have a ton of expectations going into it, however, I did find myself pretty excited when I found out about the music aspect of the game. Additionally, I can't recall a time where I've ever played as a dragon in a video game before, especially not in a live action combat system, so I was pretty hyped to see how it would turn out.

So how did I feel once I finally got my hands on the game? Well...

Shining Resonance Refrain BAND performance

Where it Harmonizes

Shining Resonance: Refrain does a few things rather well. While I can't say the story ever left an impression on me, it wasn't bad. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's pretty good, but it's certainly nothing phenomenal. There aren't a lot of big mysteries, twists, or surprises, and things start to become fairly predictable after a fashion.

Rather than the story compelling me forward, though, I was rather hooked on the characters. A lot of them follow pretty traditional anime tropes, but their personalities still shine strong and a lot of them turn out to be pretty interesting. You'll even see a lot of character growth throughout the game, not just from the initially timid main character, but for the rest of the cast as well.

If you're looking to take a deeper dive into your party members, you can even utilize the game's romance system. Yuma, the main character, can date both the guys and the girls in the party, and he's not restricted to one partner, either. However, you'll ultimately only be able to see the relationship "ending" of one character in a save file.

As you build your relationships with your party members, they will gain traits that you can equip in the Bond Diagram. This diagram allows you to arrange characters next to each other in order to determine who's buffing or benefiting who in combat. It's a pretty unique, deep, and rather uncomplicated system if you're willing to spend the time fiddling with it.

In combat, there's a sweet B.A.N.D. system that you can utilize if you have at least two Armonic-wielding Dragoneers in your party. You build up your B.A.N.D. meter simply by attacking enemies. Once it's filled past its minimum threshold, you can play a song that has different buffs depending on who's at the center of the B.A.N.D. You'll even learn new songs to play as you progress in the main story.

Shining Resonance Refrain Dragon Roaring

And while we're talking about neat combat mechanics, I have to say that fighting as a dragon is pretty cool, and I honestly think that the whole mechanic is really well designed. When playing as Yuma, you can transform into a dragon at any time for a considerable power boost. However, it slowly drains his pool of MP over time. To add to it, if you try any action as a dragon while your MP is too low -- around half -- then you run the risk of going berserk and losing control of the dragon.

When the dragon goes berserk, it attacks anything and everything indiscriminately, and can do some serious damage to your party if you're not careful. The only way to soothe it or prevent it from going berserk entirely is to start a B.A.N.D. session in combat. Heck, having an active B.A.N.D. will even benefit the dragon and allow it to break the enemy's guard with its most basic attacks, so using the two special abilities in tandem tends to pan out well.

Not everything about combat is sunshine and rainbows, however.

The Grating Dissonance

Combat is something of a mixed bag. It has some good elements, but ultimately it ends up feeling off and like it doesn't bring a lot to the table. Swinging your weapons feels awkward and the system of casting spells -- or "Forces" -- isn't dissimilar to how it is in most JRPGs. The live action combat tricked me into a false security of the game being somewhat skill-based. Unfortunately, though, several enemy attacks aren't even telegraphed in time for you to get out of your own dreadfully long attack animations and react.

On top of that, if your party levels aren't up to snuff, you're going to be in for a world of hurt. It's amazing how big of a difference 3 measly levels actually make when it comes down to it, let alone trying to face off against main story bosses that have a solid 5-7 levels on you. This leads to a necessity of a bit of grinding, or at least the tenacity to kill every single enemy between you and your next objective. With the clunky combat, though, this can quickly turn into a chore.

Shining Resonance Refrain Combat

Let's take a turn to talk about the map and level design. I'm almost inclined to say, "What level design?" It's really not that great. Every map, including the singular hub town, feels so simplistic and bare bones that they're boring to run through from the start. And it doesn't help that you're forced to revisit maps a lot, rarely ever granting you the opportunity to see new places. There isn't really a fast travel system, either, except for an item you can buy to teleport you back to the hub.

There are of course some items spread about the maps -- a few materials and a couple of rare treasure chests -- that are supposed to add to your sense of exploration, and while it did compel me to check around every corner, the maps just felt ultimately boring and uninspired. This is something I see in a lot of JRPGs, unfortunately, and it puts me off every time. I don't need a great big open world game to be satisfied, but I would like areas with at least a bit of thought put into them.

I was originally willing to write off the poor level design and clunky combat as drawbacks of this being a port of a PS3 game, but then I remembered just how much could be accomplished on a PS3. I mean, games like Dark Souls and Skyrim were originally released on that console, and they definitely weren't lacking quite like this.

Finally, let's talk about side quests. This game is the shining example of how not to do side quests. It almost feels like I'm playing an MMO, the side quests are that monotonous. And some of them are endlessly repeatable, too. Which I suppose is nice if you're going for certain rewards from them, but I only ever even found a few of them worthwhile. There's game content locked behind a few of them, too, so it's unwise to pass them over, I just wish they were a little more compelling.

As a closing note, it'd be wrong to talk about a game that has so many musical elements without touching on the music itself. Unfortunately, it's not that great. There is a track or two that was catchy enough to get stuck in my head for awhile after putting the game down, and some music may even sound rather pleasant upon first hearing it, but every track quickly wore on me the more I heard them. It's unfortunate, really, because this is the one part of the game where I had relatively high expectations.

Shining Resonance Refrain Sonia Asking You on a Date

Verdict: Just a Bit Offbeat

Shining Resonance: Refrain has such a mesmerizing theme with its focus on dragons and music, and while I was able to stick with the game for several hours because of it, it ultimately wasn't enough to save it for me. While the game featured some unique mechanics and interesting characters, the clunky gameplay just killed the experience for me. Maybe most JRPGs just aren't for me.

If you're a fan of JRPGs and think the concept of playing as a dragon and beating up enemies with musical instruments is pretty rad, then you'll probably enjoy this game a lot. If you're interested in strong characters and potentially getting to know them on a romantic level, you may like this game too. Otherwise, I'm not really sure if I can personally recommend dropping the money on this.

It's got a great concept, I just wish it was executed a bit better.

Shining Resonance: Refrain is available now for $50 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

[Writer was granted a review copy of the game from the publisher.]

Mario Tennis Aces Review: Ball, Meet Net Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:41:33 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

As a journalist, it's my job to fairly review the games I'm assigned; to rate them on their merits and the amount of fun I have playing them while trying to limit external bias, or at least mention it up front. A video game review should inform somebody whether or not they'll enjoy the game in question, regardless of whether or not they share my views on what makes a game fun. This is what makes writing this Mario Tennis Aces review so hard.

As a game, I can find very little to fault it for, and yet the game left me wanting because it could have been and should have been so much better. So where does that leave us – you, the folks who want to know whether Mario Tennis Aces is worth your hard-earned money, and me, the guy that has to tell you? Well let's start the Mario Tennis Aces review like this:

Mario Tennis Aces is the best Mario Tennis game in over a decade. If you're jonesing for more Mario Tennis action, buy the game now and don't look back.

A Clean Stroke

Where Mario Tennis Aces really shines is in its core gameplay. Nintendo has stripped away a lot of the extra trimmings of previous iterations of the Mario Tennis series (items, in particular) to focus on retooling the way the game actually works.

To be successful in Mario Tennis Aces, you'll really have to be strategic. Sure, you have the five main shot types to play with – a topspin shot that speeds up after the first bounce, a powerful flat shot, a curving slice, and drop shots and lobs to catch out-of-position opponents. That's no surprise.

Mario Tennis Aces switches things up by adding what is essentially a super meter to the game. You can burn this meter to go into slow motion to return a shot, burn a third of it to unleash a super-powerful shot you can direct anywhere on the court, or burn a full meter to use a special shot that's even more powerful. Nintendo has also added in trick shots that allow characters to return shots even if they're way out of position.

When all of this comes together, what results is an incredibly engaging, heart-pounding experience where every single swing of the racket comes with risk and reward. Do you risk charging up a shot to build meter while knowing you might get caught out of position, or will you play it safe? Will you go for a trick shot with an empty meter, knowing that if you're late on the timing, you'll serve up a meatball for your opponent? The core push-and-pull on display in Mario Tennis Aces is exquisite, and goes a long way in covering up the game's, well, faults. Tennis pun intended.


I'm going to get this out of the way first since it's the thing that disappointed me the most about the game – the highly-touted adventure mode in Mario Tennis Aces won't take you more than 3 hours or so to complete, depending on how experienced you are. That wouldn't be an issue on its own, but in the lead-up to the game's release, Nintendo pitched this adventure mode as a sort of return to the sports RPG modes present in the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games for the Game Boy Advance. This... isn't that.

To be fair, the adventure mode isn't just a tutorial – there is at least a bit of meat on these bones – and it does get challenging, especially if you're looking to get that coveted 100%. But the RPG mechanics here are tacked-on at best, and none of your equipped rackets feel different from any others. There aren't any real engaging tennis puzzles, or any encounters that shine with the kind of creativity Nintendo is known for. Maybe I've been spoiled by Golf Story, but I really was expecting more here.

While it might not be entirely fair to expect a full single-player campaign from an arcade sports game, what's much less forgivable is the fact that Mario Tennis Aces launched without a whole bunch of play options that seem necessary for an arcade sports title.

First of all, and perhaps most damningly, there are only two match lengths to choose from – a tiebreaker first-to-6-points format, and a best-of-3 game format that is laughably titled “extended play”. No options for a 3 set match, even though the adventure mode features them. You can't even pick the extended play option if you're playing online (unless you're with friends). It's Wimbledon season. There's no excuse for not having options for 3, 5, and 7 game sets, and 1, 3, and 5-set matches.

The problems get even worse when you're trying to play against your buddies. There are no options for creating a private online tournament for friends, or even any options for hosting a pass-and-play local tournament. There are countless minor oversights like this, and they really do add up.

Oh, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that as of the publication of this Mario Tennis Aces review, Bowser Jr. has rendered competitive play completely broken since he can charge shots at will and return pretty much anything that's thrown at him. This will likely continue to be the case unless Nintendo decides to issue balance patches for the game as they add new characters.

Service Ace

Speaking of adding new characters, that's something that Nintendo seems to have gotten right.

So far, Nintendo has announced 3 free characters to be added in August, September, and October, though you can unlock them a month early if you enter an online tournament before their release. If their recent games (or the size of the character select screen) is any indication, they're planning on adding even more through the fall and winter.

Nintendo didn't skimp on stages here either. Though at first blush it seems like there's only one competitive, hazard-free stage available for play out of a total of seven (not counting palette swaps), Mario Tennis Aces took a page out of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's book and added the ability for players to disable stage hazards, which is much appreciated. In addition, the main tennis court you'll play on looks incredible, and has variants for both clay, grass, and hard court surfaces. There really are a lot of options to customize your play, which makes it insanely frustrating that Nintendo didn't make them available across all the different play modes.

Match Point

Mario Tennis Aces is a frustrating type of game, and not just when you're trying to rally the ball with Kamek 400 times to beat that darn rally challenge. 95% of the time you're playing the game, you'll be having a pulse-pounding blast. The core concept behind the gameplay is incredibly satisfying. There's nothing like the feeling of baiting an opponent to play the net and then launching a lob shot right above them to win the point.

But every so often the game will get in its own way and one of those nagging issues will come up. You'll have friends over and want to set up a tournament so everyone can play together. You'll want to play an extended competitive match. You'll get matched up with a Bowser Jr. player online.

The good news is that most of these gripes seem like they could be easily fixed with a patch. But the fact remains that out of the box, this game fails to achieve its full potential – which is sad, because the game truly is, currently, the best arcade sports experience on the Switch. It's a shame that Nintendo felt they had to rush it out to capitalize on Wimbledon and key features are nowhere to be found. With just a little bit more development time, Mario Tennis Aces could have been an all-time classic in the series. It's a solid game but it falls short of becoming a classic.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection Review Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:15:00 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Nostalgia can be a powerful seductress. It often colors our objective judgement, having us look back on our youth as halcyon and carefree. When something like the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection comes along, the adolescent world warrior in us looks upon it with gilded glasses, fawning over what we think we remember.

We see the gorgeous packaging, the high-octane trailers, and the clever marketing and remind ourselves that "those games were good -- great, even". We tell ourselves that everything was simpler when that iconic music wafted from our television's speakers and those indelible characters fluttered across our screens in rapturous martial arts glory.

We tell ourselves that these games were more challenging and most importantly, more fun than some of the games of today. That they "had" something. Given the perspective of 30 years, that simple definition of fun begins to grow terribly tenuous. 

All things being equal, the 12 games in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection are classics that still hold up today. However, there's a little wrinkle here you may not have considered or known about. These entries are the arcade ROMs of these classic fighting games, not the console versions you fondly remember. 

Programmed to take all of your quarters, the games in this collection are utterly relentless in their mission to steal your sanity. Casuals beware: this game just ain't (that) fair -- no matter how you cut it. 

When Getting Gud's Not Enough

There's no doubt playing difficult games and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds is one of the trademarks of gaming. It's something that bestows upon the player immense pride and gratification. However, it all becomes a different story when the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked against you that fun devolves into demoralization. 

I've played my fair share of Street Fighter games. Alpha 3, which is part of this collection, is still one of my favorite fighting games of all time. I practiced for hours to get the high score that would unlock Shin Akuma and still remember my numb thumbs forging ahead with determined purpose after each failed attempt until finally, victory. 

Sure, that was more than 15 years ago and sure, my sensibilities have changed in that time, but the Alpha 3 found in the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is way, way, way harder than the Alpha 3 released on the original PlayStation. Even Street Fighter II Turbo, which I can handily beat on my dusty SNES, is nearly impossible to complete when you go up against the spammy likes of E. Honda, Vega, and M. Bison.  

I'm not trying to spiral into a whiny diatribe here, but I'm saying all of this to drill home the fact that these games are brutally, sometimes spitefully, difficult. A.I. opponents will do everything to win a match but outright cheat -- and sometimes I'm not sure the computer isn't cheating.

Animations are mostly fluid, but some do miss opponents for no reason at all. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they don't. Neither the rhyme nor the reason is clear, which can lead to increasingly frustrated play. Input lag appears non-existent -- or at least not a major contributing factor -- but precision is even more imperative when attacks don't like to connect like they should. That's not to mention that characters in some of the games, particularly Street Fighter II, have basically unblocakble attacks that almost instantly melt your entire life bar (I'm looking at you, E. Honda and Vega). 

You can beat these games (with the possible exception of the awfully janky and nigh unplayable Street Fighter), but your thumbs will bleed. I'd suggest investing in a fight stick if you want to go the distance with the 30th Anniversary Collection. You'll thank me in the end. 

What You Get and Don't Get

Despite my reservations about the collection's difficulty curve and overpowered A.I., the 30th Anniversary is one of the better ways to play these classic games on modern consoles. If you're not into emulating, don't have a subscription to PlayStation Now, or don't want to buy the games individually on Xbox Live (which can get pricey), this collection is currently your only choice.  

So what do you get for $39.99? For starters, you get a loosely labeled 12 Street Fighter games. I say "loosely" because five of them are one iteration or another of Street Fighter II, while three of them are one of the iterations of Street Fighter III. The remaining three are in the Alpha series. Here are the specifics: 

  • Street Fighter
  • Street Fighter II
  • Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
  • Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
  • Super Street Fighter II: Turbo
  • Street Fighter Alpha
  • Street Fighter Alpha 2
  • Street Fighter Alpha 3
  • Street Fighter III
  • Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact Giant Attack
  • Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike

That's a great deal of content for the price point. The only downside with the games themselves is that again, these are the arcade ROMs. That means they won't have all the bells and whistles that are associated with their console counterparts. For example, Alpha 3 doesn't have World Tour Mode, while Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike doesn't have the online version's trial mode.  

That's a small(ish) price to pay for what you do get, but since I'm a tad salty about not having every, single thing in one package, it's worth noting again. 

A Series Retrospective

On the plus side of things, you'll find an extensive Museum Mode that is a veritable encyclopedia of Street Fighter knowledge. Having just read Undisputed Street Fighter: A 30th Anniversary Retrospective (which we'll have a review for soon and I highly recommend), it was great to see some of that book featured in the collection. 

When you enter the museum, you'll find four options: History, Characters, Music, and the Making of Street Fighter. The complete history comes as an easy-to-digest timeline. Most entries have micro-encyclopedic entries and all cards have fantastic artwork. It's a great way to see the progression of the series. 

The Characters option is even more in depth. Here you'll find dossiers on each character in the series up to 3rd Impact. If you've ever wanted to know Chun-Li's origins or Ken's likes and dislikes -- or what fighting style Blanka uses -- this is your one-stop shop and it is far prettier than any wiki page. 

The Music section is exactly what it sounds like. This is where you'll find all of the iconic music from every game in the collection. And these aren't just snippets: they're full music tracks -- and even now in the Internet Age, it's hard to find high-quality files of these songs, so this is a welcomed perk. 

Finally, we come to what many will see as the coup de gras: the Making of Street Fighter section. Here you'll find the original six-page Street Fighter pitch document, a 72-page making of Street Fighter II document, a 26-page Street Fighter Alpha development document, and an 89-page Street Fighter III development document. All of these pages have captions, original artwork, and even the original notes for the moves and controls. If you wanted one of the best behind-the-scenes looks at the series, this is one of your best bets. 

Online Multiplayer

I'll go ahead and say it: I'm terrible at Street Fighter online multiplayer. My reflexes just aren't quick enough, I suppose. Or, more likely, I'm just somehow more anxious than I am when facing off against an opponent in the flesh. I'm not bad in person, really. However, regardless of how good (or terrible) I am at SF online multiplayer, the 30th Anniversary Collection does an admirable job of giving players who are interested in the mode something to chew on.

Whether you stand victorious over your opponents or get utterly humiliated, you've got several option to choose from: online arcade, ranked matches, and casual matches. You can create lobbies for friends and join lobbies, of course, and there's a leaderboard to track all of your progress through the ranks. 

You can further tweak your experience by changing your lobby's skill level from novice through advanced, changing your lobby type from public to private, changing your input lag, and changing your connection strength. Most of that is pretty pedestrian stuff for online multiplayer, but changing your difficulty is a nice touch, letting you face opponents that are (theoretically) closer to your experience level.  

Overall, I had a somewhat "difficult" time finding matches. At the beginning, I found that I would often wait somewhere between one and three full minutes to find a match, but after resetting everything in the multiplayer menus to default, I found matches a lot more quickly. So although I didn't spend an exorbitant amount of time with the online multiplayer component, I feel it's safe to say that the more you tweak and hone your options, the harder it will be to quickly find a match. It's a shame because it shows that not as many players are duking it out as there should be.

Lastly, it's worth noting that while you can play all of the collection's 12 games in local multiplayer, you can only play four of them in online multiplayer: Super Street Fighter II TurboStreet Fighter II Turbo: Hyper FightingStreet Fighter Alpha 3, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. If you know anything about the competitive scenes for these games, you know that these are the only four games worth playing against other players in any real competitive sense. 


Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection isn't perfect. In fact, it's more likely to speak to series purists than the casual SF gamer. Those that grew up during the height of the Street Fighter arcade period will find an experience only rivaled by the actual arcade cabinets themselves. Those who grew up with these games on consoles may be a wee bit disappointed. 

However, even if you are bit jaded that these are "just" arcade ROMs, there's plenty here to be excited about. At $39.99, this collection is still hard to beat. Sure, you'll have to sharpen your street fighting skills, but this is the perfect game by which to do that. 

My only real reservations are that the game is overly difficult and frustrating at times, that it's hard to find tailored online matches, and that all of the console goodies aren't included. Tweak those three things (read: make this a console collection instead) and this would get a near perfect score. But since it's an arcade collection, nothing's going to change that, and console curmudgeons like me just need to get over it. 

You can buy the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection on Amazon for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can purchase it for Windows on Steam

[Note: Capcom provided the copy of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection used for this review.]

Forget Diplomacy, There Is Only War In Warhammer 40K: Gladius Mon, 09 Jul 2018 11:01:50 -0400 Ty Arthur

After getting to try out a limited alpha with just one faction, we've finally gotten our emperor-worshiping hands on the final release version of Warhammer 40,000: Gladius - Relics Of War.

In the darkness of the far future there is only war, and Gladius offers that up with grim abandon in an extremely satisfying turn-based format that simplifies the 4X style into a full-on combat game.

4X 40K 4Ever!

As a franchise known for RTS, FPS, and mobile titles, going 4X is a nice twist, and one that works better than you'd think. The eXplore and eXterminate sides are easily the most heavily showcased, but there's plenty of resource gathering, city building, and technology researching going on as well.

Somewhat like Dark Crusade and Soulstorm, this is a game that's more about the mechanics than the backing story, with tons of options in terms of map size and features to choose for a variety of matches.

Battles can balloon into huge engagements that get out of control very quickly, with death bots, heretic tech priests, guardsmen, Kroot hounds, enslavers, Orks, and Necron soldiers all annihilating one another in a small space.

Playing around with the map options here can result in some ludicrous (and kinda awesome) matchups, like adding 10 extra AI players into a small map. At one point I actually crashed the game by adding too many starting factions, so there's an instance of the indie nature of the game that needs to be addressed with a day 1 patch.

 This ended up being more "planetary genocide" than "war"

Conquering Gladius Prime

Although there are unique quests for each faction, the early game will be quite similar for all four as you start acquiring tiles, battling Kroot hounds, and avoiding those giant killer robots.

Where the game's main differences truly show up are in the playstyle between the factions and their research trees. A wide range of unit types and vehicles are available for each faction, with more combat stats and options than in your typical 4X game.

Space Marines for instance only have one main city with smaller hubs, while Necrons can build entnirely new cities on tombs to spread like a plague. Those metallic deathless warriors also have a huge advantage if you keep your resources up at all times -- the ability to institute Rapid Rise to get units out faster.

Orks expand and gain resources directly through fighting more than building, while the squishy Astra Militarum are large in number and have indiscriminate long range power but are much weaker on other fronts. That's the faction to pick if you want a challenge and need to try the game from a totally different view point.

 Necrons are all about efficiency and combat superiority

Got 99 Problems But A Jammed Bolter Ain't One

Gladius isn't a perfect game, and there are some downsides, noticeably with the graphics that are a little cartoonish and rough.

Models like the Kroot hounds seem particularly lo-res. For some this will be a bigger deal, but it actually reminds me a bit of the classic turn based 40K games from an earlier age of PC gaming and provided a bit of nostalgia.

As mentioned before, there's not much of a story going on, just basic objectives for each faction to try to take control of the planet, but that's essentially to be expected of 40K games at this point.

There are also limited factions for a strategy game, although it seems like Chaos must be coming down the line as an entry for the Lord Of Skulls DLC appears in the map options.

Finally, there's no diplomacy at all, but frankly it wouldn't make sense in the game universe. This is 4X stripped down to its combat, exploratory form, as it should be for a game set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. 

 The battlefield will become congested with combatants if you don't move strategically

Not Buying This Game Is Heresy

Of all the Games Workshop-licensed games that have arrived lately, this is the one that I could foresee actually playing the most despite the handful of flaws.

The game is fairly complex but without the massive learning curve of Total War, and much more consistently satisfying than the unpolished FPS experience that was Space Hulk: Deathwing.

Even if you have absolutely no experience with this genre, anyone who loved the earlier Dawn Of War games will feel at home here with a lot of the mechanics and terminology. For what is clearly an indie game, Gladius absolutely delivers, and all Warhammer fans should be picking this one up at the earliest possibility.

Logitech G560 RGB Gaming Speakers Review Thu, 05 Jul 2018 12:25:41 -0400 Jonathan Moore

It's been a long time since I had a legit speaker system for my computer -- probably somewhere around 15 years, I'd wager. Typically, I rely on the catalog of awesome gaming headsets at my disposal, many of them in the Logitech G line. Plus, living in an apartment kind of complicates having big, booming stereo systems. 

But now that I'm in a brick and mortar house in the Atlanta 'burbs, all bets are off. And because of the uber-powerful Logitech G560 I've got hooked up to my rig, it's very possible my neighbors still hate me, despite us not sharing walls. 

Honestly, though: I don't care. Outside of a few quirks I can begrudgingly get over, Logitech's G560 RGB gaming speakers rival some of the best speaker systems on offer from companies like Vizio and Samsung. If you're in the market for loud, surround sound speakers for your rig that support DTS:X Ultra and don't break the bank, you'll want to keep reading. 

Unboxing and Design

A wise Logitech G marketer once said, "Gaming is at its best when you can get lost in the experience of play." In my many hours using the G560 speaker system, I've found Logitech's setup does just that. 

The brainchild of Logitech's sound team and Logitech G's design team, the G560 looks fantastically sleek out of the box. Coming in a fine matte black, these speakers will instantly fit in with your desktop setup, which is one of the main angles Logitech is pushing with the unit's design and Lightsync technology. 

I don't say this often, but the box the speakers come in is finely made, too; it's something you'll want to keep if you ever need to transport the speaker system from one place to the other. On the top, inside panel, you'll also find the instructions for hooking everything up, although I imagine you'll be able to manage just fine without them since everything's easy peasy.

Inside the box you'll find a 12-pound, 15.9” (h) x 10” (w) x 8.1” (d) subwoofer and two 3.92-pound, 5.8” (h) x 6.5” (w) x 4.6” (d) satellite speakers. Additionally, you'll find a power cable and two decent-length cables for the satellites. 

The subwoofer is fairly standard fare and has two connections for the satellite speakers, one 3.5mm input jack, and a USB port. The satellite speakers are rounded and look fairly innocuous from the front; however, view them from the side or back and you'll notice that they're more cone-shaped than round.

You'll find the sync and volume up/volume down buttons on top of the right speaker, and on the back of the right speaker, you'll find the power button, the Bluetooth connection button, and the headphone jack. The setup's signature light portals can be found on the back of each speaker as well and are made of hard, opaque plastic that looks somewhat out of place with the rest of the unit, but honestly, I have no idea of how to do it better, so I'm fine with it.

Functionality and Performance

Now that you know what connections the G560 has and what you can expect out of the box, you need to know something else: it's stupid easy to connect your devices to the unit. You can connect up to four devices and easily switch between any of them on the fly. I was able to quickly sync my Google Pixel 2 to the unit's Bluetooth and hooking up a set of headphones to the right satellite speaker expertly reroutes everything without a hassle. 

But what's arguably more important than the unit's ubiquity and ease of use is sound and character. And the G560 has both in spades. 

DTS:X Ultra

If you're like most PC gamers, there's a good chance you'll set your speaker system up a lot like the one in the image at the top of this review: subwoofer under your desk and the two satellite speakers on either side of your monitor. With most speaker systems, that type of setup immediately nixes any chance of true, positional surround sound. 

But not with the G560. Using DTS:X Ultra technology alongside Logitech's gaming software, it's very possible to get a good surround sound experience without setting things up in an alternate configuration. Whether I was listening to music on Spotify, watching a Let's Play on YouTube, or playing a shooter like Battlefield 1, the sound coming out of the G560 was thick and immersive. I was even able to get some good directional audio in BF1 and other shooters, which isn't easy to do with headphones, much less without them. 

It felt like the wall behind my setup was one giant speaker. And because the sound was (is) so good, it also felt like I had several more satellite speakers sitting behind me even though I didn't. In essence, the G560 was able to re-create headphone quality sound in a room not built for acoustics. 

The G560's DTS:X Ultra supports both 5.1 and 7.1 multichannel surround sound, and using Logitech's gaming software, you're able to tweak the unit's sound levels, adjusting levels for the physical subwoofer, two physical satellite speakers, and four additional virtual "satellites". You can't dial in every single tone, but you can dial in a lot. 

Logitech Gaming Software -- Lights, Customization, and More

If you've used a Logitech gaming product within the past several years, there's a 100% chance you've at least dabbled with the company's gaming software. For the most part, it still works very well. 

You can change the color, intensity, and brightness of the satellite speakers, as well as choose from full spectrum RGB, create custom colors, and save custom colors to profiles. On top of that, the software also provides effects presets such as fixed, cycling, breathing, audio visualizer, and screen sampler. You can even choose the effect polling rate, put the lights completely to sleep or on a timer, set a per profile backlight, and sync settings for specific games, which can be very helpful for genres such as horror. 

However, two of the unit's more intriguing color customization possibilities come in the form of Lightsync and the screen sampler. The former allows you to sync your speakers with all of your other Logitech RGB peripherals, bringing your entire desktop together. The latter allows you to set color zones on your monitor that reflect the on-screen color to the left or right satellite speaker. 

In theory, screen sampling is an awesome idea, one that could have far-reaching visual effects for games in certain genres, especially horror. But in practice, the technology seemed hit or miss. It's not for everyday use, and I imagine players will find mostly niche uses for it. 


If you haven't guessed, Logitech's G560 speaker unit is a great piece of hardware you should have on your desk yesterday. At $199.99, the G560 positions itself in the low-end of the high-tier audio hierarchy. Couple 240 watts of pure sonic power with Logitech's fantastic gaming software, and the G560 is a gamer's delight. 

Honestly, there aren't too many negatives here -- and any I have are nitpicky at best. DTS:X isn't supported by Mac OS X, the posterior design of the satellite speakers is a little out of place, and there is a slightly noticeable volume jump from 12 to 13 (at least on the speakers I tested) that's not heard at any other intervals. 

But despite those small reservations, do yourself a favor and at least put these on your consideration list -- if not your must-buy list. You'll be surprised at not only how loud these speakers are, but how crisp and well-defined they make your music, movies, and games.  

You can buy the G560 RGB Gaming Speakers unit from Amazon for $199.99. 

[Note: Logitech provided the G560 unit used in this review.]

The Crew 2 Review: From 0 to "Meh" in 60 Seconds Sat, 30 Jun 2018 20:11:48 -0400 Ty Arthur

Its time for the next high-octane racing experience to smash into PC and consoles, this time with an ambitious open world experience in The Crew 2.

Somewhere between an expansion and a re-imagining of the original, this time around your nameless vehicle expert will be flying, driving, and power boating across America. 

This hodge podge of a sequel is all about extreme racing of every possible variety, and that's the game's biggest selling point. You get street racing, off-road rally / cross matches for getting muddy, power boat races on rivers and bays, and even aerial stunt plane racing all together in one game.

 Who needs to stay on the street?

Ubi In For A Familiar Experience

First up its worth noting The Crew 2 is an always-online game and requires a Ubisoft account, which seems like the wrong way to go, especially since the multiplayer options are fairly limited at launch (with PvP due to land later in an update).

If you don't care for the loot box grind, then you may want to pass on this one. There's a fair amount of grinding for the those specific components you want, or for enough cash to buy that one killer ride you need. Its an overall smooth system, but it gets pretty repetitive when you try to get new parts for each type of vehicle across each type of match.

Graphically speaking, The Crew 2 isn't an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely lacks the jaw-dropping "wow" factor of more focused titles like last year's Forza Motorsport 7. Overall the vehicle designs and environments are serviceable, if not exactly awe-inspiring.

 The human models frankly aren't that great

Transformers: Fast And Furious Edition

There do tend to be more interesting courses here, however, since the races are meant to be in non-traditional areas like city streets.

The open world aspects make for some pretty spectacular scenes as you leave the city behind and hit the open road. A series of skill locations are scattered across the big U.S. map for unlocking new equipment or earning fans, but honestly in most instances you will just select a specific race and fast travel straight to it instead of driving across the country and back.

Switching back and forth between sea, air, and street nearly instantly is an undeniably cool new addition, letting you fly your plane into a sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers and then drop down into your car to go into a street racing.

 On no, we've been Incepted!

Coming In Second Place

There aren't many long distance races to be found here, so a lot of the map is wasted space. Recreating a condensed version of America was an ambitious undertaking, but it doesn't feel like the game lives up to the potential there.

While the handling of each vehicle is satisfying, the biggest problem with The Crew 2's driving is easily the lack of any solid feeling when impacting objects in the environment.

It doesn't matter whether you are plowing through cacti, street lights, plastic signs, or anything else, they all barely even register a blip of sensation in the controller or on the screen. 

Even crashing directly into the side of a building barely feels like a collision at all. It's odd (and a major negative) that a series like Grand Theft Auto has better collision handling than an actual racing game.

You can literally ride the walls of the buildings at full speed with the Nitro enabled and actually beat players and AI who are playing properly and sticking to the racing line!

 What's the point in extreme jumps and tricks if it doesn't matter when you biff them?

The Bottom Line

A lack of focus clearly hurts the game overall. There is plenty to do to be sure, and a wide range of race types, but The Crew 2 seems like its trying to hard to be an unrealistic arcade racing entry, a hardcore street race simulation, or a loot-drop MMO, and the fun kind of gets lost in the mix.

If you want the ability to play five different types of racing game in one then The Crew 2 is obviously worth checking out, but if you demand a more authentic and fun experience, there are better racers out there now and more coming soon.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review - Bursting with Energy, Life and Brutal Reality Fri, 29 Jun 2018 12:16:45 -0400 Miles T

When Dontnod released the sleeper hit Life is Strange back in 2015, few would have expected the incredibly emotional experience we were to be subjected to. Fewer still would have predicted a highly anticipated sequel being in the works given it’s sudden appearance and release.

Roll on 2018, and here we are eagerly anticipating the sequel series, with Dontnod providing a small palette taster with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Released for the grand total of absolutely nothing, it provides a creative, enthusiastic and charming couple of hours that are absolutely worth experiencing and paves the way beautifully for the coming series.

A Superpowered Hero, Without The Time Travel

We step into the shoes of the lively Captain Spirit, a young boy called Chris living with his father Charles in their snow-swept home as Christmas approaches. Chris is an eager protagonist, a far cry from the shy Max Caulfield or emotionally burdened Chloe Price; displaying the naivety of youth and the infectious enthusiasm of imagination.

Dontnod tap into childhood nostalgia almost at will - toy soldier fights, dastardly made up villains, the desire to impress his dad. While these may be typical tropes, it’s hard not to be drawn into Chris’ imagination and be swept up in the glee of his musings as you interact with his environment and learn about his early life. He’s a character with energy and zeal, giving the short episode a real feel good factor and enjoyment.

He’s not only a well thought out character however, he’s voiced expertly and with nuance for the moments when his excitement is brought into contrast with some of the world around him. If Chris is to be the protagonist of Life is Strange 2, he’ll make a fantastic change of pace to typical video game avatars.

Familiar Gameplay, With a New Twist

Of course, gone are the time-bending powers and the smack-talking interactions of the first season and Before the Storm. Instead, Dontnod have introduced a couple of mechanics built around Chris and his imagination. Some interactive objects are now infused with the possibility of being victims to Captain Spirit’s powers, like blowing up a snowman for example. This can lead to a couple of genuinely surprising and humorous moments, breaking up the standard observable or minimal use objects in the world.

It’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic is used in the coming season, and whether it can adequately replace the aforementioned skills of previous protagonists.

What isn’t surprising or new however, is the way Chris interacts with the world. Once again, the player is given a small space to explore, with various objects to view, thoughts to exclaim and minor puzzles to solve. It’s nothing spectacular or fresh, but the use of Chris’ character to embed these tasks into the environment is impressive -- you wouldn’t think much of doing the dishes or taking out recycled beer cans unless the character you’re playing as wouldn’t be expected to perform those tasks; and switching a boiler off has never been so daunting!

If you’ve not been a fan of the "walking simulator" genre, this is unlikely to change your mind. Choices also make their appearance too, but it’s unclear from this short snippet of the story how they’re going to impact on the narrative. Dontnod chose to keep this aspect relatively low-key and minor in the episode, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.

Charming Naivety, With Darker Undertones

It’s not all excitement and happiness in the world of Captain Spirit however, as it wouldn’t be a Life is Strange universe without some emotional turmoil. Wandering the household, you’ll discover the reason behind the glaring void of Chris’ mother, but most prominently the conflicted persona of his father, Charles. Dontnod do an excellent job of delivering a nuanced and clearly fractured father figure, a man who is both dearly loving towards his son while simultaneously offering a darker, less empathetic side.

In its short runtime, there’s moments of genuine tension, sadness and emotion as you piece together Chris’ world and discover the environment he both revels in and is subjected to. Particularly for people who have experienced similar childhood moments, it’s a narrative undercurrent that will resonate with some very strongly. Charles is never made to be a villain or a stereotypical asshole for example -- he can be humorous and understanding with Chris -- as the story fleshes out his backstory struggles in order to help allow us to empathise with his issues.

The atmosphere never becomes too foreboding or down-trodden luckily; and the heavy moments are treated with care so as to not suffocate the star of the show, but you’ll quickly notice a more intricate story building behind the scenes. If Dontnod can maintain this level of care and fantastic world building with darker themes, it could prove a powerful emotional concoction.

A Worthy Presentation

The world of Captain Spirit is built with the same art style as the previous seasons, with a different backdrop to what we may have been used to with Arcadia Bay. Chris’ room is full of life, colour exudes from his outfit and the attention to detail to craft a convincing universe is exceptional.

Graphically, the game may not be as show-stopping or jaw-dropping of regular AAA titles, with some textures lacking detail and audio cues at times slightly out of sync, but these are minor nitpicks that won’t detract from the overall experience or delivery. The Life is Strange series and Dontnod’s other works have never been graphical masterpieces; but they’ve always demonstrated a creative and personal touch with their art style which brings their worlds to life.

What is undoubtedly top of the quality department however, is the soundtrack. Both the first season and Before the Storm had impeccable music scores with a selection of wonderfully chosen tracks. This latest taster follows in the same expert mould, blending an emotive and stunning soundtrack within the backdrop of the game. Dontnod have nailed the use of music once again.

A Tantalizing Look At Things To Come

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit squeezes more emotion and genuine empathy into 2 hours of game that few can manage in 30 or 40. It establishes a believable and infectious protagonist who provides a fantastic parallel to the typical, broody lead characters we’ve become accustomed to and establishes a world full of intrigue and meaningful themes.

The gameplay formula has remained largely unchanged, with the main new mechanic yet to be seen in how it matches up to previous versions we’ve been given to work with. When you consider this as a free episode to prelude the upcoming season, it’s a fantastic experience that’s well worth your time, despite it’s short length and limited insight. A credit must also be given to the soundtrack, despite the creative but less-than-stellar presentation.

Donning your cape, painting your armour and equipping your superhero mask has never felt more playful or gleeful, and I’m excited to see what emotional adventures our young hero next gets himself into.

Sennheiser GSP 500 Headset Review Fri, 29 Jun 2018 12:06:08 -0400 Jonathan Moore

I've reviewed quite a few headsets over my nearly two years at GameSkinny. From Corsair to HyperX and what seems like a countless lot in between, I've sampled a little bit of everything that corner of the peripherals market has to offer.

After a while, things start to sound if not the same, similar. It gets harder to pick out the minute differences in drivers or mark the true disparities between this software or that. But in all that time, this is the first I've gotten my hands on a Sennheiser -- the grandpappy of all grandpappies. 

I'd always heard that Sennheiser sound was some of the best audio quality you could get -- if not the best. I'd always heard that no matter how much I liked my favorite headset right now, a Sennheiser would make me green with envy. And although I paraphrase that last part from the glut of conversations I've had with audiophiles over the years, there's an inalienable truth to it.

It's damn hard to go back to my other headsets after sampling Sennheiser's GSP 500 gaming headset. 

Design and Comfort

Out of the box, the GSP 500 feels like something engineered and manufactured by Germans. It's sturdy. It's durable. And it's ergonomic. 

One of the first things you'll notice is that the headset doesn't feel like it's going to break in your hands. Although it's mostly made of plastic, that plastic is both relatively lightweight and resilient -- the headset weighs around 358 grams. That's eight grams more than the arguably flimsy-feeling Logitech G533 but nearly 70 grams lighter than SteelSeries' Arctis Pro+

What that means to you is this (and I say this with the utmost respect for both of those fantastic headsets mentioned above): the GSP 500 feels neither economical nor heavy. It feels very well-made -- and like something that's going to last you a very, very long time.

On top of that, it also means the GSP 500 is super comfortable. If you've read any of my other headset reviews, you know I've said more than once I think SteelSeries' ski-band is one of the cushiest headbands on the planet. I love that headband more than I love a well-made spicy taco. But man, is the GSP's headband its blow-for-blow rival. 

The showcase here isn't exactly what the headband is made of but instead the ability to customize the headband's contact pressure. Open along the top, the headband features two sliders that can be placed together in the middle for centralized pressure, at opposite ends from each other, or anywhere in between. This means that if you've got a weirdly shaped dome like me, you can find a sweet spot that just right for you

Moving down the headset, we come to the ergonomic earcups. Made of a soft, breathable material, these earcups don't sweat. That's pretty standard these days when it comes to (most) headsets, but what isn't so standard is the way these earcups are shaped: they mirror the shape of the human ear, providing a more natural, comfortable fit than your average round or square earcups. 

Another thing that makes them comfortable is the metal hinges that attach the earcups to the headband. These tilt and turn to fit a variety of face types and help the earcups better conform to your cheekbones and upper jaw. And although it's unfortunate the earcups don't fully rotate and you can't lay them flat on your collarbone when not in use like those found on the Logitech G Pro, for example, they're so comfortable and flexible that I'll give them a pass this time around. 

What's more, you'll also find a dearth of controls on the GSP 500's earcups. Typically, many newer headsets have a handful of volume and chat controls, as well as inputs, on one or both earcups. Here, you'll find a simple volume wheel on the right earcup. I especially like that the volume control is elegantly integrated into the headset and doesn't look like a volume knob. It's contoured edges make it easy to pick out, even though I do think it's a tad hard to turn.

Lastly, the noise canceling microphone on the GSP 500 works like a charm. Positioned on the left earcup just above the headset's only I/O, the mic is flexible, but just barely. This is where the GSP 500 looks like a gaming headset; you can't remove the microphone, just simply raise or lower it. That's not to say such a design is a detriment to the headset, but it is something that might turn off some who want something more ubiquitous.


My biggest gripe about Sennheiser's GSP 500 is that it's just not very loud. And I admit: loud is relative. Some users will think the GSP 500 is plenty loud and read this part of my review with an incredulous glare. But for me, I don't like having to turn a headset's volume knob to maximum -- while also turning my YouTube volume and system volume to maximum -- to achieve skull-blasting 11. 

However, after spending hours with headset, I think that volume "discrepancy" might just be because the headset is so damned good at recreating authentic sound via an open-acoustic design. 

So, despite my curmudgeonly misgivings about the headset's volume control, you'll be hard-pressed to beat the sound on the GSP 500. As an arm-chair audiophile, I'm constantly blown away by what the GSP 500 can do. It lets me hear frequencies I never knew were there and rediscover movies, music, and games like few other headsets can.  

Listening to songs from Northlane, While She Sleeps, and Tesseract, there were (are) guitar, bass, and drum sections I'd never heard before -- now resoundingly clear. Toms thrummed out in thrilling sonic waves, bass undulated through synths, and harmonics pinged through trebles and mids without either losing strength or impeding other tones. 

For classical overtures such as Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, it felt as if I were in the concert hall, standing right next to the piano. And although the GSP 500 isn't a surround sound headset out of the box, it's stereo offerings are robust enough to mimic that functionality, especially when reproducing well-recorded sound. 

In gaming, the GSP 500 gives new life to many of the games I've played for hours on end. It emphasizes Kratos' guttural tones in God of War. It brightens the whisps of zipping bullets in Battlefield 1. And it makes the irritating simul-banter of Far Cry 5 less grating and actually distinguishable. Since the headset isn't surround sound, you won't get 100% accurate directional sound, but what you will find here isn't too shabby. 

If you do want to get 7.1 surround on the GSP 500, though, you can -- all while keeping it in the Sennheiser family. The only real downside is that you'll have to pick up an external DAC and drop another $250 to get it, which is a pricey proposition considering the headset itself already costs $250 by itself. 


If you're looking for something that immerses you in sound, the GSP 500 isn't exactly it. Because of its open ear design, you'll be able to hear a lot of the conversation and commotion around you. If you're in a loud environment, that can be pretty distracting to some users -- and in fact, this is the primary reason I'm giving it a 9 and not a 10.

However, the open ear technology affords crisper, more realistic tones and gives those that need it the ability to listen to music or play games without alienating those around them. If you want a closed-ear design, check out the GSP 600.  

The GSP 500 comes with a two-year international warranty, and it works on PS4, PC, Mac, and mobile devices. It also works on Xbox One, but may require the Xbox One stereo headset adapter (we didn't test it, but Sennheiser does suggest it). 

At the end of the day, this headset is for the high-end gamer who also has audiophile tendencies. I don't imagine your average gamer is going to opt for these, not only because of price, but also because those average gamers aren't necessarily looking for the sound this headset provides.

In other words, the GSP 500 is one of the very best headsets you can buy but it's also a luxury item. If you have the disposable income for it, there's no question you should pick it up. If you want high-fidelity sound, there's no question you should pick it up. But if you just want something to get you through the next CoD MP match, apply elsewhere -- this headset will be lost on you. 

You can buy the Sennheiser GSP 500 on Amazon for $229.95.

[Note: Sennheiser provided the headset used in this review.]

Unravel Two Review: Can Two Yarnys Form a Close-Knit Camaraderie? Tue, 26 Jun 2018 10:34:22 -0400 Edgar Wulf

Unravel Two is a sequel to the platforming game of the same name (bar the "Two", of course), which is developed by Coldwood Interactive and published by Electronic Arts. This sequel follows the story of not one, but two Yarnys, both of whom can be controlled by either one or two players in local co-op.

The tale begins with the red Yarny from the first game being washed ashore on an island by a horrendous storm. There, the red Yarny immediately befriends a blue Yarny and their threads conjoin via a mysterious light, which will guide them throughout the rest of the game.

This connection is significant, as many of Unravel Two's puzzles revolve around clever use of the thread.

Thread Carefully

Unravel Two's first chapter, which acts as a tutorial, is likely the game's weakest segment, with hardly any puzzles and no real challenges to overcome. That is usually not a problem for most games -- an introduction to a game's mechanics is often welcome, especially if it's targeting a younger audience -- but I quickly grew bored with and had to push myself toward, what I hoped would be, much more engaging levels ahead.

Subsequent chapters can be accessed via the game's Lighthouse, which is unlocked after completing the tutorial and acts as a hub from there on. And what's more, after completing Chapter II, the first set of bonus levels is unlocked in the Lighthouse. These are short, increasingly challenging levels which revolve around saving other Yarnys from captivity. Successful completions of each bonus level reward players with additional options for customizing a Yarny: such as thier appearance and color.

The bonus levels, however, are completely optional and can be ignored entirely. 

A Yarn Good Time

Unravel Two begins to the shine the further you get into it by adding more complex puzzles to the platforming formula; thankfully, it gradually becomes satisfyingly difficult.

Puzzles are sufficiently challenging, requiring constant switching between Yarnys (which is seamless) during a solo run, as well as incorporating the use of a thread and surrounding objects. And although most puzzles usually don't take more than a few minutes to solve, there's a handy feature that provides helpful hints at the push of a button. I seldom used it and depending on your experience with platformer/puzzlers, you may never use it either. However, it's a great option to have for younger players -- and one that doesn't sully the experience for more seasoned players.

Likewise, there's also a feature that slows down time during platforming sequences. This mechanic is especially useful for attempting the game's time trials, as the amount by which time is slowed can be adjusted in the options menu.

And as you might have guessed, there is no combat in the game, but certain enemies are present, all of whom must be avoided. As ridiculous as it may sound, fleeing from a humongous turkey ready to peck your yarn out is no joke.

Weaving a "Story" Within Beautiful Locales

From the moment you start Unravel Two, it's obvious the game is pleasantly beautiful. Even though it's nothing that will blow you way, there's a serene atmosphere about the game, which is further accentuated by a captivating musical score.

Overall, chapters are diverse, with distinguishing locales, events, and puzzles unique to each particular stage. Like with many games in the genre, the scenery of Unravel Two consists of several layers -- some backdrops being gorgeous indeed -- and differentiating between objects in the foreground from those in the background is never an issue.

Story doesn't play a pivotal role in Unravel Two, but there is enough context provided to keep you and the Yarnys moving forward. 

Yarnys themselves seem to exist in a parallel universe -- indicated by the many human characters only appearing in phantom-like forms throughout the game. The mysterious light, on the other hand, acts as a mediator between the two worlds, capable of affecting the human world after certain puzzles are solved -- and saving the human children from a distress as a result.

There could be a deeper meaning to the game that I simply missed. Nonetheless, the ending leaves you with a positive sensation -- as if you've accomplished a good deed in the end.

The main story shouldn't take more than four to five hours to complete -- but it feels sufficient. More playtime can be added by attempting time trials, gathering collectables scattered across chapters, and completing bonus levels -- many of which are more challenging than those found in the main chapters.

Final Thoughts

Although I enjoyed Unravel Two, I found certain climbing sections awkward, lacking animation in comparison to the rest of the game. The tutorial also felt like a drag and the story wasn't overly engaging.

However, even without dialogue, I enjoyed the cute interactions between Yarnys, the relaxing atmosphere accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, and coming up with solutions to the various conundrums in a magical world.

There is a lot to like about Unravel Two and the few shortcomings don't compromise the overall adventure.

If you've made up your mind, Unravel Two is available digitally on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and for more reviews on latest releases stay tuned right here on GameSkinny.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Unravel Two used in this review.] 

Rainbow Skies Review: One Hot Mess After Another Tue, 26 Jun 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Autumn Fish

Rainbow Skies is the sequel to the large, turn-based RPG Rainbow Moon. The main characters are three unlikely companions who just happen to be accidentally bound to each other for all eternity, thanks to a little spell gone wrong.

Two of the three aforementioned characters are from a race of people that reside on a floating island in the sky, and they have to keep their identity a secret lest the denizens of the moon find out and crucify them. They must travel together with a spell caster from the surface to try and puzzle out a way back home. This journey takes them across several continents and through many terrifying lands that are home to many terrifying monsters.

This doesn't sound wholly dissimilar to most RPGs on the market, so what makes Rainbow Skies stand out from the rest? And is it worth spending your time on?

Rainbow Skies Is a Few Shades Off

Rainbow Skies is the type of game where the story takes a back seat to the gameplay. It's all about finding some way to undo the Spell of Binding so that your party can finally separate and so that the characters from the floating island can find their way back home.

It's nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done, I suppose. It's really just there to get you from one battle to the next. As you make your way further into the story, it gets to the point where it feels like there are a ton of battles just shoehorned into the game for the sake of battling. Which I guess is cool if you're into that.

However, despite my reservations here, I would like to take a second and say that the writing is actually pretty good. I'm not going to sing too many of its praises because it does some questionable stuff at times, such as forced flirting, a few odd instances of gaslighting, and an unfortunate knack for reusing the same jokes over and over again. All the same, though, I was pleasantly surprised that the dialogue was more jovial and entertaining to read than many RPGs. 

Rainbow Skies Overworld High Level Character

Combat and Gameplay

Let me say one thing right off the bat: the combat in Rainbow Skies is sort of draining. It's turn based, where the character's speed stats determine how often they can act. Your characters are arranged on a grid alongside enemies, and you have to get into the right positions in order to properly attack. I sort of enjoyed it at first, but it quickly became a slog.

Your skills barely do any more damage than a regular attack, which means they basically just bring a little bit of versatility and variety to the field. Your regular characters are just weak as heck unless you spend hours grinding -- even if you play on the easiest difficulty setting. And difficulty spikes are insane and seem oddly frequent.

There are several points in the game where it feels like you're hitting a wall. It's probably for the purpose of making sure you're strong enough to head into the next area, but these walls pop up so often that it barely feels like you're making any progress in the actual game.

Playing through any combat scenario is like trudging through a swampy mire. Some of the easier fights can take as long as 10 minutes while some of the harder ones could take you the better part of an hour -- and sometimes you'll spend all of that time struggling, wasting all of your hard-earned resources just to lose and be forced to start over from the beginning.

This wouldn't be so much of a problem if there were a speedup or animation skip feature. Every attack animation is slow and it just takes forever for the battle to actually be realized even after the commands have been made. Sometimes the game shows a shortcut for skipping an animation but I've tried pressing that button in every way I can think of and I've never managed to get it to work.

Rainbow Skies Battle Mage Casting Meteor Attack

On top of that, enemies that are around your level take so little damage, even if you're sure to always hit them with attacks that they're weak to. Every battle ends feeling like a battle of attrition, just trying to stay alive until you can finally whittle down the enemy's health.

This may be exciting to some players, but to me, it just made the game feel like it was dragging on. Hours would pass in the blink of an eye and it wasn't because I was having fun, but rather because the battles would take way longer than I ever expected them to.

Monster Taming

And then there's Monster Taming, Rainbow Skies' most anticipated new feature. I didn't even gain access to this feature until I was a solid eight or more hours into the game, despite the main characters teasing me with it the entire time. And when I finally unlocked it and experienced it for myself, I was so underwhelmed I was close to being infuriated.

In order to collect monsters, you need to find eggs, which only drop after you defeat that monster a certain number of times. Then, in order to hatch a monster egg, you need to leave it with a tamer and battle a certain number of times until it finally hatches. Then you can upgrade its abilities with Skill Stones and teach it skills as if it were a regular character -- and you can even make it the party leader so you can run around the overworld as the monster.

However, you can only have a small number of monsters at any given time, meaning you must release some if you collect too many. On top of that, you can only battle with an even smaller number of monsters, leaving you unable to really utilize many of them.

Rainbow Skies Battle with a lot of Tamed Monster companions

On top of that, Monsters come out of the egg so much stronger than the main characters, even if they're several levels below them, which really makes me scratch my head.

I was struggling with battles for so long, fairly certain I wasn't missing any important part of upgrading my characters, and then, when this thing finally comes along, many battles that I struggled with before turned into a cake walk. I couldn't believe it. The moment I saw my newbie monster deal over double the damage that my spellcaster could while it was half my spellcaster's level, my jaw hit the floor.

Upgrading and Resource Management

When I was introduced to the upgrade system, my first thought was that it was really unique. The more I played, however, the more I realized just how grindy it was. Every level, your characters and monsters earn new upgradable stats. You can spend Skill Stones that you find from battling monsters on these stats in order to buff your characters. It's possible to max all of these stats, and probably even necessary if you want to play on higher difficulty settings, but grinding for Skill Stones is such a chore that it would take forever to max out each stat every level.

You can read Skill Books to teach certain characters new skills, which we've already noted won't do much more damage than your regular attack. If you use these skills enough, you'll increase their power and eventually learn even more skills. There's nothing inherently wrong with this system, other than the fact that you don't get a heal spell until pretty late in the game.

Rainbow Skies Equipment Screen of Max Level Character

Then you can increase your stats by infusing materials you collect from enemies with your weapons and armor. There's not much to say about this, other than it doesn't really help your power much, especially when you can only slot a handful of materials in the earlier levels. Apparently, there's a system where you can reinforce weapons and armor to make them stronger in general, but I never even got far enough in the game to be introduced to it.

And finally, there's resource management, which has to be the biggest pain I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Bags such as your potion, miscellaneous, and food bags are limited to only five or six items a piece at the start. As you go through the game, you can buy or find bag upgrades out in the world to make it less of a pain, but you stumble across so many good potions and items that you'll want to keep along the way that you're so often left to make a decision on what's more important.

You could say it's a way to keep the player from cheesing the game and being too prepared for a fight, but that logic doesn't even hold up very well. The best potions I can even buy right now heal so little health that even if I use as many as I can in a turn, I'd still be losing health overall if even one monster my level was close enough to hit me. It's as if it doesn't even matter.

Verdict: A True Slog, Through and Through

All-in-all, Rainbow Skies feels like a lot of heart and soul went into it, but it comes across as poorly designed and downright convoluted at points. There's a ton of content here for people who are interested in delving into it, but I can't see this reaching beyond a niche audience or a cult following.

Rainbow Skies Powerful Magic Attack

There are better turn-based RPGs out there; I honestly recommend that you save your money. Go play Disgaea or something, I promise you'll get a lot more out of that game than this one. I just can't, in good conscience, recommend this game to anyone.

If you think you'd enjoy it based on my description, though, be my guest, please. And if you have a different opinion, I invite you to refute my review in the comments section below.

Rainbow Skies is available now for PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4.

Writer was granted a review copy by the publisher.

Review: Corsair K70 RGB Mk2 Mechanical Keyboard Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:51:44 -0400 ElConquistadork

Corsair has been in the business of making amazing PC gaming peripherals for years now, and this month they released their latest in keyboard goodness with the K70 RGB Mk2 Mechanical Keyboard.

The first thing I noticed right out of the box is that this keyboard is solid. And that's not only referring to the full-sized, aluminum-based mounting of this thing (although, let's face it: that is a definite factor). There's a weight to this keyboard that let's you know just how much craftsmanship went into it.

Like many RGB peripherals before it, the K70 Mk2 boasts a fully programmable lighting system that can be tailored to your preferences and gaming rig (see GameSkinny's review of the HyperX Pulsefire Surge for another example of just how cool this can be).

Outside of the lighting features, the K70 Mk2 doesn't resemble many other popular gaming keyboards, and I saw that as a good thing. There's a certain gaudiness that you can see on display with other popular gaming devices (even ones that are otherwise well-crafted peripherals), and that absence of esports-inspired bombast is a welcome, if minute, detail in a gaming keyboards for those of us past the age of saying "GG" out loud to another human being.

Corsair's K70 RGB Mk2 is loaded with some outstanding tech, as well. The first thing I noticed were the were the Cherry MX Keyswitches, which make for some of the quietest keystrokes I've ever seen (or heard, as the case may be) in a mechanical keyboard. The keyboard is also equipped for full key rollover, which means that your actions are registered by the keys correctly, no matter how much lag you hit.

Corsair's iCUE software remains outstanding and user-friendly. Through it you'll be able to program your lighting system, macros, and save up to three profiles in an 8MB on-board memory system that keeps your choices within the hardware, wherever you happen to take it. It's that sort of "pick up and go" versatility that's going to make the K70 Mk2 very popular with the travelling gamer community.

There were tons of little details that went into how much I loved my time with the Corsair K70 RGB Mk2 Keyboard. Additions like an actual dial for volume control, a built-in USB port for mouse or headset connectivity, and the general comfort of the brushed keys themselves. There's a level of form and function that Corsair put into this keyboard that impressed me more for every hour I used it.

Overall, I'd say that Corsair has developed my new favorite gaming keyboard. And with a list price of $159.99 on Amazon, it's affordable for casual gamers and enthusiasts alike.

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Review: A Clear Improvement! Mon, 25 Jun 2018 11:47:33 -0400 Autumn Fish

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is finally out on the Nintendo Switch, allowing the portable system's owners to at long last connect and play with friends who own the Xbox One, Windows 10, and Mobile editions of the game.

Don't think that means you're getting the same experience as the original Java Edition of the game, however. This begs the question: what is the Bedrock Edition and how does it differ from the original?

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Review

On the off chance that you have no idea what Minecraft even is in the first place, allow me to summarize. Everything in the game world is made out of blocks. You can collect the vast majority of these blocks through methods of mining, shoveling, punching, and so on. You can then place these blocks in the world or use them in a crafting grid to create new items. This is the basic cycle that's existed since the earliest stages of the game.

That doesn't even cover the monsters you have to defend yourself from or the different bosses you can fight for unique rewards. There are even potions you can brew and enchantments you can put on gear. There're villages out in the world populated with people that you can trade with, and there are even various ruins and structures to discover across a wide variety of biomes. There are even entirely different realms to explore, such as the Nether and the mysterious End.

The scope of of this title is out of control. There's so much to do and so many different ways to get stronger that you could spend dozens if not hundreds of hours just existing in the world. And before you know it, you'll be living in a bonafide fortress with automatic farms, an intricate system of travel, stables for your steeds and pets, and any luxury you can possibly think of.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in a Mineshaft holding a ladder

But of course, this game has been on the market and growing for nine years now. It's the best selling game on PC and the second best selling game in the world behind Tetris. What makes the Bedrock Edition different enough that it warrants this review?

How Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Differs from the Java Edition

Put simply, some of the content is different. And I don't just mean that the Bedrock Edition is behind in version parity to the Java Edition. Bedrock actually has some content that the Java Edition doesn't have yet. It even performs better and fixes some bugs and minor annoyances present in the Java Edition.

Notably, the world's chunks load in much quicker on this version, so you're not really put in a situation where you have to wait for the world to catch up. This is especially nice when you're flying around the map at high speeds, as it makes the world feel a little bit more cohesive.

Redstone, Minecraft's wiring system, comes debugged in this version. This is sort of a double-edged sword, however, since a lot of complex redstone creations actually take advantage of the bugs to accomplish some incredible feats. This means a lot of tutorial's for redstone won't be applicable to the Bedrock Edition, but on the flip side, it should make the complex system a bit easier to pick up and learn for beginners. 

On top of all that, this version comes with content that the Java Edition simply doesn't have quite yet. The first pass for Update Aquatic is already out on Bedrock, while the full update is still in it's pre-release stages on Java.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in the Jungle about to feed an Ocelot a Fish

However, this version doesn't quite have everything the Java Edition has, either. For example, it doesn't have shields or the new combat mechanics, but there is an offhand slot present. It's also missing things such as the informative F3 menu and the new Advancements system. Ultimately, it has most of the content that the present-day Java Edition has, but bits and pieces are missing.

Additionally, the interface of the Bedrock edition is completely mixed up. For starters, you log in with a Microsoft Account, no matter if you're on the Switch or the Xbox One. Resource Packs, Behavior Packs, Map Packs, and Skins are all purchased from a store that you spend real-world money on, though a few will come with your purchase of the game. If you're on Windows 10, you do still get access to some community made projects for free, but those are limited since people are more likely to make content for the Java version.

On top of that, Behavior Packs don't even work quite the same as a regular mod pack. Instead of adding things to the game, they replace existing items. However, they can do a few things that mods on the Java Edition can't do yet, such as creating in-game windows and selection boxes.

When you go to play the game, you can either create your own world, play with a friend on their world, or join one of the featured servers. When you're playing on your own world with multiplayer turned on, any of your friends can join the world at any time, and you can set permissions for them individually.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in a house with a villager in front of an enchanting table surrounded by bookcases

When you're playing with multiplayer turned off, however, you'll find that you can't even properly pause the game. That's because it supports drop-in split-screen multiplayer on the fly, where up to 4 people can play together on the same TV. All you need to do is press the start button on your extra controllers and decide which profile to play with.

That about covers everything that sets the Bedrock Edition apart from the Java Edition. For more tiny details on the differences in this version, check out the Minecraft wiki.

Verdict - Better than vanilla!

In my opinion, the vanilla Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is better than the vanilla Java Edition. It just performs better, it has some cool unique features, it makes playing with your friends so much easier, and it features cross-play between so many different consoles. It nails the vanilla experience, and I can't wait to see the bits and pieces of missing content finally get added sometime down the line.

If you're somehow new to Minecraft, the Bedrock Edition is a brilliant starting point. If you play for the vanilla experience, I highly recommend picking up this version. If you want to play with friends that don't own it for PC, this is a no brainer.

If, however, you play for unique server experiences and the plethora of mods found in the Java Edition, you'll probably be disappointed. No matter how you frame it, the Bedrock Edition will always have an inferior amount of community created content when measured up to the Java Edition. There's just no way it will ever compete.

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in the Nether surrounded by fire and getting attacked by ghasts with a portal in sight

When it comes down to it, both versions of Minecraft are fantastic. I never felt like I was playing an inferior version during my time with the Bedrock Edition. In fact, there were times when I appreciated it more than the Java Edition. No matter what version you play, though, you can rest assured you've got a great game in your hands.

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is available now for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows 10, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Fire OS, Fire TV, Apple TV, and the Samsung Gear VR.

Writer was granted a review copy provided by the publisher.

Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion Review: Hyperfresh Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:03:02 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

We get it. It's weird to give a $19.99 bit of single-player DLC for a multiplayer-focused game like Splatoon 2 a perfect review. Though the release of something like Octo Expansion seemed inevitable given the runaway success of Splatoon 2 (not to mention the Nintendo Switch as a whole), the game's single-player campaign wasn't ever its focus.

Framing an expansion around another campaign seems nonsensical. Why not focus on the multiplayer aspect and release a package with cosmetic items, maps, weapons, or more game modes? Who is this expansion even for?

Spoiler alert: if you liked Splatoon 2 even a little bit, it's for you.

Splatoon 2 Review

Flexing Your Mussels

The first thing you'll need to know when you enter the Deepsea Metro for the first time in Octo Expansion is that this game doesn't pull its punches. Splatoon 2 has been out for almost a year now, and this expansion is designed with that in mind. Whereas the single-player content in the base game helped you get to grips with the game's systems and weapons, Octo Expansion expects mastery from the start.

There isn't really a difficulty curve here past the first few levels. Clearing levels and unlocking more of the map allows you to challenge stages in any order you choose. One moment you might be breezing through a level that has you bouncing happily off of jump pads, and another moment you'll be smashing your head against the wall, unable to complete a particularly nefarious speedrun challenge.

Though all of Octo Expansion's stages offer a high and satisfying degree of challenge, most stages also allow the player to make things even harder for themselves by selecting a weapon that is particularly ill-suited for the level. Of course, overcoming this challenge gets the player a higher reward, even if it often seems like this reward should be higher than it actually is.

Pay to Play

Octo Expansion requires players use in-game currency to attempt a level. If you get stuck and have to restart too many times, you'll be forced to grind easier levels for more points.

While this seems like it could be insanely frustrating on the surface, in effect it adds some much-needed risk to challenging these stages. Will you risk your last 2000 points attempting a boss stage where the payout is almost double that amount, or will you proceed a different way through the map and try to find a safer route? Each decision carries more weight this way, and it makes things especially tense when a particular level only gives you one chance to make it through before you're forced to pay again to retry.

Even if you are forced to grind, there are plenty of stages that aren't as challenging, so there's little risk of actually hitting a progression wall. It's a new approach to difficulty in a game like this, and it's highly appreciated.


All this said, the real draw of Octo Expansion is in the way that it expands upon the original game's mechanics. Nintendo has always shown a flair for joyfully inverting and riffing on gameplay elements (see: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, countless others) and that skill is in full effect here.

You'll travel from stages where you play billiards with a sniper rifle to stages that operate like tower defense games to speedrun stages to stages that can only be described as sculpting challenges.

All of this culminates in a finale that is equal parts Metal Gear Solid and Portal as your character makes their way up to Inkopolis Square. I won't spoil anything, but the final 45 minutes of this expansion were chock-full of jaw-dropping moments that came one after the other.

A Story 20,000 Leagues Deep

Fans of the original single-player campaign won't be surprised to hear that the writing and story in Octo Expansion are top-notch. Cap'n Cuttlefish returns from the original Splatoon, as does Agent 3, the player character in that game. Pearl and Marina both heavily figure into the story as well -- the player can learn about how they met, became close, and totally definitely ABSOLUTELY fell deeply in love with each other through chat logs that are unlocked as you progress through the levels.

The lore of Splatoon has always been a wonderful, winking blend of dark apocalyptic fiction with a bubblegum veneer, and Octo Expansion leans into this hard. 

Through the chat logs, Cap'n Cuttlefish will tell you about the horrors of the war he fought in, and in the next moment, tell you how totally-not-racist-against-octopi he is. Oh, and in case arguably racist war vets aren't real enough for you, the extinction of humanity plays a very large role in the game's story as well. It's wonderful, and it's tailored to folks who want to learn more about this crazy post-apocalyptic world that Nintendo has created.

100% Fresh

One of the nicest things about Octo Expansion is that it rewards completion in a way that the main game doesn't. Clearing the campaign unlocks the Octoling for play in multiplayer matches, sure, but there are also very attractive awards for 100% completion as well.

Clearing groups of stages unlocks customization items that can be used in multiplayer matches as well, and there's a very special bonus for 100% completion too. It's much less tedious than going back and replaying every single mission in the main campaign with every single weapon type, especially given how unique and inventive the Octo Expansion stages are.

The Verdict

By any metric, the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion is a massive success. The stages are fun and inventive, the story is engaging and full of fan service, the visual aesthetic is fresh, and there's so darn much of it.

Usually, at least when it comes to triple-A developers like Nintendo, a $20 add-on to an already-released game can feel sparse, or at the very least feel like an unnecessary add-on as was the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's expansions. 

Octo Expansion is neither, and in fact, I'd argue it's even better than the original game's single-player campaign. Through the 15-or-so hours it'll take you to complete the expansion 100%, you'll be led through a jungle gym full of rails to ride, targets to shoot, hazards to stunt over, and enemies to face down. And when you finally catch your breath after having reached the end, you won't be able to resist diving back in to see if you can finally complete that speedrun challenge with the carbon roller, damn it all.

Nintendo promised during E3 that they would continue updating Splatoon 2 at least until December, adding new stages and weapons. If Octo Expansion is any indication, it'd be a massive disappointment if Nintendo didn't have any plans to release another large paid expansion -- simply because this one was just so freaking great.

Have you checked out our review of Splatoon 2 yet? If you haven't, click here to see what we thought of the base game!

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Review -- The Biggest Zelda Mashup Yet Wed, 20 Jun 2018 16:31:45 -0400 Autumn Fish

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch is the most complete Zelda Musou game on the market. It combines the features of the Wii U version and the 3DS version to make a game that's packed to the absolute brim with content.

Whether you're looking for a new game to fill out your Switch library or are simply a fan of the Wii U or 3DS version of the game and are looking for an upgrade, we hope to answer one question for you: Is it worth the $60 price tag?

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Hits the Right Notes

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that this is a Musou game set in the Zelda universe. For the uninitiated, this means you'll be waging large-scale tactical battles with hack-and-slash-style gameplay while utilizing a huge cast of characters from The Legend of Zelda series.

Since Musou games don't require a whole lot of explanation, we'll be splitting this review into two major sections: gameplay and content. If you're familiar with previous versions of Hyrule Warriors or even other Musou games, feel free to skip straight to the content section to see if this title is really worth dipping into.

Musou Gameplay With a Zelda Twist

Musou game is essentially a hack-and-slash game where you mow down literally thousands of enemies that stand between you and your objective. Generally, the goal is to run around the battlefield and capture enemy Keeps in order to gain the upper hand while you complete missions. And the mission for each stage differs greatly, though it usually involves defeating an enemy commander to win.

The controls are rather basic as is expected with a Musou game. Every warrior has a light attack string that mows throw enemies. Tossing a heavy attack in between light attacks allows your warrior to perform a variety of different powerful moves, providing tons of utility to each character.

In addition to this, every warrior has a special attack gauge that fills when you attack enemies and can be used to unleash a devastating attack that covers a wide area and deals a ton of damage.

Hyrule Warriors Marin Fighting with a Bell

Each warrior also has access to a Magic Gauge, which fills when you collect magic jars that drop from pots, grass, and enemy captains. The Magic Gauge can be utilized in one of two different ways. You can choose to use the full gauge to enter Focus Spirit mode, which increases your strength, speed, and defense. It even doles out rewards such as EXP or items until the Magic Gauge is fully consumed. If you don't want to enter Focus Spirit mode, however, you could just use up a fraction of your Magic Gauge to unleash your companion Fairy's special attack.

In addition to all that, you'll even earn an array of iconic Zelda items such as Bombs and a Bow when you play through the main story mode. These items can be used at any time to reveal the weak points of select enemy captains and are all but required to take down the big bosses that wreak havoc on the battlefield.

Most stages even allow you to select not one but two to four warriors to bring with you on your missions. On those stages, you can switch between your playable warriors at any point, allowing you the map coverage you need in order to deal with frantic situations on the fly.

Hyrule Warriors does a stunning job of making the player feel powerful, showering you with the tools needed to unleash mass destruction on hoards of unsuspecting enemies. It won't often give you the satisfaction of a good fight -- in fact, if you find enemies on a stage too challenging, its level is likely too high for you. The challenge comes in the form of battlefield management and making sure your troops don't get overwhelmed by the enemy's clever countermeasures.

There's not a whole lot more to the gameplay, here, so let's explore the wealth of content found within the Definitive Edition.

Hyrule Warriors Legend Mode Tetra

All Hyrule Warriors Content Crammed in One Package

Let me start by saying that this game has a metric ton of content jammed into it. A glance at Legend Mode -- the story mode -- may make the game seem relatively short, but the bulk of the content is actually found in the game's other modes.

Adventure Mode is the star of the show, here. In this mode, you explore one of 10 different 8-bit style maps with new missions on every single tile. There are all sorts of different types of rewards found scattered about the tiles such as new characters, new weapons, upgraded weapons, heart containers, heart pieces, gold skulltulas, costumes, fairies, fairy clothes, fairy food, and so on.

Then there's Challenge Mode, where you can complete challenging missions and get high scores with different characters. It's also here where you can play as the two giant characters in the game: Beast Ganon and the Giant Cucco. These modes aren't particularly fun or memorable, but they do offer up a ton of great giant boss materials.

On top of that, there are a total of 28 playable Zelda characters in Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, with 42 total weapons (read: playstyles) to choose from (44 if you count Beast Ganon and the Giant Cucco, which you can't play outside of Challenge Mode). Some of the playstyles are kinda' boring and feel unnatural to control, but the vast majority of them are extremely unique and incredibly satisfying.

Best of all, there are absolutely no clones. Each character and weapon is its own entity; the Master Sword is the only "clone" in sight, and even that plays slightly differently from Link's Hylian Sword.

Hyrule Warriors Character Select Screen

To add even more to the game, every weapon has five unlockable upgrade levels. Each character can be leveled up individually, up to a maximum level of 255. Each character must also collect their own heart pieces and heart containers to reach maximum health. You can even collect several different costumes for every character to really complete their look.

There are also Gold Skulltula's to collect that will eventually upgrade the Apothecary and open up map tiles on a Rewards Map.

Needless to say, this game just has a ton of things to collect, and you'll need to sink in at least a couple hundred hours in order to get everything.

But seriously, that's not all ... 

New from the 3DS version of the game is a system called My Fairy. In this system, there are special fairies scattered about each Adventure Mode map that can join your warriors on their missions and assist them with special Fairy Skills and Fairy Magic Attacks. You can outfit them with clothes to augment their stats and feed them food in order to carefully increase up their Skills until you get the Fairy you want. It's a deep system and adds a lot to the game if you care to dive into it -- but it can just as easily be overlooked, especially since it comes across as quite daunting.

All in all, there's a ton of content to be had here. Players of the Wii U version are finally able to play all of the content and DLC that they missed from Hyrule Warriors Legends on the 3DS while those who only played the 3DS version finally get to experience the Wii U's Challenge Mode, couch co-op, and the HD graphics of a home console experience.

Hyrule Warriors Giant Cucco Fighting King Dodongo

Verdict -- Repetitive but Satisfying, Especially for Zelda Fans

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch is a really solid experience. It's the second Musou game to make it's way to the system -- the first being Fire Emblem Warriors -- and I dare say it's the best one available. The sheer amount of content and amazing variety in characters really sets this game on another level.

If you're a fan of Zelda and you think you'd like a tactical hack-and-slash game, don't even hesitate on picking this up. If you played the Wii U version, loved it, and want to experience what you missed on 3DS, this is the best way to experience it.

However, if you owned the 3DS version and all of the DLC, this is a bit of a tougher sell. It's essentially the same game, except it has a Challenge Mode, better graphics, a steady frame rate, and two player couch co-op.

If you're not into Zelda or think you'd find Mosou-style gameplay boring, just skip it. The game is highly repetitive and you simply won't be satisfied with your purchase if you're not into this style of action combat. If you're still curious, I suggest looking up a gameplay video or two and making an informed decision.

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is available now for $60 on the Nintendo Switch.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of the game used in this review.]

LEGO The Incredibles Review Wed, 20 Jun 2018 10:48:00 -0400 Littoface

Note: As I have limited experience with both LEGO games and The Incredibles, this review is largely based on the game's overall appeal for adults and kids, based on play sessions with my five-year-old.

The town is under attack by a crazy mining drill machine and only one family can save it: The Parr family, aka, The Incredibles! That's right, the newest installment of the LEGO universe is here, and this time it's stretching its long arms right into the Incredibles franchise. Brought to you by TT Games and Disney-Pixar, LEGO The Incredibles is a fun, family-friendly romp through cheesy puns and superhero trope bending galore.

An Old Story with a New Face

If you've watched The Incredibles 2, the opening line to this review may sound familiar. That's because the game starts the same way as the movie. In fact, the LEGO game closely follows the events of the second movie and then the first, covering the major events in both.

As soon as you defeat the dastardly villain The Underminer, you discover that Supers like the Parr family (that is, people with superpowers) are illegal. Rather than face prison for, well, saving the city, the Parr family is given another choice: to change the public perception of the Supers.

Thus begins an epic crime-stopping, back-bending superpower adventure. The game pokes fun at superhero tropes like ridiculous super villains while remaining true to the Incredibles universe with its characters and designs.

The game adapts the movies for a younger audience, though, (for instance, by removing mentions of death and some of the darker overtones of the movies) so you can safely hand the controller to the budding little gamers in your family for couch co-op and fight crime and corruption as a family.

Same Formula, Same Fun

The idea is familiar if you've played any other LEGO games: Players control members of the Incredibles franchise (including, of course, the titular family) as they work together to build LEGO creations, solve blocky puzzles, and destroy literally everything around them for that sweet, sweet gold.

Each character has their own special skill, with plenty of variety for any play style. Violet, for instance, is able to surround herself with a protective psionic orb, Elastigirl can stretch her way into tight spots or turn into a human pogo-stick, Dash can, well, dash, and so on. Various characters are called upon as you progress to get the team past a sticky situation using their special power.

One particularly fun aspect of this game, though, is how well it incorporates cooperation. For instance, Violet can take another character for a safe hamster-ball ride in her force orb, while Mr. Incredible can throw others to hard-to-reach places. Although this game can definitely be played alone, its strengths are absolutely amplified when playing with a partner (especially a young, easily-excitable partner).

The action is quick and epic and carries on the movies' silliness and good humor with less of the underlying darkness. Passerby comments are particularly amusing — "I have to go feed my chinchilla!" — with a sprinkling of higher-level humor that kids might not get (though nothing inappropriate, as far as we could tell) — like the girl who thought she had developed door-opening superpowers… until she realized she was just standing in front of an automatic door.

And the puns! Oh, the puns. They are so ridiculously cheesy that the little ones will find them giggle-worthy while the adults will groan. But they are definitely fun!

Fight, Explore, Collect

LEGO The Incredibles has a few special, story-related levels that mostly follow the LEGO format but sometimes throw in a bike chase sequence or another unique twist on things. These story levels can be a bit of a drag as it's not always clear what the game wants you to do. 

The real fun of the game, though, comes from the free exploration allowed most of the time. During these segments, you can either follow the markers to the next story mission, or you can ignore the next mission completely and instead explore new areas.

Every area has some crime that the Parr family has to put an end to, (like the ice-cream thief supervillain who tries to freeze the docks because… well, actually, I'm not entirely sure. Just go with it.). Once you clear the section of the crime that's afflicting it, the minimap reveals the locations of various collectibles and action points around it. 

And there are a lot of collectibles and points to explore/actions to complete. You can go around fixing things or breaking things, helping people, finding special blocks, and so much more. You can even go all Grand Theft Auto and steal a car for faster travel (just pluck the driver out and make yourself at home).

This free exploration is an incredibly freeing and fun experience, and often it's more fun to just lose yourself in the side stuff rather than move on to the next story point. 

During these exploration segments, you can also use any character you've unlocked — a feat you accomplish by finding or buying blind-bags. This means you can play the character whose skills you prefer, rather than just use the ones who came along to the mission (and your partner in crime-fighting can be "that girl with the brown hair and the stretchy arms").

As an added bonus, you're not limited to the Incredibles universe: some other Pixar names may make an appearance, providing fun Easter eggs for those of us who grew up on their movies. You also have the option to create your very own superheroes from parts you find or acquire through mystery bags. Between the creation and the 100+ characters available, there are plenty of choices to appeal to everyone!

Once you're ready to move on to the next point, just set a marker on the minimap and off you go!

Good, Silly Fun

The downside to the simplification of the story and action is that while this game is enormously fun to play with a kid or if you're a younger player, it's a bit too simple for an adult audience. Since it's clearly intended for a younger audience, this is not necessarily a flaw, but it's definitely something to consider if you like your games with more depth.

That said, it's so much fun to run around destroying things, and the humor is so slapstick and fun, that LEGO The Incredibles will charm whoever plays it — whether you're familiar with either franchise or not. 


I received a copy of this game for free in return for an honest review. All the opinions contained in this review are my own!

Vampyr Goes For The Jugular But Only Sinks Its Teeth Half Deep Mon, 18 Jun 2018 17:31:23 -0400 Steven Oz

Editor's Note: This is a community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr. 

London is entrenched in a macabre, ancient, and ghastly history. It is built upon countless battlefields, mass graves, and what seems like unending history. Maze-like alleyways and brooding buildings dot the city and hold the shadows of killers, royalty, and hidden societies.

It is a city creeping with character and therefore, it is no better location for DONTNOD’s latest action RPG, Vampyr.

While not as alluring as the dramatic locations found in a handful of other games, Vampyr’s nightmare-inducing locale is a persona unto itself with blood-soaked rooms and empty streets.


Vampyr is an action-adventure RPG set in 1918 London. The Spanish flu has spread around the world and struck at the heart of the city.

The star of Vampyr is Dr. Jonathan Reid, who is a brilliant doctor in his own right. His research into blood transfusions has led him around the world and to many dark places.

Following the Great War, he returns to England; and after a mysterious encounter, he is afflicted with the vampiric condition. His lust for blood contradicts his character, and he is convinced science can explain everything happening to him.

Thrust into a shadowy world of creatures like himself, he fights to survive.

Like DONTNOD’s past games Remember Me and Life Is Strange, Vampyr leans heavily on story and character, for better or worse. 

Dr. Jonathan Reid is the perfect foil for this land, but he seems a little bland as a protagonist. None of the game's dialogue options (anywhere in the game), seem to add any real definition to the character.

At times, Reid comes off as an arrogant cur, with only one option to choose from, but at other times, he is kind and considerate with multiple options. While the overall story affects the behavior of the NPCs you talk to, always seems to be a incongruous undercurrent to Vampyr's dialogue choices. Whatever dialog option you pick, be it kind or arrogant, it never changes the good doctor, making him feel rather stale at times. 

Another, slightly bothersome, issue is that he seems a little too perfect to be a vampire. A world expert in blood transfusions? Really? It's a coincidence that's a bit on the nose for me. 


Vampyr's central concept is one of dichotomy: Reid is both a healer and a killer. Taking the Hippocratic oath, he is a protector of life whose own true identity is a dark comedy, a life masquerading in the shadows.

Eventually, this dichotomy ensnares Vampyr's gameplay; social webs begin to form with those you have met -- those who may or may not be potential victims, those you must pardon and save, and those you must judge and execute. 
In Vampyr, it’s not “Do I kill?” but “Who do I kill?”. Each citizen offers a tempting source of power…but there will be consequences within the story.

Each NPC in London is a living, breathing thing. None are isolated but attached to a least one other citizen. This not only means that Reid must be careful in who he dispatches, but it also means that there are multitudinous opportunities for Reid to learn about each and every one of them by asking questions of others (or possessing the proper skills to extract information).  

And it doesn't just move the narrative forward. These conversations will allow NPCs Blood EXP to increase, giving Reid the option to suck them dry -- and by proxy, leveling up and gaining new abilities.

Deciding who lives and dies the Vampyr isn't an easy choice -- and not only from a narrative or "moral" perspective. Who you kill in Vampyr can affect the rest of the game. 

For example, killing a nurse might seem easy because she's blackmailing another character. But if you learn she's providing medical services in another part of the city -- and the blackmail helps her achieve her goal -- then it might be hard to kill her. And if you do decide to kill her, vendor prices might increase because of her absence. 

On top of that, the game difficulty is tied to how you play and approach these NPCs. The more lives you take, the easier the game becomes. While there are four ending to Vampyr, it's easy to botch one by killing the wrong person. And that's where Vampyr shines the brightest -- in situations that remind you the stakes are real, and that you have to live with consequences of your actions. 

When it actually comes to combat, things get relatively simple. You have either a weapon in each hand, such as a machete and a stake, or a two-handed weapon like a mace. You can also pick up guns and blast your enemies if that suits your fancy. 

As a vampire, you have powers, too. The most basic vampiric attack is powerful, allowing you to take loads of damage, as well as dodge around rooms and streets at supernatural speeds. Meanwhile, kill a few vampire hunters, and you’ll unlock your feral claws. These will let you charge up a big attack that thrashes enemies onto the floor so you can pounce on them and drink their blood. 

The problem is that that's about it for combat. You'll rinse and repeat over and over. And even though different enemy types are thrown at you throughout the game, such as vampire hunters, werewolves, and Skal (feral vampires), most fights will go something like this: dodge, hit, stab, charge health, claw, bite, dodge, hit, stab, charge health, claw, bite. Even boss the fights typically use this pattern, which gets repetitive after a while.

And even though I was thankful to come out of several vicious battles alive, it wasn't necessarily because of the game's inherent difficulty or the complexity of combat. Certain weapons stun, and this allows Reid to perform his important bit attack. However, the stun doesn't always work -- and it's even more difficult to figure out exactly how you're supposed to pull it off. 

Even the tutorial doesn't explain it well enough.


Vampyr is a game about decisions. It leans toward its story and narrative by giving players a lot of exposition early on. Notwithstanding some combat issues and systems gouged by a lack of difficulty, Vampyr is a slow burn.

While the game has some issues with combat and uses simplistic tropes for its main character, it is an excellent DONTNOD story. I was compelled to move forward and find out what grim happenstance was unfurled in this land. Yes, it is not a perfect game, but it serves as an engrossing drama for players to enjoy. 

This was a community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr. To see the Official GameSkinny review, click here

HyperX Fury S Pro Gaming Mousepad Review Thu, 14 Jun 2018 11:25:54 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There was a time not that long ago I would've scoffed at the notion of ever buying an "oversized" mousepad. Whenever I walked into a Mirco Center or a Fry's and saw those "oafish" extra-large pads dangling on the racks or lounging on the shelves, I chuckled at the "obvious" overkill of it all.

I had my regular-sized rinky-dink pad, and it worked just fine. I thought to myself, "Why would I need anything bigger?"

But that's the type of thinking you have when don't know any better. It's the type of thinking that gets you killed in competitive shooters, and it's the type of thinking that keeps you from knowing the true majesty of unfettered size.

Luckily for me, all that changed when I got my hands on the HyperX Fury S Pro Gaming XL.

Bigger than both the SteelSeries Qck XXL and Logitech G840, the Fury S Pro measures in at a whopping 35.4"x16.5". That means that no matter how exaggerated your movements, your mouse isn't likely to fall off the edges of this pad.

It comes in two variants: a standard, goes-with-everything black and the louder, yet still elegant, Speed Edition. The former keeps things understated with a muted black background, accented by the red and silver HyperX logo in the bottom right-hand corner. The latter features the same black background but this time embellished with a red, whispy flourish across most of the pad. A white HyperX logo pops in the lower right-hand corner, tying it all together.

The soft cloth of the pad is bound with a nicely woven anti-fray stitch. Not only does it extend the pad's shelf life, but it also provides a small tactile barrier to let you know you're getting close to the edges (if you ever reach them). On top of that, I haven't had a single issue with the pad folding or sliding because of its nicely textured rubber bottom.

Testing the mousepad in a plethora of different scenarios, ranging from elongated gaming sessions and every-day surfing to article editing and graphic design, the Fury S Pro proved to be an asset at both work and home. But if you're more the gamer, the pad's normal and Speed editions have a slight, yet important difference you'll want to be aware of.

HyperX says the normal pad has more friction than the Speed Edition and is built specifically for precision. The Speed Edition loses some of the friction found in the normal edition and helps increase player speed.

Although I wasn't able to confirm the Speed Edition is any faster than the normal edition, I was able to confirm that the normal edition's friction increased my precision in games like Battlefield 1 and Paladins -- and that's the primary reason it hasn't left my desk since I unboxed it. What's more, re-centering the mouse wasn't an issue because I didn't need to worry about sliding off the pad. The peace of mind provided by the size of Fury S Pro helped me keep my focus when it mattered most.

However, as good as the Fury S Pro is, its material may deter some gamers from picking it up. There's no doubt the pad is extremely comfortable, but those looking for a hard-plastic surface won't find what they're looking for here. Unfortunately, if you were looking to stay in the HyperX family, the company currently doesn't make hard-plastic pads, so you'll have to look to companies like SteelSeries and Logitech if that's what you're looking for.

But honestly, that's the only caveat I could find when deciding if I could recommend this fantastic pad. If you do want to go smaller, then HyperX has you covered (which makes getting a Fury S Pro even more of a no-brainer). Both the standard and Speed editions come in four different sizes: small, medium, large, and XL.

You can see them all here.

The extra large variant I tested retails for $29.99, a steal considering the quality and size of the pad. Even better, the smallest pad in the bunch, which is the size of a normal mousepad, will only set you back $9.99.

There's little reason this mousepad shouldn't be on your desk yesterday.

[Note: HyperX provided the Fury S Pro XL mousepad used for this review.]

Lust For Darkness Review: The Erotic Cthulhu Game You Didn't Know You Needed Tue, 12 Jun 2018 14:03:52 -0400 Ty Arthur

Cthulhu mythos fans have been majorly spoiled lately, with They Remain and The Endless hitting theaters and a trio of video games arriving shortly including the Call Of Cthulhu reboot, open world entry The Sinking City, and today the erotic horror adventure Lust For Darkness.

After that censorship debacle in Agony soured the experience for many horror fans, players seeking something boundary-pushing will unquestionably want to give Lust For Darkness a go.

Both games have their strengths and weaknesses, but Lust has a more polished feel at launch, and while there's less overt gore, the storytelling is easily on a higher level.

 Plus, there's a dildo pumping machine, and that's just undeniably a good time

At The Mansion Of Madness

Lust is more along the lines of the traditional walking simulator horror game than Agony was, focusing on exploring locations and opening an endless series of drawers while escaping detection.

The gameplay will make you think of Layers Of Fear or SOMA, but with more direct storytelling than the former. This isn't an abstract game where you have to wonder what's happening -- its a straightforward cosmic horror narrative, and that's something that's been missing from this style.

Its not all just walking and running from the monster though. Puzzles pop up every so often when you need to escape from Lusst'ghaa or make your way further into the mansion.

Some of those puzzles had me stumped for a few minutes while I tried to figure out the game's logic, but none of them are frustrating enough that you'll ever feel the need to turn it off and play something else.

To add another dimension of gameplay, you will occasionally have to use a spider-headed alien mask to detect hidden ways of progressing through areas... but if you leave it on too long you go insane. 

     I dunno where that portal goes, but I feel like its
probably warm and moist in there

Creating A Horror Feel

The atmosphere is ramped up properly in Lust, but the death sequences feel like they need to be expanded. Outlast for example had those truly ghoulish death scenes that made you want to avoid getting killed again, but here there's basically just a slicing motion and fade to black.

Although less relentlessly bloody than other recent horror titles, there is just as much grotesque horror on display with fully nude themes. There are unquestionably screenshots I can't include here because they push the envelope to a pornographic place.

Agony was all about the vagina-headed demons and pulsating vulva fruit, while Lust For Darkness instead has a hermaphroditic motif. Prepare yourself for a bevy of futanari creatures that have breasts and multiple penises... and probably want to impale you in unpleasant ways. 

 Well hello there!

Sex stuff aside, between the unsettling alien architecture and weird arcane machinery, there's a lot the developers get right about the Mythos.

In fact an early segment of the game taking place in an old timey mansion while sneaking to avoid guards will bring to mind Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth

The game splits itself between a plane of cosmic dread where death is a sexual release, and a giant sprawling estate where cultists are enacting a ritual. The latter segments are essentially the Eyes Wide Shut mansion, but with a stronger horror twist.

 Everybody's having an orgy and this dude just wants to be his own best friend

The Bottom Line

It should go without saying that Lust For Darkness is a super NSFW entry. There's dildo machines, lesbian orgies, futa statues... even the wine corks look like a golden butt plugs.

If you want a sexy horror experience, then Lust is the game for you. The voice acting and writing are easily better than Agony, although still on the indie side (a couple of minor spelling and grammar mistakes in the text will need to be updated with a patch).

There's also fabulous music to enhance the mood, and the mystery to the story will draw you in like any good thriller or detective movie.

Playing straight through, you'll probably finish the full game in a handful of hours, and other than going back to find side story objects you missed, there's not much for replay value. This is more a one and done story, but its a story that's well worth experiencing first hand, even if it is a little rough around the edges.

You can purchase the game on Steam for $14.99.

Jurassic World: Evolution Review Tue, 12 Jun 2018 10:43:21 -0400 Fox Doucette

With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming to a theater near you on June 22, Universal Pictures decided, as you do, that a video game tie-in, Jurassic World: Evolution, should be part and parcel with the film's release.

Curiously, it's clear they made distinct two decisions. One, make it a tycoon game and farm it out to Frontier Developments, who made 2016's excellent Planet Coaster.

And two, base it mainly on the previous film in the franchise: 2015's Jurassic World.

That movie featured a theme park that had been operating fairly successfully since the events of the older Jurassic Park films where scientists, entertainment types, and paramilitary interests had their worlds collide, some dinosaurs got loose, and the studio made a billion on the worldwide gross.

This is ... actually pretty fertile ground for a video game. Trying to make a profit, keeping factions happy while playing their interests against each other, quickly responding when everything goes downhill in a hurry after a disaster? That's pretty much Tropico with dinosaurs, isn't it?


The "Wow" Factor

The primary positive of this game: The dinosaurs look pretty cool.

It's clear that the developer put a lot of love capturing the spirit of the movies, which were always ultimately about putting cool-looking dinosaurs on the silver screen.

The in-game models are very pretty, especially in the official footage, which is either pre-rendered or else captured by a top-end computer. But even on something relatively potato-like, the dinosaurs are well-modeled and have a definite gee-whiz factor to them.

Indeed, the cutscene you get when you finish cloning a dinosaur and release it into an enclosure is the single niftiest part of the game.

The rest, is... well, it just is.

Paint By Numbers Gameplay

There is simply not a lot of meat on the bones of this game.

Regardless of the circumstances, it's obvious this game was rushed out the door. Jurassic World: Evolution is seriously bare-bones -- even when compared to Frontier's other entry into this same genre.

There are precious few shop types, buildings, and other actual park things to unlock. Everything other than the dinosaurs is massively simplified to the point where even tycoon games from the 1990s had more depth to them (Rollercoaster Tycoon, looking at you.) It's all just window dressing.

Furthermore, the actual dinosaur research, fossil digs, upgrades, and other stuff that power actual player progress? Click on a location where the game tells you exactly what you will find, wait for a timer, then go to the fossil section, wait for a timer, go to the research building, choose a line of research, wait for a timer...

If I wanted to click on something and wait for a timer like a Skinner box, I'd play FarmVille. The most fascinating part of the entire Jurassic universe, the stuff that made Michael Crichton's original book such a great read and carried the exposition in the early movies? It's reduced to “click spot on screen, wait a couple of minutes, receive reward.”

At least give me a bit of dialogue or a short, skippable cutscene from Mr. DNA or something.

But the Mayhem is Fun, Right?

Settle in and prepare to be disappointed again.

Every dinosaur is governed by a set of meters that also govern whether it will live a long and healthy life or run amok.

Translation: you're constantly playing a way-too-easy balancing act with an instant get-out-of-jail free card whenever a dinosaur is unhappy. Just tranquilize and sell it. Problem solved. Or if a dinosaur is a plant-eater, clone a meat-eater and cull the herd ... in one of the most underwhelming displays of dinosaur combat it's possible to have in a game.

And when the meat-eater starts getting too many ideas about killing all the other dinosaurs? Tranquilize it, then either move it to its own carnivore enclosure or sell it.

And when dinosaurs bust through the fence, there is none of the tension from the movies. Remember the very first film, when the velociraptors were probing around in the visitor center, actually learning and doing (sci-fi) intelligent monster things?

There is none of that in the game. The dinosaur gets loose, it starts killing guests until you sound the alarm, it can't get into the emergency shelter, so you either tranquilize it or wait for it to wander back to its feeder in its pen then dispatch a repair crew behind it to fix the fence.

It's the least impressive jailbreak you can imagine.

The Game Has No Soul

In essence, they made a Jurassic Park game that has absolutely none of what made the movies so compelling. It's a barebones management game with minimal gameplay variety where the voice cast, playing characters from the movie, deliver canned lines that have none of the quality those same actors brought to their live-action roles. 

And except for the cool release-the-dino cutscene, which gets old after the second or third time, there's nothing to differentiate this from any generic game in the style of something like Zoo Tycoon.

The Verdict

Now, I'm not going to sink so far as to call this “shovelware.” Frontier Developments deserves better than that label.

But this game is a content-light, fulfill-the-license, a-movie-is-coming-out cash grab all the same. When I sat down to play the review copy I was sent by the publisher, it was Saturday afternoon. I had the whole day in front of me ... and I got bored, exited the game, and went out to dinner to clear my head knowing I'd have to play it more for a review and guide, spending an uninspired Sunday giving it the fairest shake that professionalism allows.

Total time elapsed on Saturday, according to Steam, before I got bored: 88 minutes. That's within the window for a refund, and if I'd paid the full $54.99 for the regular or $59.99 for the deluxe edition, that's exactly what I would have done.

I love building and management games. I have dozens to hundreds of hours in Rollercoaster Tycoon, the old SimCity games, Cities: Skylines, Railway Empire, Banished...

Jurassic World: Evolution couldn't even hold my interest. This isn't even a genre-fans or movie-fans only recommendation. The game is just ... underwhelming.

And that's unfortunate. 

Dark Souls Remastered Review: Praise the Sun Mon, 11 Jun 2018 16:37:29 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There are very few games like the original Dark Souls.

In the seven years since its release, Dark Souls and its immediate sequels have permeated the gaming zeitgeist to such an extent that Souls-borne is now a recognized subclass of RGP. Despite the games that have come after it, the release of Dark Souls remains an undisputed watershed moment for gaming. It's the game that made "git gud" a subculture and gave an entirely new meaning to the phrase "****ing hard."

It's good news, then, that the ethos of what made the original so timeless is at the core of Dark Souls: Remastered. Or in other words: praise the sun this remaster isn't a dud.

Making Dark Souls Great (Again)

OG Dark Souls players will find that almost everything in the remaster is exactly as they remember it: enemies are in the same locations, bosses are just as difficult, and exploration is just as important.

But the word "remaster" itself entails change -- and not every tiny detail of Lordran is the same. The most noticeable differences come on the graphical front, while others can be found in the game's PvP elements. Some, for better or worse, firmly fall into the neither-positive-nor-negative category of "meh."

If you were worried Dark Souls: Remastered wouldn't run at a buttery-smooth 60fps at 4K (or more technically, 1800p upscaled/60), you can put your concerns to a fecund bed. From the game's opening sequence to its end, it's obvious that Dark Souls: Remastered takes full advantage of current-gen power.

In my roughly 40 hours with the game, I still have yet to encounter any noticeable framerate drops. In fact, gameplay is so silky that I’ve not run into so much as a stutter. Less janky graphics don't remove some hit detection issues inherent in the game's design, but it does mean more confident ripostes and backstabs -- and better animation reads on pesky enemies like balder knights, painting guardians, and infested ghouls. 

Thankfully, it also means that notoriously intensive environments like Blighttown, The Depths, and other formerly sluggish hells finally have their shit together. Where the game once struggled to hit 30 frames (or where it clawed to reach even half that threshold), Dark Souls: Remastered doesn't miss a beat.

Some may say the improvements fundamentally change areas such as Blighttown, making them “easier” when compared to their original versions. But more appropriately, I think the increased frames make these areas a bit more fair and entertaining for both old and new players alike. 

Don’t be mistaken, the scaffolding leading to Blighttown is still mercilessly treacherous; the tight alleyways of the lower Undeadberg are still murderously tedious; and the cramped corridors mazing through The Depths are still ruthlessly insidious. It's just that now combat feels better balanced, with lag, tearing, and artifacts things of the distant past.

Another improvement that makes Dark Souls: Remastered a more enjoyable experience comes in the form of volumetric lighting.

Naturally, Dark Souls is, well, a dark game, one where both light and dark work in concert to develop the atmosphere of each distinctive area. And while the original was no slouch when it came to rendering light and particles, Dark Souls: Remastered enhances those effects to a great degree.

Bonfires burn with new intensity, souls glitter in brilliant blue-white light, and spells like Great Soul Arrow illuminate dark surroundings in dazzling eldritch lightshows. Most noticeable of all are the improvements to outdoor lighting, where sunlight scatters across environments more vibrantly than ever before, repainting familiar vistas into beautiful new tapestries.

But just as gorgeous as the environments of Dark Souls: Remastered can be, there's also a strange counterbalance at play: not everything looks better. Watch any comparison video, and you'll see that some of the game's renderings simply looked better on the PlayStation 3, a strange thing to say about any game -- let alone one in the Souls series.

And depending on your display, Remastered might look a bit (or a lot) over-saturated. Since 4K televisions typically default to high contrast settings, you'll find that areas of Blighttown are now drenched in a sickly green or that areas of Anor Londo are bathed in fiery red. In other areas, bonfires can look like they've been put through too many Instagram clarity filters, which ain't really a good look. 

Playing on a TCL 50" 4K HDR, it took about an hour or so for my eyes to fully adjust to the remaster without changing my default settings (which work fine with games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and God of War). Sure, you can easily tweak your display's contrast settings, but if you don't have multiple options for all your inputs, you'll find yourself doing one of two things: changing them back and forth every time you play or just getting used to it, neither of which are completely ideal scenarios.

Git Gud or Die

If you've never played a Souls game, then this might be a tricky place to start. This is a hard game, but not in a particularly nefarious way. You will die, and you will question the very basis of your sanity as you find new ways to give up your perpetually escaping humanity.

Exploration can be difficult. If you're used to a minimap (or any map at all), you'll quickly discover that memorization is not only key to getting around but also to surviving. You will backtrack. You will grind. And you will get frustrated. But the beautiful thing about Dark Souls is that it teaches you patience and perseverance in spades. Every death leads to better understanding.

Perhaps unlike any other game, Dark Souls will make you a better gamer.

If you're returning to Lordran, you'll not only notice the additions above, but also a few quality of life upgrades. Now you can change factions at covenants, use multiple items at once, and scale menus to see them better. All of these things bring Dark Souls: Remastered more in line with both Dark Souls 3 and other games in the current generation.

If you're a PvPer, you'll be glad to know that matchmaking is better than ever before. Dark Souls Remastered implements DS3's password system and tweaks to balancing make sure that OP players won't simply invade and wreck you because of their gear.

Dark Souls: Remastered might not completely hold up these days, with some areas and design choices showing their age when compared to Dark Souls 3 or Bloodborne. And it's a shame that the developers didn't take the time to revamp and/or finish some of the areas, such as the still-terrible-looking Lost Izalith. But whether you're new to the series or not, Dark Souls: Remastered's misery-soaked world is a testament to vision and execution. 

Dark Souls: Remastered is the best way to play a modern classic.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Dark Souls: Remastered used in this review.]

Prey: Mooncrash Review -- Countless Deaths Await In This Roguelite Re-Imagining Mon, 11 Jun 2018 16:01:38 -0400 Ty Arthur

E3 has just been the gift that keeps on giving this year. The stealth RPG smash hit Prey just received some big updates to the story mode, including a New Game+ addition, along with a large DLC surprise announced at the Bethesda conference and then released the same day!

Mooncrash is very much in the vein of the many big announcements so far at the world's biggest gaming expo, as developers try out different versions of the same IP.

Gears Of War is getting a turn based tactics title, Fallout is going online-only survival mode, and now Prey has a randomized rogue-like concoction with Mooncrash.

A Whole New Way To Play

Prey was easily among the best games of 2017, with its many different methods for tackling any given situation and the mind-bending story that brought to mind the best of the various 'Shocks.

Now we've got a whole new way to play Prey, with Mooncrash offering what is basically a randomized endless mode. This time around you take on the role of an operator playing through simulations of a disaster at the moon base.

In each run you get to unlock different character types, with the goal being to discover five different ways to escape the map and then (eventually) escape with all the characters in a single run.

 The first character is frail but has more psi aptitude for kinetic blasts

The base game gave you a multitude of options on how to play -- choosing between stealth, combat, psionics, using powers and goo guns to explore hard to reach places, etc. -- and Mooncrash is basically that same idea but in a sandbox instead of a major story mode.

There is a story with Mooncrash, both for the operator going through the simulations and the people he's learning about while the simulations occur, but the focus is undeniably more on the gameplay and interacting with the environment in different ways.

In essence, this is sort of a single player survival experience with roguelike features, and some new lore scattered across the way.

 Things didn't go well for these employees, and its your job to find out why

Of course there are new weapons, grenades, and enemy types to spice up the experience, and you can do some nifty things with the environment since you know you are in a simulation this time around.

The longer you stay alive, the higher the difficulty becomes. Eventually you will succumb to the challenges and have to reset the simulation. Players are expected to die fairly often, use up the Sim Points you earned on that playthrough to start with better gear and skills, and try again.

Sim Points are earned through normal gameplay by killing enemies in different ways, finding bodies, and so on, but there are bounties for extra points if you play the simulation in a specific way, so there's a ton of replayability here.

  Selecting better starting gear in a new simulation runthrough

The Bottom Line

Mooncrash provides a cool new mode that gives you a reason to return to Prey if you don't want to go through the main storyline again, and features an innovative way to tweak the base gameplay in a new direction.

The DLC is sort of at an odd price point, however. It's $19.99 if you already had the game, but effectively only $10 if you didn't previously buy the base game because it comes with the digital deluxe edition for $10 over the normal price. I get that game prices change as they age, but it sort of seems like they are punishing people who bought the game when it launched by charging extra.

That price point might be the only real downside here, as you'll probably get a max of 10 hours or so out of this before moving on, but if you love Prey its worth the investment.

Mooncrash is just the start of the Prey renaissance, as later this year we'll get Typon Hunter, an asymmetrical 1 vs 5 version of the game that will also support VR! Hopefully we'll have plenty of more Prey ahead, as Mooncrash shows there's still life in this game, and a full sequel would be well received by the fan base.

Cultist Simulator Review Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:18:29 -0400 Zack Palm

When game developers tell you about how you're going to experiment in their game, you may imagine this means you'll be trying out multiple different weapons to fight your enemies or you're going to dabble in a variety of spells to find your favorite combination. In Cultist Simulator, you experiment with far more than simple weapons; instead, you discover what the gameplay mechanics mean and how to conjure a victory from a blank board through multiple attempts.

This brand-new game from Weather Factory places you behind the wheel of a maddeningly complex card game. You start out with a basic card, feed it into a single icon to earn a pool of resource cards, and attempt to survive, all while attempting to found and lead a cult.

Each time you play, you learn a new trick, granting you the opportunity to experiment with your cards and try something you haven't done before.

Listen to Your Cards

You start the game off with a simple card in the middle of the board and a large 'Work' icon on the left side of the screen. You begin by dragging the card, labeled 'Menial Employment', to the Work icon, and waiting for the cooldown. Upon completion of the task, you'll find you've developed a small pool of resources, along with a new icon you can interact with called 'Dream'.

Now you're playing Cultist Simulator.

Because you have to discover what's going on, it's important to pause the game whenever something happens. While paused, you need to click on every new icon and card you acquire and read the pop-up attached to it.

The pop-ups come with a small narrative description to add richness to the ever-changing world of Cultist Simulator. These descriptions may plainly detail what these cards do or only hint at the answer, forcing you to guess and hope for the best. 

At the bottom-right of each card and icon, you will see an array of 'Aspect' symbols. These detail what the icon wants or what the card does. For example, an icon may have a small, purple potion symbol called 'ingredient' in it. This means the icon requires an ingredient in order for something to happen; this ingredient may be forcefully taken from you or willingly given to produce a particular outcome.


During your game, you may want to feed a particular card to an icon, such as 'Work', to develop it further. The game does not point this out to you or send you a notification that this is happening. It simply happens. If you miss it, you suffer the consequences.While not placing a card in the icon may benefit you, ignoring it likely harms you, and you'll have to swiftly recover from the consequences. This is the developers at Weather Factory prompting you to not remain idle -- keep on your toes as much as possible, and read all of the Aspect symbols!

Resource Management

The first part of the game has you struggling to maintain the four main resources: Health, Passion, Reason, and Funds. Of the four, I've lost multiple times due to not having enough Health, or I've sometimes found myself struggling to acquire funds.

The game does not tell you how to obtain more. With some experimentation (and some quick deaths), I was able to discover how to do this.

I found out that when you place your resource cards in select icons, you can acquire new cards that remain on the board for a limited time. You use these limited-time cards to develop and grow your standard resources -- a welcome discovery that, even early on, gives you a sense of accomplishment and progress.

For example, one of the earliest things you learn is that you need to maintain a decent pool of Health. You can acquire more through using your Health resource cards on the 'Study' icon, gaining Vitality.

Vitality only lasts on the board for three minutes and then disappears. If you acquire two Vitality at the same time, you can place them back into the 'Study' icon and earn a new Health card, adding it to your total resource pool.

All of this takes time. And during this time, the board is steadily working against you, not waiting for you to feel ready or prepared.

You have to pay the 'Time Passes' icon a Fund card every minute to survive. This means you have to earn money faster than you're using it, and you may want a few Fund cards in your back pocket to purchase a piece of Occult Lore.

The game's random-number generator always feels set against you, too.

You may feel like every time you're about to use a Reason card to further develop your resource pool, the game demands you use your last one for your job or suffer the consequences.

Are the consequences worth it? Do you reserve that card to receive that instant gratification of a bigger resource pool, or do you stave off your angry boss?

You will constantly ask yourself these questions, wondering when you're going to get a break -- which you never do. This game does not hold your hand, and you should never expect it to. You must pay attention and learn from your past mistakes in order to succeed.

Steep Learning Curve

I finally discovered on my third or fourth game of Cultist Simulator how to earn more resource cards. When I learned this new skill, a new door in the game seemed to open up; I was rewarded for my efforts by being allowed to look deeper. 

Each time I sat down to play a new deck, I had more tools I could use to help me survive longer. The game keeps these mechanics in plain sight and rewards you if you're willing to work to understand. Cultist Simulator feels like a massive web where when you pull on one thread, eight more strands become available for you to pull.

However, this may push a good portion of the player base away from this game. These difficult mechanics take a good deal of time to learn, and if you're not careful, you'll find yourself dead and back at the start with little to show for it.

This is what Weather Factory expects to happen. The developers want you to try again. This way, the small victories you have, like discovering how to add more cards to your resource pool, feel meaningful.

Did you die from having too many Dread cards on the board? If these pop up enough times, you can spend a good portion of a new game learning how to earn a Contentment card, which counters Dread.

Did a noisy inspector learn too much about your cult and build a case against you? Spend time learning more about your followers and how to upgrade them. After a bit of digging, you can learn how to turn them into deadly assets any sane enemy would rightfully fear, and that inspector is no longer a problem.

Leading Your Cult

Once you're past the initial start of the game, you'll begin leading your cult. This means you start shepherding your cult's followers, keeping your notoriety in check, and discovering new Lore cards to use for your many arcane devices. 

As you steadily continue your nefarious activities to advance your cult's goals, reporters and detectives may start to grow curious about your actions. Thankfully, you are not alone.

Your followers come into play during the mid-to-late game. Their devotion to you remains absolute, and their skills are at your command. Should you feel a reporter asks too many questions, poisoning their tea or driving them mad can stifle any future problem. The same goes for completing a dangerous cult ritual -- who better to sacrifice than a willing follower whose only purpose is to expand your rightful doctrine?

Every play you make comes with two sides: a consequence and a reward. These consequences sting your hand and fill you with regret, but the rewards keep you going and drive you to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- even if the light is your death.

You adapt, you evolve. Because experience is the only thing you take with you between your games, you cling to it and establish it as your creed. As you learn more, you discover new possibilities available to you and untangle the massive web hidden behind Cultist Simulator to find the thread of victory.

At the End of the Day

Starting out in the game can feel like a chore. You stumble, fail, and continually feel like the game unfairly killed you for something you barely understood.

Once you get past the first few games and start learning how everything clicks together, you get sucked in. There's plenty going on in Cultist Simulator, and the game rewards you for every new detail you uncover and use.

Those with the willpower and skill set to find the right card combinations for a victory will reap the rewards.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Vampyr Review - Sink Your Teeth Into an Intoxicating Vampire RPG Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:15:01 -0400 Autumn Fish

Have you ever wanted to experience life as a vampire? Have you ever longed to fit into a human society that's impacted by your very presence as a vampire? Have you ever desired to get blood drunk and wreak havoc on your enemies with supernatural abilities?

Then let me tell you about a special single-player action RPG called Vampyr. It's a brand-new game from DONTNOD Entertainment, the creators of Life Is Strange.

This new game aims to provide players with an authentic vampire experience set alongside a gripping story centered around the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in London. Is this a vampire game that's worth more than a blip on your radar? Let's find out!

Vampyr Review

You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid, a newly turned vampire. Upon returning to London from the warfront, he finds the Spanish Flu pandemic has ravaged the nation, alongside a mysterious uptick in the vampire population. As a doctor, it is his duty to help find a cure to save the city from the flu. As a vampire, he can use his supernatural abilities to get down to the bottom of whatever's plaguing London, if only he can suppress the thirst for blood.

There are two major aspects to this game. In many ways, it's a deep social RPG in that you have the ability to make a powerful impact on the citizens around you -- in more ways than one. However, it's also an action RPG that can prove quite challenging in its own right, depending on how you play your cards.

How Vampyr Functions as a Social RPG

The people of London feel alive, and the game is happy to treat them as if they are. If they get sick, they could die. If they die, the people connected to them may suffer in sometimes unpredictable ways. This isn't a game where you can expect to get away with being careless.

Vampyr Doctor Surgery

As a doctor, you thankfully have the power to craft and administer medicine to those who need it. And as a vampire, you even have the power to save citizens who find themselves in more imminent danger. Making sure the health of London's social circles is up to par is essential for keeping them from falling apart. After all, you're looking to save the city, aren't you?

If you're not, that's fine too. Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Just remember that all of your choices have consequences.

Each populated district in London has its own social circle. Each social circle has a pillar at the top who everybody knows or is connected to somehow. Then everybody else in the social circle is divided into clusters of people who are close to each other.

Everybody has their secrets, too. They even have secrets with other people. The more you learn about the citizens of London, the more you begin to realize how interconnected these social circles really are. You get a feel for how important these people are. You even get a taste of how much their blood is worth.

The story likes to set up intricate and delicate scenarios where you're left making difficult decisions. These choices often impact important people, which in turn affects those who were close to those people. The way they're impacted depends entirely on how you manage the situation. You have the power to save London, but you also have the power to destroy it.

Vampyr Bite

If you decide to just give up on London and your own humanity, you could just give into the thirst and start draining the citizens of their blood one by one. You'd even find yourself to be stronger for it. The more important someone is, the more you know about them, and the healthier they are, the more experience they're worth. However, that also means the amount of experience you earn for killing them is also essentially equivalent to the consequences you will incur, so bear this in mind before you pick your next victim.

The social RPG elements are undoubtedly deep, but how does the action hold up in comparison?

How Vampyr Works as an Action RPG

The action here draws slight parallels to The Witcher 3 in execution. You have a main-hand melee weapon as well as a secondary weapon, which can be a simple off-hand melee weapon or a gun. You can attack with your equipped weapons, dodge, sprint, and use an array of supernatural abilities to take down your opponent.

You have a Stamina Meter that depletes every time you dodge, sprint, or attack with melee weapons. If you run out of stamina, you're left unable to perform these actions, which can easily lead to death if you're not careful.

You also have a Blood Meter that fuels your supernatural abilities. This meter won't replenish over time and must instead be filled by either biting rats, biting enemies in combat, or using the perks of certain supernatural abilities.

Vampyr Supernatural Ability Blood

The enemies you face in this game aren't pushovers, either. You're going to need to become at least competent with the game's mechanics in order to succeed, even if you're at a decent level. It's not terribly hard, but you can't expect to just blunder into the fray with guns blazing and expect to succeed.

That being said, you might find that you're consistently far below the level of the enemies that the game's throwing at you. That's actually intentional. It's the game's way of giving you an incentive to feed on the citizens of London. It represents how much weaker you are when you don't feed while simultaneously offering you the opportunity to see just how powerful you would be if you gave in and engorged yourself. Of course, feeding comes with consequences, so remember to drink responsibly.

When you gain experience, you won't automatically benefit from it and level up. Instead, you must rest at a bed and spend experience on supernatural abilities in order to level up properly. You can even spend a bit of experience to reset your skill build and respec everything.

So all in all, the social and action aspects of this game mesh together brilliantly. This alone makes for a wonderful vampire RPG. Mix it all with a mystery and story that you want to get invested in, and you have a downright attractive vampire game.

Vampyr Talking to a Citizen

Verdict: An Intoxicating Vampire RPG

Vampyr gripped me from the outset. Its gameplay and overarching theme mesh so well together that it just feels right to play. I felt like a gritty, badass, newborn vampire struggling to find its way in the world and control the madness spreading across London. I just felt so cool playing it, and that's a feeling I don't get from many games anymore.

It's one of those games where I always wanted to see what was around the next corner. I would scrub every inch of text and dialogue because I found it wholeheartedly interesting. The mystery surrounding being a vampire and the story of the pandemic in London had me absolutely hooked.

If you're at all interested in this title, I highly recommend checking it out. Whether you're just a fan of vampires or you're looking for a good single-player RPG to sink your teeth into, this is a game you don't want to overlook.

Vampyr is available June 5 on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Editor's Note: To read the community review for DONTNOD's Vampyr, shamble here

Moonlighter Review -- A Dungeon-Crawling Adventure With a Twist Mon, 04 Jun 2018 15:28:40 -0400 Zack Palm

Think you're settling in for the same dungeon-crawling adventure you've played before? Think again.

Developers Digital Sun give you something different from the traditional dungeon-crawling experience with Moonlighter. Not only must you explore the various dungeons in the small commercial village of Rynoka, but you must act as the town's shopkeeper and sell the many treasures you find from the ruins you've explored.

The game introduces wonderfully woven-together mechanics throughout your entire experience to give you a genuinely enjoyable adventure. These enjoyable mechanics will easily drive you to complete all four of the unique dungeons, and to at last open the final and mysterious fifth dungeon.

Will's Adventure

You assume the role of Will, who dreams of becoming an adventurer, and the game begins when he makes his first attempt in the Golem dungeon. Things don't exactly go to plan, and he gets spit right back out to the entrance.

These dungeons rest outside of Rynoka. Previously, they were brimming to the rim with treasure, but after 70 years, they've become far too dangerous for common adventurers to risk exploring. As a result, Rynoka suffers, and many of the occupants have little hope of a revival.

That is, until Will returns to claim his family's shop, Moonlighter. The shop was once owned by Will's father, who died attempting to open up the final gate.

You start the game with a sword and shield, as well as a broom. The only way to earn more stuff and get further in the game is to charge into a dungeon, loot the enemies, and make it out alive -- this doesn't always happen.

There are two main objectives in this game: run your shop effectively to fund your dungeon adventures, and complete the dungeons to find better loot. Along the way, you're purchasing upgrades for the town and for your shop in order to return them to their former glory.

The two ideologies complement one another beautifully, and one side does not overshadow the other. The further you progress in the game, the harder the dungeons become. As the dungeons increase in difficulty, the more expensive items you can find as you continue to dive deeper into each one.

The Dungeons and Combat

All of the dungeons have three floors, with a final boss at the end. Each time you jump into a dungeon, all of the rooms get mixed around and the game's procedural engine crafts a new layout. The map should feel different every time you enter.

The developers, amusingly, worked this into the game's lore. One of the old adventurers, Crazy Pete, left behind numerous notes about his experiences. He points out that no matter how many adventurers enter a dungeon at the same time, they will never run into each other and they will never play through a similar map. While this was not a necessary detail, it provides a sense of fun and gives you an idea of the playful world of Moonlighter.

Once inside the dungeon, you must hack, slash, and dodge enemies in order to survive. The combat is straightforward. Dodging provides you with a small amount of invincibility, and all of the enemies come with a distinct pattern.

You can wield two different weapon sets, and switching between them requires a simple button press. You have five different weapons at your disposal: sword and shield, bow, two-handed sword, spear, and a pair of fighting gloves.

None of the weapons stand out as the obvious choice to always take with you, as I only ever used the fighting gloves; I thought of Will as being the scrappy adventurer that he was, and he remained light on his feet.

Will must don armor, too. There are three different flavors: one with less armor but more speed, one with no speed but medium armor, and one with the most armor but less speed. Much like the weapons, these play with your chosen style, and there's no correct answer to what you should wear. Will is not a mage, and there is no magic.

In order to prevent you from grinding and getting to the best gear, you must gather up ingredients only found in the latest dungeon to craft the weapons at the local blacksmith. If you want to proceed to the next gear level, you'll have to advance to the next dungeon, which is only done by defeating the final boss. 

This made advancement feel significant, and when I opened up a new dungeon, a new level of difficulty came with it. It was a good reminder of how far I had come and how delicate the gameplay was every time I opened up a new gate. 

The enemies in each dungeon come with a theme. The first dungeon, the Golem Dungeon, features a number of ancient mechanical beings; they're a blend of stone and unknown magic. Small ticks above your foe's health indicate how difficult they are. The more ticks they have, the more health they have and the harder they hit. 

Many may worry that these starting creatures become staples in the game and simply receive a color palette swap for every new dungeon you open up.

Subdue your fears. While a handful of enemies do exist in multiple dungeons, a majority of the foes you face remain exclusive to a specific area, and you'll only ever find them there. This makes combat in every new dungeon you unlock feel fresh and forces you to learn all their new move sets. You must adapt to these new foes every time as you work towards cutting them down for their highly sought-after valuables.

The Shop Life

When Will returns from his night of adventuring, he has to assume the role of shopkeeper and sell the many items he found during his nightly escapades to an array of customers. 


The items you find do not come with a price tag attached to them. Instead, you have to gauge your customer's reactions to find the appropriate price for the item, and you change the price based on their reaction. Sometimes you'll walk away with a great profit; at other times, a customer receives a steal for an item, and you'll have to hastily adjust how much it's worth to make sure you receive the right amount for it with the next customer.

If you're willing to pay enough attention, you can see in your shopkeeper's book when an item from your store becomes popular. When you see a popular item, you can raise its price in your shop and receive a higher profit.

An item's popularity may influence how your next dungeon run goes, based on how much you're hurting for money. The same goes for when you have too many of the same items in your shop -- the more you have on display, the more likely customers will think the price needs to drop. Supply and demand remains a cruel mistress.

This mechanic wasn't a critical one. You don't receive negatives for not intently paying attention, but you are rewarded. You may find you can bump up several items in your shop for more, especially when you need the money for that next shop upgrade or to purchase another vendor for your town. 

Every so often, a robber enters your shop in the hopes of snagging one of your items when you're not paying attention. You'll have to act fast as they race to the door with their prize. I've yet to find myself looted by one of these poachers, but I can imagine the heartbreak if they stole an item worth around 10,000 gold.

Other than the robberies, there's a casual approach to gameplay in the shop. There's no stress on your shoulders to consistently pay attention to every customer. 

This makes running the shop a far more enjoyable occasion than it could have been and something I looked forward to every time I returned from the dungeon; not only was I excited to see how much I made, but I always wondered how much more I could charge for an item before my customers got angry.

As you upgrade your shop, not only do you add more displays to show off more items, but you can also start taking specific orders for customers to locate certain items in a dungeon. Thankfully, this mechanic never forced me to have to return to previous areas and do any backtracking. Every customer wanted an item from the latest dungeon, and they paid a considerable amount more than the item was worth in the shop.

I took orders from every customer who walked up to my shop. 

Inventory Management Is a Mechanic

When many hear "inventory management," their spines may lock up, and they immediately wait to endure the inevitable fight they're about to have with the backpack in their game as they mix and match their belongings.

Digital Sun again blends this understanding and beautifully incorporates it into what things matter for an adventurer in Moonlighter.

You're not only picking up items from the enemies you fight; you're also looting chests found scattered throughout the dungeons. To shake up the mundane, many of the items in the chests come with a curse attached to them. This curse can potentially benefit you, or it can cause annoying problems when you return to town, such as destroying an adjacent item when you teleport back.

Will can only carry so much. You're given a limited space of a 4x5 inventory to look over, and should you die during your adventure, you only get to keep the loot at the top of the inventory. This forces you to choose what you prioritize the most during a particular run. You might have found a bunch of crafting materials you were eagerly seeking, or you found a precious item you know sells for a bunch in your shop.

I found myself spending a good minute or two at every chest rearranging my backpack to optimize my payload. You can always refer to your shopkeeper's book with the press of a button to reference the price of an item. This helped the decision-making process. Additionally, items I needed for crafting the next item were given a small star, which again made them far more alluring than some of the cheaper items I found during my adventures.

There's a delicate balance found in Moonlighter's inventory management that other, bigger games have failed to discover. Sure, you die and lose almost everything you have, but you also keep a fair amount as well. If you paid attention to your inventory, you still make it back out of the dungeon with the precious items you wanted. I never walked away from a death feeling like I was robbed or cheated. It only meant I had to try again, and just like Will, I was eager to.

At the End of the Day

Every mechanic in Moonlighter feels like it was laced over the others with heavy consideration. Nothing felt tacked on or as if it had been included because it was something other games had already done. Running the shop becomes just as important as having a good dungeon adventure, and the game progresses in a healthy fashion to where I never felt things were getting easy.

Moonlighter wants players to have a good time while they tend their shop and fight endless dungeons of foes, and both make for a fantastic adventure.

Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Antigraviator Review - A Fast Racing Game That Falls Short of Extraordinary Sat, 02 Jun 2018 23:55:20 -0400 Autumn Fish

Antigraviator, simply put, is a racing game. More particularly, it's a racing game that's really really fast. You're going to be racing across an array of unique, futuristic tracks at near-supersonic levels of speed.

There's obviously a market that craves fast racing games -- just look at how much demand there is for a new F-Zero game. But just because a racing game is adequately fast doesn't automatically mean it's good.

Just how well does Antigraviator measure up as a fast racing game? Let's find out.

The Racing Mechanics of Antigraviator

An important part of a good racing game is having a foundation of solid mechanics that keep the race going and allow the player to improve with some time and skill. The mechanics found here are interesting and abnormal, but I'd dare say they're fun once you get a handle on them.

There's steering and acceleration, just like in any other racing game. Then you have an Air Brake that you can use to drift and turn corners a bit more easily. On top of that, you can perform Barrel Rolls that are good for dodging Traps or ramming opponents into the side of the track.

Antigraviator Fast Racing

While racing across the track, you'll encounter Boostpads that dramatically increase your speed for a short time if you drive over them. You'll also come across glowing orange cells that you can pick up and use to give yourself an on-the-spot Boost or even activate Traps along the track.

The wonderful implementation of Boosting alone makes this a rather fun racing game. Since there's no speed limit, you eventually find yourself going mind-numbingly fast, which ends up being extremely satisfying if you manage to stay on the track.

But then there are Traps. The Trap mechanic is something that I'm still rather unsure about. On one hand, it's an interesting way to disrupt other players and give yourself the upper hand, much like items from Mario Kart. However, their use is somewhat limited.

There is no way to collect a Trap and hold onto it for later use. Instead, you can only use a very specific Trap when you pass a very specific waypoint on the track. That means that the Traps that are available to use at any given time depend entirely on the track you're racing on and your position in it.

On top of that, there can only be one instance of a Trap active on the track at any given time. This means that if any other racer decides to activate the trap before you, there's no possible way for you to activate it. Not activating the Trap yourself isn't the end of the world, but the Shield you get for triggering a Trap can be incredibly useful for navigating through the chaos.

Antigraviator Trap Warning

All-in-all, the racing mechanics are pretty solid. This game knows how to handle it's speed, and it handles it well. The Traps are a bit of an odd mechanic, but they don't necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the game either.

Now that we know that the mechanics measure up, though, how do the tracks fare?

Are the Futuristic Tracks of Antigraviator Worth Racing On?

There are a total of five different worlds with three tracks each, complete with a reverse version of each track. Right out of the gate, this is a pretty decent number of tracks for a new racing game. However quantity does not always mean quality.

Each track is incredibly beautiful. It goes without saying that the visual design of this game is a blessing. The different worlds are all a spectacle to behold, even if they're based off of sort of generic video game locales.

The tracks are well designed, too. They're not too crazy or too bland, the Boost Pads and cell pickups are well spaced out, and it's not too difficult to figure out your upcoming turns.

Antigraviator Race Track

If an important turn isn't specifically marked with arrows and road signs, then it's at least clearly visible for a stretch of the track. Sometimes it feels like you don't have a lot of time to react to turns, but that's just the risk you take racing at faster and faster speeds.

Overall, I think the tracks are relatively well designed. None of them really stood out to me as incredibly fun to play, though none really stood out as bad, either. It was simple pretty good all the way around.

So it's nice that the racing mechanics and the tracks are up to par, but what about the game modes and features?

Game Modes and Features in Antigraviator

To get on the race track, you can either take on the Campaign, set up a custom Quick Race to play splitscreen with your friends or practice courses, or go Online to play against your friends or face against the leaderboard in Ranked.

While the rest of the game modes are pretty self-explanatory, the Campaign begs to be expanded upon. After all, it is the bread and butter of your single-player experience with the game. And all-in-all, it's pretty standard fare.

Antigraviator Splitscreen Local Multiplayer

You compete against CPUs across four tracks to see who comes out on top. If you get 1st place overall, you earn a bunch of credits and unlock the next Campaign League. If you get 2nd or 3rd place, you still earn a decent amount of credits, but you get nothing else. If you end up in any place lower than that, you earn nothing and essentially forfeit the credits you paid to enter the League in the first place.

Those credits are important as they're used to buy new parts for your vehicle in the Hangar. There aren't a lot of different kinds of parts to pick from, but the way they change your vehicle's stats is pretty deliberate. In this case, I'd say less is more because too many options would probably just bog down vehicle customization. You're only looking at three main stats anyway, those being Acceleration, Handling, and Storage for the cells you pick up on the track.

In the Hangar you can also customize your vehicle's decal and colors in order to make it truly your own. Locked decals can be unlocked simply by playing the game; there are no microtransactions in sight.

Racing Modes

Once you actually find yourself on the race track, there are a few different racing modes you can be thrown into. The Single is the standard 3-lap race that we've all come to know and love. The Deathrace is a special mode where you have one life, and the goal is to survive as long as possible. The Countdown is a frantic mode where you race against the clock to reach the next checkpoint before the timer runs out.

Antigraviator Trap Explosion

All things considered, this game features a decent collection of content. But is it ultimately worth your money?

Verdict -- Good, but Not Great

Antigraviator succeeds at what it sets out to do, but it doesn't excel at it. For many people looking for a fast racing game, that's plenty good enough. While my time with the game wasn't particularly memorable, I still had fun playing it, and that's what counts in the end.

If a fast racing game is something you're in the market for, then this might just be what you're looking for. If you're looking to get into faster racing games, this one is even a pretty good place to start!

Antigraviator is available starting June 6 on Steam and will come to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 at a later date.

Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dodge Club Pocket Review: A Throwdown in the Retro Underground Fri, 01 Jun 2018 13:22:33 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Dodge Club Pocket on the 3DS is a game with a surprising bit of history behind it. It's technically the third installment in a series of games developed by James Montagna, a lone indie game developer and director who has spent a fair bit of time at WayForward, and who has, among other things, worked in some way on every Shantae title, Cat Girl Without Salad, and all of WayForward's Adventure Time games.

The original Dodge Club game was a highly simplistic game that was shown off at night clubs and festivals as it was toured across North America, and it tasked players with controlling a single giant pixel as it dodged around a fireball in an arena.The general gaming public wouldn't get a taste of what Dodge Club had to offer until a multiplayer-focused sequel titled Dodge Club Party was released for the Wii U.

Montagna continued to experiment with the series' formula of dodging hazards in a square arena, and eventually made a mobile Dodge Club game called Dodge Club Pocket, which he later tweaked and gussied up a bit before re-releasing it in its enhanced state on the 3DS eShop. It has been over two months since the game was released, and barely anyone seemed to notice or acknowledge the game's existence much at all, if the two individual user ratings for it on the eShop (at time of writing) are any indication.

Even after releasing to no major fanfare, and in the face of everything else coming out on the Nintendo Switch recently, is it worth busting out your 3DS and putting down $5 on this scrappy little underground fighter?

Let me tell you the story of the most popular underground sport of 20XX.

It's Time to Square Off -- Literally

Dodge Club Pocket is an extremely simple game to understand and play. You control a big, bulky square that represents one of the many inspired young women trying to make it to the top of the Dodge Club Leagues, and you must beat each level by knowing when to duck, dodge, hold still, speed up, and so on. The game has 64 levels, all of which have different conditions you must satisfy in order to complete them. The levels get progressively harder as you go on, though any level but the last one can be selected at any time. You can also play the original Dodge Club mode, but it's really just a tacked-on little bonus.

Most levels' objective will just be a standard variation of dodging the fireball that spawns in the center of the arena and the spark that hugs the walls, but soon after you grasp the basics, the game starts to get more and more creative with its win conditions. Some levels require you to take a certain number of "steps" before the timer runs out (while still dodging obstacles), some levels pay homage to other classic games like Pac-Man, and some multiply the number of obstacles on screen as time passes.

The game always has you guessing and rethinking your strategy, and should you ever get really frustrated with a particular level, then you can just select another one and come back to it later. It also helps that you can control the game using either the touch screen, D-pad, or control stick, so there's minor variations on the controls available for any occasion and any player.  


This right here? This is gameplay. It might not look like much, but when it gets going, this game can be genuinely intense.

It's a game that I found myself oddly invested in, and I kept finding myself coming back to it when I wanted something simple and fun to play that wasn't on my phone. With the challenges rarely ever taking longer than three minutes, the one-hit deaths, and the easy-to-understand objectives and controls, Dodge Club Pocket kept me effectively hooked with its simple gameplay.

It definitely helps that the presentation is very chipper and cute, due largely to the character art and illustrations provided by artist linzbot, which gives the game a very upbeat, laid-back attitude. Playing through the main game will also unlock things like new songs for the catchy soundtrack, new characters to play as (palette swaps for your square), little bits of real-life Dodge Club history, and even comics and bios detailing the backstory and plot of the Dodge Club world and its characters. James and linz really didn't need to add this level of personality to the game to make it work, but they did anyway, and it is all the more charming for it.

 If this bio for Speck doesn't make you smile, then I don't think you're playing the right game. Or that we can be friends.

It's Not All Cute Girls and Atari Graphics

I do have some issues with the game, and while they are mainly just nitpicks, in a game this small, a nitpick is something that could sever a limb from its fragile little body. First off, while the number of challenges is perfectly sizable and they don't repeat themselves too often to be samey, there really isn't much incentive to play the game again once you've completed it. Once you've seen everything the game has to offer and unlocked all the little songs, comics, and concept art, then you've got no real surprises or secrets to uncover; the game has been thoroughly beaten.

On top of that, the graphics are fine, and the art is very cute and stylish, as I mentioned, but the visuals lack a bit of flare. Porting the game from mobile might have been a good opportunity to make the visuals look a little more flashy in the menu and level select screens in order to possibly attract a new audience, but for the most part, the game looks about the same as it did before. It is nice that the bottom screen reminds you what the objective is and how to pause and exit, but that bit of design is about the biggest visual difference between the two versions of the game.

The biggest issue I have with the game is its lack of a basic pause or quick-restart option. In order to pause the game, you have to hit the 3DS' home button, which works, but it's still a slower way to pause and un-pause than just pressing the start button like in most games. Instead, here the pause button allows you to exit to menu, and only if you hold it down for a second or two. I understand that holding down the button was likely a precaution made to stop people from quitting out of a level on accident, but it's basically faster to just fail on purpose and get kicked back to the menu that way.

Every time you die, you're forced to watch a little animation and hear a little failure jingle before you can start again. With no way to skip it, no way to restart a challenge quickly, and frequent deaths as the difficulty mounts up, it can be very annoying after a while. These minor nitpicks are really my only major issues with the game worth mentioning, and for a game this small and simple, it really nails the rest of the basics, which is all you can ask for, I guess.  

I'd Say It's Worth Skipping Lunch One Day to Buy This

The obvious question now is why should you buy Dodge Club Pocket on the 3DS for actual money when the mobile version is free. It's a pretty simple answer really: The 3DS version is mostly the same but has slight advantages that make it better. The presentation has been smoothed out and expanded just a bit, there's a bit more content, and the controls employing both the touch screen and buttons are much better than the mobile version, with the added bonus of your finger not blocking your view of the screen.

Not to mention, at an asking price of $5 for several hours of fun and challenging gameplay, it doesn't seem like too difficult a thing to skip your caramel latte for the day and spend that money on supporting an aspiring indie game developer instead. So maybe try out the mobile version first if you'd like to get the general idea of what the game is like, and then go all-in on the 3DS version if you don't mind paying a bit for a better version of more or less the same game.

Overall, I enjoyed the couple of hours I managed to squeeze out of Dodge Club Pocket. Sure, it isn't revolutionary or terribly big, but that's really not what it's meant to be. It's a fun little game that you whip out to play for maybe five minutes to try and complete a challenge, only to look up soon after to realize you've been playing for half an hour.

It's a humble game with no pretense behind it that just seeks to challenge and entertain its audience, and I would say it succeeds. It's fun, challenging, charming, and easy to pick up and play no matter who you are.

Dodge Club Pocket is available now for $5 on 3DS and for free on mobile devices, though the 3DS version is just that little bit better.

(Assorted press images provided by James Montagna)

Logitech G513 Mechanical Keyboard Review Thu, 31 May 2018 17:22:36 -0400 Jonathan Moore

It's a real possibility Logitech has found the secret formula to repeatedly crafting fantastic peripherals. From the G613 Wireless to the G Pro and beyond, both fans and critics alike seem to agree that when it comes to keyboards, Logitech can do very little wrong. 

Most gamers -- and writers like myself -- keep coming back to Logitech for three reasons: quality, consistency, and useability. Bringing those three pillars together under one roof means there are a lot of Logitech boards on a lot of desks around the world. 

Add the sleek G513 to the list. 

Sporting two great RomerG options, a futuristic, gunmetal design, a comfortable wrist rest, and LightSync compatibility, the G513 is relatively light on frills but heavy on fancy. Since receiving it, the keyboard hasn't left my desk -- a testament to its design considering I have plenty of other options for both home and work. 

It's not perfect at $150, but it's an excellent piece of equipment worthy of your attention and consideration.  


From its size to the Logitech logo in the upper right-hand corner of the board, the G513 takes almost all of its cues from the Logitech G413.

Its sturdy gunmetal body, which comes in equally sleek black carbon and silver colors, measures 17.5 x 5.3 inches and has the same 104-key layout as the G413.

Furthermore, the board also uses similar USB pass-through technology to allow for device charging and data transfer. It's located in the upper right-hand corner of the board and works as advertised. 

However, there are a few key design differences that set the G513 apart from other boards. The most obvious is that this keyboard doesn't have dedicated media keys (mute, volume up/down, play, stop, fast-forward, and rewind) like many other mechanicals currently on the market. It's something I've grown accustomed to in offerings from Corsair, HyperX, and even Logitech, so it's a bit strange not having them here. I wouldn't say it's something that detracts from the useability of this board, but it's something to keep in mind for the price tag. 

The other differences are a bit more positive. 

Sticking with keys, the Logitech G513 moves away from the if not boring, then bland single-color backlighting of the G413. Here, you'll get per-key RGB backlighting across the entire color spectrum. Using Logitech's consistently cogent gaming software, you can easily set profiles, presets, effects, and much more. The addition of Lightsync to the Logitech suite of products also means you can have the same profiles, presets, and effects across multiple devices, too, such as mice and speakers. It's a nice touch that makes your desktop look that much more uniform and elegant.  

It's also welcome to see the G513 has a plush wrist rest that's more comfortable than you might first expect. When originally unboxing the board, I thought it was odd that the memory foam palm rest didn't connect directly to the board but instead floated separately from it. But the more I used it, the more I came to believe that this is how wrist rests are meant to be.


Romer-Gs FTW 

I'll admit it: I'm not a super fan of the traditional Romer-Gs. It's not because they aren't fantastic keys, and it's not because they aren't quieter and faster than more conventional mechanical keys. It's really because I'm not a huge fan of Cherry MX Browns -- and traditional Romers are very similar in make and function. 

However, the big draw here is the G513's key options: tactile and linear. 

I've personally come to appreciate the linear versions presented here because they provide a fluid and smooth keystroke when typing and playing games. They have the same 45g actuation force, 1.55mm actuation distance, and 3.2mm travel distance as the tactile switches, but there's no discernible bump between press and actuation as there is with the tactiles. 

Since I spend almost all of my working and free time in front of the computer, having a key that works well and feels "right" in each situation is a boon. In fact, the small familiarity curve I often have with new keyboards wasn't present when first using the G513, which is a huge deal for both gamers and professionals making the switch to Logitech -- or between primary and secondary boards. 

Based on what I've read, I'm not the only one who feels this way. 

I tested the keys against my typical workload, which sees me typing thousands of words a week on average, as well as a variety of games ranging from Paladins and Warhammer: Vermintide 2 to Cities: Skylines and Tyranny. Each set of keys -- both traditional and linear -- performed as advertised.

In my time reviewing the G513, there weren't any major variances in quality between the two sets of keys, and all are rated for 70 million clicks. 

An Almost Full Feature Set

Aside from the aforementioned USB pass-through and full RGB backlighting, the G513 has a few more features that are worth noting.

Via Logitech's Gaming Software, you'll be able to program macros and keystrokes to the G513, as well as enable Game Mode to disable the Windows key when playing games. However, you won't be able to reprogram each and every key as you can on some other boards. You also won't find dedicated macro keys or G keys on this variant, either. 

Like most keyboards, you'll also find the G513 provides anti-ghosting features, as well as key rollover. The anti-ghosting works well and assures you have reliable control when gaming, but you'll only get 26-key rollover here. It could be argued that having full N-key rollover is often overkill, but at $150, it would be nice to have the feature here, especially since several less expensive boards offer it.  


Overall, the G513 is an excellent keyboard. If you're looking for complete RGB or linear keys, this is the upgrade you're looking for. If you don't care about either one of those things, the 413 is a board you'll want to check out -- or stick with if you've already got it. 

At $150, the G513 is a relatively tougher sell considering it's more an upgrade than a true full-step iteration. That doesn't mean you should pass it up at all; it just means you'll need to consider your options before taking the plunge. 

You can buy the Logitech G513 mechanical from Amazon for $150. 

[Note: Logitech provided the G513 used in this review.]

Total War: Warhammer II "The Queen and the Crone" DLC Review Thu, 31 May 2018 13:33:51 -0400 Ty Arthur

Although there's a steep learning curve and plenty of quirks to wrap your head around, Total War: Warhammer II is easily one of the best representations of this tabletop franchise in PC form, and among the best RTS titles out there.

Between the base game, the combined Mortal Empires mega-campaign, and the previous "Tomb Kings" DLC, Warhammer II is already a massive game, and it just got a whole lot bigger.

"The Queen and the Crone" expands the experience out even further with new Lords, extra units, revamped gameplay mechanics, and individualized quests for both High Elves and Dark Elves. 

 Light or Dark - the choice is yours!

Shaking Up the Vortex Experience

New units and quests are all well and good, but the big draw here is how "The Queen and the Crone" offers potential changes to your play style. If you've already demolished every single playthrough with each of the other Legendary Lords, there's finally reason to boot the game back up again.

Adding another layer of strategy, the Widowmaker magic weapon is up for grabs for any faction now, and it can change the course of a game immediately with huge buffs. No matter what race or Lord you are playing, this hugely powerful sword must be dealt with in one way or another.

Each of the new Lords includes a unique mechanic to further alter the Vortex campaign so you have a reason to start over. Alith Anar (who is also available for free even if you don't grab the DLC), for instance, is all about stealth and ambushing.

For the Dark Elves, the Death Night mechanic added with Hellebron feels exactly like the sort of thing you'd expect from these debased worshipers of Chaos gods, abducting and murdering their own kin for big bonuses. If you let too long a time elapse between these murderous rampages, though, the bonuses melt away and become major hindrances instead.

Holding new Death Nights means giving up slaves, and you need those to keep your economy running, so it's a delicate balancing act. You need to keep conquering and grabbing new slaves to prevent everything from collapsing, so it's easy to overextend yourself.

Here's the thing, though: Hellebron is Hellabroken. It's not just a lame YouTube comment -- it's actually true. At this point, if you aren't using her and making a beeline for the Cursed Sword quest, you are just playing the game wrong.

She absolutely dominates with that particular weapon ability activated, and can even make up for a lack of skill or knowledge of the game's strategy. It remains to be seen if she will be nerfed down to a manageable level in a patch or will remain a powerhouse that has to be dealt with by crafty players.


A similar bonus/penalty mechanic is available for new High Elf Legendary Lord Alarielle, but is based instead on protecting her homeland and preventing High Elf territory from being conquered or invaded. You start out with enemies behind your lines with Alarielle the Radiant's campaign, making it more difficult in the early game to get ahead.

Besides those Legendary Lords, a host of unit types arrive to shake up the combat. Amazing archers like the Sisters of Avelorn, devastatingly powerful cavalry like the Firehorn, aerial harassers for the Dark Elves like the Feral Manticore and Raven Heralds, and many more are all up for grabs (check out the full list of new "Queen and Crone" units here.)

The Bottom Line

Hellebron's overpowered nature aside, there's a whole lot of challenge here for Total War: Warhammer II veterans, and a massive expansion on tactics and play styles for newbies to try out.

For $7.99, this is a lot of new content for Warhammer II, and well worth it if you love the base game but want some new options to try out for the Elves.

The additions don't stop there, though, as a bunch of new arrivals hit today beyond just this DLC, including the Norsca faction added to Mortal Empires. There's never been a better time to jump in on Total War: Warhammer II, so get to conquering your enemies and enacting that Vortex ritual already!

Corsair HS70 Headset Review Thu, 31 May 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

While the Corsair HS70 is similar in many regards to its previous incarnation, the Corsair HS50, the headset has made a few small steps forward that distinguish it from its predecessor.  

It retains its durability and comfort, easily keeping up with headsets that are much more expensive in that arena. But it falls behind in the sound department, making small strides forward with additions that should have been integrated far earlier. 

HS70 Design 

Keeping the simple aesthetics of previous versions, the HS70 refrains from an ostentatious or flashy style. It is available in simple colors, either all black or black with white accents. Really, the only thing to add any kind of flair is the Corsair logo on the earpieces. 

Speaking of the earpieces, they are equipped with a plush memory foam and their height can be adjusted to dial in comfort. In addition, controls for the headset can be found on both earpieces, with the right earpiece hosting the power button, and the left side having volume controls, a mic mute button, and a plugin for the detachable, unidirectional microphone that has pretty great noise canceling capabilities.  

There is also a charge port on the left earpiece to allow you to recharge the battery, which has an impressive, advertised lifespan of 16 hours. I didn't test it for quite that long in a single sitting, but it lasted through all of my longer gaming sessions over the past few weeks. 

Holding the set together is a remarkably sturdy headband that feels as durable as any headset that I've used, even those in the higher price ranges. The inner portion of the headband is covered in the same plush foam that covers the earpieces. 

The headset also comes with a USB plugin for the HS70's wireless capabilities. The wireless functionality is one of the more noticeable additions, and that is what gives the HS70 the biggest distinction from previous headsets in the series. Capable of providing a continuous, high-quality signal for up to 12 meters (40 feet), the HS70 doesn't have the longest range, but it's not that far behind more expensive sets such as Logitech's G533 in that department. 


Overall, the earpieces are roomy and well ventilated, providing a very comfortable fit around the ears. Even with glasses, I was able to wear the headset for roughly 3 to 4 hours before needing a serious break. The headband is equally well padded, providing a snug fit, without putting too much pressure anywhere.  

While the earcups do rotate a small amount to accommodate for varieties in ear shape and size, it isn't much. Unlike some of the more expensive headsets on the market, the earcups do not rotate enough for the HS70 to comfortably sit around the neck. This means that if you're not using the headset, you're better off setting it to the side until you need it again -- unless you're comfortable with a more traditional headset fit around the neck.  

In my time with the headset, I found that I prefer the lightweight design of the HS70 over some of the heftier headsets that I've used in the past. The lighter style allows for longer gaming sessions with fewer breaks, which is great because I never sit down intending to play for just a few minutes. 



For the most part, the sound quality is great for gaming or voice chat, but if you need access to both at the same, time you might hit some minor speedbumps. It is fairly common in higher-end headsets to have different audio channels for games and chat. Such additions give the player the ability to moderate their sounds and designate whichever they feel is most important.

Unfortunately, the Corsair HS70 lacks this ability and while that is not a deal breaker in most cases, it does require you to adjust your sound settings accordingly. That's especially true if you intend to use this headset for any game that requires teamwork and communication  

The default bass levels seem to have been pulled back a little when compared to the HS50, and while the bass is still powerful, it doesn't feel like it's drowning the rest of the sound during movies and music. This is mitigated even further by the fact that the HS70 utilizes the Corsair Utility Engine for control over equalizer settings.  

As with the previous models, the HS70 is compatible with the PS4 in wireless mode. Naturally, I gave it a shot, testing out God of War and Monster Hunter: World, and while the headset performed well, it didn't exceed any expectations on the sound front.  


Overall, the HS70 is a definite step up from its predecessor, the HS50. Its wireless capabilities and the addition of the equalizer settings take a good headset and give it a boost. Unfortunately, the $89.99 price tag is a pretty big leap up from the previous model, pulling it away from being a budget headset and putting in the low end of the high tier. 

If you're looking for a reliable wireless headset with decent battery life in the $90 price range, this isn't a bad choice. But when compared to other offerings from Hyper X -- and considering the Corsair's own Void Pro is only about $10 more for an arguably better experience -- the decision gets a tad bit murkier. 

[Note: Corsair provided the HS70 Wireless Headset used in this review.]

HyperX Pulsefire Surge RGB Gaming Mouse Review Wed, 30 May 2018 14:35:07 -0400 ElConquistadork

The difference that a solid gaming mouse can make in both its bells and whistles and ease of play can really make or break your gaming experience. You have to look out for the right weight, feel, and button location when choosing a mouse that will stick with you through hardcore and casual sessions alike.

My experience with the Pulsefire Surge RGB Gaming Mouse showed me that not only has HyperX created a comfortable, user-friendly piece of tech, but they've created one that won't strangle the wallet of gamers on a slimmer budget.

With its smooth, unassuming design, the Pulsefire Surge RGB doesn't immediately jump out as anything particularly special. Outside of its gorgeous RGB lighting (more on that later), the general design feels like many mice I've used in the past, and I expected as much from my experience. However, that assumption changed for me the moment I finally tested it out.

Right off the bat, it felt terrific in hand. The finish has a smooth, rubberized grip that allows for good adhesion without sacrificing your natural dexterity. The button placement is ergonomically designed, and each button had satisfying feedback with each click.

And based on the fact that the Pulsefire Surge RGB is equipped with 50 million click-rated Omron switches, it's my best guess that this mouse is going to feel just as fluid and comfortable this time next year (give or take a few hundred Overwatch sessions). 

I've read some complaints from other users that the Pulsefire Surge's main buttons are designed to fit too close to each other -- that they end up grinding together in the heat of the moment. However, I never experienced this issue. That's because HyperX took the community's feedback to heart and has already released a brand-new version of the mouse that fixes that issue.

The Pulsefire was quickly redesigned to provide more space between the two buttons, which, when compared to the first mouse we were sent, really provides a world of difference when clicking the Pulsefire's LMB and RMB in quick succession. 

HyperX's software remains incredibly user-friendly, with options to program and store different macros provided through straightforward, simple design. You even get the option to change the RGB lighting on the mouse, which, let's face it, was my favorite part. The butter-smooth lighting effects on this little piece of kit really take what is otherwise a plain look and turn it into something truly radiant. HyperX has always done a terrific job with their interface software, and the Pulsefire Surge RGB isn't an exception to that rule.


Overall, I would argue that the HyperX Pulsefire Surge RGB is one of the best new gaming mice on the market right now. Its precision, technical kit, and software options are brilliant and fluid like a kiddie-pool filled with grain alcohol.

Add to that the fact that it's sporting a modest $69.99 price tag, can hit 16,000 CPI, and that it works near flawlessly for both work and play, and you've got a solid mouse for both the casual and the hardcore.

The only "downside" is that it doesn't come with customizable weights. Some users may find the Pulsefire a bit light, even though it comes in at 100 grams. But overall, it felt great in hand, and it's not something that should get in the way of picking up this fantastic piece of gear. 

You can buy the Pulsefire Surge RGB from Best Buy for $69.99. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Pulsefire RGB mouse used for this review.]

Logitech G305 Mouse Review: Affordable, Reliable Wireless Gaming Has Arrived Wed, 30 May 2018 14:01:03 -0400 Ty Arthur

When trying to move up the rankings and compete with the pros -- whether your jam is Fortnite, CS:GO, or anything in-between -- a solid mouse is a must. Rapid response and uninterrupted tracking make a huge difference  -- a larger one than you may at first realize. 

Moving from the stock mouse that came with my PC to the Logitech G305 (one of Logitech's newest gaming-centric mice), I'm shocked by the clear and noticeable differences it provides over most of the mice I've used.

From a comfortable design to instant wireless response, the G305 delivers a light, portable option for the serious gamer.

G305 Design

A quick look at the G305 reveals a surprisingly restrained, simplistic design. No crazy angles and curves like the Proteus, no flared hips like the G300S, and no extended thumb support segment like the G602.

Instead, the G305 offers a smaller, lighter design that works well for either a claw grip or a relaxed hand grip. The mouse has a solid feel but is fairly lightweight for a serious gaming peripheral. I think it feels best with the extra 10g weight added, but if you don't want that weight dragging you down for twitchy FPS action, pulling it out is a snap.

The placement of the rubber feet makes the mouse absolutely smooth: it can glide across your desktop space with ease, and an extra foot at the bottom means overzealous players who slam their mouse buttons down aren't going to do any damage.

Logitech has managed to pack a whole lot into the smaller space of the G305, with the wireless receiver dongle cleverly hidden inside the mouse next to the battery. It's so small and effectively hidden that I didn't even see it the first time I opened the case and thought my mouse mistakenly hadn't included that critical piece.

G305 Features

Having two extra buttons on the side and one just below the scroll wheel significantly improved my Fortnite reflexes (and ranking!) since I didn't have to move my hand and tap F1 to bring up the build menu. The MMB is more pronounced than some of the other mice I've used as well, making it easy to find in frenetic combat situations. 

Another great feature is Logitech's state-of-the-art HERO sensor. Found in some of Logitech's other mice, the HERO sensor is supposed to provide enhanced power efficiency while still pushing exceptional accuracy and performance. And for the most part, it does just that. The sensor is accurate and responsive, shaving time (however small) off my movements. 

You can also automatically switch profiles between games like Fortnite or Overwatch, assigning different functions to the buttons that are game-specific. And these profiles can either be stored on the mouse or on your PC.

With the Logitech software installed, there's a crazy level of detailed usage data to be mined. Turning on the click analyzer lets you see what buttons you press most often, how hard you press them, and how long they remain depressed so you can plan your button profile strategy for any given game.

Best of all, the software lets you manually change sensitivity settings if they aren't to your liking, since some games benefit from flinging the mouse across the screen in an instant, while others need more precision. 

G305 Performance

What you get with the 305 is essentially the same basic functionality as the more expensive G703, but with a few key features culled to lower the price point. Most notably, there's no Powerplay option for automatic recharging on the mouse pad like with the other mice in this series.

Although Powerplay isn't an option here, the G305 will last a good long time on a single AA battery -- up to 250 hours if you keep it on low-power mode. No matter what your settings are or how many profiles you save on the mouse, the battery life is long enough that you really don't need to factor constant battery purchases into the price, so you are saving a good deal by not buying that awesome (but expensive) charging pad.

While the battery life is great, all that really matters for a wireless gaming mouse is its responsiveness -- and that's where the G305 outshines the competition. The sensitivity and response time are actually better here than with my standard wired mouse, which is something that seemed impossible just a few years ago.

Aside from the missing Powerplay feature, another potential issue is the lack of RGB lighting, which has become nearly standard with any gaming mouse currently on the market. While there are cheapo $10 mice out there that have more stylish and ostentatious aesthetics, they won't come close to the sleek, smooth function of the G305. 


The G305 is undeniably pricier than your bare bones stock mouse while having a similar aesthetic. Where it beats out the lower-end peripherals, however, is in wireless connectivity, incredible responsiveness, a solid-yet-lightweight feel, and the Logitech gaming software.

For performance over panache, you can't go wrong here. If you don't care about flashing lights or flared, curved designs and just want to dominate in a round of Fortnite, the G305 is enthusiastically recommended.

Rated for 10 million clicks, the Logitech G305 is a fantastic mouse for the price. You can check out the full specs on Logitech's website. 

You can buy the Logitech G305 gaming mouse on Amazon for $59.99.

[Note: Logitech provided the G305 gaming mouse used for this review.]

State of Decay 2 Review: A Community-Driven Zombie Apocalypse Mon, 28 May 2018 14:57:34 -0400 Zack Palm

The newest zombie management game, Undead Labs' State of Decay 2, gives you the opportunity to act as a community leader of a small group of survivors attempting to make it in the apocalypse.

You start your game by choosing one of three different town options, each roughly the size of that from the first game. When you set up your first base, you immediately learn about the blood plague zombies. These zombies are more aggressive than normal ones found in the first game, and if the zombies do enough damage to a community member, he or she can receive the blood plague.

A character with the blood plague needs a serum soon or else they turn. You need to get samples from blood plague zombies to cure them, but you’ll find this an easy enough task. I never felt any pressure when a character contracted the blood plague as the cure was never out of reach.

The primary goal of your community is to rid your entire town of the blood plague zombie’s nest, plague hearts. Like the first game, there's no overarching story line; instead, you move from town to town destroying these plague hearts and attempting to survive. You'll find that small events happen throughout the game, but nothing substantial really opens outside of side quests.

Same Ol' Zombies

Other than the blood plague zombies, no new enemies get added to the experience. You have all the special zombies from the first game: your agile feral, your lumbering juggernauts, the loud screamers, and your poisonous bloaters. Naturally, the entire map is covered in rank-and-file zombies you cut down left and right -- however, they remain a force to fear in great number.

Because of how easy it was to handle the blood plague, it felt like the only new addition to the zombie roster was a bust.

Inventory Management

You’ll spend most of your time in the game away from your base, searching abandoned structures for crucial resources. You’re on the hunt for five different supplies: food, medicine, ammo, building materials, and fuel. Your community drains these supplies every day, and if one of these resources gets too low, your community members start to feel the pressure, and your group’s overall morale declines.

Random events crop up at your base all the time while you’re away. These events vary from someone clumsily spilling over a gas can to a zombie siege. The events don’t force you to run home to see what you can do; instead, they’re an additional drain on your ever-dwindling resources.

Though these events were an attempt to make your group feel authentic and real, they leaned closer to being bothersome. These events were structured to serve as the developer’s invisible hand, moving in on you to press down on all of your panic buttons and force supplies even further than they already were. 

Vehicle Sickness

Much like in the first State of Decay, you need a vehicle to drive around, and you definitely need the additional trunk space. Having six to eight more slots to use for inventory made vehicles feel like a vital resource to take with you whenever you went out on a supply run.

However, the vehicles in State of Decay 2 became a frustrating mechanic I found myself constantly annoyed with. The cars have a fuel gauge you have to watch, and this meter drops fast.

I found myself with nearly a full tank at the start of a run and lost almost all of it when I traveled to another part of the map. I cannot count how many times I got stranded on one side of the map with a tired, nearly dead community member, who I then had to use to loot any surrounding buildings to locate a container of gas. Walking that distance is not an option.

On top of that, the vehicles were full of glitches. There were times I would bash the front of the car up against a railing or a fence and it would get stuck on the environment, or I would go flying in the opposite direction. I’ve nearly lost a handful of community members, and all of their supplies, to my vehicle getting destroyed because it glitched out.

Despite these troublesome glitches, vehicles were still better than in the first game. In the first one, you could kill about two dozen zombies with your bumper before the hood would start smoking. I had run over so many zombies with my vehicle in this one I thought they were indestructible. This turned any vehicle I drove into the ideal zombie-killing weapon.

Community Survival

Though your main goal is to rid the town of these plague hearts, your main, consistent objective is to survive with your community. And you’ll find this no easy task as you get to know your community members and learn about their preferences. 

The survivors that make up your small community turn out to be the stars of the game. The first State of Decay had a small trait list with random facts about the characters, like they were a tour guide or they’re really good at television trivia. State of Decay 2 doubles down on this but openly breaks down how these traits affect the community as a whole and what passives they provide the community member.

These traits also provide incentives for you to decide what you should build in your base to improve your community. I found myself constantly referring to the community page to see what sorts of skills and passives my group had.

When I saw one of my community members had the "gardener" trait, I got to work quickly to give them a tiny plot in which to work their magic. Not only did the garden plot give my group an overall morale boost, but the community member, Chili, was able to optimize this location and provide more food than the addition already gave. One less supply to worry about on my travels.

Early on, I decided I wanted to streamline a particular community member to act as my leader. Her name was Tweak, an energetic chemistry major who played paintball in her free time, and I felt she was going to be a positive driving force for our community to look to for support. Turns out this plucky chemistry major was a dictator in training because she had the Warlord legacy personality.

Each community member comes with their own legacy personality, either the Warlord, Sheriff, Builder, or Trader. The personality trait provides the member with a moral compass on how they prefer to have their community run. Additionally, when you move over to the next map, this personality trait adds a starting bonus to your starting home.

Tweak turned into a little tyrant and ruled our town with an iron fist. She enjoyed the power she rightfully won.

A Thriving Environment

As you explore the game, you’ll run into a number of NPC communities also trying to survive. Periodically these groups make calls for help over the radio, asking you to help them with a zombie infestation near their base or asking if you can help them locate a specific supply they’re running low on.

You can handle these NPC communities however you like. If they become friendly enough towards you, you can receive discounts on trading with them and stock up on any supplies you’re lacking. If they like you enough, you can ask if members want to join up with you.

Unlike the first game, State of Decay 2 gives them a lot more depth and personality. I felt more willing to go out of my way to help them out and give them assistance, if I could.

When I missed opportunities, I felt bad; however, this system weighed me down. While I was getting yelled at by the NPCs, I was meeting my group's needs and helping them out. I was conflicted about how this system worked, but in the end, it was a good addition. If anything, this system provided me with more tasks to do rather than raiding abandoned homes or clearing out zombies.

While you normally start out neutral to these parties, Tweak wasn’t too keen on letting them move in for free. If she found out about a group, she wanted them out of her town or to have them join up with her survivors -- there was no middle ground.

Anyone who was against this idea didn’t last long.


This installment also introduced the concept of multiplayer. A host could invite up to three other friends to their game to help them survive. The mode feels more helpful for the host as any supplies gathered during these sessions went to them, and the guests only received a small portion of what they grabbed.

However, I can't talk too much about this new mode as any session I attempted to play ended in failure. My friends could never connect to me, nor could I connect to them. We never got to experience this portion of the game.

This may have been a favor to us as many players have reported a number of bugs and problems, from guests being unable to access a host's base facilities to being unable to open up a passenger door while driving around.

Plagued With Bugs

Throughout my journey I ran into a number of different glitches and problems with the gameplay. Sometimes my character would get stuck on a rock, or I’d look behind me to see how my follower was doing, and they’d be invisible. Unlike other players, I hadn't run into any game-breaking bugs or infinite loading screens that many have reported dealing with.

Until the last hour of my game.

I had corralled a juggernaut into my camp to take him out with all of my community members. The thing would not die.

The battle between my community and the juggernaut lasted 10 minutes. I had used up all of my ammo, half of my melee weapons, and let it kill two of community members before I relaunched my game. When I loaded back in, the juggernaut was gone, but the damage was done and the end of my playthrough was soured, knowing how far back the invincible zombie had sent my group. My positive morale was in the trash, along with a great number of my resources.

At the End of the Day

For anyone searching for a repetitive base-management game, State of Decay 2 scratches that itch by forcing you to constantly take care of your group and see to all of their problems and needs. For some, the repetition will grow stale. When you beat one of the three available maps, you’re forced to move to one of the other areas, where you have to start all over again, repeating the same process there. You’ll face all the same problems: low resources, NPC communities to see to, and all-new plague hearts to destroy.

Other than the new quality-of-life mechanics and new descriptions added to make it easier to know what to do, it feels like a lot of the same.

Detroit: Become Human Review - An Android Revolution Brought to Life Mon, 28 May 2018 11:46:36 -0400 Miles T

Detroit: Become Human is the game David Cage has been threatening to deliver for years.

His previous work with Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls had established a strong fanbase, with some high praise but plenty of criticism, not least for the their gameplay limitations and use of unnecessary plot devices. Detroit, however, feels like the experience he’s always wanted to produce, the final result of years of experience and trials of experimentation with the medium.

Not only is Detroit a technical wonder; it boasts a powerful narrative, empathetic characters, and tackles complex themes in meaningful ways. The gameplay has largely remained intact from its predecessors -- so those who found Cage’s earlier works unsatisfying as actual video games will likely remain unconvinced by this newest outing -- but for those who have enjoyed the interactive cinema and decision-oriented focus, this could potentially be the pinnacle of video games and movies merging into a compelling whole.

Set in 2038 Detroit, where autonomous androids live parallel with their human masters, the story tasks itself with tackling themes of the meaning of life, oppression of minorities, acceptance of slavery, the dangers and fears of ever-advancing technology, fostering community, and social acceptance. Though this has not been something the gaming industry has particularly excelled at in recent years, developer Quantic Dream attempts to do just that with aplomb, allowing players freedom of choice to shape their own interpretation of these while holding a core narrative that offers the foundation for players to truly question their own sense of morality.

Detroit is definitely not perfect, and it won’t appeal to everyone, especially those who prefer their games to be less thinking- and more action-oriented, but it provides another incredible addition to Sony’s exclusive roster, and offers a real contemplation of real-life issues tied within a fantastic interactive framework.

The Eye for Detail

Throughout your entire experience of Detroit, from the first moment you take on the roles of the protagonists, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that would disagree with the game being a technical marvel. Facial animations are incredibly lifelike: eyes portray emotions before words are spoken, lighting effects shimmer across faces and character models, voice-acting and motion capture is top-notch (for the most part), and overall it provides the kind of production values that we always hoped we would see from this console generation. The graphical prowess creates a phenomenal feeling of immersion and connection with the world’s characters, allowing ease of empathy and helping to establish the beings of this world with a true aura of actually being -- ironic given the nature of its themes. Seriously, the difference between an android’s facial work and animation in comparison to human flesh is astounding. It develops a living and breathing world that's easy to buy into.

Speaking of the world, 2038 Detroit is gorgeous. Quantic Dream has poured plenty of love and attention to detail into their environments, creating stunning vistas. In a world where humanity is in the process of integrating androids into normal life, the cues surrounding the characters are even more important than just the personalities you control. Humans will shun your character, shops will be closed off to you, you’ll witness androids being subjected to all manner of abuses and humiliations. The city feels organically alive, a hive of activity and a genuine peek into a potential future as technology imbues itself within our daily lives. The impact you have on the world around you is also felt later, as opportunities to leave your legacy upon the space around you open up. The use of readable magazines littered throughout the environment also do a great job at fleshing out the type of world you’re inhabiting, providing a sense of this being almost an alternative timeline of our current real-world events.

The overall presentation of the game is unparalleled, exemplifying stunning design and craft, which, minus a couple of clipping issues -- my character appearing to merge with another when I moved too quickly through a section being a highlight -- barely dented the almost perfect aesthetic delivery.

What Is It to Be Alive?

Once you’re done marveling at the technical beauty, you’ll notice there’s a story pulling you along through the experience too. Slipping into the roles of androids Markus, Kara, and Connor, you’ll switch between three distinct perspectives and witness the full spectrum of hope, crushing defeat, tension, and small victories. Their stories eventually intertwine, and the buildup through the acts feels distinct. The initial opening sequences have each performing relatively routine activities as you get to understand their contexts, but they quickly develop as personalities and offer distinct narrative perspectives. By the end of the game, I felt gripped, unable to tear myself away as the final third ratcheted up the ante. A couple of places can feel a little slow, but compared to Quantic Dream’s previous outings, the pacing is much better-handled and keeps things moving at a good clip -- rapid when it needs to be, slower when you need a moment to catch your breath.

No spoilers at all here, as every person’s first experience will be completely different. However, this is a Cage experience, which means choice and decision-making are at the fore. Do you choose to be pacifistic or confrontational? Do you challenge your existing programming or obey it blindly? Detroit offers a staggering amount of genuine choice and autonomy of your experience. Unlike in some choice-driven games, even (apparently) minor decisions, mistakes, or rash assumptions will have serious repercussions. Trust me, the feeling of choice-remorse is powerful. It feels like living on a knife edge in the best possible way -- each dilemma is impactful. As always, though, there are some choices that feel as if they should have had a more dynamic effect on the overall story, while some others seemed so inconsequential it was baffling when they came back to haunt or unexpectedly benefit me. Getting the balancing of this particular aspect must be incredibly difficult, and some of the forced decisions mean ending a segment when it feasibly should have been possible to see both branching trees, which was somewhat frustrating.

It’s the heartfelt moments that will have you moving forward, though, with Kara’s story truly hitting those serious emotional strings. I was surprised at how much the story managed to move me in places, which is fantastic when many interactive stories fail to build a real connection with the player.

More Than Just a Walking Simulator

The story is the core of Detroit, propelling the whole experience forward, and while gameplay has been a much-criticized part of games like Beyond: Two Souls for feeling too on-rails, inconsequential, and, at worst, pointless, it’s enhanced and improved in this latest showing. Yes, small areas with multiple interact-able objects return. Yes, there are still a lot of QTEs to simulate fights and battles. Yes, there are still invisible barriers everywhere, and yes, you will still spend some of your time jankily walking around some areas with little to do between points A and B, lamenting your character turning with the speed of an unconscious elephant. There are some small additions, such as Markus' ability to preconstruct parkouring sequences, or Connor's opportunities to scan out crime scenes, but many of the mechanics remain consistent. 

What’s improved this time around is that there are fewer of the slower, enclosed sections, and there’s more of the fast-paced, action-oriented pieces. You’ll experience the typical tropes: on-foot chases, dodging cars on highways, engaging with NPCs, quickfire button inputs, etc. But, there’s also much more of the investigative sections (which, if failed, will have consequences later on), more of the multi-decision scenarios with branching outcomes, more of the putting together and executing of well thought-out schemes. There’s a more satisfying feedback loop of completing a section the “ideal” way, as there’s multiple avenues for failure or missing something important. The frequent use of time-constraint fuels this to fantastic effect. Three minutes to find a deviant (renegade android), ten minutes to find all the clues you can, ten seconds to decide your next action against the person pointing a gun to your head. Using restricted time fosters a palpable sense of tension, it creates rash decision-making, and it gives Detroit a sense of urgency that keeps the momentum of the game moving at a rapid pace.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its bland moments. Clearing trash and setting the table are no more interesting this time around than they were in Heavy Rain or Beyond, even if they do serve a narrative purpose. Some outcomes also seem unmissable unless you truly try to screw up the QTE sections, so getting to the “best” outcome can appear somewhat obvious in places. There’s a definite feeling of familiarity in the gameplay, so if you’ve hated this form of interacting with a game world before, it’s certainly not going to change your mind now; it’s just more spruced-up and injected with some much-needed urgency.

Sending a Message

Whatever you think of the game itself, it’s commendable just how brilliant a job Quantic Dream has done in injecting powerful themes throughout the experience: racism, privacy, advertising, abuse, the nature of autonomy, segregation, prejudice. Detroit is brimming and practically overflowing with opportunities to witness and challenge your beliefs. Rather than just presenting it, however, you’re provided with the means to shape how these themes play out, becoming somewhat of a testing ground to see how your particular values will interject within the woven narrative.

Ultimately, this is where your enjoyment or value of the game will be derived from -- how willing you are to absorb the world and its story, and then stamp your own moral framework upon it given the opportunities it offers up. There’s a serious amount of replayability potential here, with the end of each chapter displaying a flowchart documenting your choices, alternative potential paths, and statistics of how many followed the same routes you did. It makes for a fascinating opportunity to reflect on your own progression and tempts you to jump back in immediately after finishing to see just how different the scenarios can play out. I’ve rarely felt compelled to replay story-driven, choice-focused games in the past; this is one I can envisage replaying a number of times before moving on, which is the greatest compliment I can provide it.

Special mention must also go to the soundtrack, which is phenomenal throughout and punctuates the scenes with incredible emotion. The tracks complement the themes or scenarios and reflect the world in a way that elevates them from being simply tense to being somber, optimistic, fearful, and pulsating all at once. It truly is a remarkable collection of music, and it’s already entrenched some of the more epic or emotional scenes into my memory. The fact that you can listen to it on its own is testament to just how fantastic it is.

An Unmissable Experience

“Not just a story, this is our future.” The opening statement of Detroit sets the stage for an enthralling tale. Not just content to be a presentation of societal issues, it challenges you to notice and choose your response towards them. Not willing to settle for modest production values, it creates characters and a world that equally inspire and unsettle you. Not happy to be just another walking simulator, it attempts to inject some much-needed tension and urgency to a traditionally slow genre.

Detroit is a game that knows what it wants to be and what it wants to do -- provide a compelling story with AAA production values and give its players a chance to examine their own ethical codes. Boasting spectacular visuals, a stellar soundtrack, complex themes, and a core of interesting characters driving forward a genuinely engaging plot, Detroit offers an experience like no other on the current generation. Despite its minor flaws and gameplay limitations, it creates emotionally charged moments that will resonate with a number of its audience. This is a game where the biggest enemy you’ll face is your own indecision or rash judgment, it crafts an experience that exerts a level of tension and responsibility on its audience we rarely see.

Not at all decisions are created equally, but they’ll all hit hard just the same.

Agony Review: Hell Awaits... With Bugs & Frame Rate Drops Sat, 26 May 2018 12:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

Easily among the most anticipated horror games of 2018, Agony is a game that subverts typical horror tropes with a radical change in setting. Rather than escaping painful death at the hands of zombies, serial killers, or wendigo, the Agony's main character is already dead and has suffered unimaginable torment for an unknown amount of time in the bowels of Hell.

Much like Scorn, the game's primary idea revolves heavily around creating a disturbing atmosphere that you won't see in any other game. Sadly, the actual Agony gameplay experience beyond that atmosphere is quite hit or miss. 

Agony's take on stealth horror truly redefines what NSFW really means, and as a bonus, there's more gameplay elements than what's found in "walking simulator"-style horror games (which seem to have dominated in recent years). For all that promise, though, the game does fall flat in several areas.

  Not a pleasant way to spend eternity
(and just wait until you notice he twitches and moans!)

A Trip Into Hell... And Beyond

Agony combines different elements from across the horror genre for something slightly familiar but still different enough to be worth playing if you can overlook the performance issues.

The hiding and running mechanics from games like Outlast collides with a survival horror aesthetic peppered with Dante's Inferno. An H.R. Giger take on Hell melds with some of the trippier elements from last year's Observer, and it's all rounded out with a dash of Clive Barker.

In all that mashing of styles, there's a whole lot that Agony does right. With headphones on and the lights off in the dead of night, you are in for a blood-curdling vision of hell.

Gameplay sets itself apart by balancing terror with curiosity: you want to see your surroundings in great detail but illuminating them draws horrific terrors bent on torturing you in horrific ways. Hell is disorienting on purpose (there's no mini-map in the abyss) and you can't beat the atmosphere on display while hiding under gore piles, wading through lakes of blood, and so much more we won't spoil here.

The procedurally generated Agony Mode will also significantly increase the game's replay value after you finish the story.

 There's a really effective use of light and shadow in the level design

Horror Battles Annoyance

Genre fans can rejoice: jump scares are few and far between here. Multiple levels of horror are present beyond the obvious gore as the player starts to realize what's really going on and gets an inkling of where the game's raw body material came (comes) from.

Hell is composed of surprisingly varied environments beyond just the blood and bones from the trailers, and the developers have come up with plenty of unique and interesting ways to open up new areas or create easier paths through Agony's maze-like environments.

There's an impressive amount of area to explore in Hell. It might just be creative usage of the landscape to trick the player, but these areas feel larger and more twisty than in games like Outlast. The levels are also fairly freeform, and two different players might take two radically different approaches to reaching th eend.

Notably, there's also far more gameplay elements than many other titles of this style, from hidden collectibles to grab, a mix of combat and stealth, memorizing sigils and tracing them to access new areas, and more. 

 Using the environment and objects to your advantage to avoid killer succubi makes for memorable gameplay

Flying around as a disembodied astral spirit and then possessing other martyrs (or even other demons!) is a major part of the experience. Unfortunately, that's where some of the problems start to become apparent. In one playthrough, my astral body was trapped in the ground and couldn't fly anywhere, so I had to hard restart.

The limited timer on possession and staying in a demonic form also kills a good deal of the fun. That's just the beginning of the technical issues, though. While exploring the corridors and tunnels and orifices of Hell, a major source of unintended agony will be the constant stutters and frame rate drops.

Agony is most definitely an indie experience, and there are some areas where this shows more strongly than others. The level of writing in the various notes and journals found across the underworld leaves something to be desired, and the voice acting is truly hellish (and not in a good way).

On the other hand, the ambient noises are truly chilling. Whoever they got to voice those screams, howls of agony, and moans of pain are all in desperate need of a hug and maybe a visit from the FBI, because I feel like they'e gone through some serious terror.

Hell Is A Lot Sexier Than I Remembered

If you couldn't tell from the game's logo, the vaginal motifs are cranked up to 11+ and are an ever-present theme in Agony. Honestly, I can't even show you the image of the fruit from the tree of knowledge because it is so obviously a moist, pulsating vulva.

There's seriously porn out there that shows fewer scenes of full on frontal female nudity. Agony will soon see some competition there, though, and we'll have to wait and see if this or the upcoming Lust For Darkness outdoes the other on the sexual horror front.

 This is among the most tame images you will see in Agony

Amazingly, some of the content has somehow still been censored slightly on the Steam edition, and I'm having trouble understanding just how much further the game could go beyond what's currently available.

A manual installation patch was planned to get the full monty (which in this case is most assuredly not a metaphor), but axed at the last minute. If you really want to see what was culled though, the developers plan to release a video with all the missing content.

While the aesthetics and hellish sexual motifs are absolutely spot on, the overall graphical display isn't much to write home about. The presentation does tend to be better than other crowd-funded indie excursions, but there are noticeable areas that could use improvement.

Backdrops like the giant fingers holding open flesh walls look amazing, but others are quite lackluster, such as the body parts flying out of the soul mirrors -- which are entirely unconvincing.

 So many grasping fingers... and none of them
want to do anything benevolent, that's for sure

The Bottom Line

Agony is pushing boundaries -- there's no doubt about that -- and I've got to give the developers props on that front. They aren't pulling many punches here. There's the gross-out factor and disturbing elements akin to Clive Barker's Jericho but taken to the next level with very little thought twoards toning things down for the easily-offended crowd.

With walls made out of crushed babies, regularly getting consumed by toothy vaginas, and a whole lot of blasphemy towards any given major world religion, it's clear that a large number of people should just go ahead and stay away from the game. 

I'm not one of those people, though, and in general, I find the aesthetic, locations, and general ideas all top-notch. This is the sort of game that I desperately want to love, although the execution makes it seem like the game needed a few more months (or longer) in the oven. 

The atmosphere is top notch, but I'll still have to present a major warning about the bugs and dodgy gameplay elements that may ruin the enjoyment of your trip into the madness of Hell.

Omensight Review -- New Revelations Lead to Recurring Events Fri, 25 May 2018 15:16:04 -0400 Erroll Maas

In Spearhead Games' Omensight, a murder-mystery action adventure game, you play as the Harbinger, a silent being meant to prevent the destruction of the anthropomorphic world of Urallia.

As the Harbinger, you must use your time-traveling ability to interact with several important characters, revealing new information along the way. At first, you can only travel down a single path with each companion character, but as more secrets are revealed, you gain the ability to open special locks that will lead you down several new paths as you slowly figure out the details of past events.

A Versatile Warrior

The Harbinger uses its sword, quick speed, and magic to deal with enemies, with standard light and heavy attacks, ranged attacks, time-slowing spells, and more. A well-timed dodge can also slow down time for a brief moment, allowing for a swift counter-attack -- although this can only be done three times in a row before requiring a cooldown. As you defeat enemies and finish and repeat levels, you gain experience that will level you up once enough has been accumulated, which in turn grants new abilities. Amber you collect from each level can be used to purchase additional abilities, upgrade existing ones, and reduce the cooldown time of companion abilities.

Cooperative Companions

The companions who join you on your quest help you open doors, access hard-to-reach platforms, and fight enemies. Most companions have their own special abilities that you can command them to use when needed, which is useful when you feel overwhelmed by enemies. Companions are also useful when managing your health during earlier boss fights, as they will be focusing on only one enemy and do a decent amount of damage just by themselves, even if it does take more time.

Although the companions themselves each have distinct personalities, and you learn more about them in each playthrough, you don't sympathize with them much due to the short time frame of events. Since you can travel back in time, character deaths only matter when you can gain new information from them; otherwise, they're just a small detail on certain paths even if they do still affect the outcome in the end.

Stuck in a Time Loop

As previously mentioned, each time you finish a level and go down a new path, you will be given new information to help you solve the mystery. Sometimes, certain events will give you visions of the past, and using your power of Omensight on each character will allow you to share your visions with them. After Omensight is used, it will alter events and put the characters in different situations and locations, allowing for the unlocking of new areas.

The main concept of using the power of Omensight to change the course of events and attempt to prevent the end of the world is interesting, but it comes with some drawbacks. Although levels are expected to be repeated, they become too repetitive, with character dialogue and other elements only changing further on in each level.

When repeating a level, sometimes you have the ability to skip to the critical moment at which an important choice must be made, and depending on what information you already have, each choice can reveal more details about what you want to know. A problem with this is that skipping to the critical moment doesn't skip directly to it, instead making you face a few groups of the same enemies once again before reaching it. Additionally, Omensight does not allow you to fully skip cut-scenes, with dialogue being able to be skipped only line by line, and with some not even skippable. For a game about time travel and repeating events, one would think that there would be a better fast-forward option.

Looking for Clues

Like other story-based games, without certain paths unlocked or details revealed, you'll get one of the bad endings in which either some or all characters will die, and you ultimately will not have prevented the end of the world. This is where the mystery solving aspect comes in, because to make up for those missing details, you'll have to piece together all the clues from the information you've already accumulated, using the investigation board to your advantage. The selected difficulty level can also change the difficulty of your investigation, from giving you plenty of hints to having you solve the entire mystery yourself to everything in between. This adds an engaging layer but unfortunately doesn't help cover Omensight's flaws.

Gorgeous Art & Mediocre Music

The art style of Omensight is heavily stylized and allows for some gorgeous scenery, but seeing the same areas over and over again becomes stale. New paths might unlock as you progress, but that doesn't change the overall look of the level. The music is well-done, and while it suffers from the same repetition problem as the rest of the game, it's nice that each piece of music has some different variations.

Something is Missing

Omensight is a single-player-only experience but could benefit from a co-op mode. It could have one player as the Harbinger and the other as whichever companion was chosen, with the second player switching to other companions after one dies or heads to a different area for story reasons. Another option might be to make both players the Harbinger, and although it wouldn't make sense given the story as written, they could be treated by the companions as if they were still just one character.

Omensight has some interesting concepts with changing story events, but its unvaried, repetitive nature holds back a more entertaining experience. With a few tweaks, Omensight could provide a more enjoyable adventure, but the land of Urallia can only be traveled through so many times before meeting its demise.

Omensight is available on PC via Steam, GOG, and Humble, as well as on PlayStation 4.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Cities: Skylines Parklife DLC Review Wed, 23 May 2018 18:15:02 -0400 Fox Doucette

Cities: Skylines, arguably 2015's Game of the Year, continues to get new DLC three years after its launch, and "Parklife," the latest, seeks to blend the resurgent amusement park genre of games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Parkitect into the classic SimCity formula that Skylines has otherwise been following since launch.

The question becomes whether this is a clever fusion of genres or whether you're essentially being asked to pay 15 bucks for content that's either superfluous, poorly integrated, or both.

And the answer to that? Well, it's the same answer as every DLC to come out for Skylines so far, and for every DLC to come out for publisher Paradox's other games that use this model, like Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV.

Repeat after me: “It depends on your playstyle.”

I loaded up a city that was fairly bog standard and still very much a work in progress (pop. 3,500 or so and just starting to expand across the freeway for the first time) and used the game's districting tool, repurposed to “create a park area,” to carve out some land like Walt Disney looking out at bare ground in Anaheim in the 1950s.

And here ... is where things got a little underwhelming.

A Place With All the Zip of Nuka-Cola

You get four broad templates to work from: City Park, Zoo, Nature Reserve, and Amusement Park.

Each has its own flavor, and Colossal Order clearly had broad city types from its previous DLCs and the basegame in mind. The Zoo and Nature Reserve in particular are supposed to appeal to the same people who got the most out of the Green Cities DLC, while the City and Amusement parks reminded me, respectively, of New York's Central Park and Disneyland.

Parks start off at the first of five levels; you build an entryway connected to the main road, then use park paths to direct people on foot through your park, building attractions, places to eat, and places to use the bathroom.

Broadly, this is the same no matter what park type you choose. The parks level up pretty much by themselves as their visitor counts and entertainment ratings increase, allowing you to charge higher gate fees (or use the parks as loss leaders to beautify and enhance the neighborhoods they're in).

They're also very pretty for screenshots, especially on higher-end computers taking advantage of the game's prettier graphics features; this effect is going to be lessened on potato-mode PCs.

At the top level, you get a cool attraction to draw more tourism into town, and the coveted “Castle of Lord Chirpwick” is Mad King Ludwig meets Skylines' not-at-all-angry bird.

The Player Style Problem

There's just one little-bitty thing wrong with all this fun:

Min-maxers and efficiency fans will hate it.

Calling up the land-value overlay shows that just plunking down a residential zone with a Japanese Garden or a basketball court will do more for your tax base and your city's ongoing maintenance costs than the DLC offers.

What's more, by the time your city is big enough to sustain the visitor traffic required to make the park into an actual revenue source, you might not want to redesign your infrastructure around a big park when you're already balancing it against a stadium or some monuments or whatever else you've already got in place from the game's leisure and land value choices.

Which leaves you with a choice: Either design your city around being a tourist haven, or stick to conventional park-building tools from the basegame. Which you'd rather do is the final arbiter of whether you'll get anything out of this DLC.

The Verdict

"Parklife" is also $14.99 US, which is full price for a game like Stardew Valley.

If you really want to dive into city beautification and quality-of-life and tourism and all that, wait for a sale and pick this up at half price. Otherwise, you can safely give it a miss.

Disclaimer: The reviewer was provided with a Steam key by the publisher.

MachiaVillain Review Wed, 16 May 2018 16:43:27 -0400 Ashley Gill

Is it a management sim? Is it a builder? Is it a survival game?

I've always had trouble with pinpointing the exact genre of games like Dungeon Keeper, Oxygen Not Included, Prison Architect, and Rimworld. I've played all these games and more of the same genre to death -- but I still have trouble putting my finger on what exactly to call it in conversation. Wikipedia often says it's "construction and management simulation", but I'd rather refer to it as "my favorite".

It doesn't feel right to strictly compare a game like MachiaVillain to other games within the same genre just because there are always some similarities that hold them together, like worker management and building to your needs and tastes; but each game always has a different focus. Each one has different priorities you need to focus on -- and different ways to approach the whole problem of staying afloat.

Nonetheless, I do have to compare these because MachiaVillain has taken some obvious cues from other recent popular entries in the genre. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Despite its similarities to the aforementioned games, MachiaVillain does stand on its own as a competent construction and management simulation game. Though it is not without its own set of problems.

The Day to Day Life of a Murderous Villain

You have two primary tasks as you push through the game: To increase your rank in the League of Villains and to make sure your minions are well-fed and happy.

To carry out these tasks, you need a mansion as diabolical as you are. You need a spooky home office, a disgusting kitchen, a diabolical laboratory, a well-planned kill room, and... organized stockpiles? Yeah, a lot of those.

Being the boss in MachiaVillain is hard work. You must plan your mansion's layout, make sure your minions have efficient job priorities, and manage crafting tasks to make sure everything is running smoothly.

All of your hard work pays off when it comes time to wrangle and slay some victims, which you can handle the old fashioned way with the good ol' gnashing teeth of your zombies or go the clever route and lure them into traps and kill rooms to get the work done with none of the fuss.

Much of what you come across in MachiaVillain is an homage to classic horror movie tropes or characters. Heck, even the League of Villains follows the horror movie code and requests you kill victims alone, kill the virgin last, and don't slay victims' dogs. Whether you follow that code is up to you.

This tongue-in-cheek humor that invades the very bones of the game's progression is present throughout. For example, minions have some pretty interesting descriptions.

It's a fun, light-hearted take on something that really isn't light-hearted at all. You are here to leave a trail of bodies in your wake, after all.

With this all said, the controls leave a lot to be desired. The Escape key doesn't open the settings menu, keybindings have to be set via the launcher (and the defaults aren't great), and using minions' skills is troublesome. Though that in itself is something we'll get into in a bit.

Killing in the Name of [Brains]

The real meat here lies in the delicious blood and guts stew you inevitably make when you kill victims.

As you progress and lure increasingly large numbers of victims to your home, you have to get creative with the killing. Well-placed distractions and trap doors to rooms filled with lethal traps are must-haves, and their placement is key to your success.

Should you somehow scare victims off before they even come into the house or they slip through your onslaught and out the front door, suspicion about what's going on in your mansion will rise. At critical levels, this can bring heroes to your doorstep who are hellbent on wiping you and your minions out. 

Planning and building a good set of kill rooms is my favorite part of the game, and likely will be for most players because it's MachiaVillain's big, unique feature. Draw them in and kill them. Do it up. It's crazy fun to watch your traps work as intended, and you get the bonus of more food for your minions. It's a win-win.

What makes building in this game special is how easy it is to dismantle and build things again. Dismantling a wall or an object is a simple two-click process, and you don't lose any resources you used when you initially built the object.

Though actually building something takes some time, the quick dismantling and retainment of resources makes it so you can easily expand, remodel, and change up the layout of your mansion without much fuss. It gives you plenty of opportunity for trial and error, which is especially helpful when building your first kill rooms.

The big detractor from all of this is that, at the time of writing, there are not all that many things you can build. There are only a few room types with a handful of furniture/devices you can install in your mansion. You can get creative but you can only do so much.

There are Some Bones Crunching, All Right

For all its good, MachiaVillain is not a perfect game. As mentioned above, the controls leave a lot to be desired and there are not a ton of things to build in your mansion.

I can accept that there aren't a lot of things to build; developer Wild Factor seems keen on adding more content to the game and I am personally looking forward to seeing where the game is going to go content-wise. It's fun as it stands and can only get more so.

But I can't accept the controls being as cumbersome as they are in their current state. Having to click twice (once for the object, once for the deconstruct icon) to dismantle furniture and structures is tiresome. Not being able to press the Escape key to open the settings menu and save is annoying. There are a number of other instances where the lack of hotkeys is just the opposite of ideal.

Please give a dedicated tool or hotkey for this!

These two issues can be fixed and, with luck, they will be with further patches. I've also run into a few bugs, though none have been huge interference to my gameplay.

These aren't things I would say to actively avoid the game over, but these are two facets of the game in its current state you should know about to make an informed purchase. In some ways this feels more like a beta than a full release.

MachiaVillain brings its own favors to the construction and management sim party, and those favors are a little less enticing -- maybe a little stinkier with all those brains laying around -- than those the big boys brought, but it certainly can party with the rest of them, even if it's not for as long.

As it stands, MachiaVillain is a decent game within my favorite genre. It could be a really great game within my favorite genre, and it could still get there.

Fans of construction and management sims will feel right at home with all it has to offer, but may not be too keen with its lack of relative depth when compared with titans like Prison Architect and Oxygen Not Included. Not me, though. I had and am still having a hard time putting MachiaVillain down. There's something to be said about the combination of blood and guts mixed with management that's keeping me going.

You can purchase Machiavillain on Steam for $19.99. 

(Note: The developer provided a copy of Machiavillain for review.)

Destiny 2 : Warmind Expansion Review Tue, 15 May 2018 15:39:28 -0400 Joe Garcia

In Bungie's latest DLC expansion to Destiny 2, "Warmind," Guardians have a lot to grind for. This is a good thing, as the lack of endgame content has driven many players away from Destiny 2, but "Warmind" is still lacking that oh-so-special thing that Destiny -- and even vanilla Destiny 2 -- had. That being said, let's jump right into our exploration of the newest expansion.


With "Warmind" comes a new campaign to experience, and it is a great improvement from the short and lackluster campaign of Destiny 2's first DLC expansion, "Curse of Osiris." The main campaign of "Warmind" is around 2 1/2 hours long, 2 if you fly through it with a Fireteam. Despite being shorter than I would have liked, this story is full of lore and very unique characters (Rasputin being a personal favorite). We join the famous and refreshing Hunter Ana Bray, who comes from a family that had created many facilities on Mars during the Golden Age.

This campaign is what Destiny 2 needed. It feels like a campaign from Destiny 1, with the long and strung-along missions, boss fights, and new mechanics -- and that is what the community was asking for. The last mission has players going up against a Worm God that rules over the Hive, and this brings a nostalgic feel as this is similar to when the Guardians slayed the Heart of the Black Garden back in Destiny 1. This is what we need Bungie, just give us more than a taste. 

With every new expansion, we are given new enemies to fight. This time, it's a new variation of the Hive: the Frozen Hive. Destiny has often suffered from a lack of adding brand-new enemy types, but the Frozen Hive are a fresh take on a race that is all about death and dark rituals. These new types of Hive are updated and improved versions of the common types of Hive we have fought in the past, such as knights with swords and shields, new sniper Acolytes, and cursed Thrall that freeze you when they explode. 


It comes as no surprise that along with new DLC, we get new Strikes. This time around, it's only three Strikes being added, but in all honesty, it's really only one new strike that's exclusively for PlayStation 4 players: "Insight Terminus." The other two strikes, "Will of the Thousands" and "Strange Terrain," are story missions that have been tweaked slightly to become Strikes. 

This was an issue for players in the previous expansion, and it seems Bungie has done it again. This is seemingly lazy, but it can also be viewed as incorporating the Strikes directly into the story. There is a better way of doing this, as we have seen in Destiny 1, where this was done in a more seamless manner. This has also soured some players to the expansion as PC and Xbox players are locked out of the only new Strike.

The Strikes are not only recycled but have been made harder, with loot that drops lower than its light level. Heroic Strikes require you to be at light level 350 but only drop gear at 340. This is a turn-off for players since it is not easy to get to light level 350 without grinding for days. 

Grinding & Endgame

Grinding seems to have gotten much harder -- and not in the good way. Yes, Destiny 2 lacked proper endgame content, but the new endgame is difficult to access because getting to the proper light level isn't easy at all to achieve.

Normally, grinding Strikes and doing milestones weekly and daily would help those who are under-leveled get up to the right level, but that isn't the case anymore. As stated earlier, Heroic Strikes require 350 light level but will drop only 340 gear, and that is a major turn-off as that is the only way to grind to get gear. 

Doing your milestones helps, but when you're done for the week, you can do much after that outside of the raid. Speaking of the raid, we have received two new pieces of endgame content: the raid lair "Spire of Stars" and a new hoard mode activity called "Escalation Protocol," which is a 7-level hoard type of encounter that has many different mechanics and will reward players at levels 3, 5 and 7. It is a 9-player encounter and gets harder and harder with each level beat. This is undoubtedly the hardest endgame content Destiny 2 has to offer, but it's very rewarding and represents just what we wanted. Still, it causes a sour taste in the community's mouth since you must be a certain light level to even start these activities. 


The Crucible has been changed drastically as there are now ways to level up your ranking that are similar to how you can Prestige in Call of Duty. With "Valor" taking the place of quick-play matches and "Glory" taking over competitive matches, players can rank up to unlock new gear and bragging rights.


This is a great change, as increasing your rank in "Glory" requires you to win to gain points, but the kicker is that you lose points if you lose games. This makes the competitive scene much more intense and fun. With "Valor," losing doesn't take points away, so it caters more to those who are casual PVP players. This is a great addition to the Crucible to shake things up. 

New Loot

Of course, the most important part of any expansion is the inclusion of new loot to grind for. Not only did players receive new exotics, such as the Huckleberry submachine gun and Worldline Zero exotic sword (the only exotic sword in Destiny 2), old exotics make a return. It's no surprise that the insanely OP fusion rifle Sleeper Simulant makes a comeback, but fan favorite auto rifle Suros Regime does, too. There is a slew of new exotic armor sets and weapons, but the biggest change is the addition of exotic Masterworks.

Some exotic weapons get new Masterwork versions that involve finding their specific Catalysts to then grind out their specific objectives to create the Masterwork. One example is getting kills with Tractor Cannon to turn it into a Masterwork Tractor Cannon. Not only do they become Masterwork versions that can make orbs of light like the rest, but they also get unique extra perks, such as increased range, increased magazine size, etc. 

Along with new loot, there are new quests to go on to get exotic and legendary gear. Quests were always a fun part of the grind, and the addition of new ones really helps give players another incentive to grind and unlock loot in hopes of finally getting the one piece of gear or weapon they were searching for.

Final Verdict

Although Destiny 2 "Warmind" is a fun and much-needed improvement to the overall game, it is still not enough to keep players satisfied until the fall, when the next major release drops. The expansion hits some points that needed to be hit, but it lacks in story length; fresh and original Strikes; ways to grind and reach higher light levels; loot drops from existing activities; and lore expansion surrounding the world Bungie has created. 


What are your thoughts on "Warmind"? Sound off in the comments below, and for more on all things Destiny 2, stay tuned to GameSkinny!

Strange Journey Redux Review: Shin Megami Tensei Repackaged Fun Tue, 15 May 2018 10:15:01 -0400 TMSingle

The call to save mankind has never come at a greater cost.

Originally released in Japan in 2009 on the Nintendo DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey joined the sci-fi, post-apocalyptic RPG series Shin Megami Tensei with its own unique storyline. While not as popular as some series, the Shin Megami Tensei series possesses a strong following nonetheless. Like its predecessors, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey is recognized for its imaginative animation, masterful gameplay, and heart-pounding music score. Atlus didn’t skimp on any aspects of the game, and it made for a memorable voyage of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and man vs. demon.

Perhaps that’s why, nearly a decade later, Atlus made the decision to port the notable adventure to another system. Through the 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is born, bringing the best parts of its original game and even more adventure. 

Strange Journey Redux: Travel to Schwarzwelt

When a dimension full of demons appears in Antarctica, the United Nations moves swiftly to find answers. As this spatial anomaly, called the Schwarzwelt, threatens to engulf Earth and put an end to mankind, a special team is put together to go in and investigate.

As the pressure to save humankind and the world is often the fundamental motivation for the main character of any RPG game, you play as a courageous United Nations soldier who agrees to join the team established to uncover the mystery. Aboard the Red Sprite, one of the three ships venturing into the unknown land, you answer directly to Commander Gore, the overall commander of the Schwarzwelt Investigation Team. As a member of the Strike Team, your role will, of course, be the game changer.

Along with meeting Commander Gore, you will meet Zelenin, a hopeful Russian scientist and first lieutenant of the Monitor Team, whose sole responsibility is to study the Schwarzwelt. She, along with other scientists, is on the third ship, the Elve. You’ll find Zelenin’s role may change as the game progresses into more dangerous territory.

Another key character you'll meet is Jimenez, who serves on the second ship, the Blue Jet, and is also a member of the Strike Team. Many characters in the game do not see eye to eye with Jimenez because of his cynical and somewhat insensitive regard of the overall mission. However, as the situation changes, Jimenez mostly stays the same, but he offers refreshing speech nevertheless.

With on-board AI Arthur, the commanding unit of the Red Sprite, and other commanding units operating to get the ships into Schwarzwelt with ease, the mission cannot help but be successful … except everything goes wrong from the very beginning. Underestimating the anomaly, the ships end up crashing before they can even begin.

When the dust settles, the crew of the Red Sprite find themselves in a ship without power. But if the ship has no power, how can the door of the deck open? The startling answer to this question becomes clear almost immediately, as supernatural beings, known as demons, begin to wreak havoc on the crew. Through much effort and the use of the Demonica (DEMOuntable Next Integrated Capability Armor), a suit specifically made to function in the Schwarzwelt, the crew manages to fend off the attacking demons and even regain power.

Sadly for the Red Sprite, their troubles are only beginning. Trapped in Schwarzwelt, the crew must battle demons as they make their way to different areas of the Schwarzwelt, with no real surety that home will be their final destination. As if the stress of fighting demons and the uncertainty of never returning to Earth aren’t enough, the protagonist has to deal with the sudden appearance of an angel-like being who claims to be a messenger from God, and a mysterious girl by the name of Alex, who tears through the protagonist during their first meeting as if she were picking lint off a sweater.

Strange Journey Redux: Key Points

While the game is essentially an adventure RPG, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux sticks to classic movement. It is not seen through the third-person, and there is no free-range movement. You never see your character, and movement is stiff and mechanical. This forces you to make sure you take your time whenever you’re trying to change your direction; otherwise, when you’re trying to move backward, you might find yourself facing and moving forward, so beware.

This tactical single-player RPG is essentially about demon collecting. When the time comes to venture off the ship and into the demon-infested world, you will be approached by a demon who wants to join you. From this demon, you will learn how to get other demons to join your party and fight alongside you. As there are 350 fusable demons available, you’re not limited to just the demons you can convince, for a fee, to join your party.

When interacting with other characters, as well as demons, it’s important to pay attention. At random, you may be faced with a choice or question. This helps form characters’ opinion of you and ultimately helps in shaping the fate of the world. Not to mention, if you thoughtlessly answer a demon who you are trying to convince to join you, you may find yourself missing much-needed HP and MP because of a sudden fight sequence.

Is the Game Worth It?

With new demons and new dungeons, even if you played Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey once upon a time, you won't be bored or disappointed with this updated version of the adventure.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Shin Megami Tensei series, this game is definitely worth checking out. It has all of the elements that make an RPG extraordinary, such as seamless gameplay, unique leveling features, an interactive plot, unforgettable characters, and emotional scenes. Sure, the mechanical movement is a little off-putting at first, but it's easy to adapt to once you get into the game. 

Who knows, this game might be the gateway into the whole series for you. It’s worth the time! Get out there and save the Earth!

[Note: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.]

Forgotton Anne Review – A Real Puzzle Adventure Fri, 11 May 2018 16:44:41 -0400 TMSingle

The Square Enix Collective has released some truly inspiring and interesting indie games since it started providing smaller devs a (greater) voice in 2016. From Goetia to The Turing Test and beyond, some truly fantastic experiences have come from the Collective. 

Enter Forgotton Anne

A 2D cinematic adventure game developed by ThroughLine Games and published by Square Enix, Forgotton Anne takes players on a journey through The Forgotten Lands, which is an enchanted world populated by Forgotlings — creatures made up of mislaid objects, such as clothing or other items, who are longing to be remembered again. With an art style reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, Forgotton Anne is masterfully crafted.

It is more a puzzle-mystery than an action-adventure with its mild puzzle-platforming elements, but the storyline is no less compelling. The story draws you in for a thrilling adventure and leaves you wondering, constantly, where it'll take you next! 

The Story is Yours to Make

You play the titular Anne, who is known in the Forgotten Lands as the Enforcer. She has the job of keeping order and policing anyone not following the rules. Through the Arca device, Anne is able to wield and control Anima, the Forgotten Lands' power source. With her instructions from Master Bonku on how to proceed, Anne begins her journey.

During the game, you get the sense that Anne is both feared and respected (except by Strut, who seems to fear and respect no one) because of her appointed role. Anne and Master Bonku, who are seemingly the only humans here, are preparing to return to their world, but they are waylayed by an explosion.

Now you have more questions than answers -- and danger is on the prowl. And that’s what makes Forgotton Anne intriguing, these instances that draw you into the story.

Your Decisions Matter

As Anne sets out to find the rebels that caused the explosion -- and figure out what is actually afoot -- she runs into a mutineer, who is in the form of a scarf. The scarf arms himself with a shovel, and suddenly, Anne is presented with a choice.

She has the chance to stop the scarf then and there by draining him of the Anima that keeps him alive (known as distilling) or letting him escape. Whichever path you choose, the game will tell you how the outcome could have been different, giving weight to your decisions.

The game requires you question everything you think you know in any given moment. You cannot change your answer after you’ve picked it. The interactions are set based on your responses. Thus, it’s important to pay attention to the storyline.

You get a sense for everyone you talk to, but you never truly know who is working with the rebels and who is innocent — and you do not want the guilt of distilling an innocent Forgotling on your conscious, or do you?

Let’s take a moment of silence for all the innocents you’ll probably inadvertently attack.

Unlocking the Puzzle

There’s no set game level or skill leveling present. Instead, the gameplay is performed in a puzzle format. The earlier areas will be easiest, or course; however, as more options become available, the time spent figuring out how to move on will exponentially increase — unless you’re a puzzle master and can typically see the bigger picture right off the bat.

With the puzzle format, you are called to figure out where your Anima is best suited. Throughout the game, as you travel to different sections of the Forgotten Land, you'll find you need to use your Anima to progress. Using Anne, you must figure out where your Anima goes and how long it needs to stay there.

Sometimes, there will be empty Anima cylinders or devices that need Anima to help you unlock the next section, and other times, there will be empty Anima cylinders or Forgotlings who do not need to be reanimated. It is important to figure out where your Anima is best served, because you might find the Anima you need to open the door is being used to power the light in a room you'll likely never return to in the game. 

In this way, Forgotton Anne works like a strategy title, causing you to think before you act -- and save resources for their most optimal uses. 

MacGyver the Platform

Unless you are a serious PC gamer, reconsider the idea of playing Forgotton Anne on your PC. At first, things run smoothly as you’re given instruction on how to use Anne. You learn the usual things, such as how to walk from front to back or side to side, how to interact, how to leave a room, etc., in the beginning of the game.

Nothing too difficult, really, but if you happen to be new to PC gaming and forget some things, like how to jump, you can easily find the instructions again in the How to Play section.

However, movement, at least on PC, was sluggish. Anne wasn't able to perform precise movements as well as she should have -- so you might find maneuvering a little difficult at times, especially for the range of movement the game requires.

You’ll also find some areas harder than others to move through. For example, at times, you may not know if you need to jump, long-jump, or use Anne's wings. And of course, when you do, stiff movements don't help things. 

It’s not too problematic overall, but it can be a bit tedious and the process only grows when you gain the use of Anne’s wings.

The Power of Anima

Anima isn’t only used to distill Forgotlings. As the explosion from earlier in the game affected much of the power, Anne will need to use Anima to restore power to random areas for the sake of collecting momentous, and specific areas, so she can move forward in her mission to stop the rebels. To restore power, you must find empty Anima cylinders.

Using Anima isn’t too difficult. The first time you have to use it in the game, you’re given clear instructions on how, but you receive a refresher in the How to Play section.

When using Anima to restore power, you must use the Arca and enter Animavision. Be precise with the directional keys. While nothing bad happens if you sometimes overshoot where you need to be, it’s still time-consuming — especially once you need to figure out the flow of Anima.

Restoring power to certain cylinders won’t be enough after a while. Once you restore power to some areas, you must then change the direction of the flow of Anima. This may allow you to open a door that you previously couldn’t open, operate a crane or lift, or just turn the lights on. Either way, you might find yourself having to redirect the flow of Anima several times in one single area.

The main issue with Anima is once you’ve charged something, the Arca loses the energy to charge anything else. You have to find other full Anima cylinders or take back the Anima you just used.

Now, that might not seem like a problem, but as the puzzles get harder, so does the decision on where to use Anima. While you thought restoring power to a random test dummy might have been your best option, now you don’t have power to open the next door -- so strategy is important.  

Final Verdict

From time to time in Forgotton Anne, you may find yourself winging it since you receive no real direction in which to go. A few times, you might get lucky and Anne says to herself, “I shouldn’t go that way,” but for the most part, you run around a bit aimlessly until you trigger a new cutscene.

And with the exasperating task of controlling Anne, you might wonder if the game is worth it — especially when you find Anne trapped in a small room with no way out and you’re able to reach it after your 100th attempt.

However, Forgotton Anne is a beautifully-drawn, musically-pleasing RPG puzzle-adventure game. It has a captivating storyline littered with mystery and suspense. After every difficult puzzle, you receive another glimpse into the curious situation happening in the Forgotten Lands.

So, stretch your fingers, expand your brain muscles, and give it a go.   

Forgotton Anne is available digitally on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 15.

[Note: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.]

Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze (Nintendo Switch) Review Thu, 10 May 2018 12:44:14 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

With his birthday ruined and his home being invaded by evil penguins and other denizens of the Arctic, Donkey Kong and friends must put a stop to them by jumping and stomping their way through dozens of levels.

If that sounds familiar, then you were one of the few people who played the 2015 platforming hit, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze on the Nintendo Wii U. The excellent 2.5D platformer joins the likes of Bayonetta 2 and Mario Kart 8 in being brought over to the Switch. Just like those titles, the Switch version of Tropical Freeze includes some minor additions, and it's still a great game that's worth being played and added to your Switch collection. 

If you've played any 2D platformer, you know what to expect with Tropical Freeze. The jumping and climbing is all here, as well as some other staples of the Donkey Kong Country games, like controlling a rhino and riding in a mine cart. The excellent level design the series is know for is at the forefront. The first world does a good job of easing you in to the mechanics of Tropical Freeze, while each level continually expands upon the various gimmicks that have been shown off in new and exciting ways. You'll be visiting places like beaches, underwater worlds, snowy mountains, and more throughout your adventure, and you'll constantly be surprised by what the game has in store for you. You might think this would all be overwhelming, but the tight controls are the glue that holds everything together, so you don't have anyone but yourself to blame if you miss a jump.

Speaking of missing jumps, be prepared for a lot of challenge in Tropical Freeze. Despite the family-friendly look, the game will have you on the edge of your seat one moment, relaxing another, and even pulling your hair out -- sometimes in that order. Luckily, the levels and sense of pacing never feel unfair or cheap, save for a few small instances where the game could have done a better job of explaining how to get past a certain section (and some late-game rocket levels).

DK also has his pals Diddy, Trixie, and Cranky by his side to aid him. Diddy and Trixie can allow DK to reach further spaces, while Cranky can use his cane like a pogo stick, similar to Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales. The switch between Diddy/Trixie and Cranky can be jarring, seeing as how differently they play, but you'll get used to it.

In terms of new content, the biggest new feature is a mode called Funky Mode, in which you can choose to take control of Donkey Kong's pal Funky Kong. He can jump further and hover for a bit, making him much easier to control, as well as take more damage. Along with the newest Kong, Funky Mode allows DK and pals to take an extra hit each, and hearts and lives are handed out more frequently to take some of the pressure off during some of the game's more challenging sections (similar to what was done in the 3DS version of Donkey Kong Country Returns). It can be a little too forgiving in some sections (particularly in boss battles), but that doesn't mean it takes away all of the game's difficulty; it just makes things more bearable.

Other than the new mode, the big upgrade is the jump from 720p to 1080p when playing in docked mode (handheld is still 720p). It's a much cleaner-looking game, but you probably won't notice it unless you're doing a side-by-side comparison. It's still a great-looking game, with the same great environmental art design (especially in levels that are shrouded by darkness) and texture shading, running at a silky-smooth 60fps. The music is equally pleasing, with series composer David Wise returning to score the game, with mixes of old, classic tunes and new songs that will probably become classics.

It's easy to recommend Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze if you missed out on it the first time around. It's a challenging game that rarely feels unfair, and it features the same wonderful level design and variety that's made the series so iconic. The new Funky Mode is a great addition that makes an already accessible game even more so, without sacrificing much of the challenge. There's not that much for returning players, but it's still the same great game that's worth going ape over.

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered Review: A Worthy Upgrade or Cheap Templar Trick? Wed, 09 May 2018 12:00:58 -0400 Miles T

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered is the latest in a long line of current-gen updates hoping to grasp one last hurrah from players before being left behind forever. With an improved frame rate, updated visuals, and added content, it's a package that should have inspired genuine delight, building on a solid gameplay style and an intriguing story, hoping to draw in those that missed the experience the first time around. Unfortunately, the remaster is held back by the original game's faults, and its technical additions ultimately fail to justify this re-release in a meaningful way.

Having played every Assassin's Creed main entry up to this day, the only ones I'd so far missed had been Assassin's Creed Rogue and the Chronicles series. Coming out at the same time as the (then) next-gen Unity, the original Rogue lived up to its name in the real as well as the virtual world -- left behind for the shiny new graphics and updated systems. Indeed, Rogue is a strange and bewildering conundrum, overshadowed by the potentially inferior Unity, but not meeting the same high standards of its predecessor in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, a game whose template it follows almost to the point of outright replication.

Many people, myself included, passed on Rogue the first time around. Ubisoft clearly noted this and decided to try and address it by releasing a remastered version. So the question now is, with the jump to current-gen hardware, is it worth going back to experience this remnant of Creed's past, or should it have been left as the outcast it appeared to be?

A Familiar Tale but a New Perspective

Assassin's Creed Rogue focuses on the character of Shay Patrick Cormack, a man of Irish descent who starts the journey as a faithful, youthful, and petulant assassin but quickly trades the life of the Creed for that of their age-old enemies, the Templars. This premise starts off intriguing and exciting, uncovering the motivations and events that drive Shay's betrayal of his likable band of brothers and sisters for the control and power-hungry Templar order. Unfortunately, this switch happens exceptionally early and quickly within the story, with little real exposition to become engrossed in.

In many ways, we can empathize with Shay's reasons for leaving his loyalty behind, and it creates a vastly different perspective from which seasoned Creed players can now perceive the Assassins. However, the game fails to adequately build upon this great foundation, glossing over Shay's actual development. In the space of two in-game sequences and a handful of short missions, Shay turns from loyal assassin to complete nemesis, with little regret or meaningful remorse. He never truly struggles with his breakaway, so we never see an emotional depth that could have served the story some real connection or dilemmas for the player to ponder. After sequence three, the game skips forward by one year, effectively telling the player Shay is now a seasoned Templar, and that's just how it is. One of the most important sections narratively is glossed over, creating a real missed opportunity for us to experience the real change in the central narrative arc.

The rest of the story is fairly standard, as you are tasked with retrieving an artifact (which you acquire and lose for both sides) to unlock a powerful precursor sight. Shay is ordered with hunting down and defeating his previous comrades one-by-one as the sequences pass by. But once again, while Shay has the odd line devoted to showing some sense of moral conflict, he very rarely shows anything other than determination to do what he thinks is right. Overall, the story segments in the game are short, limited, and generally forgettable, which is a shame for a game with so much promise behind its central themes of loyalty and betrayal.

A Great Formula, a Stale Repeat

Sadly, the central gameplay loop of Rogue is regurgitated from its predecessor almost identically. You'll spend time doing all the same things you did in Black Flag, with a couple of new additions -- capturing forts, stabbing grunts, infiltrating supply camps, suppressing Assassin HQs, engaging in sea warfare, sneaking past outposts, and generally causing as much havoc to the Assassin order as your Irish legs can muster. The addition of supply camps and Assassin HQs are minor at best, and superficial at worst. Rather than being meaningful changes or adding anything to the experience, they exist simply to repackage the same gameplay you've already experienced dozens of hours of.

The combat for both land and sea remain largely the same, with Shay's only notable acquisition being a rifle that now has an attached grenade launcher. Unfortunately, even this acts as a missed opportunity, as the grenades available are identical to the darts we'd been using for about two games prior -- berserk and sleep -- with the addition of traditional shrapnel grenades. It seemed this may have been a great opportunity to freshen up your stealth and action options, but instead it feels like a meaningless add-on which only serves to make the game easier. One of the few differences is the addition of stalkers, who will hide out in various secluded spots and try to slice you when you least expect it. They're an interesting concept, but they telegraph their attacks so brazenly you almost always detect them, leaving the process of countering them as more of a chore than an exciting challenge.

That's not to say there isn't any fun to be had in Rogue's moment-to-moment engagement. Successfully infiltrating an outpost or settlement without being detected, taking down a particularly strong enemy, or laying waste to multiple guards is still wickedly fun and fast-paced at times. Additionally, the naval combat is still epic in scope and exciting to execute; firing off cannons and mortars while avoiding fire from half a dozen ships is still just as invigorating as it has been before. It's just such a shame that it feels so abrasively familiar. Within 10 minutes of playing Rogue Remastered, it felt like I was right at home from my time with Black Flag or AC3, with little actual development of skill or ability, coupled with the same animation and design for things like legendary battles and harpoon activities.

The Problem With Filler

The main story missions do an admirable job of attempting to get you thinking on how to approach and dispatch your targets, with significantly fewer tailing missions being a massive improvement. These can sometimes feel weak or lacking in exciting design, however, with many of the stealthy or "better" options scripted blatantly with environmental cues and hints -- there's only so many times you can see a tree branch overhanging an essential enemy character before it becomes ridiculous.

What's also glaringly ridiculous is how Ubisoft has so obviously padded out Rogue, stuffing it with pointless collectibles. By the time I'd finished the main campaign story missions (which only took about 7 in-game hours), I'd only discovered about 1/4 of all the locations, forts, and HQs in the game, and that's with me purposely having visited most of the ones en route to missions! The rest of your 20-30 hour playtime will be collecting over 200(!) animus fragments, shanties, chests, and items to unlock new outfits or weapon sets. Generally, most of Rogue feels like filler content, with the meat of the package proving to be a rather limited dish.

The Thinnest Layer of Paint

It's not only the gameplay additions that feel somewhat superfluous, though. With this version being a remaster, it's important to assess the changes made for this upgrade. Once again, however, Rogue Remastered disappoints, with distinctly mild or almost non-existent improvements to its graphics capacity. Character models show their age, animations are comically stiff in comparison to the current standard, and don't even look at people's hair for fear of being put off completely. The game has been enhanced to promote the use of 4K and 1080p on a PS4 Pro, for example, but given the game's now-lacking visual fidelity, it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Moreover, the game technically still has problems, as I experienced two in-game crashes during my time playing. On one occasion, Shay became permanently locked into an attack animation pose so he couldn't move, and in another instance, I encountered a soldier body clipping through the floor of the game (with the essential key I needed to progress). All of these are relatively forgivable given the generous save system, but they were a pain nonetheless and shouldn't be occurring in the prime or enhanced edition of a game.

Finally, the two additional missions included from the original version again add little to Rogue's enjoyment factor, and the customization options are artificial and largely pointless. Much like the rest of the game, they feel tacked-on and lack any real value for the experience.

Should Have Remained a Rogue?

Assassin's Creed Rogue Remastered is something akin to an Easter egg with a tasty, exciting, and enjoyable exterior, but completely and utterly hollow within, lacking any form or real substance. There's the skeleton of a great game within its foundations, as we all discovered with Black Flag, so it's a shame it chooses to replicate, rather than evolve upon, the formula that gave it life. The changes made for this remaster are minor, adding little to the original experience or improving it in any significant way.

As a first-time player of Rogue, I enjoyed some of my time decimating the Assassin order, with a story and main campaign that had genuinely enthralling moments. What a shame then that the majority of the game lacks any form of depth or development. If you never played Rogue originally and had a fleeting interest, you may find it worth searching within this outcast. But for returning players or everyone else, you can avoid Shay's enhanced adventure without much fuss.

Pillars of Eternity II Deadfire Review: Fight the Gods, Sail the Seas, Save Your Soul Tue, 08 May 2018 13:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

Around the time that the Pentium II was the baddest microprocessor on the block, Baldur's Gate II showed up to blow the cRPG competition away by vastly expanding on everything that made the original game such a hallowed favorite.

Computers may be a whole lot faster nearly two decades later, but that classic brand of RPG nostalgia is still on full display for genre fans with Obsidian's own ambitious sequel, Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire.

Much like Black Isle's earlier take on the D&D universe, Obsidian absolutely nailed this expansion of the Infinity Engine style, making all of the tweaks that players asked for following the first game. From full voice acting to new class options, fans of the first Pillars won't be disappointed with Obsidian's sequel.

Deadfire features a much-needed change of location and tone, to something that sets the Pillars of Eternity series apart. It's not just background colors and character options that change the experience for returning players, though. The Archipelago is absolutely alive with history and culture with Deadfire's new open world setting.

On top of that, there's been a big cultural shift away from all the Celtic connotations in the first game. This time around, the game has moved toward native Pacific Islanders and invading expansionist Europeans in a golden age of piracy. It's a shift that's not only palpable but also game-changing. 

RPG fans who love dialog-heavy games will be thrilled by NPC speech peppered with colorful colloquial terms that draw them into the setting. In short, this is a game with a lot of character

     Better get used to blood-soaked decks -- you'll be seeing a lot of them!

Massive trading companies, ousted nobles turned pirates, religious missionaries, and locals looking to make coin off the lot of 'em collide for an incredibly rich setting that is everything a gamer could want from a high-seas RPG.

While the story of Deadfire is serious and revolves around the fate of souls across the world, there's still plenty of comic relief to be found between tense combat and philosophical story lines. And that comedy aspect is handled exceedingly well, with killer timing.

New companion Serafen's particular world view is always amusing, and there's plenty of opportunity for the Watcher to get herself into trouble by saying the wrong thing

Updated Game Mechanics and Map Travel

Besides a shift in setting and language, the game itself has evolved in several notable ways. The first and largest change will have fans of the original Pillars heaving a major sigh of relief. Obsidian thankfully (and very, very wisely) ditched all the backer soul dialogue, which was a major low point of the first game given the massive amount of text present throughout the adventure.

The Watcher still talks to souls and sees into other realms, just with better writing that is actually tied into the story. Beyond that much-needed change, Deadfire includes majorly-updated game mechanics, with multi-classing, a totally new reputation system, and ship-to-ship combat.

Between the extra class powers, new environmental combat effects, and a host of other battle tweaks, combat feels more tactical this time around.The oddly low level cap of 12 of the first game has also been bumped to 20, offering many new class build possibilities for players to explore.

 Exploration is a huge part of the game, and you even
get to name your own uncharted islands

Shifting focus from typical RPG railroading, the Watcher and her crew get a ship early on, meaning they can start exploring the utterly massive Archipelago without having to wait for hours on end. Furthermore, you can pretty much ignore the main quest to go explore most of Deadfire right away if that suits your fancy.

And much like with Baldur's Gate II, there are now more options to be an evil, reaving, murderous pirate from the get-go. Of course, there are any number of other ways to play the Watcher, but at least you get access to most of them fairly early. 

Lastly, there's also noticeably less combat this time around, which was a consistent complaint from the fan base about the first game. 

 There's still more than enough Real-Time-With-Pause combat
and loads of screen-shaking spell effects

Faith in Eora

This section contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the ending of the previous game, so if you haven't finished the first Pillars of Eternity yet, you may want to skip on down to the next section.

As would be expected from the confrontational atheism versus religious faith ending of PoE, when you discovered Thaos' devastating secret, religion continues to play a huge role in Deadfire

Now that the Watcher knows the gods are a sham, options for reacting to religious characters have grown significantly, and whether you keep placing your faith in the false gods or turn your back on them has major impacts on your party interactions. 

The Watcher even gets to deal directly with those powerful ancient Engwithans in a variety of dreamlike settings, and there's a definite rush to staring the goddess of death in the face and telling her exactly where she can go shove it.

 Having a pow-wow with mewling. whiny deities
who expect humans to do everything for them

How religious characters and organizations interact with each other is central to the storytelling in the continuation of the Watcher's saga. Player choice is a major factor in every conversation, so if you want total control over your character's actions and motivations, this is the RPG for you.

The strength of the writing and nuance in the world's religious background really shine through companion interactions. New character Xoti is one of the highlights of Deadifre, coming off at first as an adorably unrefined, sassy southern lass (you will be forgiven if you too think of Cameron's sister Pameron from Modern Family).

Whether you want to kindly indulge her superstitions or mercilessly mock her backwards beliefs is up to you, and those interactions become a test of character for both of you as the game's story progresses.

 There's a lot more to this naive southern belle than first meets the eye

Party Relationships In Pillars Of Eternity II

As with the first game, there's constant inter-party dialog and interactions to be had in Deadfire, making it a pleasure to travel around from place to place and see how the members of the group talk to each other

Beyond the options of "good" and "evil", every character has a host of personality traits that impact not just how they view the main character, but how they interact with each other.  The sheer scope of the possible party interactions is breathtaking, and there's plenty of personality types to choose from. 

If you were worried there wouldn't be a foul-mouthed git who likes to toss around insults just because Durance is absent from this sequel, you needn't be. Serafen is everything you ever wanted from an evil little sea pirate mogwai companion who has an endlessly dirty mind. He's also psychic, so get ready for a fun time.

 The band is back together!

The Bottom Line

The characters are fabulous, the combat is refined, the exploration elements have greatly (greatly) expanded, and the backer soul dialog is blessedly gone.

Are there little issues that could be nit picked about the game's combat, UI, or load times? Sure, absolutely. Some of those will get patched out, and some will probably stay forever. But honestly, none of them have even remotely detracted from the game's enjoyment factor so far.

Pillars Of Eternity II combines the best bits of the strategy and humor from Divinity Original Sin with the style and imagery of classic Infinity Engine games, throws in open world RPG exploration, and blends it all together with Obsidian's trademark solid character building.

In short, this is going to be the RPG of the year.

Light Fall Review: A Unique Platformer That Suffers From a Few Glaring Mishaps Tue, 01 May 2018 11:54:56 -0400 Autumn Fish

Light Fall is an innovative 2D platformer that shakes up the genre by placing control of the platforms in the player's hands. It's fast-paced and smooth to control, and is fairly challenging to boot.

But has Bishop Games pulled off this unique concept gracefully, or did they stumble on the execution?

Let's find out!

Light Fall Review

In this game, you play as a young boy who has control of a mysterious artifact called the Shadow Core. It's a cube that you can manipulate around the environment in order to help you accomplish your mission.

There is a story and a bit of lore to this game, but I feel like I struggled to grasp it. It caught my interest, but it was delivered in a way that was difficult to follow. The narrator would slowly add to the story by commenting on things mid-stage and between stages, but I felt like what was being said was a bit too fantastical and removed from reality to be able to be easily understood, especially while you're in the middle of gameplay.

On top of that, there was a short segment in the middle of the game where there was a stage with literally nothing but a string of cutscenes one after another. At that point I really felt like the story was being forced upon me. Despite my gripes, I feel like it would have been just fine if they stuck to the same narration style that the other levels had and made an actual stage out of it.

Light Fall Intro

A lot of the lore and backstory for the game is revealed to you through hidden collectibles. This is a concept I kind of enjoy, admittedly, but it has to be done right. Unfortunately, rather than these collectibles teasing you with pieces of a grander puzzle, they tell a chronological story of events as if you were flipping through the pages of a journal. Unless you're meticulous enough to find every hidden collectible, it feels like you're reading a journal with pages torn out, which is just disappointing at best. And don't even get me started on the slow automatic scroll speed for journal entries.

All in all, however, a platformer is not about the story. It's about the gameplay -- the movement abilities, the platforming, and whatever else might be thrown in.

Platforming With the Shadow Core

Movement is simple in Light Fall. You can jump, you can jump off of walls, and you can sprint. The controls feel tight and responsive, and I never felt like my deaths were anyone's fault but my own. However, it would have been nice if there was a sprint toggle. There's no reason not to be sprinting, and needing to hold it down all the time quickly grows tiresome.

On the topic of deaths, though, I can say that the game is fairly challenging. I might even go on to say that the difficulty curve was a little too steep for my tastes. I often experienced points in the game where the platforming started fairly simply and I could get through it without a hitch, but it would often hit a wall where you're expected to go through a long and dangerous gauntlet that you're really not prepared for. I'm not sure I'm entirely willing to write it off as the game's fault, however, as it could just be because I'm unfamiliar with the unique gameplay that comes about from having control over the Shadow Core.

Light Fall Jumping off Cube Owl Watching

The Shadow Core is pretty brilliant. It comes with four unique abilities. You can summon the cube beneath your feet in midair if you need a platform to land on. You can take control of the cube and put it in a specific location or use it to activate certain mechanisms throughout the game world. You can shoot the Shadow Core at enemies or bosses to defend yourself. And you can summon the cube to either side of you to act as a shield or even to reach greater heights by utilizing your wall jump.

The only limitation the Shadow Core sets upon the player is that it can only be used up to four times without touching the ground. With these four abilities, the player is able to use the box to accomplish feats never before seen in a platformer. It's an impressive and charming concept that works rather well for the game, and the level design does a pretty good job of accompanying it. What doesn't complement it, however, are the bosses.

A Battle of Attrition

The boss battles are a slog at best. You have an entire game built around speedrunning, but two boss battles built around RNG and waiting arbitrary amounts of time to have something to actually hit. You don't put a boss with timers on weakpoints in a game built for speed running. I can't stress enough how jarring this felt.

Light Fall Lasers

One moment I'm gliding across the map on my Shadow Core, the next I'm dodging projectiles in order to survive long enough to hit the boss again. Not to mention that these are the only two bosses even in the game. Luckily, since they're few and far between, you won't have to deal with them too much. When you do have to deal with them, however, it just feels like the freedom to go at your own pace is wrenched away from you and placed in the hands of the game. Suffice it to say, that just feels wrong.

Verdict - Light Fall Is a Smooth and Unique Platformer That Suffers from a Few Glaring Mishaps

Don't let any of my complaints misdirect you; Light Fall is a great game. In a time where 2D Platformers are a little oversaturated, it definitely succeeds at standing out and making a name for itself. If you're a fan of the genre and are looking for something refreshing, you'll probably like it a lot.

Personally? It may be a short game, but I only have so much time to play all of the games I want to get to. Quite frankly, I'd rather dedicate my time to getting further in Celeste than playing this -- but maybe that's an unfair comparison. If you're like me, though, and only have time to dedicate yourself to one 2D Platformer at a time, I'd definitely suggest taking a look at other options before circling back to this one.

The unique concept introduced here makes the game good, but without it, it's nothing special. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to do a bit more to really climb to the top in today's market.

Light Fall Jumping off Cube Being Attacked by Monster

Light Fall is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

For the King Review: For Those Seeking the Hard Life Mon, 30 Apr 2018 13:13:46 -0400 Sergey_3847

For the King unites several gaming genres into one, which isn't a surprise these days at all. It's a roguelike, turn-based RPG with some neat mechanics, tabletop visual design, and a co-operative mode for three players.

The game isn't particularly strong in terms of story, but it does deliver when it comes to game mechanics and all sorts of side-quests with their own twists and turns. In addition, For the King spices things up with a decent dose of RNG, which makes an already hard game even harder.

You guessed it right, For the King is a difficult game, and it really doesn't matter even if you choose to play on the easiest difficulty. Soon you find yourself in a situation where you'll be thinking, "All right, and how do I beat this thing?" That pretty much sums up what you can expect.

Character Creation

party selection screen

For the King offers you three game modes: a story-driven campaign, a dungeon crawl, and the so-called Frost Adventure -- a whole new chapter that has been added since the game left Early Access.

All three modes are equally exciting to play, but one should always start with the campaign since this is where you learn all the game mechanics. Then, you are given the choice to select three heroes, regardless of whether you're playing in solo or in co-op mode.

When creating a character, you can choose the looks of the character and its class. These correspond to melee, ranged, magical, and tanks. This sort of variety makes the gameplay so much more fun since you get to create a well-balanced team that supports each other.

Some characters are highly important, such as the Hunter, whose high level of Awareness allows him to land extremely precise shots with his bow. But again, in For the King, everything is reliant on a chance percentage, so all the passive skills and traits of any character only increase but don't guarantee the probability of success.

Combat Mechanics

For the King's distinct polygonal visuals are exemplified in a screen shot from battle

As you move along the procedurally generated map with your heroes, you will get to fight a lot with random enemies. Sometimes you will encounter more than one, and sometimes you will have to escape the fight due to the overpowered nature of the enemies.

The turn-based combat is quite simple and is completely tied to the weapons you're using. The game checks your skill level for that specific weapon and decides how much damage you can deal depending on its stats. This means that you can't go beyond what the weapon offers, which makes combat a bit underwhelming at times.

When attacking with a weapon, the game involves RNG in the form of coin flips. It is also possible to use the Focus ability to assure that more coins will flip successfully. I'm not sure if this system is entirely correct, but it definitely makes up for some unexpected moments during combat.

quest completion screen

But weapons and their stats aren't the only elements influencing combat, although they are the most impactful ones. Other mechanics, such as status effects (dazed, bleed, poison, etc.) and all kinds of buffs -- including armor penetration, magic resistance, and many more -- influence the outcome of combat as well.

But probably the biggest challenge is to keep all three members of the party together. Only by doing so is it possible to beat a really strong enemy. The map is huge, with lots of cool places to visit, so grouping doesn't always seem to go well.

The last challenge is the ambushes. You can stumble upon a very strong opponent in a completely unexpected way, and this can throw all your efforts out the window. However, the game isn't over until all three characters die, so there's some chance left even in the most dire situations.

Level of Difficulty

a trio of statues serve as a victory screen

For the King is definitely a fun game, but there comes a point when you realize that the level of difficulty is probably too high. This happens when you remember that you set the difficulty to the easiest setting before starting the campaign. Oh well....

Now you understand why the game has a procedurally generated map -- that's because you will restart your campaign over and over again. If it had the same layout each time you loaded a new campaign, the game would get boring really quickly. So kudos to the developers for such a nifty solution.

However, it becomes harder not only in terms of combat, but other things as well. For example, the prices on healing items jump significantly at a certain point, and you're standing there guessing how you're supposed to fight OP enemies without heals.

But in the end, if you do have a good party and a bunch of witty friends playing together with you, then it is possible to finish the game. In solo mode, on the other hand, it is quite a frustrating experience.

Final Verdict

For the King has many upsides: It has a compelling polygonal visual style that makes everything look very appealing; it has a great variety of items, weapons, and gear; and the music and sound design are great as well. But it really loses in other departments -- namely, the RNG and overpowered enemies are at times insufferable.

You can find good weapons in the game that will deal with a bunch of nasty monsters, but most of those weapons are breakable, and the ones that aren't just don't hold up. This leads you to relying on RNG, which isn't the best partner either, as at some times it gives you a 90% hit chance, and at others, only 10%.

Despite all that, if you enjoy playing stylish RPGs in co-op mode with friends, and you genuinely enjoy challenging games, then For the King should fit your bill. Otherwise, if the high level of difficulty in combination with RNG brings nothing but boredom to your life, then maybe it's time to look somewhere else.

[Note: A copy of For the King was provided by IronOak Games for the purpose of this review.]

Korgan Review: Dungeons and Draggin' Mon, 30 Apr 2018 10:49:47 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

On paper, Korgan seems like a can't-miss idea. It's a dungeon crawler in the style of Diablo, but with a Gauntlet: Dark Legacy level-based and episodic sheen. 

It also introduces the concept of swapping characters on-the-fly to solve puzzles, unleash powerful combo attacks, and advance through challenging dungeons, which, again, is a great idea on paper. Unfortunately, all of these interesting concepts don't come together to create a wonderful melange. They come together to form a big pile of flavorless, beige nothing.

screen shot from Korgan revealing its shoddy graphics

When you boot the game up for the first time, you'll notice two things: 

  1. Codestalkers, the developers behind Korgan, did a great job on the music.
  2. The game is, sadly, very ugly.

The title screen gives you a way-too-close-up view of the character models you'll be playing as for the rest of the game, which is an interesting choice given that one of the advantages to developing an isometric dungeon crawler game is that the camera is always going to be far enough away from the character models that nobody will notice their weird, dead eyes.

Having said that, none of this matters if the gameplay is solid. After all, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy and Diablo II don't look great either, but they both still hold up even today given their crunchy, satisfying combat and exploration-focused gameplay.

Unfortunately, Korgan fails here too. 

The core gameplay concept in the game is the ability to swap between a tanky warrior, a spell-slinging mage, and a nimble hunter, on-the-fly, in order to vary your battle options. But the three characters simply aren't balanced in a way that makes swapping between them fun or helpful.

a character traversing over lava

The warrior, in particular, is almost useless early on as anything but a damage sponge, given the fact that he has a regenerating armor bar that nullifies any incoming hits. He just doesn't hit hard or fast enough to be useful, and he's also the only character of the three that doesn't have a long-range attack.

Korgan is the most frustrating type of game: a game that is built on a promising concept, but does not have the courage to fully lean into it.

Your other two characters, the mage and hunter, are both ranged characters, which sounds super helpful until you realize you can only fire in the direction you're facing. There's no auto aim or lock-on to help with this, and the projectiles you fire are just small enough that they'll often sail past an opponent you think you should hit.

This makes combat incredibly frustrating, and that's not even counting the fact that every model in the game moves around the dungeons like they're on ice, which can sometimes cause you to slide right into a trap or enemy. 

The best way to go about fighting enemies is to move right up to them with the hunter, unleash triple arrow shots one after the other, then take cover for a while to regain energy. Does this sound fun? It's not.

This all might be forgiven if Korgan's maps, objectives, and gameplay loops were satisfying. But so far in this episodic romp, they're not. More episodes will be released, but the first two are incredibly similar. Objectives cycle between collecting items and bashing enemies, and there really is no variety to be found other than that.

And that's the real nail in the coffin for Korgan. Dungeon crawlers need variety to shine. Diablo's loot management, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy's multiplayer gameplay full of hidden secrets -- both of these games offer variety to break up the monotony of romping through dungeons.

The ideas behind Korgan made me think that it could join these ranks. Unfortunately, Korgan is the most frustrating type of game: a game that is built on a promising concept, but does not have the courage to fully lean into it. As it stands now, the characters don't feel all that distinct, there's very little impetus to swap characters on-the-fly (with the exception of a combo move that you can learn early on), and the missions are all samey. Time will tell whether future episodes will mitigate some of these problems, but even if they do, does it make a difference if it's not fun to bash on baddies?


Having trouble traversing the traps in Korgan? We've put together a beginner's guide just for you! Be sure to stick with GameSkinny for more news, tips, and information.

All Our Asias: When Less Is More Fri, 27 Apr 2018 15:18:02 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Developer and musician Sean Han Tani describes his game All Our Asias as a lo-fi adventure. This may not appear to be very descriptive at first, but in actuality, it tells us everything we need to know. Is this humble indie game worth playing? Is this unorthodox journey worth taking? Read on to find out.

All Our Asias is a game that tells the story of a man seeking a connection.  Yuito, a U.S.-born-and-raised Japanese-American, learns that his estranged father is on life support. With his father's last few days near, Yuito longs to understand him, so he decides to traverse his father's memories virtually via the Memory World. What he takes is a trip into the surreal.

Low Fidelity 

Lo-fi (Low Fidelity) is an artistic movement of music where sound quality is lowered or degraded purposefully. This particular crafting of music has been around for decades. The absence of sound is meant to create productions that normally can't be made, so instead of giving us a lot (as per the standard), there's a minimalism at play to convey a different sound.

More recently, "lo-fi" has become an adopted term among other forms of entertainment with the same goal. All Our Asias as a whole encompasses this ideal.

With this in mind, the entirety of the game exists within the Memory World. You have a ship to travel this strange plane of existence, visiting stages that become more different than the last. This world is unconventional but not difficult to traverse. 

Controls are bare-bones as well; all you can do is jump and interact, but not much is necessary gameplay-wise. After all, the goal is to help Yuito to locate memories of his father. As you travel, you'll meet the occasional NPC that will point you in the right direction, and you are able to easily progress on through the story and enjoy it fully -- something that's greatly appreciated.


Purposeful Plot

As the game starts, you are introduced to some important questions, one of which asks if you're Asian. The game then proceeds to ask something much more heavy: Are you sympathetic to Asian causes? This and other questions become a running theme throughout the journey.

Eventually, you'll witness memories of Yuito's dad at different points in his life. You realize he had faults and shortcomings like any other human being. This unfolds as Yuito travels to a new area, speaks to some individuals, and is given a serious question or subject to consider -- questions of race, identity, and nationality.

Developer Sean Han Tani, I believe, chose this "going through the motions" approach to convey a sense of normalcy where it's absent. Time in the Memory World runs parallel to his father's life as he pursued the "American Dream," which (I'm sure you can agree) can be very surreal in and of itself. You have difficulties of success, finding personal balance, and, hell, even recognizing whom you are. We get a healthy sample of this through Yuito's bizarre adventure. 

With the lo-fi aesthetics in mind, the story is also able to convey feelings of being lonely. The game uses text-only chat, conversations with faceless figures, and empty black space (among other things) to set the tone. When coupled with worlds that are expansive and effectively empty, you get the sense of isolation. Yuito's journey, although important, is quite melancholy. 


Do-It-Yourself Music

Lo-fi music can also be synonymous with "do-it-yourself" music. The production entails that this music was created personally, often within a bedroom. Here it's quite literal, as Sean Han Tani scored his own game. 

The music and audio of All Our Asias is arguably the most impressive aspect of the experience. As I mentioned before, worlds are really connected, and they are sporadic, really. To that end, the soundtrack helps drive that sense of displacement beautifully.

This displacement can be heard as you travel the white tunnel, an area where echoing, subtle tones almost envelop you. There's literally nothing but you and pulsating chimes within an empty land. Tani's proficiency with tonal changes are also evident as you make your way deeper into the game. One example arrives within a forest in which you'll hear a number of natural sounds accompanied by a somber electronic tune that introduces itself. Other times, you'll be treated to a slow piano melody, ripe with soft sound effects and bass as you visit a supposed ghost town.

Important scenes take place with tunes matching the mood. I don't believe the audio of All Our Asias would be as effective if Sean wasn't his own musician. I can only imagine the time devoted to this endeavor (let alone the game itself). His unique position as developer and musician allows for an intimacy felt on the soundtrack. 


As with all indie games, they will be scrutinized, unfortunately. Simply put, All Our Asias' design and execution will turn off some players. The game may be considered too weird. Also, it can only really be appreciated when it's played -- video and images do it no justice. Like the lo-fi aesthetics it invokes, it's an acquired taste that most don't always appreciate for what it is. None of these assumptions mean it's a bad title. It's just a game that isn't for everyone.

Last Loop

When All Our Asias came across my timeline, I was intrigued. It presented itself as a small adventure influenced by a particular design ideal. Sean Han Tani was able to create a game that captures this well. It's a game that represents artistic freedom.

It's this freedom that allows it to intersect a number of genres and thoughts. It's something of a platformer, it's visual novel-like, and it's also very much an adventure game. This intertwining of ideas allows for an overall experience that's profound and which can be enjoyed within a few hours. I strongly believe games like this are important in the video game landscape. They offer a different kind of experience that's enjoyably refreshing. I'd highly recommend it.

If you are a fan of indie games and/or adventure games, All Our Asias is available via Steam and

God of War Review: With Age Comes Wisdom Fri, 27 Apr 2018 14:34:05 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Every console generation has a handful of exclusives that come to define it. They are games players and journos like me will etch into the history books as watershed moments for the medium -- and absolutely must-play experiences for their respective consoles. And since its launch in 2014, the PlayStation 4 has seen its fair share of mesmerizing titles. 

But only perhaps Horizon: Zero Dawn compares to the tour de force that is Sony Santa Monica's God of War, an action title that defies its origins while all at once embracing them with the wisdom of age. This is not the God of War you remember, the rage-filled revengefest that spoke to so many of us in our jilted teen angst. Instead, like a fine Greek wine, it is a game indicative of the fact we've grown into something more balanced and sophisticated as we too have aged. 

More nuanced than ever before, God of War explores the urbane territory of adulthood and the emotive cobweb of parenthood. Patience and understanding lie at the core of its avant-garde design, eschewing rage for poise, hedonism for enlightenment. From its narrative to its combat, God of War does this to construct a perfect, circular whole that connects beginning with (perhaps) the end. 

In no small way has Sony Santa Monica etched God of War into the cultural zeitgeist as one of the greatest tales of all time, the denouement of a long, winding series. The ballad to the gods of our youth has become the epic saga of what we've become since Kratos began his journey all those years ago. 

An Ancient Yet Engrossing Narrative

God of War's tale is nearly as old as time itself: a distant father and lonely son embark on an epic adventure of both outward and inward discovery. They endeavor to know one another in a changing world, working past their own demons to understand the intricacies of familial bonds and what survival means in an unforgiving land. 

It's a narrative we've been told before, but a narrative needn't be novel to be powerful. Written and designed by a team that's obviously become wiser with age, God of War speaks to the paradoxes inherent to parenthood, mentorship, and perhaps even life itself. It's a bold claim about a series predicated on the mass murder of gods, goddesses, demigods, and those unfortunate enough to cross Kratos' path. But that nuanced dichotomy is what makes God of War so intensely relatable this time around. 

Replacing the temperate climate of Greece with the frigid climbs of what is undeniably somewhere-Northern Europe, we find Kratos a grizzled, guarded father mourning the death of his second wife. Somber and contemplative, Kratos shows few signs of the enraged god we've come to know -- even in a moment in which we'd expect it. 

On the surface, his stoicism and curtness could be interpreted as callousness, especially toward his son, Atreus, who desperately seeks his approval. However, take a closer look and it's obvious Kratos has (mostly) learned from his mistakes. In the place of indignation and wrath are control and equanimity. He is a man toeing the thin line between teaching his son how to be a man and keeping him from falling prey to his savage heritage. 

As for Atreus, he is the buoyant contrast to his father's nearly indomitable soberness. Inquisitive if a bit naive, Atreus acts as the linchpin to this new God of War narrative. Without him, Kratos' arc would be far less believable -- and our sympathies toward his plight would be far fewer in number. 

Across his arc, Atreus acts as the bridge between these two worlds. When Kratos spurns him, we feel the sting of rejection. When Kratos praises him, we well with confidence. And when Kratos finally laughs at his jokes, we recall the uneven path to acceptance -- and the happiness of reaching its end. In a world where I was never supposed to feel merriment in even the most remote definition of the word, Atreus made me laugh out loud dozens of times. His quips and observations lent realism and levity to God of War, something I never thought possible. 

As you continue your journey, you'll also meet a cast of immediately classic characters, all of which fill this story with the vibrant life the series has historically missed. Underpinned by some of the best voice work and dialog I'd argue the PS4 has ever seen, God of War is chock full of fantastic character design. 

The dwarven brothers Brok and Sindri might be my favorite dynamic, jocular duo. And "The Rememberer" Mimir, playing the part of wizened counselor, himself in a strange predicament I won't spoil if you don't already know, adds new, complex meaning to diegetic storytelling. 

Through these characters, we not only learn about the in-game world but also about real-world Norse mythology -- and in a way, that's far more entertaining than it should be. Pausing to listen to the tales told about the angry Aesir or the sagacious beasts of Midgard is one of the absolute best parts of the game. It's unobtrusive and natural. It's storytelling done the way it should be. 

It Feels Good to Be Strong

Forget the Blades of Chaos. The Leviathan Axe is the new hotness. Few weapons in the gaming pantheon have made me feel so utterly savage and strong as the Leviathan Axe. A survey of anyone who's so far played the game will most likely come back with similar results.

Despite everything I've said above about God of War's story, this game is still (at least, partially) about ferocious combat. From your first encounter in the Wildwoods, there's a metered violence imbued into the Leviathan Axe that comes across with every swing and every strike. Where the Chaos Blades lived up to their name with unfettered primality, the Leviathan Axe operates like a seasoned predator, methodically doling out judgment to the ill-fated guilty. It makes your Dualshock 4 feel meaty in your hands, heavy with purpose and refined with murderous intent. 

Switching between late-game weapons, throwing the Leviathan Axe to lop heads at a distance or solve God of War's puzzles, and quickly linking heavy and light runic attacks to devastate foes inundates almost every part of the game with that sense of strength. And in an interesting twist that adds another layer to the game's subtlety, Atreus isn't a useless tagalong. Instead, he's a maestro with the bow and arrow and a meticulously attentive student of close-quarters combat as the game progresses.

In short, Atreus is an extension of Kratos, a compatriot that can be called quickly into any skirmish -- and one who can almost always turn the tide in the player's favor. In fact, some late-game encounters would be nearly impossible without him (believe me, I tried and quickly learned my lesson).  

Then there's upgrading.

The Leviathan Axe, as well as other weapons you come across in your journey, can also be leveled and upgraded through an intricate skill tree and improvement system. The breadth of abilities at your disposal can at times be overwhelming, and each has its specific use for power players or those seeking the game's high-level armors. Couple that with this entry's light RPG elements, where stats such as strength, vitality, and luck are tied to the armors, talismans, and pommels you have equipped, and God of War's customization and upgrade systems are deep and rewarding.

But for the average gamer, God of War doesn't require you to know all of these skills and abilities to have fun or progress, especially on the game's default difficulty. This design choice truly opens the game to newcomers, while all at once keeping the game fresh and exciting for long-time fans. By creating lulls in combat where you simply explore and digest the beautiful world around you, God of War gives you time to absorb the lessons and skills it's taught you. And although a proper training area would have been a welcomed addition, closely listening to both Atreus and Mimir often tells you when and how to use attacks. 

And pro tip: Don't be afraid to go bare-knuckle brawler. In fact, Kratos' fists and shield are sometimes much more effective than his axe or other weapons. That's because pummeling enemies with your fists quickly fills their stun meters, meaning you can pull off devastating melee attacks that one-shot low- to mid-level enemies and severely harm higher-level baddies. 

Stunning a troll and then riding him while pummeling his comrades into dust is a damn good feeling you can't find anywhere else. 

Did You Want Collectibles? This Game Has Collectibles

Whereas it grew tiring to collect red orb after red orb in previous entries, God of War on the PS4 mostly keeps things fresh by stocking in-game chests (which are often well hidden or locked behind clever environmental puzzles) with tangible loot you actually want to collect. The same can be said of the game's tougher enemies, which drop resources and crafting items that often make you more powerful, appropriately rewarding now instead of later. 

On top of that, God of War has a veritable treasure trove of collectibles to find and horde. Some, like those found in the game's Nornir Chests, increase your health and rage meters. Others, like its shrines, deepen the game's lore, teaching you about the Aesir, as well as Atreus if you're paying close enough attention. 

Tack onto that Odin's Ravens and artifacts you can sell for hacksilver, and you can spend a lifetime just acquiring all of God of War's collectibles. 

However long a lifetime is, I never once felt daunted by the prospect of nabbing these collectibles. Instead, I often sought out collectibles because they were so closely entwined with the story. And even when it came to crafting items, I felt that the rewards were so immediately tangible I never once felt burdened by searching for them. It also helps that these collectibles and items are spread around many of the game's different areas, forcing you to explore interesting locales -- and happen upon interesting NPCs that only support the overall narrative even more.


At its conclusion, God of War's story is one about discovery, reconciliation, and the bonds of family. There are many threads I've not even touched on in this review to make sure I don't spoil anything for those who've yet to complete the journey. Deep with allegory, God of War shows what it means for video games to grow up. 

It's a game where everything feels necessary and nothing is tacked on "just because." Side quests are important pieces of the overarching puzzle, while every island and nook and cave and field has something within it to advance the plot and reconstruct the world you thought you knew into something surprisingly different.  

Even though I'm not a parent, God of War's commentary on fatherhood and mentorship spoke to me in ways I'd not anticipated. Seeing vestiges of my nephew in Atreus and myself in Kratos, I sympathized with our protagonist for the first time (possibly) ever. I was reminded of how difficult it is to build trust -- and how difficult it is to impart knowledge while ensuring your charge doesn't make your same mistakes. 

The few qualms I have about God of War are so minute and nitpicky that they almost aren't even worth mentioning. For example, some enemies can be unfathomably grating -- especially in numbers -- and all of the different combos can get a bit muddied without focused practice. But as you could surmise from both of those, they're highly subjective issues that don't mar the overall experience. 

In almost every way, God of War is the PS4's masterwork. It is a game that will survive through the ages as an example of how the medium's moved forward. It's an enormous understatement to say this is an experience no gamer can afford to miss. 

BattleTech Review -- Bringing FASA's Tabletop Glory to the PC Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

For three long years we've been waiting for Harebrained Schemes -- those beautiful old-school necromancers who resurrected Shadowrun the way it was meant to be played -- to wrap up work on the crowdfunded mech combat simulator BattleTech.

I've had the good fortune to sink nearly 40 hours into the game pre-release so far, and other than a few minor issues here and there, I can confidently say that the core demographic of this game is going to be very pleased.

If you remember the old-school FASA box set fondly, it's a foregone conclusion you will end up fangirling pretty hard while noticing all the little details packed into every aspect of the game, from vehicle types to Inner Sphere history lessons.

box art from old Battletech tabletop game 
Long story short, if you had this box set, you are going to love this game.

BattleTech's Mech Combat

First and foremost, it needs to be said immediately that if you want a fast-paced mech game filled with eye candy and focused on the explosions over the tactics, then the upcoming Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries will be your best choice.

This rendition of BattleTech instead sticks to the franchise's RPG/wargaming roots and is a slower, turn-based entry on purpose. Both styles have their place, of course, and for fans of that earlier era of tabletop gaming, this is probably the best and most faithful PC interpretation of the series so far.

Granted, the graphics aren't fabulous, but they get the job done, and there are lots of little details to create immersion, like trees swaying as you fire weaponry through them or mechs moving backwards to gain the best firing arc.

Combat is highly tactical, with a gigantic range of options depending on your mech lance's makeup, the extreme level of customization for weapon loadouts on any given mech, the skills of your pilots, the terrain, the biome of the planet you are battling on, and so on.

There's extreme satisfaction in figuring out that perfect battleground position where you can hit every enemy at the proper ranges for all those weapons you've refitted onto your mech (which will have wildly different optimal ranges for hit percentages and damage).

two mechs approaching one another on the battlefield Well this is awkward ... how are we supposed to shake hands when we both blew off each other's right arms?

If you spent a whole lot of afternoons playing BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge as a kid, there's a sense of wonder to seeing the tabletop game recreated in 3D glory, especially with that camera-shaking thud-thud-thud as the towering mechs sprint across the map.

Terrain plays just as important a role as weaponry in combat, as moving through geothermal areas can screw with your heat sink capability, and forests are extremely important in reducing long-range missile damage.

While cover isn't nearly as big a focus, there are some broad similarities to the rebooted X-COM series in that you'd generally rather avoid damage entirely than soak it up. Repairing mechs and putting pilots in the med bay absolutely chew through your timeline and tend to be incredibly expensive, so staying one step ahead of bankruptcy and an empty mech bay is a constant worry.

After the first few tutorial missions, the actual battles themselves become a test of your prowess in leading a group of hardened mercenaries with the best strategies you can devise. The tide of battle can shift in an instant, and you need to learn how to adapt, quickly.

One particular mission against a large lance of enemy mechs sticks out for me. I was doing amazing and effortlessly mopping up the opposition for most of the battle. I was keeping my evasion up, repositioning to hit the enemy from the sides and back, and managing to always have my units exactly where they needed to be to unload with their best long- and short-range weaponry. 

Out of nowhere a nearly dead enemy mech launches a desperate death-from-above attack and scores a critical, destroying the head of my most powerful undamaged mech and instantly killing the pilot.

In a single moment, that battle went from certain victory to hard-fought struggle (that was nearly a total loss), and it ended up costing more in repairs and hiring a new pilot than I actually earned from the mission!

mechs working out their angles of attack Positioning and proper use of weapon optimal ranges are key

BattleTech Story and Characters

Mech combat can't exist in a vacuum, and a tabletop game of this nature needs a backing story to keep you moving from battle to battle.

Here you take on the role of a mercenary company completing contracts for a variety of Inner Sphere houses and local planetary governments, with one particular noble house (invented by Harebrained to avoid story canon issues) repeatedly hiring you to wage their civil war.

During the story segments, you get to decide whether you play as a wide-eyed idealist, cautious realist, or hardened mercenary just in it for the c-bills. Unfortunately you don't get to know the other mech pilots since they can die in battle freely, so the members of the ship crew who handle the maintenance and repairs serve a similar role as your companions from the Shadowrun Returns series.

Asking them about their backstories reveals their personalities and some history of the BattleTech world, although sadly, none of them are quite as interesting as Harebrained's best characters, like Glory or Racter.

The engineer Dr. Farah Murad is probably the most entertaining to talk with, learning she doesn't want to "murder people with lasers" in a giant robot and that she even ended up briefly marrying the host of a kid's show she loved.

Dr. Farah Murad and some of her bio in a text box A wide range of characters will cross your path while waging war

The Life of a Merc in 3025

Although it wasn't apparent based off the original Kickstarter concept, BattleTech has a lot more going on than just a stream of tactical battles. Every element of a mercenary company's existence is recreated here. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a 4X game, but there's definitely strategy, management, and simulation elements present that go well beyond simple combat.

Along the way you'll be juggling monthly expenses for the merc outfit with repairing and upgrading mechs, hiring new recruits, powering your ship's facilities, and paying for the cost of traveling from system to system.

How you negotiate the pay for a contract will determine if you have the salvage and the c-bills necessary to keep your mechs in tip-top shape, and higher pay now has to be weighed against gaining reputation bonuses for buying cheaper equipment later on.

Of course, as a mercenary company hired to deal with inconveniences for pirates and governments alike, the things your clients tell you aren't necessarily the truth. War is PR and perception as much as missiles and mech punches.

All kinds of random events will pop up to test your leadership skills while traveling through space, from dealing with a coffee shortage to the mech bays running out of room for spare parts to playing poker with your subordinates.

Different options taken will bestow bonuses or penalties on members of the crew (and these are often randomized, so you can't always learn the best outcomes ahead of time). Some options taken in these events cost money but can give big bonuses, and best of all, they take into account your background and choices you've made so far throughout the game, giving a sense of RPG continuity.

a financial report in battletech Financial reports? I thought I was just going to be blowing up giant robots!

Some Nagging BattleTech Issues

Although the combat overall is everything you'd want from a tabletop-to-PC conversion and the management elements are fairly elegant, there are times where the turn-based nature of the game can hamper the fun.

For instance, whenever there's an objective to get all your mechs to a specific area (thankfully few and far between in the mission objectives), the game just slows to a crawl. If there's no chance of the enemy catching up and taking you out on the way there, the mission becomes an endless turn-by-turn slog as you crawl across the terrain.

Visually, there are a few negatives here and there as well. The melee attacks for some of the mechs aren't particularly inspiring, and some of the camera angles are a little awkward when battling on different elevations in hilly areas.

Of course, as a newly released game, a few bugs are still in need of patching. Most noticeably, I found that sometimes mech repair jobs didn't take the number of days they were scheduled to take, and the evasion ability seems to work against melee attacks even though it isn't supposed to. I'd expect those to get resolved within a few weeks as player feedback rolls in.

 Oh hi, Mr. Tank, ready for me to step on you? It won't look that great, but you will explode, and that's always fun.

The Bottom Line: Should You Buy BattleTech?

If you love tactical, turn-based combat, then yes, you absolutely should buy BattleTech at launch, although there's a possible caveat here.

The game really throws you into the deep end on mech repair and upgrades without much in the way of a tutorial. If you are familiar with BattleTech, this will be less of an issue, but anyone new to the franchise is going to be lost for the first few hours in the bewildering array of options.

I played a fair share of FASA BattleTech as a kid, but there were still times in the opening missions where I found myself having no idea why this bar was a different color than that bar, or wondering how the hell does this mechanic work? 

That being said, longtime franchise fans are going to eat this up and beg for more, and once the newbies get over the learning curve, BattleTech's different elements come together for an amazing tactical strategy game that's just about everything we hoped Harebrained Schemes would deliver.

Frostpunk Review: Steampunk Aesthetics of the Modern Ice Age Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:00:01 -0400 Sergey_3847

The authors of This War of Mine came back with another story, full of pain, human suffering, but not without a glimpse of hope. Frostpunk, a new project from 11 bit studios, is a very different game than This War of Mine, and yet it follows the same philosophy -- making complex decisions and living with their consequences.

Tragic events become the catalyst for character development and the deep base for an exciting story. If you previously played This War of Mine, there you could witness a small group of people who found themselves in a very difficult situation, and their lives depended on your decisions. But Frostpunk goes even further than that!

The Story and the Setting

Frostpunk reveals an alternative history of the 19th century. In the game's version of 1886, a terrible storm befell the whole world and covered every single inch of it with ice and snow. Millions of people moved south in search of salvation, but found only chaos and death. Great Britain decided to go the other way and organized several settlements inside the ice craters. The source of life was found in giant thermal generators capable of heating entire cities.

The next storm came from the south a little later and knocked out most of the world's population. Some people managed to escape, including a modest group of refugees who stumbled upon one of the abandoned generators. Thinking that this was the best chance to survive, they decided to stay and build a new home. This is where your role as a survival manager begins.

As you may have guessed already, Frostpunk is a survival strategy game that involves lots of building. The setting is quite unique and features frozen landscapes in combination with steampunk aesthetics. The gameplay is very much similar to Surviving Mars, a current indie Steam hit, and it looks like Frostpunk has everything necessary to be a worthy competitor.

The Survival Aspects of the Gameplay

It's no secret that the level of difficulty in Frostpunk is pretty high, which means that the player needs to put forth a lot of effort in order to survive. To begin with, you need to start the generator. It requires coal, so the first concern of the new mayor of the settlement is the extraction of resources. Wood and steel will come in handy very soon, so a few free hands should be sent to fetch them.

Your people will have a hard time working in the conditions of such merciless cold. Then, you need to make sure that your workers have a roof over their heads and food supplies, not to mention medical care. The game throws you into the thick of the problems from the get-go.

You start building small shacks so that your people don't freeze under the open sky. An emotional connection with the residents of the settlement really grows on you through smart visual design. You can even zoom in really close, just enough to examine each settler and see how much they tremble.

At that moment you realize the harsh truth about this game: all these characters must survive through your decisions, and there is actually a huge chance that you will fail. This thought strikes you so hard that it becomes a bit depressing, but then you really begin to think everything over.

This is the point where the freedom of choice within the gameplay leads you to certain decisions, such as turning off a generator for some time in order to save some coal. The workers will have to wait for more comfortable houses just to keep enough wood for the construction of a hunting hut, which is a necessity if you want to keep them fed, and so on and so forth....

The Book of Laws

Hard times require unpopular decisions, and you will have to make them regularly. As a new mayor you will have the power to sign laws, among other things. As a rule, you have to choose between two options: soft and inefficient, or tough but effective.

For example, you will have to decide how to deal with the deceased ones. You can build a cemetery to let people say goodbye to their loved ones, but the construction of the cemetery will draw a lot of resources, and all the posthumous ceremonies take up precious time. On the other hand, you can dump bodies in a corpse disposal, but be prepared for some bad reactions in this case.

Frostpunk sets these incredibly difficult goals: on one hand, you must survive, and on the other, you just can't let people fall into despair. It's incredibly easy to provoke a riot in these circumstances. When discontent grows, local people start to make certain demands, threatening with a strike.

Too many hungry workers begin requiring drastic measures. You can brush it off or promise to feed all those suffering in a couple of days. But if you don't follow through with your promises, it will turn into a real catastrophe!

Final Verdict

Both in technical execution and gameplay design, the game is practically flawless. You won't see such complex decision-making processes in any other strategy game that is on the market today.

In order to survive, you need to constantly develop and grow. The research of new technologies will increase the efficiency of mining resources and medicine, as well as provide other benefits for your little civilization. Every new day brings new choices. Over time you become accustomed to the constant struggle and sense of responsibility.

Frostpunk is not only an endless survival for the sake of survival. You will find out the reasons behind the new Ice Age as the story takes you further out into the world. Frostpunk is a hard but fair game. It's incredibly complex and may create an illusion of great moral pressure. But that's the beauty of it!

[Note: A copy of Frostpunk was provided by 11 bit studios for the purpose of this review.]

Dead in Vinland Review: A Saga Worthy of Fame & Fortune Thu, 19 Apr 2018 15:45:30 -0400 Jonathan Moore

From the Saga of Eric the Red, we know Vinland was a real place. It was a land rich with opportunity but also one full of danger, magic, and death. For those unlucky Norsemen (and women) who found themselves marooned upon its shores by chance or by Loki's mischief, Vinland proved to be both a blessing and a curse.   

That simple paradox is resolutely at the center of CCCP's survival management RPG Dead in Vinland. Exiled from their homeland, a Nordic family finds itself stranded in a strange place that promises both hope and unrelenting despair. It is immediately evident that a peaceful life can be had on Canada's eastern shores, but it's one these Vikings must fight for first. They must survive hunger, Mother Nature, and Vinland's barbaric denizens if they wish to call this land their home. 

Part Darkest Dungeon, part The Banner Saga, Dead in Vinland skillfully captures the mechanisms that make survival management games hum with dreadful delight. 

Characters huddle around the fire in a viking hut

Day to Day Life in Vinland

The crux of Dead in Vinland's gameplay is keeping your family alive. Starting with four characters, it's possible to recruit up to 10 more for a total of 14 party members. All of them have specific traits, skills, and idiosyncrasies you'll have to juggle to keep things from devolving into madness. However, the catch is that if any of your core family members die at any point in your journey, it's game over. No questions asked -- you're starting from the beginning. 

That means from act one, moment one, you're tasked with deftly managing nearly a dozen different stats -- such as fatigue, depression, hunger, and thirst -- for each and every party member, determining which of the ill-fated Vikings is best suited for the myriad tasks that need completing at any given moment. Some characters, such as patriarch Eirik, will be well-versed in hunting and in cutting wood, while others will be better at foraging, scavenging, cooking, or exploring. 

The wisest choice is to obviously put characters with specific interests and skill sets on tasks they're good at to maximize efficiency. However, there's so much to do in Dead in Vinland that you can never get by that easily. In the early game, you will most certainly have to sacrifice non-essential tasks for essential ones -- and force characters into situations they aren't necessarily comfortable with. 

Moira, Eirik, and Kari stand at various harvesting stations in the harvesting area

Gameplay is split into days consisting of three turns each (morning, afternoon, and night). Because of that, you'll have plenty of time to make decisions about who will do what. Since Dead in Vinland is turn-based, you won't be forced to make hasty decisions, either. Taking your time is the name of the game, and it's something I highly suggest if you're playing on the game's brutal default difficulty.

But having more time only means your decisions should (and certainly do) carry more weight and resonance. No matter what your characters are doing, each and every task they perform has a negative effect on at least one, if not more, of their primary stats. Consequently, decisions cannot be made lightly -- or people will die. You will have to decide whether having more wood is more important than ameliorating Eirik's incessant, nagging depression or if Kari's sickness can last another night because you prioritized building a sleeping area over forging a cooking pot. 

If you're studious and deliberate with who you choose to perform each task -- and how you decide to allocate your hard-earned resources -- growing your camp and keeping everyone alive becomes an enterprise of pride, one where each day is a milestone to your success. But forget to gather food or water or let the fire go out, and it's possible one of your kin will be knocking on the vaunted doors of Valhalla come sunrise.

None of that is to mention exploring Vinland, where you'll find locked chests full of wonderful treasure, new companions, and mysterious pathways to the gods. In all of these encounters, you'll be required to pass skill checks (much like in D&D) if you wish to succeed. These, of course, require you to have access to the right characters with the right stats at the right times. Fail to pass a charisma check, and a new warrior may fail to join your party. Fail a strength check when opening a chest, and you may miss out on a horde of treasure and supplies. 

Blodeuwedd's trait sheet

Fighting Brigands and Thieves

After a few days in Vinland, you'll find that not everyone in this new land is friendly. As is mandatory in any role-playing adventure, there are brutes and henchmen to be wary of, too. In this case, it's the lug-headed Bjorn Headcleaver. If his name isn't enough to tip you off to his intentions, I'll just say he's not a very nice lad. 

Bjorn isn't like all the other baddies in Vinland, though. He doesn't want to outright kill you. Instead, like any good, myopic Big Bad, he demands tribute for the privilege of living under his graces. One week, he'll want 10 Wood, the next week he'll want 30 Potable Water, and so on and so forth. Quickly, you'll find that not only are you managing stats and meters, but you're also rationing your supplies between party members and Bjorn, considerably upping the stakes and making you re-evaluate your strategies. 

But if you thought paying Bjorn tribute would keep his goons from attacking you while exploring Vinland, you'd be sorely mistaken. These random encounters play out in a turn-based JRPG format where you choose up to three party members for either 3v3 or 3v2 fights depending on the number of brigands you're facing. The key here is choosing good fighters who have strong initiative and diversified class skills so you're able to lord over the entire battlefield with ease. 

From arena aesthetics to how actions are displayed, Dead in Vinland's combat looks a whole lot like the combat in Darkest Dungeon. And in certain ways, specifically in Dead in Vinland's front and back lines, the game plays a lot like it, too. But unlike Darkest Dungeon, it's a tad easier because of ability points, meaning specific characters can attack more than once in a single turn.

It might not be as deep as Darkest Dungeon when it comes to customization and quest development (of which there's basically none), but Dead in Vinland's combat is a great accompaniment to its other mechanics. 

Moira, Blodeuwedd, and Kari fight Plunderer, slaver, and knives guy


For the faint of heart, all of this micromanagement can get a bit tedious and especially complicated as you add members to your party. I'll admit there were a few times where even I was a bit overwhelmed with it all. Add to that some "interesting" dialog choices that don't fit the tone and aesthetic of the game, as well as silly and uninspired adversary names like "Knife Guy" and "Plunderer", and Dead in Vinland isn't perfect. 

But for those who love the survival management genre, nearly all of these mechanics and trappings work in conjunction to make Dead in Vinland an engrossing, thoughtful experience. 

This is a game where you'll make tough decisions -- but ones that matter. This is a game where difficulty isn't a setting -- but a mindset. This is a game that surprised the hell out of me -- and it's one I can't wait to get back to.

You can buy Dead in Vinland on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: Dead in Vinland was provided by the developer for this review.]

Masters of Anima Review -- Golems & Guardians Thu, 12 Apr 2018 11:17:05 -0400 Erroll Maas

Masters of Anima, an adventure game from publisher Focus Home Interactive and developer Passtech Games, takes place in the magical world of Spark, where golems have been wreaking havoc for centuries. To combat these golems, some have been trained to become Shapers, those who have the ability to summon bright beings known as guardians with the help of a magical energy called anima. Otto, the main character, is an Apprentice Shaper engaged to the Supreme Shaper Ana, although they cannot be wed until Otto is promoted from his apprentice ranking. After Otto succeeds in his apprentice trial, chaos ensues, and a villain named Zahr steals Ana's essence and splits it in three. Otto then must embark on a journey and use his abilities to save his fiancee and perhaps even the world.

Although Otto himself can break objects and attack enemies with his staff, most combat involves summoning guardians and giving them various commands. This can range from just moving positions to attacking enemies and obstacles to executing special moves and switching between each type of guardian summoned. Summoning guardians and utilizing techniques all cost a certain amount of anima, which starts at a set amount but can be increased through progress. Anima can be refilled from finding it on the ground, breaking objects, having guardians destroyed by enemies, and siphoning it from enemies with certain types of guardians.

This would be reasonable if anima were more readily available during combat, but due to the lack of breakable objects when fighting, it can run out quickly, and the ability to summon guardians can be gone before you even realize it.  When this happens, all you can to is either run around the combat area helplessly, hoping that an orb of anima pops up, or just die and start the fight over again. Because anima doesn't recharge like mana or energy in other games, it can make even some earlier fights more of a hassle. 

Although the learning curve can feel somewhat steep, the strategy element of the game is well-done and requires players to use different types of guardians for different situations. The first guardians are Protectors, standard warriors with swords and shields used to destroy obstacles and enemies and move large objects to solve puzzles. Later guardians range from archers to siphoners and more, with each type having its own specific uses, strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities.

From Otto's skill tree, available guardian types can be strengthened as well, and skills can be reset if necessary, but all skill trees are only accessible between levels. If you find yourself having trouble in a particular fight later on in a level, you will have to go back to the level menu to reset your skills and then start that level all over again, when you likely won't feel like repeating all the previous enemy encounters you just went through.

 All enemies are different types of golems. Similar to guardians, golems have different strengths, weaknesses, and attacks, although one golem is much stronger than a single group of guardians. For some golems, all you need is a decent number of guardians to take them down, while for others, you need to use specific types of guardians or a mix to defeat it. These golems also all have a rage meter, which allows them to use more powerful attacks once it runs out, so it's suggested to destroy them beforehand. This is easier said than done, as golems have a hefty amount of health, and it isn't always clear what the best strategy is to take down different types or multiple sets of golems. Many battles involve multiple golems, and your guardians have to be split up to defeat them at the same time.  Defeating one and taking too long with the other will cause another golem to pop up in its place.

Between engaging in combat and solving puzzles, Otto can collect anima and complete various sidequests for additional experience. The sidequests themselves are relatively simple, consisting of collecting flowers or destroying corruption crystals, although due to enemies only being encountered at certain points, it creates rather empty areas between fights. Smaller, more commonly encountered enemies would have been a welcome addition and could have provided a way to help aggravated players level grind and adjust combat difficulty.  There's also the lack of any kind of map, which isn't too much of a drawback due to level size, but it would still be a helpful addition.

The music and graphics featured in Masters of Anima work well enough but don't do much to stand out from other games with comparable subject matter. Although they aren't terrible, they're more forgettable than anything else. One other small but notable flaw is that certain cut-scenes can't be skipped, particularly prior to boss fights. These cut-scenes aren't overly long, but they are a chore to get through when having to repeat them.

Masters of Anima is a well-made game, but its few notable flaws ultimately keep it from being the more memorable experience it could be. Despite this, those willing to give it a try and stick through until the end may still find themselves enjoying it.

Masters of Anima is available digitally on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

Golem Gates Review: CCG/RTS Hybrid in a Technopunk Setting Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:50:55 -0400 Sergey_3847

Mashing together different genres is now mostly a prerogative of indie developers, who try to find their own niche in the overwhelming gaming industry. Golem Gates is a perfect example of such a genre mashup.

It combines the elements of real-time strategy with collectible card game mechanics. You can build different units that will spawn on the battlefield just like in an RTS, but their abilities in combat are controlled with the help of cards that you choose to take onto the battlefield with you.

Golem Gates is definitely an interesting experiment, so if you want to know more about this unique game, then keep on reading our review below.

Gameplay Breakdown

starting screen showing glyphs in Golem Gates

The bread and butter of Golem Gates are the so-called Glyphs, typical digital cards that correspond to this or that unit with certain abilities. You start the game with a beginner's collection of cards, with a possibility to unlock more cards by completing the campaign missions.

Before the start of each match, you need to complete a loadout of Glyphs you want to use and then mulligan the glyphs you don't need. When the campaign starts, you can use the loadout menu on the bottom of the screen to choose units or abilities you want to use.

The game's main protagonist is The Harbinger, who controls the energy used to build units. This energy is similar to mana in CCGs, which can be replenished by capturing generators.

Victory screen from Golem Gates

In order to capture generators, a player needs to build units of soldiers or machines that can be used on the battlefield to fight enemy units. As soon as your units come across a generator, it must not only be captured but also protected for a certain time.

The more generators you have captured, the more energy you will have available to produce new units and cast powerful spells. All this is needed for the final battle against the enemy Harbinger. But before fighting the enemy Harbinger, you must first find one by using a Projection, a bird of sorts that reveals the hidden parts of the map.

The gameplay is quite simple and intuitive, so if you have prior experience with CCGs and RTS games, you will quickly adapt to the style of Golem Gates.

New Mechanics Overview

Shuffling waiting screen from Golem Gates

A potentially new genre requires innovative mechanics. Well, Golem Gates has something to offer in this department as well. For example, one of the most interesting new aspects of the gameplay is the Shuffling mechanic.

It means that during the fight, when you approach the point of having no cards in hand, instead of going into fatigue or simply losing the match-up, you get to shuffle your deck and get another round of cards. However, the process of Shuffling takes 15 seconds, during which you can't do anything with your cards, like building units or casting spells.

It may not sound like too long, but in Golem Gates, the battles are very swift, and 15 seconds can actually change a lot. But still, it's much better than losing on spot because you've used all of your abilities.

menu screen in Golem Gates

The other innovation is not as well-executed as the Shuffling mechanic. It concerns the crafting of new cards, or the so-called Forging. Instead of letting players craft any card from the entire collection, you are given five random, new cards on a daily basis from which you can craft what you need.

First of all, this limits the amount of cards you can craft, and secondly, it greatly diminishes the choice of the cards you want. It would be far better if the developers would just let players craft whatever and whenever they want.

It would greatly boost the online match-ups and really show the power level of what Golem Gates can offer. But other than that, the game is quite fascinating, and there's a huge potential in this unique mash-up of genres.

Graphics and Sound

top-down view of action in Golem Gates

Besides the gameplay aspects of the game, Golem Gates is extremely well-executed. The graphics and the map design are very reminiscent of the Starcraft series. It's a pleasure to look at, and nothing distracts you from the actual gameplay. The models of the units are very nicely detailed, and you can actually distinguish one unit from another.

The same goes for sound effects, which fit everything really well. The machinery sounds are awesome, as are those for the weaponry, such as lasers, swords, and AOE effects. When combined with gorgeous visual effects, the game turns into a truly immersive experience.

It gets rough only during massive battles when too many units clash together. You can't cast an AOE or it will damage your own units, you can't build anything outside due to shaded areas, and so on. So this needs some more testing and fixing.

Final Verdict

Golem Gates is undoubtedly an interesting product, albeit a bit rough around the edges. It has several cool game modes for players to try out, including multiplayer. It has great graphics and sound, as well as a few completely unique gameplay aspects.

But the card crafting system is deeply flawed and must be addressed as soon as possible. Also, there isn't much in terms of character customization for the Harbingers, which look all the same. But the units look cool, so at least we have that.

If you want to experience well-balanced gameplay with lots of decision-making, then Golem Gates is for you. If you can ignore all the above remarks, then you will definitely enjoy this game. It definitely has the right to live and even create its own little niche of CCG/RTS mash-ups.

[Note: A copy of Golem Gates was provided by Laser Guided Games for the purpose of this review.]

TCL P-Series 55-inch TV Review: 4K Gaming on a Budget Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:38:34 -0400 Ethan S (Point Blank Gaming)

If you are at all in the market for a 4k television, you have heard the buzz around TCL's new P-series. With built-in Roku, High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Dolby Vision support, and its too-good-to-be-true $599 price point, TCL made a huge splash into the American television industry.

Sure, you can go to and pour over the minutia of this TV's specs, obsessing over the gray levels and peak brightness, but...

If you were looking for a real consumer and gamer's perspective on this TV's performance, not useless data and inconsistent user reviews, you have most certainly come to the right place. Without further ado...


A TCL's P-Series 55-ion TV sits on a TV stand and shows its main menu with red backgroundSource: CNET

TCL really made a slick piece of hardware with this set.  It's thin, attractive, and lightweight if you are looking to mount it. If you plan on using a table or stand, the legs it comes with screw on easily and are more than adequate.  The minimal bezel on the sides give the screen a nice 'frameless' look, especially when placed flat against a wall.

You should have no issues with input and output; Multiple HDMI 2.0 ports, a USB port, and even a headphone jack occupy the right side of the TV (if you are facing the screen). And, thankfully, there are some physical buttons on the back of the television.


The Roku logo

This TCL model comes built-in with Roku TV's smart software, and it is impressive to say the least. The tile-based user interface is snappy, customizable, and easy on the eyes. Roku provides a great platform for streaming, with both their own free channels and access to the usual suspects (Netflix and Amazon). 

The platform is surprisingly comprehensive in its offerings, including live sports content, and I have yet to use a console or laptop for streaming since getting this TV. Being able to rename and quickly switch between inputs has been a godsend for gaming, and the remote even has dedicated Netflix and Hulu buttons for your binge-worthy compulsions.  

With applications galore and plenty of cable TV alternatives, Roku's software should be able to cover almost every base for the typical consumer.  


Horizon Zero Dawn played on a TCL P-Series

It's the most important question and likely the reason your here, how does this set actually perform? First, a quick overview.

This model is only produced and sold with a 55-inch screen, so those looking a for a larger display are out of luck. Tech-wise, this panel touts a 10-bit wide color gamut for HDR content, 72 separate lighting zones for its "local-dimming" feature, and a bevy of picture settings to tinker around with. For convenience sake, we'll break the performance section down into a few categories...

HDR Gaming

Gaming is arguably the best reason to own a TCL P-series, and I wasted no time hooking mine up to a PlayStation 4 Pro console. I used the included HDMI cable, enabled a few options in the Playstation and TV settings, and was up and running at 4k/60Hz in no time.

First off, turning on the television's game mode lets you play with a rapid 13 millisecond response time, even in 4K with HDR enabled. Online multiplayer feels responsive enough for the most discerning gamer, and going back to a standard 1080p TV or playing at a friend's house will likely feel sluggish in comparison. 

Visually, HDR is stunning if not inconsistent. I may have disparaged the in-depth tech specifications on websites like Rtings, but it is fair to say that this TV is right on the threshold of being HDR capable. Its color gamut is just wide enough, its screen just bright enough, and so the quality of HDR being implemented is often left to the game's developers. 

Horizon: Zero Dawn and Assassin's Creed Origins look unbelievable in HDR, whereas FIFA 18 is dull and unimpressive. The result is a television that can display HDR as intended but cannot carry the load for sub-par implementation.

Every game somewhat suffers from strange light and color shifting due to the local dimming feature, but the individual zones work well enough to increase contrast across the entire screen. Do not get me wrong: your gaming experience with this television will be miles ahead of your current setup.  Games that are patched to run at a higher resolution look noticeably crisper than standard 1080p. But if you want the deepest blacks and brightest colors possible across the board, you will need to buy a more expensive set than this one.  

HDR Movies & TV

Breaking Bad played on a TCL P-Series shows Walter White and Jesse Pinkman wearing hazmat suits

While I maintain that gaming is the best reason to own this television, non-gaming 4K content is often more beautiful and consistently well-implemented.  Whether you are watching a disc or streaming on Amazon, the level of detail, realistic lighting, and possible shades of colors are certainly head and shoulders above your current television. Even older series like Breaking Bad look brand new in 4K resolution -- HDR or not. Despite the low price point, you should expect a cinema-like experience with this purchase, especially if you invested in a 4K Blu-ray player (unfortunately, the PS4 Pro does not play 4K Blu-rays).  

Glaring Issues

Although my thoughts on this TV are overwhelmingly positive, there are a few glaring issues that are worth talking about. 

Live sports do not look too good unless you are watching in 4K resolution.  The local-dimming feature seems to have trouble with the camera panning across a single-colored background, which football, soccer, hockey, and basketball all suffer from. 

In regards to screen brightness, this set does have some reflection issues in a well-lit room, as well as a narrow viewing angle. Ultimately, it's not the best choice for a big living room.

Lastly, you are going to want to avoid up-scaling content. 1080p Blu-rays look incredible off disc, but streaming regular HD content or playing off of a base PS4 will start to look blurry as your eyes adjust. You'll ultimately want to upgrade your hardware to get the most out of this television.

Source: Kevin the Tech Ninja


Overall, I would strongly recommend the TCL P-series as your first 4K television. You simply will not find a better or more capable set at this price point -- especially with the same impressive gaming features and true HDR support. It doesn't hurt that Roku TV is the best built-in software I've used on any smart television, completely eliminating the need for an external box. You really have to marvel at how much they crammed into this budget television.

And while it is easy to get carried away with the overall value of this purchase -- as I certainly have -- this TV is still not for everyone. Having 72 separate contrast zones ultimately works for HDR content, but there are still some issues with the "local-dimming" feature and how it shifts colors across the screen. Discerning viewers may consider this a deal-breaker, but the overwhelming majority of you should be happy with the results.

If you plan on buying this television for more traditional uses, like watching cable TV or sports broadcasts in a large room, you may want to look elsewhere. Not that the P-series isn't capable enough, there are just cheaper options better suited to that experience. Issues with viewing-angle and glare ultimately hurt the P-series in a living room setting.

However, if you are salivating at the chance to test your shiny new game console, if you are ready to binge all the 4K content on Netflix and Amazon, if you want real High Dynamic Range color and lighting to elevate your 4K experience, then you will look no further than the TCL-P series.

This is the cheapest way to make your 4K dream a reality.

You can buy the TCL P-Series 4K TV on Amazon for $649.99.

Extinction Review: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall Tue, 10 Apr 2018 00:00:04 -0400 William Boyd

You know the drill: the world is under-threat by giant monsters, a mysterious device is needed to stop them, and it's up to you to do it. However, while the latest release by Killer Instinct developers Iron Galaxy certainly follows some basic video gaming tropes, it also attempts to forge its own path. How exactly? By combining some rather disparate gameplay elements into a single entity in hopes of creating something entirely different. But is it successful in its ambitious attempts?

Extinction follows the story of protagonists Avil and Xandra in their quest to bring peace back to their lands. In their way are monolithic ogres called Ravenii -- huge beasts that roam the plains destroying everything in sight. With the help of King Yarrow, the two powerful allies must overcome the odds and save the city of Dolorum using a mysterious device.

As for the player, you take control of Avil, one of the last remaining warriors in the Sentinel order -- a special forces-type group which possesses incredible ability. The main goals are to save the people, protect the cities, and wipe out the Ravenii once and for all. Unsurprisingly, the gameplay has you doing these very things -- but not much else.

That will hurt in the morning! Avil jumps off a Revnii after cutting off its wrist

All of the missions you undertake revolve around the same types of goals. Protect the watchtowers for said amount of time, don't allow a certain number of civilians to perish, and defeat a specified amount of Ravenii to proceed through the story. And that's it really (except for some other game modes we'll talk about a bit later). There's not much in the way of variety when it comes to the tasks you have to undertake which, ultimately, hurts Extinction in the long term.

Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the game comes when you go toe-to-toe with the massive Ravenii. While fighting the much smaller Jackals is certainly the hors d'oeuvres, battling it out with these titans is most definitely the main course. In fact, dissecting these foes is the most morbidly satisfying thing about Extinction. What's more, you'll take on different permutations of Ravenii as you progress through the game, meaning you'll have to rethink your strategy on the fly.

These moments are when Extinction shines brightest. Deftly zipping around the beast using your whip, smashing its pieces of armor with your Rune Strike, and dismembering it limb from limb like a sadist. It's nowhere near on the same scale as Shadow of the Colossus, but there's no denying the satisfaction that comes from defeating the Ravenii, especially when you come across tougher ones with impenetrable armor. 

Avil focuses in on the armor of a Ravenii in Extinction to find a weak point

Visually, Extinction is actually quite pleasant to look at. The colors pop from the screen with a vibrancy that gives the game a distinct look and feel. The stages themselves feature several buildings which are all completely destructible -- and they even manage to look pretty when they're been smashed into dust!

It may look cutesy from the outset, but this fast-paced title is just as gory as a Quentin Tarantino movie when the action gets underway. Blood sprays from foes with every swing of the sword, splattering onto those same cute looking surfaces you fawned over before. They say never judge a book by its cover -- Extinction is living proof of that sentiment.

Despite its over-the-top violence, Extinction actually displays a level of subtlety in its design, not least when it comes to the Ravenii. The monsters are all incredibly detailed, each sporting visceral appearances which change from beast to beast. From their weapons to their armor, the Ravenii certainly make for a striking image.

Avil fights a green goblin like creature in the dirt streets of Extinction

Unfortunately, though, this third-person action title does itself a disservice by not giving the player more incentive to continue playing. The objectives, mechanics, and structures that were in-place in Chapter One are virtually the same as the ones you'll encounter in Chapter Five -- a stagnation of ideas with regards to how missions play out.

This repetition is Extinction's main downfall. Rescue civilians. Take down Ravenii. Protect city. Repeat. There's just not enough ingenuity to keep things fresh going into the latter stages of the game. Even taking down the Ravenii can become a chore due to the sometimes problematic camera angles and inconsistent climbing mechanic. 

The game attempts to spice things up with some side-missions. However, I use that word lightly. These missions are pretty unimaginative it has to be said, and they don't really add much to the overall feeling of accomplishment apart from rewarding you with some SP (Skill Points) which can be used to upgrade Avil's abilities.

A success message appears on a side mission screen as a warrior stands proud in the corner

On the topic of upgrades, there are various ways in which Avil can be improved. Whether it's unlocking new combos or boosting a health meter, the skills menu is your go-to for all things upgradable. The aforementioned SP can be obtained by completing the various tasks that litter the game's chapters.

However, none of the upgrades will improve the combat in the game. Battles consist of just two buttons: square and circle. The former attacks while the latter dodges... and that's about the extent of it. Yes, no special attacks, no power-ups, just the basics. It's unfortunate, too, because some of the action is quite slick, yet, there's not enough variety -- inevitably leading to some encounters becoming dull and uneventful. 

Iron Galaxy have attempted to insert some variables into the missions with the randomly generated stages that occur later on in the game. These alter everything, from the environment and the enemies to the actual objectives themselves. This does give it a bit more of an air of unpredictability, but there aren't enough possible options to really give it that limitless feeling that proceduarlly generated maps do in most other games.

Exctinction's skills page

Randomly generated missions certainly make missions tougher, but to be honest, they were already tough to begin with. Yes, one of the first things you'll notice when booting up Extinction is that it doesn't suffer fools gladly. It's very much time-based, demanding severe focus from the start of the mission to the end. There's tougher games on the market, but not by much.

You see, there are a few conditions which have to be considered while you're skimming across trees slicing and dicing foes. In the top right-hand corner you'll see a percentage for the city. Should this reach 0%, you'll fail the objective and be forced to start from the very beginning again. Unsurprisingly, this can be frustrating after a few tries.

It can feel unfair at the start, but things begin to get easier once you've come to the realization that you need to make every second count. It's not so much the mighty Ravenii which are the main enemy, but rather, the clock. Nonetheless, it's a refreshing change of pace from the easy difficulty levels of some other games of its ilk. It's not for the faint of heart -- and it wants you to know that from the very first chapter.

Avil kneels ins square, readying himself to protect the watchtowers in Extinction

Despite all of this, one department where Extinction deserves praise is replay value. It wants to keep you around after the credits have rolled through its Extra Modes sub-menu. Here you will find some delicacies to indulge in after you've completed the story, such as the Extinction and Skirmish game modes.

Extinction tasks the player with killing as many enemies as possible with no respawns, while Skirmish is completely randomly generated -- also allowing the player to compare their scores with friends. There's even a Trials mode which becomes available after the third chapter, which has the player completing missions in the fastest possible time.

Throw in a Daily Challenge mode for good measure, and you've got a title which aims to sink its sharp claws into you for far longer than just one playthrough. There's a lot of longevity here even if the modes don't add a whole lot to the core experience. For those that like the story mode, they'll be glad to know that these bonus modes are pretty much more of the same.

Avil jumps down on top of a Ravenii in Extinction

Developers Iron Galaxy should be applauded for their ambitious vision here, and when the game hits its stride, it's very reminiscent of the best moments of its greatest inspirations in the genre. However, when it's not delivering the goods, Extinction can seem just like any other standard hack 'n' slash title.

Lengthy load times, a clunky camera system, and the odd technical glitch here and there doesn't help its cause. Yet, buried underneath the rubble is a rather fun little title. And with the likelihood of updates in the near future, there's every chance that it could be improved upon with time. 

Overall, Extinction is a solid enough effort that's unfortunately let down by uninspired mission design and repetitive gameplay mechanics. If you can see past these faults, though, you may find that it's more than serviceable with what it provides. Just don't go expecting a new God of War or Devil May Cry -- you may come away sorely disappointed.

(Note: Writer was granted a press copy of Extinction for the purposes of this review.)

AOC AG322QCX Curved, Freesync Gaming Monitor Review Thu, 05 Apr 2018 12:53:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

The type of screen you game on matters. Whether you're playing alone in Far Cry 5 or against the world in Fortnite, things like refresh rate, response time, viewing angle, and pixel density can drastically alter your gaming experience -- and by proxy, immersion and success. With that in mind, AOC's Agon line of monitors looks to keep you competitive on and offline while giving you an elegant set piece to round out your desktop setup. 

Released late last year, the AG322QCX gaming monitor prioritizes AMD gamers, offering them an affordable panel that's got a lot going for it under the hood. Featuring FreeSync technology and a 1800R, 31.5" screen, the AG322 makes 144Hz sing and 2560x1440p res look great on a wide-angle panel. 

Melding elegance with practicality -- as well as a few interesting tricks -- there's little doubt the AG322 commands the consideration of any AMD gamer looking for a new screen. However, that doesn't mean it's a perfect solution, either. At $399, this AOC monitor may live in a mid-tier price bracket, but there are a few things to consider depending on your current and future needs. 


One of the things I appreciate about AOC's Agon line of gaming monitors is how sleek they look on any desktop. Eschewing the typically boring "black box" design found on many monitors, the AG322 continues AOC's penchant for elegance by deftly augmenting the monitor's mostly matte black finish with silver accents and LED lighting.

The thin, muted bezel of the sides and top nicely flows into the glossy, slightly wider portion running along the bottom. And on the back of the monitor, you'll find a silver plate attached to the middle portion that rises up almost like wings (it looks similar to the red chevron on the back of the AG271QG).

On both the bottom bezel and the silver back plate, you'll also find LED accents that can be either turned completely off or easily set to varying intensities of red, blue, or green. The LEDs along the bottom are housed within a clear plastic that runs from one side of the monitor to the other, stopping in the middle where the AG322's OSD button resides. And on the back, the LEDs are housed in an opaque plastic that keeps them from being too obtrusive. 

Around the back is where you'll also find the AG322's VESA mount and stand bracket. When you take the monitor out of the box for the first time, you'll have the option to either attach the included stand or another one you've got lying about. If you choose to go with the included stand, you'll find that it's crafted out of sturdy steel, and although its three pronged feet give the stand character, they do take up quite a bit of space due to their triangular configuration (which I found a tad disagreeable with my current setup). 

However, with the included stand, you'll be afforded quite a bit of movement once you've got it together. The fully adjustable support lets you raise, lower, pivot, and tilt the monitor at your leisure. With a VA screen this large, that's a great feature to have at your disposal -- and it really helps you get the best viewing angle for your space. 

As for inputs, although AOC's typical side-panel offerings aren't found on the AG322, the monitor does have I/Os in spades. If you look underneath the silver panel along the back of the monitor, directly underneath the VESA mount, you'll find the following ports: 2x HDMI 2.0, 2x Display 1.2, 1x VGA, 1x line in, 1x microphone out, 1x Quick Switch Keypad (which comes with the monitor for quick OSD support), and 1x power. Move to the left of that -- just under the left wing of the silver plate -- and you'll find ports for mic in and headphones, as well as 1x USB 3.0 downstream + fast-charging, 1x USB 3.0 downstream, and 1x USB 3.0 upstream. 



Thankfully, the AG322's OSD is much easier to access than the one found on the AG271QG. Here, everything's controlled by a single, central button found just beneath the AGON logo on the front of the monitor. You can press the center of the button to open the entire on-screen display -- or you can click any of the square's sides to open one of four quick menus that, for example, let you adjust the monitor's LED intensity or choose which input you'd like to use. 

The inside of the OSD itself is also (thankfully) easier to navigate than the one found on the AG271QG. One of my main gripes with that monitor was its OSD wasn't entirely intuitive and required too many clicks to get through. AOC's fixed that here, and while one menu option (Image Setup) was always grayed out during my review, all six other options were easy enough to navigate and tweak. 

It's worth noting that you'll have quite a few image presets to choose from with the AG322 -- some better than others. Depending on what option you choose, some of the OSD's options may be grayed out that previously were not. That means you won't get full customizability all the time, but honestly, that's something to be expected and not a big gripe on our end. 

To actually test the monitor's color, brightness, contrast, gamma settings, response times, and more, we made sure to use the Langom Display Test and Blur Busters to get a bit more granular. We also adjusted our OS and GTX 1080 color settings to reflect an unbiased setting. Note: Aside from any adjustments mentioned below, all of these measurements were captured with the AG322's settings turned to default. 


Although the specs on the AG322 say the monitor can achieve a 50M:1 dynamic contrast ratio, the average player is most likely going to mostly experience its 2,000:1 static contrast ratio. We won't get into the minutia of why that is (you can check this article out for that), but all in all, the contrast ratio on this screen is pretty durn good.

Its contrast scores well on the LDT. Nearly all bars from the left to the right are discernible from one another, with marked demarcations between each one. The only bar that's a bit murky is the darkest blue bar, meaning dark darks may be a bit hard to separate. 


Sharpness on the AG322 is a bit off out of the box. Using the LDT page for this measurement, the test boxes never fully integrated or blended in with the gray background -- no matter how hard I squinted my eyes.

They nearly became uniform during testing, but there were still rough edges and centers to each of them. Unfortunately, we were not able to adjust the default sharpness, which we believe is behind the locked "Image Setup" tab in the OSD, so we aren't able to definitively say the monitor gets better with a few tweaks in this department. However, we can say the test was worst at Gamma3, best at Gamma2.


Gamma is the brightness of intermediate tones of color, with the Langom Test using red, green, blue, and gray for examination. The AG322QCX has a native gamma setting of Gamma1, which can be changed to Gamma2 or Gamma3 -- for varying results.

However, working through all three gamma settings, the Langom Display Test showed that the monitor wasn't able to coalesce colors around the 2.2 thresholds on any of the settings. Tweaking contrast settings did not ameliorate the issue on either the 48%, 25%, or 10% luminance bars.

Instead, Gamma1 coalesced around 2.1, Gamma2 around 1.9, and Gamma3 around 2.3. 

In-game, we didn't notice any terrible deviations between light and dark colors across the spectrum, but we did notice some seepage -- as is common with VA monitors -- in later tests, such as viewing angles, as well as some washing in Gamma2. 

Black Level

Viewed from straight on, no matter the height, the first black square in this Langom Test is barely distinguishable. One can make out the top- and bottom-right corners -- just slightly.

Taking another angle, from straight on and with the monitor at its lowest point, neither the first nor second square can be seen using the default brightness of 50. Even at 100, the first two squares cannot be seen (I'm 5'8" sitting straight up, for reference). 

With the monitor at its highest point and tilted at its most extreme, the first three black squares are indistinguishable from the background. The same issue persists if viewed from its highest angle, straight down. Objectively, most users won't be using the monitor this way, but it does show that not every angle produces the truest blacks -- and that you can run into some issues playing games like Vermintide 2, which rely on stark contrasts and deep blacks. In fact, while playing that game in particular, I did notice some black mottling in the top right-hand corner of the screen specifically.  

Even though we'd like to see all of the blocks distinguishable, it's known that VA panels have issues in this regard, so that is par for the course with a screen such as this and not completely surprising. 

White Saturation

Using default brightness, contrast, and gamma settings (Gamma1), all of the blocks in this test were visible except those in areas of RGB 254. Those were indistinguishable from the white background. Adjusting the brightness, contrast, and gamma settings did not help to bring these out. Changing these settings only made the block in the bottom row, specifically in section RGB 253, worse or better. 

Gradient (Banding)

There was slight banding in the darkest portions of this test. However, the rest of the grayscale gradient was smooth and didn't express any perceivable dithering. The banding in the darkest dark can be noticeable from some angles when watching cutscenes in-game or in the Steam overlay in dark rooms, but it isn't terribly jarring unless the media in question uses stark deviations in this spectrum. 

Response Time

Using Blur Busters, tests show that the monitor's native response time is comparable to what AOC advertises, somewhere around 4ms gray to gray (GTG). Engaging the monitor's overdrive mode in the game settings section of the OSD can help improve ghosting and coronas at lower refresh rates (sub 100Hz), but the "strong" setting greatly increases overshoot, as seen in both the LDT response time model, as well as Blur Busters. 

Further ghosting tests with LDT reveal that the higher the refresh rate, the less ghosting appears on-screen. This means that the monitor is best used at 144Hz if you have a rig capable of hitting that number. You won't see major differences until right around 100Hz -- unless you're eagle-eyed. 

Viewing Angle 

At 1800R, the AG322QCX is supposed to make viewing angles more comfortable, especially when looking from the center of the screen to the periphery. In-game, we found the screen to be helpful in that regard, specifically in shooters like Battlefield 1 and CS:GO.

Taking a scientific look at what's going on behind the scenes -- and how the monitor actually performs compared to how it feels when playing -- it's evident that gamma is affected by viewing angle with the AG322QCX. From certain angles, the words on the Langom Test screen for this experiment blend into the grey background and retain a reddish hue. From other angles, specifically the sides, the words stand out in a darker, more vibrant red. While viewing from the top, for example, or a high angle, the words are dark red, yet the background takes on a greenish hue. 

Overall, it wasn't something we specifically ran into or that was entirely noticeable when using the monitor in real-world situations, but it does mean that the gamma in the monitor is somewhat dependent on viewing angle and curvature. 

When viewing the color saturation blocks of the test: 

  • The purple block remained vibrant in the middle when viewed from straight on, with the edges and corners darkening into a deeper hue. When viewed from above, the entire square took on somewhat of a pinkish hue. 

  • The red square appeared to be the most consistent of the four, with minimal color degradation along the sides and corners when viewed from straight on. Viewing it from above washed out the color a bit to a less saturated red. 

  • The green square also performed very well, without any discoloration or yellowing. When viewed from above, however, there was distinctive yellowing of the frame. 

  • The blue square was noticeably darker on the edges when viewed straight on. It deepened to a much darker hue when viewed from above.  


Overall, the AG322QCX stands out as a well-made monitor that gives you 2560x1140p resolution across 31.5" -- stretching those pixels out over such a large distance instead of changing the resolution altogether is something most monitors don't do. And surprisingly, those pixels don't look stretched in the slightest. 

Since it employs a VA panel, there are some issues with the AG322QCX that are endemic to that panel type. Dark shades can crush into one another -- especially at certain angles -- and the gamma could be a bit better. During tests, we also noticed quite a bit of ghosting below ~100Hz and a few color inconsistencies, but in-game, neither was terribly distracting (although it could affect some gamers differently). 

If you're in the market for a Freesync-enabled 32" monitor, the AG322QCX is a VA monitor that mostly outperforms other VA panels. In other words, if you're not going TN or IPS, this AOC monitor should be one of the first on your VA list. It's responsive with low-input lag, and it reproduces colors competently. It's a monitor we definitely recommend. 

You can see the monitor's full spec sheet here. You can buy the AG322QCX from Micro Center for $399.99. 

[Note: AOC provided the AG322QCX used for this review.]

Taco Party: The Tabletop Game That Eats Its Shells Wed, 04 Apr 2018 13:44:15 -0400 Ben Mattice

Have you ever wanted to build a sentient taco and then eat it one ingredient at a time? Sounds cruel, doesn't it? But you won't feel cruel as you're playing WildBird Games' Taco Party and competing to be the first to build and eat your taco.

It sounds like an odd premise for a tabletop card game, and I'll admit that when game designer Matt Bromley told me about his new game, I was skeptical. But after my first playthrough with a few friends, I was sold. Taco Party is a fun game that will appeal to both veteran tabletoppers and casual board gamers alike. 

But what makes Taco Party actually fun? Let's dig in, crunch down, and find out.

1. Nacho Typical Characters

The characters were probably the first thing I noticed when opening the box. The game comes with six character profile cards/rule reminder cards. And each one is a different "taco."

My favorite is probably the Chalupacabra with his fangs, amphibious-looking limbs, and purple, spiky hair. I played the Chalupacabra during the game, and maybe that was lucky because I won.


There's no particular advantage to choosing one character over another. The tacos just add flavor to the game (pun intended). 

One element of the game does tie into the character cards. You can take a "smelfie" (yes, puns abound in this game, beware) with your character in order to take a free ingredient for your taco-building endeavors. The rulebook encourages you to post your "smelfie" on Instagram or Facebook and tag WildBird Games. A clever marketing idea if you ask me.

2. Don't Actually Eat the Ingredients

At the end of the game, we surmised that using actual taco ingredients for the game might be a fun variant. But if you don't want to make a mess, the game pieces are perfectly fine.

There are no cheap plastic components to this game. The ingredients are color-dyed wooden markers, and the dice are solid and weighted correctly.

The cards are made of typical playing card cardboard. So if you're going to play with real ingredients, be sure to use sleeves on the cards. This isn't Gloom, with its velum cards made to resist blood.


The illustrations are intentionally cartoony and add an air of silliness to the game. But when it's crunch time and you're down to your last ingredient, you won't be feeling very silly. In fact, you may not even have the last laugh. The tables turn quickly.

3. Don't Play With Your Food

The rules are well-written and easy to pick up. The phases include your typical "perform an action," "draw a card," and "roll." 

Rolling the dice is the most reliable way to pick up ingredients for your taco. But each time you roll, someone has a chance to block your ingredient acquisition/ingestion by rolling a die of their own. 

Kinetic gameplay was a large component in this game. This included flicking dice, stacking dice with only one hand, performing a "carrot-e" chop to dislodge the top dice, and more. These challenges were trickier than they sound, and if I were playing to win, I might avoid them as much as possible. 

Only One Sad Taco

Every game will have at least one thing to nitpick. Taco Party has virtually none. I did have to clarify the "Out Crunch" rule with the game designer. It came down to whether your opponent could counter your "crunch" total more than once if they had the cards. The rules weren't clear on this.

Matt clarified and said that, yes, you can keep crunching until you run out of cards. 

Taco Party is a great gateway game to board games and tabletop. It's tightly designed, easy to play, packed with puns, and encourages enough strategic gameplay to satisfy most tabletop enthusiasts. 

The Kickstarter campaign for Taco Party begins on April 18th and will last a month. Stretch goals include more taco characters and other elements. Matt is already working on an expansion called "Nacho Business."

(Disclaimer: Author was given a free copy of Taco Party for review purposes.)

TERA PS4/Xbox One Review: A Faithful Transition from PC to Console Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:22:17 -0400 Ashley Gill

TERA is one MMO I have spent a great deal of time with. I played the beta, got the Collector's Edition when it first came out and was pay to play, and played for two months before it went free to play and two months after.

The game has changed a lot over the years. BAMs (big-ass monsters) have been made smaller and easier time and time again, the leveling experience has been completely revamped to skyrocket players to endgame, and Lumbertown is no longer chill-and-kill central.

My opinions on TERA as it currently is are a little biased because I've been there for many of its largest milestones and its most content-lacking periods. I prefer slower leveling experiences, the adventure of leveling, and the struggle of survival. That is not what the current state of the game is, and that is something any potential TERA player needs to know before diving in.

En Masse was kind enough to grant us a review Founder's Pack on PS4, and I did what I seem to do best: grinded away the hours in TERA once again. This time it was different from the last, but I'm not sure if its current state is for me.

From PC to console

To be very, very clear, the PS4 and Xbox One ports of the game are as faithful as one can ask for in terms of an MMORPG console port.

Though the game has always been an "action combat MMORPG," it has always relied on hotbars and always will. I've no issue with hotbars; you probably don't either. You get a lot of skills and crucial consumables in TERA, and you need a bunch of bars to put that "hot" onto.

You can have up to four separate hotbars on console, which you access using a combination of standard button presses, L1/L2 plus other buttons, and a selection wheel for less urgent skills and items. It works well, and combat retains its fluidity from the PC version, though I will admit it takes some time to adjust once you have a healthy number of skills to work with.

TERA PS4 hotbars
Selection wheel not pictured. Don't put the wheel as L2+R2/LT+RT. It's terrible.

The UI for TERA on console is more bulky than its PC brethren, but it is fully functional and easy to learn to navigate. This is one aspect I initially hated but grew to like pretty quickly, if only because almost everything is just a few button presses away. It looks harder to use than it is, let's put it that way.

At the time of writing, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of TERA are a full year behind the PC version. This is notable because there are fewer classes to choose from to start, and Elite Status does not offer all the same benefits on console as it does on PC.

Currently, PC Elite Status grants 15 EMP (cash shop currency) per login day, 24 Complete Veteran's Crystalbinds, and a flying mount. These are absent in the console version but are likely to be added as it catches up to the current PC patch.

Even with the above in mind, TERA on PS4 and Xbox One is nearly identical to the PC version. That should relieve PC players considering migrating or newcomers considering jumping into the TERA pool for the first time with the console release.

One final thing to note about the transition is that the console release still has some heavy slowdown, no matter which console you're using. PS4 Pro? You're still going to get slowdown in Velika and in certain dungeons just like standard PS4 users. The game is optimized about the same as the PC version.

From old to new

There's a certain depressive element to seeing a game you used to love implement sweeping changes you're not too keen on. As with a number of other older Korean MMORPGs, TERA has taken the easy route in "modernizing" the leveling experience.

In this context, "modernizing" essentially equates to "gutting." The game has been retooled to push players through the leveling experience as quickly as possible, with minimal effort on the developers' part. There's this whole big world to play with, and it is all woefully neglected and empty.

This isn't something that can be blamed on En Masse and, depending on your point of view, may not be something to blame anyone for. TERA never had the most immersive or entertaining leveling treadmill.

TERA Founder's Pack mounts hanging outEvery hardcore TERA player knows the best way to play is to stand in populated areas and spam their mount sound until everyone in the vicinity goes deaf.

The problem here is that new players are barely given a chance to learn to play their class before they ding the big six-five. Hitting max level takes only a few days of even semi-casual play, and by then players are not ready for the grueling endgame dungeons and grind. Endgame content is going to be true pain on console.

Those who played TERA when it was pay to play or in its early free to play days will find the game offering minimal challenge until they hit endgame. Had I not played it back then, I doubt I'd be giving it a chance in its current state. Endgame dungeons and PvP are more fun and challenging than the leveling period lets on.

If you're willing to put the effort forth and push through the less-than-stellar leveling experience, TERA still stands as a solid action combat game once you reach 65. Yes, it's grindy. And yes, it will stomp your face in until you actually learn how to play. That's not all that much different from the older iterations of the game, in which you grinded to level cap and got your face stomped in at every turn instead.

TERA is not perfect in any form, but it's a game that has a place, and the console ports are spot-on. If you've been waiting until it launched on your console of choice, you don't have much to lose in giving it a shot. Its combat is still ace, even if leveling isn't great.

Healing in the first dungeonThe first dungeon, Bastion of Lok, complete with trophy. Hurrah!

PC players considering migrating may want to rethink that decision, as the console release is behind in comparison -- but if your primary goal in switching is to get away from the PC playerbase, it's a good option. You can use your keyboard to chat in-game, and it has voice chat functionality, but the less pleasant aspects of the PC community will inevitably be reduced here on console.

It's taken a long time for TERA to finally make its way to console, and those who enjoy the PC version in its current state will find few qualms with the console version outside of the patch differences. Those looking for a more traditional MMORPG experience may want to look elsewhere.

I am granting this game a 6 overall. Though the console developers did a great job porting from PC, the fact remains TERA's current state is far from what many would typically call an MMORPG. Much like NCSoft's Aion, it took the easiest route possible in updating for a broader audience, and it shows.

Endgame content is fun, but not everyone wants to spend the vast majority of their time in an MMO grinding enhancement materials to maybe get one extra +1 to their gear. There is something to be said for the journey of getting there that this game has regrettably forgotten. But, hey, at least slamming other 65s into the dirt will be easier than ever for a while.

(Disclosure: Writer was granted a review copy from the publisher for review.)

A Way Out Review: Escaping Prison With a Friend Has Never Been More Fun, or Consequence-Free Tue, 03 Apr 2018 14:09:38 -0400 Miles T

A Way Out is a completely different experience to anything that I have played in recent memory. A cooperative and multiplayer-only prison break romp, it leans heavily upon its narrative and story-driven experience. The game is a unique opportunity to enjoy some cleverly designed scenarios based on teamwork and communication. However, A Way Out can also feel slightly restricting and akin to an on-rails rollercoaster ride -- fun in its own right but with little actual agency to its overall experience as you’re locked in and taken along for the journey.

Like Prison Break, but with more sideburns

The first thing you’ll notice when starting up the game is that it cannot be played past the main menu solo; you’ll have to buddy up either with a friend or stranger locally or online. Both players then get to select from two distinct personalities, Leo, who’s the more hot-headed, impulsive, and reckless character of the two, and Vincent, who’s deemed the more rational, thoughtful, and calculating personality. The story of A Way Out focuses most of its time exploring these characters and their backstories, starting with both men having been imprisoned for differing crimes. The game then takes you through a series of short chapters, ranging from the aforementioned prison escape to evading the authorities and getting a good old tale of revenge on the ones that have wronged them.

There’s a real intrigue to the story and the protagonists, as they initially demonstrate the usual tropes of mistrust, and we see how their relationship and reliance on each other develops over the course of the story as they aid each other in increasingly danger-defying and adrenaline-fueled scenarios. Cutscenes are frequent and well done, while other dialogue and backstory is dished out appropriately throughout your time controlling the characters, though some transitions between story arcs could definitely have used slightly more development or plot tightening, with some glaring gaps that pop up in the narrative. The early and middle sections are the most interesting and engaging, as you discover the pair's motivations and how they came to the point of needing to bust out of jail. The mid to late game can suffer somewhat as it becomes bogged down in the usual and predictable revenge tale, but it recovers magnificently with its ending, which is gut-wrenching, emotional, and full of real strife within both of the players.

Mirroring teamwork and cohesion

This strife is also reflected in the gameplay, which mirrors the stages of the story incredibly well. Throughout your time playing, the game will provide each player with half, some, or none of the screen, depending on the importance of your interactions and current role; however, you can always see your buddy's screen as well, so you're never removed from the action and their important scenes. Communication and teamwork are essential throughout your entire time with the game, giving it the feel that it simply wouldn't have been the same without a co-op partner, which is impressively unique and rare to find in most large-budget games. Early on, your interactions are limited, confined to small areas to walk around in and interact with NPCs, with the occasional brawl or QTE-based fight scene playing out. Over time, though, the co-op mechanics become much more intricate and intense. Whether you’re having to watch your partner’s back as they’re unhinging their cell room toilet while guards patrol the hallway, climbing back-to-back up a steep shaft and syncing your button prompts for risk of falling, or taking separate roles in a car chase as one rollicks through the countryside and the other barrels off shots at the ensuing police, each interaction is unique, creating a bond both between Leo and Vincent but also between you and your fellow player.

One of my favorite moments during A Way Out was a section where our protagonists had to work in tandem to control a small rowing boat, flicking to each side and failing miserably at avoiding the rocks the game clearly wanted us to avoid. It proved to be inadvertently hilarious as I yelled and begged my co-op partner to stop rowing the wrong way or sending us careening into yet another obstacle. We reached the end of the hell ride, and my stomach was physically aching from the laughter, which is rare for so many serious and stony-faced video games nowadays.

Strapped in for the ride, ready or not

Unfortunately, this also starts to highlight some of the issues inherent in A Way Out’s design. There are extremely prominent and urgent points in the overall story which lose their urgency and importance when you can mess around with your co-op partner. For example, in one scene while supposedly on the run, we spent 20+ minutes playing horseshoes (I won, with a record score of 23!), and in another, we played 3 games of Connect 4 when the story was urging us onto an essential time-sensitive plot point. These distractions, while engrossing and enjoyable gameplay-wise, create a conflict in the game’s overall narrative and tone which can distract from your investment in the characters and the overall plot.

Moreover, as you start to hit the mid and late game, you begin to realize that many of the mini areas you can “explore” are completely linear, with limited or very little actual interaction you can engage with. One particular instance had me and my co-op partner actually skipping talking to some NPCs since the dialogue offered nothing to the experience and the activities we could engage with were simply artificial distractions, and while getting to explore an area can aid with world-building, it felt far too restricted and unnecessary, and we both found it reduced our up-to-then unfettered enjoyment of the game. Lastly, the later sections of the experience tend to descend into the mindless shooting gallery category of a generic third-person shooter, with clunky mechanics -- the dodge roll is hilariously bad to use -- and a lack of any real weight to the four weapons you can select from. We both found these chapters the least engaging or interesting, though the ones that precede and follow them more than make up for the lull.

A well-oiled, beautifully realized concept

Despite these minor flaws, though, it must be mentioned that A Way Out ran incredibly well throughout the entire journey we undertook with it. Both my co-op partner and I have serviceable internet connections, with neither of us experiencing even one instance of lag, despite playing the entirety of the content through online co-op. We didn’t suffer any technical issues or crashes, though at points the graphics, particularly on background NPCs or assets during dialogue, could be extremely low-resolution, more than enough to be noticeable, drawing our laughter and our awareness in equal measures. It definitely isn’t enough to break or hinder the experience, but it may pull you out of your immersion in its world. Graphically, A Way Out is largely excellent, with some lovely vistas and quiet moments punctuated with some brilliant lighting work. Don’t expect huge production quality or something up to the standard of a blockbuster triple-A title, though.

A co-op game like no other

A Way Out is a truly fantastic piece of entertainment that is easy to recommend to anyone who has even a fleeting interest in its story or setting, even more so if you have a friend or someone to share the experience with. We truly noticed a bond develop between Leo and Vincent as the game progressed, along with our own shared memories or favorite moments (hitting a home run in the baseball mini-game is always awesome!). While the fully co-op story and gameplay are absolutely one-of-a-kind, the actual gameplay loop and interaction are far from unique, and while the story and tone can sometimes conflict with its gameplay elements, A Way Out is an engaging tale that is worthy of your time. At 6-7 hours in length, it’s one of the best ways you can spend a Saturday afternoon, cracking up as you slam your boat into the river edge, or recoiling as they beat your dart score for the third time.

Logitech G Pro Headset Review: Built for Pros, Made for Every Player Mon, 02 Apr 2018 16:40:18 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's new G Pro gaming headset drops the frills and fancies found in other headsets to focus on what many gamers really want: great sound. Instead of RGB lighting and myriad software solutions, the G Pro is a plug-and-play, all-in-one answer for gamers that wanna get gaming right out of the box while encountering as few hurdles as possible. 

Last year, I tested the G Pro's predecessor, the G433 -- and I quite liked it. It had plug-and-play analog capabilities, but didn't do stereo sound the justice it deserves. And while that headset was comfortable and lightweight, my main gripe with it was that it didn't provide deep, crisp sound for the price -- even on the surround sound front. 

Perhaps it was kismet or that Logitech heard me through the collective conscious of the hardware world, but the G Pro headset comes much closer to the sound I wanted out of the G433. In reality, though, it was the pro gamers Logitech closely worked with to develop and design the G Pro that helped the company craft a headset that is built for pros and made for everyone. 

Coming in at $89, the G Pro is really what the G433s should have been from the start. For a hefty majority of average gamers, this headest will give them the pro-level gaming audio they've been looking for at a price they're mostly comfortable with. Sure, looking at the echelon in which it sits, the G Pro doesn't really stand out when compared to in-space competitors. But it stands toe to toe with them and rounds out Logitech's well-crafted headset line.

And if you're wondering what systems the analog G Pro works with, the answer is all of them. It'll work with your PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, VR headsets, and mobile devices -- which is another big selling point. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset  with all its connecting wires and removable earcup pads


Looking at the G Pro and the G433 side by side, it's almost impossible to distinguish the two based on appearances alone. From their lightweight polymer bodies to the adjustable steel headband and the left-earcup I/O ports for wires and mics, each is only truly distinctive by color and finish. Whereas the G433 comes in four different colors and wears a mesh finish from its earcups to its headband, the G Pro only comes in (sleek) black and a soft-touch, matte finish, the latter of which really accentuates the professional aesthetic Logitech is going for with these cans. 

Like its predecessor, the G Pro also features 100-degree rotatable earcups with detachable earpads. Here, the Logitech logo is more prominent and highlighted in silver on the outside of each earcup (another nice touch for the brand), while the word "Pro" is emblazoned in chic white just underneath the silver steel headband extenders on each side.

Overall, I'm glad to see that Logitech kept the design so similar between the models since the G433 was comfortable to wear and easy to carry from place to place. Weighing in at 259 grams (the same as the G433), the G Pro sits snugly across the head and can be worn for hours on end in relative comfort. It does feel a bit heavier than the previous model. And that's perhaps because of two things: it doesn't feel as flimsy from stem to stern as the G433, and the earcups fit more snugly along the sides of the face, causing a bit of discomfort over time. 

However, I'm also happy Logitech decided to keep the rotatable/tiltable earcups for this model. Not only can you lay these on your chest between matches or easily shove them in an overnight bag, you can also tilt the earcups up or down to quickly (and easily) hear any outside noise or conversation without removing the headset. It's a small design choice carried over from the G433, but one that's important for pro players that can't take their headsets off in between matches. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset Side View with MicPerformance

If you're a pro or competitive gamer, you're playing games to win. Coming in second just isn't an option. That means you've got to hear your enemies before they hear you. It's something that the Logitech G533 does very well, as well as the SteelSeries Arctis Pro+. The problem is, those headsets either only work with PC or fall into the upper echelon of headset pricing (think $150-$250). 

And while those headsets are worth the pretty penny you'll pay for them, most gamers need something that affordably gives them good directional audio. The G433 didn't achieve that and ultimately felt too flat and thin overall during our tests. And when compared to the G Pro, which can clearly emit tones as low as 10hz and as high as 20Khz, that's even more evident. 

What's more, Logitech says that the Pro G provides "precise awareness of everything that's happening around you." And while I certainly don't agree that the awareness it provides is 100% precise, the G Pro does provide some of the better directional audio within the $90 price point. 

Tuned specifically for analog playback, the G Pro headset uses drivers that may be a bit bass-heavy, but work quite well at emitting clear sounds and ameliorating distortion. Testing the G Pros directly against the G433s showed that the Pros are more precise and consistent across the board. They do sacrifice a bit of volume for that sound consistency in comparison, but that's a worthy trade-off in our books. 

Playing Battlefield 1 and Far Cry 5, explosions felt appropriately large, and gunfire cracked with realism. Voices were warm and full, with dialog brimming with realism, easily parsed from music and diegetic effects. In all, sound felt fuller and richer than it did when wearing the G433s. 

The only real hiccup was that I wasn't able to dial in on pinpoint directional sound, meaning I could only tell from what general direction my adversaries were coming. Having directional capabilities at all is a step in the right direction considering you're able to get some semblance of 360 audio on console without dropping the big bucks, but it's also a bit of a carrot on a stick. If you want real directional audio, you're still going to have to shell out for it. 

When it comes to music, the G Pro provides meaty playback that's, again, heavy on the bass side of things. Listening to Leech and Rot by Northlane, kick drums and low-end chugs rise unmuddied through the mix. Mid-tone toms also come through nicely. Trebles tend to hang out in the background, although they aren't completely overshadowed. If you're used to a more treble-centric mix, you might not like that the Pros really focus on lower tones (although the headset does make those lows thick and powerful, like in Kendrick Lamar's DNA and Humble). 

Lastly, the G Pro claims to have up to 50% more passive noise isolation simply by proxy of the headset's premium earpads. And while I'd rather have active than passive noise cancellation, I think it works -- for the most part. At max volumes, it's hard to tell between the G Pros and the G433s -- immense volume tends to drown anything out simply by its overwhelming nature. But at around 55-60% volume, there is a discernible in-game difference in outside noise reduction with the G Pros. 

It's not perfect, and relying on passive devices always introduces variables into the equation, but I think it ultimately works as Logitech intends it to work: acting in tandem with the clear boom mic to better help pros hear the voices of their teammates in the din of the tournament stage. 

Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset tilted with mic and wireThe Verdict

With its Pro series, Logitech means to take existing designs and make them more approachable for professional gamers. They aren't out to redesign the wheel by any means -- and the G Pro gaming headset is testament to that. It takes the very best of the G433 and tweaks it to make something better. 

That something better doesn't necessarily mean "the best of the best," but what it does mean is the punchy G Pro is now firmly in the company of the best there is at $90. Inarguably, the G Pro is a step up from the G433, which doesn't look as appetizing as it once did -- especially when you compare sound profiles between the two headsets. 

And when compared to similar headsets on the market, such as the HyperX Cloud Flight and the Corsair Void Pro, the decision-making process can get a bit muddier, as those headsets take the G Pro head on. But we can say that the headset is much better than the SteelSeries Arctis 3, so keep that in mind when making your comparisons.

Ultimately, the G Pro is a well-made headset that performs very well either at home or on the tournament stage -- and whether you're listening to music or sniping sneaking players in team deathmatch. And for that, it gets our recommendation. 

Yakuza 6 Review: A Fitting End for the Dragon of Dojima Sat, 31 Mar 2018 22:06:27 -0400 Ashley Gill

There are few game series I hold in as high regard as Yakuza. Kazuma Kiryu and the red thread of fate that holds him to the Tojo Clan have compelled me to throw money at Sega since the original game released on the PlayStation 2. That same red thread has connected players to his story, too. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is where that thread is finally severed. This is the end for the Dragon of Dojima.

Yakuza 6 is two things. A first-run with the new Dragon Engine and Kazuma Kiryu's last time in the spotlight.

With those two things in mind, this is a very ambitious game. The graphics are better than they've ever been, slipping into side content is more organic (and accidental) than ever, it's filled to the brim with new minigames, and it packs a heavy punch in the Japanese celebrity department.

The Yakuza series finally picked up in popularity in North America last year with the release of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. It's bittersweet to see Kiryu exit the stage just as the games shake off the old and busted "Japanese GTA" preconception so many once held about this series.

A person stands on a stage wearing an orange mascot head while singing karaokeDon't mind me.

Newer fans who just started with the Yakuza series last year and total newcomers can jump into the game without having to go through previous entries. As always, there are options to get caught up on the story. It's not the same, but it'll do.

Those who have struggled with Kiryu through all his trials and tribulations over the years won't be able to as comfortably slide into this entry as previous games due to the new Dragon Engine. It's sleeker, but it is different. Some old fogies such as myself may grumble as get used to the new Dragon Engine but it doesn't take long to adjust.

The new engine is going to get brought up a lot in this review because of the number of changes it brings and how it affected the final product. The differences between the previous engine and the one seen in Yakuza 6 are very obvious. They're not bad, but they certainly do make this return to Kamurocho a little different.

The Content's in the Sides

As with every previous entry in the series, Yakuza 6 is packed with main storyline and side quest content. Every inch of the game's explorable area is littered with tiny details that immerse you in the bustling Kamurocho and the sleepy Onomichi, and both areas have plenty for you to do.

Minigames are abound here, but longtime fans may feel underwhelmed. Along with the new (and obviously more flexible) Dragon Engine come new and more in-depth minigames -- however, at the cost of old staples. Shogi, bowling, and both casinos have been stripped from Kamurocho, much to my own personal dismay. Playing Koi-koi at the underground casino has always been my go-to.

The new minigames add some variety to the series, which has staunchly stuck to its own traditions. If that's for better or worse depends on whether you like the new minigames, but there is more than meets the eye (and far more than mentioned here).

Playing the livechat minigame in Yakuza 6, with the player talking to a woman in a bikiniProtip: Don't initiate the Live Chat minigame with people around. This was downright awkward with my husband in the room. 

The new baseball minigame, in which Kiryu manages a local baseball team, is easily one of my least favorite minigames in the series. It's boring, the menu for it is ugly, and the related side stories tend to be drawn out and on the less interesting side of the spectrum. I kept pushing through, but I did not enjoy it one bit.

The Clan Creator minigame is much akin to certain mobile games in which you wait for your resource to build up, then deploy your units to push through to the final objective. This is easily the most complex of the new minigames as you must collect characters to join your clan, manage their hierarchy,  manually deploy them, and manually trigger skills in battle. It's the most complex and even features online play, which is a definite plus if you find yourself getting really into this one.

My favorite new minigame, though, is pretty much a rail shooter... with fish. It's great! That's about all I'm saying about that one. It's great, I love it. I wish it were longer. (Sega, can we please get the new House of the Dead on PC or something? PLEASE?)

In addition, there is now the new "minigame" where you bond with bar patrons and make new friends. This is done via just talking to them most of the time, but sometimes you must actively participate in their conversations, sing karaoke, or play darts to get them to warm up to you. This is one I found particularly endearing, even if it wasn't the most exciting.

Playing the bar minigame in Yakuza 6

There are, of course, more minigames in Yakuza 6. Some absolutely unexpected, some par for the course. Usually, I do not highlight the minigames in my reviews for this series, but the removal of previous staples makes the new entries that much more important in this game. Yakuza isn't Yakuza without the side content. 6 has it in spades, but it's just different from before.

There are plenty of side stories here, but you'll find there are less than in previous games. That said, the game more fluidly segues into them. The side stories are as varied and bizarre as always, and this time around, they were probably my favorite part of the game.

Beat'em Up, Damnit!

Combat in Yakuza 6 is... well, it's simplified. Let's put it this way: I've been playing a lot of Dynasty Warriors lately, and moving onto Yakuza 6 wasn't all that different.

Basically, every combat improvement/aspect added with 0 and Kiwami has been removed this time around. There are not a ton of Heat Actions, there are no stances, and Kiryu has to rely on his Extreme Heat Mode to really get things done (like picking up motorcycles).

My entire time beating people into submission was constantly overshadowed by my wishes that the combat was more Kiwami and less Musou, if you get my drift. But this is one thing I am certain is caused by time constraints or the dev team learning to work with the new engine, and is not something I can legitimately complain about.

Combat in Yakuza 6 is more fluid than it's ever been and it shows a great framework for what combat in later Dragon Engine games, but it certainly does make everyone feel like a much bigger wimp than in Yakuza 5, 0, and Kiwami. It makes me miss the knuckle-busting boss fights from Kiwami for sure.

Dragon Engine Rises

Though it's certainly not perfect, Yakuza 6 fits in just fine with the rest of the series in terms of tone and content and is a fine entry for even new players to start with.

In some ways, it's fitting Kiryu takes his leave as Sega rings in their own new generation for the Yakuza series. And while some aspects of the series were lost in transition to the new Dragon Engine, they surely aren't to be gone for long. 

I do not think this one is going to make it to the top of many Yakuza game tier lists because of the clear growing pains as they've migrated to the new engine, but that by no means equates to the game being bad. It may even be one of the best in the series from a quality standpoint, but it needs that extra oomph to really go the distance.

This is easily the most gorgeous and seamless game in the series yet. A must-play for fans to see the evolution of the series and end of Kazuma Kiryu's journey. A "you should probably play this" for those unfamiliar, Yakuza 6 is a fantastic game that will stick with you for a long time. I am sad to see Kiryu go, but we'll at least get to see him again in Kiwami 2 later this year.

You can buy Yakuza 6 on Amazon when it releases on April 17.  

(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a press copy of the game from the publisher for this review.)

MLB The Show 18 Review: And the Crowd Goes Wild Thu, 29 Mar 2018 10:13:46 -0400 Joseph Rowe

It's spring, and that means it's the start of baseball. MLB The Show 18 is one of the most anticipated sports releases of the year, but does it knock it out of the park like Babe Ruth, or does it swing, miss, and disappoint its teammates like I did in so many little league games? 

a pitcher stands on the mound deciding between pitch types in MLB The Show 18

The Sound: The Crack of the Bat

MLB The Show 18 will fill your ears with the sounds of cheering fans, the crack of the bat, and announcers questioning your pitching choices. Everything sounds as realistic as can be and puts you on the field with the players. They also have a great list to choose from for names that the announcers can say so that more players than usual will be able to hear their own name echo throughout the stadium. The nostalgic throwback retro mode has charming, old school-sounding beeps and boops to match its visual style.

This year's soundtrack has a lot to offer. It's got a good mix of genres and artists to make sure everyone's got at least one song to keep them satisfied. I was particularly pleased to see Beck and Queens of the Stone Age. The coolest part of it all is the ability to customize an individual player's music as well as their chants and yells. As the soundtrack consists of fewer than 20 songs, you'll probably switch over to Spotify once you've heard MLB The Show 18's musical offerings a few times through. It'll be good while it lasts, though.

players stretching before the game in MLB The Show 18

The Graphics: Beards Upon Beards

Everything in the game is superbly designed in terms of graphics. All the players look realistic, there is a lot of detail put into the player's gear (with customization available), and the stadiums are faithful to their real-life counterparts. The instant replays and random shots of the players will immerse you in the big ballpark experience. The developers add in small scenes like the one above that show players stretching during a practice for flavor, and it adds a bit more character to an otherwise routine experience.

The sheer amount of customization you have available to you in the player editor puts EA Sport's releases this year to shame. Just like those games, you can pick your equipment from a wide variety of brands and makes, colors, and even web styles. However, you can also edit every aspect of your player's face. This game probably has the most beard hair customization I've ever seen, and as someone with a beard, I appreciate that. You can even create your own batting stance!

graphics reminiscent of old-school baseball games adorn MLB The Show 18's retro mode

The Gameplay: Knocked One Out of the Park

The core gameplay of the game is magnificent. It handles super well, with loads of options to choose from in terms of batting, pitching, etc., meaning everyone can find a gameplay style they'll like. The basics of the gameplay are super simple, with each pitcher having a few pitches to choose from and each batter having three swings and bunts to utilize. This simple system becomes increasingly complex as player stats are taken into account, different pitches are chosen from, and players learn how to properly use the leading and stealing mechanics for their runners. The simplicity gives new players like me something to hold onto, and the complexity, along with tons of available customization, keeps the veterans happy.

I can't get enough of the Road to the Show mode. You create a player and play only their position throughout the game. It lets the games go by much more quickly, something a casual sports gamer like me can appreciate. Not only was I able to create a character sporting my beard, but the announcers are also able to say my full name. This aided in immersing me in the story. It's not quite as complex as some of what EA has to offer, but it does give you dialogue options and enough fast-paced action to keep you satisfied.

One of the newer changes to MLB The Show 18 is how you improve in Road to the Show. In previous games, you were able to choose how your character progressed; in this year's edition, however, you pick an archetype at the start of your career, and your player grows based on your choices. For example, I played a pitcher, so I could either go for fast strikeouts, control, or gimmicky pitches. Some players are definitely going to be upset at this change, but I found it helped me focus on the gameplay without having to worry about screwing up my progression by customizing my character incorrectly.

I don't play sports games much nowadays, but I used to play them more as a kid, especially Triple Play 98 on the PSX. Retro mode is a game mode in MLB The Show 18 that lets you play with more old-school, simplified controls. While it is not as fun as the core gameplay over extended periods of time, it is still a nice bit of nostalgia and one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Franchise mode is a straightforward multi-season game mode without the added story element. This is the mode I was most comfortable with as a casual sports gamer, as I was able to speed the game up to the most interesting points. This allowed me to play a full game if it was a big one but to skip through the bulk of the games I didn't feel like playing. I found that this helped to hold my attention, but over time, I ended up getting so into the game that I just played through with full innings.

 screen showing purchase options for diamond dynasty in MLB The Show 18

MLB The Show 18's Diamond Dynasty, Diamond Downer

I don't know when it started happening, but sports games lately have had a terrible habit of including card game-style gimmicks to try and take as much cash as they can from fans who have already invested a sizable chunk of change to purchase the game in the first place. There is no reason to ask players to fork over $100 more for in-game collectibles, especially when the price is so high that you make players go to the PSN store just to see it. It's not even like the collectibles are new DLC items, either. You can still get the items by grinding, but it'll take much longer and put you at a disadvantage against someone who has the cash to outplay you.

Final Word

Overall, MLB The Show 18 is likely to draw in any baseball game fan because of its solid gameplay, engaging story mode, and customization options. The game's graphics are superb, the soundtrack is one of the best on offer from a sports game this year, and the gameplay is enough to entice any MLB fan, casual or pro. However, a big downside of the game is the Diamond Dynasty mode. You can make the argument that you can grind for whatever you want over time instead of spending the money, but these modes are something I refuse to get used to. All things considered, MLB The Show 18 is recommended if you're looking for a realistic baseball game. If you are not fond of the developers playing it safe this year in terms of new modes, you can wait this one out.

Apex Construct Review: Minnowing Away from Brilliance Tue, 27 Mar 2018 14:43:50 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Apex Construct is one of the few games currently on the Oculus Store that offers players a full experience that actually, well, feels like a full experience. In fact, it's one of the few single-player VR titles that serves up an interesting, well-paced story alongside compelling gameplay mechanics and fantastic sound design. It leverages some of VR’s best elements to create a fun, memorable experience. 

It's a shame, then, that however beautiful and fun the game is, it's marred by pesky bugs and uninspired mid- to late-game repetition. In some ways, Apex Construct still operates like an Early Access title; it doesn't feel as polished as it should despite its breadth and scope. For $29.99, I expect a little bit more refinement from a VR game like Construct. That tarnished feeling grows even more pronounced when you consider games like Robo Recall and Sairento VR command the same price and offer up what amount to more balanced experiences. 

I suppose the disappointment that grows out of Construct's imperfections is amplified by its potential. In so many ways it stands on the cusp of greatness -- Construct shows what a VR-focused action/adventure game can truly achieve when developers get things right. The game pulls back the curtain of VR’s optimistic future to show us something beautiful -- but it quickly drops the veil just as we’re taking everything in, cutting us off from the radiance within. 

Player pulls back shock arrow as they face robots on a cliff in Apex Construct

The world of Apex Construct is one of my favorite things about the game. Despite its post-apocalyptic trappings, it’s immediately inviting. No, it's not the most beautiful VR game I've played on the Oculus, but it does stand out as unique and wonderful. 

Running the game on a beefier rig powered by a GTX 1080 8GB, an i7-7700K 4.2GHz, and 32GB of RAM, Construct was never as crisp as games like Robo Recall at higher settings (although it looks absolutely gorgeous watching someone play it on an AOC AG322QCX). I often found there was a graininess to objects or that edges weren’t as refined as they ought to be while in the headset itself. 

But what's really worth spending time talking about is the feel of Construct’s world, not necessarily its look.

Apex Construct feels desolate and devoured. Robots run this world where the memory of man is but a shadow. Eerie and moody, it accentuates isolation and doubt not only through story but by virtue of contrasting level design. Wide-open areas funnel into tight, claustrophobic corridors, while bright, vibrant colors melt into dark, brooding pantones -- and back again -- reflecting the disunion of the human psyche in this upside down world. Construct is on the surface an inversion of Sarah Connor’s SkyNet prophecy. It’s painted as a colorful, cheery world, but dig under its prismatic facade and you’ll find a grungy evil lurking beneath, one that might be just as terrifying as any T-1000 could ever be. 

So even though Apex Construct isn’t a horror game, the elements of its world coalesce into a subtle, creeping dread as you learn more about why you’re here and who brought you into this world. As you’re slowly trapped between two sentient AI vying for control of everything around you, your interactions with them -- and in-world storytelling devices such as notes and data logs -- make you question everything you’re told. 

It’s not revolutionary storytelling by any means, but it’s a tick forward for storytelling in VR. 

Apex Construct the cybernetic head of Fathr floats in front of the player

If you've seen any of the trailers or press materials for Apex Construct, you probably already know combat revolves around the bow. In fact, it's the only real weapon in the game. You have access to grenades, but those are mostly ineffectual and cumbersome when robots attack, especially in the late game when shields get more involved. 

However, just because the bow is your only choice doesn't mean it's a bad one; there's a reason the recurve family continually shows up in VR games. When developers get the mechanics right, there's no better feeling than notching an arrow, pulling it back, and letting it fly. And for the most part, Apex Construct nails that. 

As you progress, you'll gain access to three different arrow types (standard, electric, and explosive) which all have specific uses against enemies and in the environment. Electric arrows are perfect for disabling shields or activating out-of-the-way panels. And explosive arrows work well for taking down enemies faster or breaking through fragile walls. It's worth noting that the recharge system for electric and explosive arrows can get a bit grating later in the game, especially when multitudinous shielded robots inundate the screen. But overall, I found not having infinite arrows across the board added strategy and consequence to each and every shot.  

However, as good as loosing arrows feels, it's a serious bummer when the core system doesn't work. At times, arrows will bounce off enemies for no reason at all. At other times, they'll fly right through foes, causing no damage at all. On top of that, I sometimes found that the on-bow shield didn't block every shot roaring toward my face -- and it wasn't always as quick to activate as I would have liked. 

But those are nitpicks compared to the most egregious and irritating issue I ran into: when arrows just wouldn't notch. While it did happen when standing in an open room, it was especially noticeable when taking cover against a wall or pylon. If arrows did notch in these situations, they wouldn't pull back, forcing me to move positions and potentially enter the line of fire.

The issues were so persistent in the mid-game that I thought my touch controllers were dying or that my sensors weren't correctly picking up my movements. But booting up Robo Recall and SUPERHOT VR proved otherwise. Couple that issue with Construct's rudimentary and sometimes frustrating experience system -- which sees you lose all level XP upon death -- and it's a safe bet you'll find yourself in quite a few frustrating situations. 

Aiming the bow and arrow at a robot inside Apex Construct's research facility

Ultimately, I want to rate Apex Construct higher. The game does a lot of things right and shows what a single-player VR experience should be in terms of narrative design and world building. Fathr and Mothr give System Shock's Shodan a run for her money. Couple that with a (mostly) beautiful world, refined voice acting, and well-paced writing, and you've got the formula for success. 

It's just that Apex Construct has a few issues that are hard to get over. Aside from the aforementioned arrow irritability, the game's equipment system isn't always responsive, meaning actually equipping arrows when you need them can be a chore under heavy fire. Mid- to late-game levels are simply rehashed early-game levels with new objectives. And there can even be issues with your inventory reflecting your in-game progression. From experience, I can say spending an hour looking for Level 2 keycards because your current Level 1 keycards don't update as they should isn't exactly fun. 

When Apex Construct plays nice, it's an invigorating experience. Despite my disdain for what it does wrong, I actually had a blast playing it -- and that's really what matters, I suppose. With a little more polish, this is a game that could have truly shined. But as it stands, it's a fun experience that wanes in brilliance once you're finished. 

You can buy Apex Construct on Steam for $29.99

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Apex Construct for review.] 

Part Time UFO Review: Crane Game Gig Economy Tue, 27 Mar 2018 14:30:50 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Part Time UFO is a cute little mobile puzzle game recently released on Android and iOS devices, and is the first game released by HAL Egg, the new mobile game division of HAL Laboratory, the company most well known for the Kirby series.

HAL has a long history of game development, though their less mainstream efforts have often been overshadowed by their major Nintendo projects, despite a few smaller successes. In the NES era, they put out the commercially successful and fondly remembered Adventures of Lolo series, in the last few years, they released another hit puzzle game series on 3DS in the form of BoxBoy! and its sequels, and now this. 

It's always interesting to see what major developers who we usually see associated with larger companies like Nintendo do with their time when they're set free to experiment, such as what we've seen with Game Freak. In the case of Part Time UFO, we got a quirky, well-executed, and surprisingly replayable puzzle-type game to add to HAL's portfolio, and a strong foot forward for their first foray into mobile games.

cheerleaders in Part Time UFO

Whaddaya say we learn how the saucer people pay their bills? 

Gotta Get the Cash, Gotta Get the Dough

Part Time UFO has you playing as a tiny UFO that comes down from space, and once on Earth, happens to help a farmer load some fruit onto a truck. The farmer then pays the UFO for its troubles and gives it a catalog of part-time jobs to look over. The UFO then ends up back at a tiny apartment (presumably renting it out with what he was paid) and starts looking for work.

That's more or less the whole premise of Part Time UFO, and I for one find it refreshing. It's exactly the kind of simple, silly yet still reasonable setup that provides just enough context for the gameplay and world to make sense for a mobile game. It's not overly complicated, and it's not underexplained; you're just suddenly dropped into this quirky, little world and told to hop to it if you wanna afford some silly hats. But ultimately, the gameplay is what drives this game, and thankfully it's quite fun and easy to understand. 

Part Time UFO plays like the kind of skill-crane games you play for stuffed animals in arcades and pizza parlors, only significantly less cheap and rigged against you. Using nothing more than a digital control stick and one button (or less if you choose to play in one-handed mode), you must complete a series of different puzzles by moving, stacking, swinging, and carefully placing a series of different objects.

The game operates using only these mechanics and a simple but consistent and comprehensive physics engine, leaving it up to you as the player to toy around with the unique objects in each level like a chemistry set until you find the solution you're looking for. The gameplay stays this way from start to finish, and while that may sound a bit basic, HAL compensated for this by providing the player with a load of very creative and engaging levels with different challenges. 

The scenarios for levels range from loading cows into the back of a truck to catching as many fish as you can within a time limit to mixing a massive salad to stacking circus animals on top of a trapeze artist elephant on a unicycle -- and all of them are distinct and different without compromising the game's core mechanics. While the game does start reusing settings pretty quickly, this is compensated for by the challenges themselves feeling quite different and slowly becoming more difficult and minutely complex over time.

a trapeze elephant balancing other animals

Space Circus Police. Nothing to see here. Move along.

How Much Time Is "Part Time"?

Part Time UFO is by no means a big game, but it's about as big as it needs to be. There are over 25 stages, all with three challenges to complete and a healthy portion of costumes to unlock for your UFO. 

The costumes are all purchased with in-game currency, and there's no in-app purchases to be found, thankfully, so you can accessorize your UFO to your heart's content as a reward for all your hard work. While some costumes are just cosmetic, many others offer a slight change to the way the UFO controls and can provide helpful benefits to specific levels or even make the game harder, if you'd like to up the difficulty and challenge yourself.

purchasing items in Part Time UFO

This delightful gentleman with the lisp runs the local cosmic branch. See him for all your cosplay needs. Photo credit to AntDude.

As might be expected of the Kirby devs, the game isn't particularly hard, but it's far from mindless. The secrets hidden in certain levels, punching out before the often optional timer runs out, and grappling with the game's crane physics do lead to some challenge, but I rarely had to retry most stages more than two or three times, which didn't add up to much given the brevity of each stage. The main source of difficulty in this game will likely stem from learning and fighting with the game's swinging and momentum physics, which can give you a bit of trouble, but never came anywhere close to rage-inducing for me. 

A Breath of Fresh Art

In terms of aesthetics, I just love the way this game looks and sounds. In all honesty, Part Time UFO's presentation reminds me of a lot of games. The art-style and scattershot scenarios remind me of games like WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven, with just a splash of the Katamari series, and the soundtrack reminds me just the slightest bit of LocoRoco. But despite being reminiscent of so many other games, it still manages to feel unique on its own.

The graphics are presented in a very pleasant pixelated style that is reminiscent of early games on the Nintendo DS, with lots of expressive, cartoony characters and little details in each stage. Everything and everyone smiles, cries, wiggles, and behaves believably, and much like the Kirby games, the whole thing constantly feels genuinely charming and friendly, like the game's just happy to have you around.

a jumbled stack of yellow-ish pancakes in Part Time UFO

The game's presentation is about as soft and sweet as these pancakes.

The music is also quite good, if a bit repetitive. Every track in the game is a sort of remix or different take on the same song, using different chords and instruments, which provides a pleasant and consistent mood at the sacrifice of variety. It's a small complaint, and I must reiterate that I do like the music, but with the repeating settings on top of the repeating music, it smacks a bit of a game with a smaller budget. But overall, it's all very cute and attention-grabbing, and that's mostly what matters.

Is This a Position Worth Applying For?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Part Time UFO. In the face of so many other derivative mobile games, big-budget Triple-A titles, and samey sequels and familiar feeling styles of gameplay, it's nice every now and then to sit down with something small and simple yet new and refreshing. It's a game that manages to bring the experimental charm of Nintendo's portfolio to mobile devices while simultaneously making the often-despised skill-tester crane game into something fun, fair, and friendly.

I can easily recommend this game to anybody looking for something fun and simple to play in small sessions, as well as people looking for new ideas and a moderate challenge, all at a bargain price. I was smiling nearly the whole way through. I'm hoping that we may see more from this game in the future, and I can't wait to see what HAL Egg does with mobile games in the future. 

Part Time UFO is available now on iOS and Android devices for the one-time cost of $4. You can watch a trailer for the game below: 

Far Cry 5 Review - Almost As Crazy As Real Montana, But A Lot More Fun Mon, 26 Mar 2018 06:19:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

After a trip back into prehistory, the open-world antics of this beloved but faltering series return with Far Cry 5, and this time around, we're going to a rather unexpected location in America's Midwest.

I've lived in Montana my whole life, and the gaming community here was pretty stoked when a Ubisoft team showed up to film areas and talk to residents for inspiration. We were also more than a little amused at the supposed controversy that erupted over placing the series here because apparently it's cool to shoot people in Nepal and the Caribbean, but America is just a bridge too far?

Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation as a backwoods area filled with hillbillies and covered wagons, there are areas of my state that very much feel like they belong in a video game or horror movie franchise.

We've had the Freemen, the Unabomber, a serial killer cannibal, religious colonies where boys and girls can't sit on the same side of the classroom, animals that can and will eat you, an annual festival for consuming fried bull testicles, an extreme gun fetish, lots of wide open space, and racking up double-digit DUIs is basically our state sport.

In other words, this place is absolutely perfect for the type of experience Far Cry offers.

Three Montanan stereotypes in front of a patriotic backdrop How did they manage to fit so much of Montana into one picture?

Horror and Humor

There has been a tonal shift from the last few games over to Far Cry 5, and that tone is found everywhere from inventory item descriptions to quest objectives to one-liners quipped by your guns for hire. In a very tried-and-true Montanan way, my hireling saw me harvesting a plant to use for a recipe and exclaimed, "Oh no, are you a vegan?"

There are loads of jokes in the inventory screen as you scroll through various items and pelts, from "oregano" that comes in a plastic baggie and is oddly good when baked in brownies to quips about sexy momma cougars.

Although not mentioned by name, Trump gets made fun of -- a lot -- so if that sort of thing is going to tick you off, well, you've been warned. I had a good chuckle when my gun for hire, whose home was recently destroyed and overrun by a cult, stated out of the blue that "last week the only thing I was worried about was the president starting a nuclear war over Twitter."

From custom-painted death tractors (yes, it is very satisfying to run cultists over with those whirling blades) to an unironic look at the doomsday prepper lifestyle, you can bet you will be constantly laughing while playing.

 Cheeseburger may have diabetes, but that won't stop him from exercising his god-given right to bear arms!

That's just one half of the equation of this well-rounded experience, though, as horror makes up the other side of the Far Cry coin. Although nothing overtly supernatural has happened so far in my playthrough, there are a lot of similarities to the opening segments of Outlast 2 and Resident Evil 7.

The game has some freedom to go in that direction with the psychedelic aspects brought on by a flower used in a local drug. Even plague-style "zombies" who are addicted to the stuff and shrug off gunfire make an appearance. A very strong Outlast vibe appears when antagonist Faith Seed  spouts creepy religious proclamations over the radio after completing quests in her area of the map. Based on these encounters, it's easy to see how the DLC will involve martians and zombies.

You can't help but get a little bit of a Covenant family feel along the lines of Clive Barker's Undying when seeing framed pictures of the Seed family clan. Joseph Seed himself is maybe even a better, more crazy-eyed villain than fan-favorite Vaas. The guy is legitimately unnerving, singing hymns softly to himself while staring at you all bug-eyed and getting ready to kill people.

A decimated corpse in a semi-crucified pose in Far Cry 5 I know I feel welcomed, how 'bout you guys?

Just How Far Cry Is This, Really?

So with this shift in tone, can you expect the exact same ride as in Far Cry 4 and Primal? The repetitive nature of the series is frequently the biggest complaint fans have, and it's clear the developers know that.

I laughed out loud near the beginning of the game when a character says, "I know what you are thinking, but don't worry, I won't be having you climb radio towers all over the county." They know about those fan complaints, and they are openly making fun of themselves.

That being said, there are plenty of familiar mechanics at play here, like hunting animals, gathering plants, liberating outposts, a vehicle chase sequence, etc., but this one feels different in a way that Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal didn't.

By tweaking a few elements and changing up the appearance of several key objects, this does feel like a reinvigorated version of the franchise. When you throw in the horror and resistance elements, it's sort of like Far Cry meets Homefront meets Outlast, rather than Far Cry Part 87.

Screen shot from game displaying various in-game objectives No more radio tower climbing, but plenty of familiar mechanics appear

The various missions, side quests, and points of interest to discover feel more organic and less like a checklist to tick off across a map. A revamped skill system features perk points gained by playing in different ways and exploring different areas, so it encourages you to vary your experience.

Far Cry 5 is also more immediately open than previous games, which typically gated you into certain areas. After completing the tutorial island, you can immediately jump in a plane and go anywhere you want, even if it's not to the next mission section. 

Resistance members can be recruited to go on missions with you, but the big draw here is the three different "fangs" for hire, offering stealth, tank, and scouting options. You have to actually work to recruit and gain the trust of these animal companions, unlike in Far Cry 4, where you could just unlock a skill and, for some reason, elephants would let you ride them into battle.

Having wild cougars and bears as your buddies is already ludicrous, though, so it's a damn shame there wasn't a bald eagle companion to help spread a little freedom.

Apart from the animal hirelings, the Far Cry formula gets changed up by creating your own maps in Arcade mode, and progression is shared between Arcade and the main story, with many perks working in both modes. You can expect to get a lot of extra hours out of the game with Arcade, either before or after completing the main story.

Just How Montanan Is This, Really?

Far Cry is a series that has radically changed locations and environments between games, and that continues here with the switch from India to pre-historic Europe and now to Montana. Just how authentic did they make the experience, though? Pretty darn, it turns out.

The opening vignette with a camera crew interviewing people about the events of the game feels a lot like Montana. People in dingy bars at 11:00 in the morning would say those things and dress that way, and the locations mostly look spot-on.

a female barfly in Far Cry 5 Oh hey, Sharon, time for your 11:30 morning Bud Light already?

Ubisoft got a lot right with the topography, the wildlife, the apple and pumpkin orchards, the Testy Festy, and so on. The forest and water areas are pretty accurate, although I was surprised by the rivers. While there are plenty of placid lakes for fishing, the rivers here are not nearly as calm as portrayed. They flow, and they flow fast.

Every year someone drowns trying to swim across the Missouri, which is a uniformly bad idea, so it's kind of silly seeing the deputy main character be able to do that without breaking a sweat. That's just one of those areas where a player has to suspend disbelief to have fun, though.

The climate is a bit of a stretch as well, as there's only a very small window where the state isn't either a frozen wasteland or a smoke-choked hellscape due to the summer wildfires.

The game's rip-roaring Dukes Of Hazard car chase shenanigans are fun, although that's more of a Southern thing. The menu music is also more Southern -- like almost Civil War-Southern, where you expect Ken Burns to start narrating over it -- than anything you'd typically hear in Montana. 

Yeah, by and large, we are a bunch of backward, gun-obsessed, religious hillbillies, but we're a different breed of backward, gun-obsessed, religious hillbillies than those folks down South.

view from a cockpit as a plane flies over gorgeous Montana countryside It's sure pretty here, though!

The Bottom Line

Familiar mechanics, tone shift, and revamped location aside, there are some negatives here, most notably with regard to the bugs.

There were a few sections where the sound cut out for some reason, and if you stand still while talking to an NPC, the camera randomly pans up every few seconds instead of sticking in the direction you are looking. During one loading screen, I even experienced a freeze and crash. While I expect those issues to be (hopefully) fixed with the day-one patch, others will probably stick around.

While I love the revamped gun-for-hire system, the companion AI can be a bit wonky. In one instance, I was crouching, firing arrows at a deer, and my companion just got up and walked in front of me as I shot the next one, knocking her down and requiring a revive. In another instance, I rappelled down a mountainside with a skill, but my loyal animal friend decided to hurl herself bodily to the bottom, resulting in obvious (and hilarious) death. 

Those bugs hurt the experience, but not by much. Far Cry 5 is one of the few games where you can get into a flamethrower fight, hit a buffalo with a semi truck on the interstate, light a cow on fire and watch it rampage through an enemy base, or blow up a truck with a mortar and then run in and paddle the survivors to death.

It's dumb, goofy, wonderful fun, with a smooth balance between action, comedy, and horror. Far Cry 5 was one of our most anticipated shooters of 2018, and other than a few bugs, it lives up to my expectations and even exceeds them in some areas.

Note: A review copy of Far Cry 5 was provided by the publisher.

Kirby Star Allies Review: An Afternoon with Kirby & Friends Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:06:35 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

Kirby Star Allies is the most recent entry in the mainline series of Kirby platformers developed by HAL Laboratory. It brings back into the spotlight the four-player local co-op last seen in Return to Dreamland, and brings main-series Kirby into the HD era at last. 

There was some excitement surrounding this game before release. The same can be said about any Kirby installment and indeed most Nintendo games, but the buildup was palpable. A bright and shiny new game in the series for the console/handheld hybrid that every kid on the block has AND it has cute little Kirby-critter co-op? People had every right to be excited.

Add to that the high-quality demo released about two weeks before the game came out as well as Nintendo's recent announcement of free content updates shortly after release, and Star Allies seemed like it was going to make us all smile so hard that our teeth fell out. And while the game we ended up with is quite good, I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience as a whole. 

  Let's go over just why exactly I felt this wasn't quite enough stuff from the tough pink puff.

C'mon Grab Your Friends

Let's start with the good before I start getting critical (because making fun of Kirby in any way makes me feel like the bad guy).

The setup for Star Allies is the same basic thing as every other Kirby adventure (not to be confused with Kirby's Adventure). A massive evil threat has entered Kirby's life and disrupted his sleepy little hamlet, and now he has to fight his way through a colorful cast of baddies in order to bring peace back to his world and reclaim naptime. Simple, cute, and we know what we're all in for -- let's save the world and get some cake to celebrate! 

On the subject of presentation, the game looks wonderful. I was aware that the game was locked at 30 FPS before I played this, but it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the visuals whatsoever. While it isn't the best-looking game on the Switch graphically, it still looks quite good, and the tasty mixture of detailed backgrounds, vibrant colors, crisp animations, and sweeping orchestral music all help to make Star Allies a treat for the eyes and ears. 

When all the stars align and the pieces all fit together, the game can be a true sight to behold. 

But cutesy presentation so sweet that it'll give you cavities is only half of Kirby's shtick. What about the gameplay?

It is, again, your typical Kirby setup, with copy abilities, the usual array of themed stages to run through, bosses and mini-bosses, and a few mini-games and harder post-game modes to unlock after beating the main adventure that fans of the series should be familiar with by now. The biggest differences revolve around what's been done to mix up the returning co-op feature, which the game is heavily built around. 

Kirby can now throw "friend hearts" at any enemy he encounters that possesses a copy ability that he could normally absorb, and it will turn them into a friend who will fight alongside him, a "Star Ally" if you will. Every enemy-turned-friend has the full ability move-set that Kirby himself would have if he had swallowed them, giving them full combat and problem-solving versatility, and human players controlling these friends can also throw friend hearts, giving them control over what they turn into just like Kirby's normal copy ability.  

The other major addition is the ability to combine and enhance certain copy abilities through the power of teamwork. Certain copy abilities have elemental properties like fire and ice which can be applied to many other copy abilities in order to raise their strength, defeat special enemies, and solve various puzzles. There are also a few special moves to be found by mixing and matching different abilities, and while there aren't too many super crazy combos to be found, there is some incentive to experiment with what you've got.

Chef Kawasaki's been letting this one stew for a while.

And in regard to the copy abilities themselves, I think Star Allies may have one of the best and most well-rounded selections of copy abilities that I've seen in the series so far. HAL achieved a nice balance of new, old, fun, cool, and practical.

Old fan favorites like Plasma, Chef, and Beetle return to my delight, with the unfortunate exclusion of others like Wheel, Mirror, and Spark. Every new ability is a knockout, from the combat variety of Spider to the practical uses of Staff to the ludicrous amount of advantages in Cleaning. I enjoyed every new ability immensely and wish that every Kirby game could have this many new abilities that are this good with every installment. Don't even get me started on Artist.   

Where the Game Drops the Ball

There are three major issues I had with this game that brought it down for me, and I feel they're pretty simple issues to explain: the game's overall difficulty, length, and how safe it played its content and ideas. Let's start with the game's difficulty because that's always an interesting debate when it comes to Kirby games.

And I know what some people are going to say: "Oh come on, it's Kirby, it's supposed to be easy, you can't complain about that." Well, that's just it. Kirby games are easy, yes, but they're still usually engaging on a moment-to-moment basis, and Star Allies is not only even easier than most standard Kirby games, but its gameplay in general feels much more streamlined.

I feel like most of these gameplay issues stem from the level design. There have been adjustments made to the typical Kirby level structure to accommodate for the four player co-op, such as larger numbers of enemies and broader, more open pathways in general, but a certain amount of complexity has been lost.   

Nearly every obstacle takes the form of a row of enemies or a brief ambush -- usually of typical enemies rather than a mini-boss -- all of which are extremely easy to cheese your way through if you've got three friends with you, real or imaginary. If it's not that, it's an obstacle that involves one or more specific abilities to solve, which are always reliably either right next to the puzzle or just outside the room for you to effortlessly grab and either take yourself or add to your team.

On that subject, the puzzles in particular have really taken a hit. Again, while they were rarely truly difficult, puzzles in previous Kirby games were still diversions that made you think, and one or two could be real head-scratchers. In this game, I think there was maybe one, maybe two puzzles where I didn't immediately understand what I had to do in order to solve it. It's especially odd coming from HAL, who have put out a number of solid and enjoyable puzzle games in the past like The Adventures of Lolo and BoxBoy! (or the recent Part Time UFO). 

There were puzzles I would have expected from the first or second world of other Kirby games happening in the final world, and it just started to annoy me after a while how simple everything was. After a while, I felt like I was playing parts of this game on auto-pilot.

This puzzle pops up in the middle of the last world of the game. Unfortunately it doesn't get much more complicated than this.

On top of all that, I managed to beat the main campaign mostly by myself in around six hours, and that was with me doing most of the extra unlockable stages. Those six or so hours were still all fun, but they lacked in really memorable moments or surprises for me.

Compared to the last main installment in the series, Kirby: Planet Robobot, the game is shorter by several hours, less aesthetically unique, and doesn't have any mechanics nearly as unique as that game's robot armor, or even the fully fleshed-out weapon combinations of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards that Star Allies dabbles with. The new group abilities like the Friend Wheel and Friend Bridge do make for some fun, but they aren't used enough to really take advantage of their mechanics in full.

The boss fights -- while often fun and a bit challenging -- are mostly predictable and consist mostly of the normal series antagonists and scenarios that we've seen so many times before. And while there is no padding in the form of a boss gauntlet (like in, say, Triple Deluxe), a few boss fights are re-fought seemingly for the purpose of just having more boss fights. Level themes and mini-bosses are recolored and reused fairly often, and while the different approach to level progression initially interested me, in the end it didn't do much to help the game or its story hold a sense of cohesiveness. 

While this autumn mood is quite pleasant to look at, it's little more than an aesthetic change for a level and a half of the green forest setting that dominated the first world.

The post game content and mini games are fun, and a decent change of pace and upping of challenge, but they're the kind of thing we've seen in one form or another with Kirby for the longest time -- only there's less of it. That really sums it up, honestly; what's here is genuinely good, even great at times, but they just didn't bring enough new stuff to the table, or enough stuff in general.   

It's Hard to Really Be THAT Mad at a Kirby Game 

I should reiterate that I did enjoy my time with Kirby Star Allies, and I am glad I played it. I'll likely play it again in the future with a full group of friends once they aren't all busy, but even if I had gone through the whole thing with friends, it would have still felt a bit underwhelming to me.

While everything that's here is pretty solid and balanced, and there are quite a few really great high points, the experience as a whole was one of the lesser Kirby games for me. It's definitely more of a Squeak Squad than a Super Star Ultra. It's about as close to a "standard" Kirby game as any other installment in the series has been for a wile.

Can I recommend Kirby Star Allies? Yeah, I'd say so, for sure. But probably not at full price if you're looking for a game that will last you a long time. It's a good game that I'm glad I played, and I'd say is still worth playing, but maybe wait for a price drop or a major content update before buying in.

There are still highlights of course. The copy ability selection is really good this time around, the co-op is a lot of fun when you're all working together, the presentation is pleasant, and I'm not even joking when I say this game probably has the best final boss in any Kirby game. I'm serious, if the rest of Star Allies was even half as creative and fun as the final boss, then this could have been the best Kirby game hands down.

If you're a Kirby enthusiast, you'll still probably really enjoy it, and it's a great game to buy for your kids or younger family members to play with them, but it's lacking in those big surprises and left-field unique elements that characterize Kirby at its best. 

Kirby Star Allies is available now for Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game down below:

Kings and Combat! Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom Review Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:08:37 -0400 Littoface

Politics. War. Petty squabbles over land, weapons, and resources. This is the reality of our world, and every era feels like the worst to those who live through it. But what if we all stopped arguing for a moment and tried to get along? Is it possible to live in peace and harmony, the whole world under rule of one kind and wise overseer? Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum sure hopes so, because that's precisely what he's hoping to accomplish.

When Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom begins, Evan has just been overthrown by a coup from his post as young king of Ding Dong Dell. Forced to flee, he escapes from his home and embarks on a quest for growth, both as a person and as a king. Accompanied by a stranger from a different world, a sky pirate and his daughter, and a motley crew of other friends and companions, the young and innocent Evan sets out to unite the people of the world into one nation.

And he, of course, will be the king to rule over it all.

The Making of a King

First, he needs a Kingmaker — a (usually) glorious creature that gives mortals the right to rule over a kingdom. Then, it follows, he needs a kingdom. But that's just a small setback for Evan and his closest companion, Roland. They briskly acquire the (decidedly unimpressive) kingmaker Lofty and find a spot to build. And just like that, a kingdom is born.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a tale about countries, people, and the strength and mental fortitude necessary to rule over them all with a fair mind and a steady hand. With Roland's political know-how and Evan's energetic optimism, the two make many friends (and a few enemies) on their path to form a kingdom the likes of which no one has ever seen.

While the first Ni No Kuni game focused on a very internal struggle, this time around the stakes are much higher. This entry in the series examines what it takes to be a good leader. It highlights in an exaggerated but effective way what happens when rulers and governments forget that their job is, primarily, to protect the well-being of their citizens. The right to hold such a tremendous power over a nation, as of a king or a president, is not a task that should be taken lightly. In the game's fantasy world, a king losing sight of his role can have catastrophic results.

Even more troubling is the mysterious being who follows the darkness in people's hearts and steals their kingly power. If Evan is to create a unified world, he certainly has his work cut out for him.

This World Feels Familiar...

Returning fans of the series will be glad to hear that, despite the much grander and more mature themes, Ni No Kuni 2 retains the playfulness and charm of its predecessor. Puns abound as the story unfolds with exuberant highs and dramatic lows. Characters and monsters are often adorable or awesome and always memorable, and the ridiculously silly elemental creatures called higgledies are impossibly fun to watch as they run behind you gleefully (occasionally face-planting into the ground).

As the story unfolds, it highlights each character's strengths and weaknesses. Though many moments are grave and serious, there's always plenty of silliness to go around (like Lofty and the power of his… boogers?). And underneath it all is a distinctly fairytale tone which recalls the Studio Ghibli origins of the series: Evan wishes to end senseless fighting and rule over a kingdom where everyone can "live happily ever after."

It's precisely this naivete that makes him such an engaging main character. You can't help but cheer for this honest, kind young man who is really still a child. Roland, on the other hand, is an experienced ruler in his own right. His past is only hinted at for a while, but it's clear he's had plenty of chances to hone his political expertise… and maybe make a few mistakes in the process. His involvement with Evan feels almost like a way to redeem himself and nurture the kindness and courage of this openly naive young leader.

If you haven't played the first game, you might draw some parallels to a different world: our own. Rather than returning to the idyllic 1950s aesthetic of the first game, this installment is thrust into a more modern and complex setting. There are clear allegories to the way our modern world works, from the jarring first cutscene, to "Leafbook"—the world's equivalent of Facebook (complete with status updates, comments, and likes).

If you have played the first game, you might search for the deeper meaning to Ni No Kuni 2. We'll spell it out for you here: People in power are not always just, and those who try to be are often hindered by our easily-corruptible human nature. Evan represents that childish glimmer of hope that maybe — just maybe — everyone can put their differences aside and just get along.

Dynamic, Multi-faceted Combat

The world is rife with monsters, but luckily the game's ragtag team is adept at fighting them. The combat system is a complex juggling act which starts out intimidating but quickly becomes second nature. You control only one of the characters at a time, directing their melee and ranged attacks and unleashing powerful skills. Which character you choose is irrelevant as the AI does an excellent job on its own — it all comes down to your own personal preferences and playing styles.

Each character in your party of three can equip three melee weapons, one ranged weapon, four spells, and a full suit of armor of your choosing. Each melee weapon increases in power until a skill is used and resets the gauge, and players can switch between weapons automatically or manually (or both). Skills take MP, which, unlike in many other games, refill over time during combat.

Players have free reign of the battlefield and can attack, guard, and dodge however they wish. The aforementioned higgledies are more than just comedic effect: They act as powerful allies in battle, whose skills can make or break a fight. Their skills buff and attack, and choosing the right team of higgles is an important part of combat preparation.

This makes for some hectic but fun battles, and the pace is further enhanced by the seamless transition between exploration and battle anywhere outside the overworld map. Further combat options are available through the Tactic Tweaker, which allows players to use sliders to strengthen or alter certain effects (at the expense of others). These sliders are not permanent and can be adjusted on the fly to suit whatever area you happen to be exploring at the moment — a fact which makes combat even more involved and complex.

Occasionally, Lofty throws out a shining orb of light, which "Awaken" the powers of whichever character catches it, powering them up temporarily.

If this absurdly vast level of customization is not enough for you, there are also skirmishes to be fought, in which Evan leads troops against other organized forces in large-scale battles across a stretch of land. These skirmishes have their own rules, controls, and skills to master. While normal battles can be hectic and fun, the skirmishes provide a challenging aside to regular exploration.

Build a Kingdom

Finally, we come to the aspect of Ni No Kuni 2 that many people were probably looking forward to: the kingdom-building. When you finally get around to this aspect of the game, at first glance, it feels like a very well-designed… mobile game?

The mechanics, at least, are surprisingly familiar. You begin by building four main ministries, then you can add onto your kingdom by building and expanding other places, like stores, resource-gathering operations, a restaurant, and other useful things to have in a thriving kingdom. You can expand your castle to grow your kingdom, or direct all your efforts (and money) toward researching cool new things for your party or increasing your kingdom's level of influence in the grand scheme of things.

Managing and maintaining your kingdom costs Kingdom Guilders (KG), a separate currency from your personal bank, which fills up over time as your hard-working citizens give your their money. You can also gather items this way, either to sell or to use for yourself. You have no control over where buildings are placed, but you decide everything else, including who works at which building.

The details are a lot more intricate, of course, and luckily, new structures are built instantly (research, however, takes real time). You can then use your KG to help you in other areas of the game, like using some of the currency to reset your battle point distribution in your Tactics Tweaker.

All this feels very familiar (just replace the "KG" moniker with "Gems"). Does it work? Well, absolutely. Without the need for microtransactions interfering with the game's design, this kingdom-building aspect is actually, well, pretty fun. Like the combat system, it's also incredibly complex and requires some multitasking. It turns out, it's pretty easy to run a kingdom; running a kingdom expertly, however, takes some more experimentation and attention.

This is fantastic news for those to just want to set up the details and let things run themselves, as well as for those who enjoy a more tactical, hands-on approach to things.

The best part of unlocking the kingdom-building aspect of Ni No Kuni 2, though, is the huge amount of new options you unlock with it. Creating your kingdom gives you access to crafting weapons and armor (finally, a use for all those items we've been carrying around and picking up everywhere!), cooking, managing and unlocking new spells, upgrading and cooking up new higgledies (literally), and so much more. The more time you dedicate to your kingdom, the more options become available, and the more useful they become.

Our biggest qualm about this aspect is the same issue that keeps us from giving this game a solid 9: It takes forever to get to this point. The game drips new information and gameplay aspects to players over time, understandably not wanting to dump this huge amount of info on a newbie at the risk of overwhelming gamers. But the result is a slow pace that leaves you feeling like you're still playing a tutorial ten hours into the game.

Music, Exploration, and Everything Else

Of course, Ni No Kuni 2 is about more than just fighting and building kingdoms. When it comes to exploration, level design, music, and every other aspect of gameplay, the game absolutely shines. There are no tedious walks back and forth between locations as right from the very beginning players are able to move freely between any warp point they've encountered, even to various points inside dungeons, from anywhere in the world. This is one huge plus to Ni No Kuni 2, as the unnecessary trudge of travel is gone. Later on, you can even use your kingdom to increase your walking speed in the world map, eliminating some of the biggest cons of many other RPGs.

There are still plenty of reasons to explore the overworld, though, one of which being how adorable the chibi versions that the characters assume in this space. Other than that, there are resources to gather, treasures to discover, and, of course, battles to be fought. Between exploring the main world and progressing through the main and side quests, fighting never becomes too difficult, and there is rarely a reason to grind.

Another reason to explore is for the sheer joy of it. Every location you visit has sweeping, gorgeous views that will have you pressing the screenshot button like a tourist. And every location is accompanied by beautiful orchestral music — for instance, can you imagine Oriental-themed casino music? Because this game nailed that unusual combination for the city of Goldenpaw.

Voice acting is plentiful and as spot-on as in the first game with the English versions really shining since they use actual kids for the child characters — with an especially strong performance from Tani's young voice actress, whose voice is incredibly fitting for the feisty young sky pirate's daughter.

Final Verdict!

The focus on story is still very much present in every instant of Ni No Kuni 2, as characters talk among themselves occasionally while interactions over side-quests keep the charm going no matter what you're doing. Still, as strong as the story is, it competes for attention with exploration, combat, skirmishes, tactical kingdom management, and much more.

This is both the game's strength and weakness. On one hand, the huge amount of things you can do ensure there is never a dull moment. Bored of running around fighting? Pause to craft some new weapons. Don't feel like following the main quest yet? Go pick a fight in a skirmish. The story progression is linear, but the gameplay certainly isn't. In this, the game shines with the sheer amount of content to explore, things to do, items to collect. You can even control the flow of battle thanks to the tactical sliders.

On the other hand, all this can feel like too much content, especially for returning players. The Ni No Kuni fans know and love was a very straightforward RPG with a strong focus on story progression but just enough wiggle room to explore as you wish. Ni No Kuni 2, however, is an absolutely huge game with a massive amount of details, options, and ways to play. It can feel a bit overwhelming, and that ultimately detracts from the overall cohesiveness of the game. At times all the details come together in a very satisfying way; but at other times, it feels like a hodge-podge of ideas thrown together.

Don't get us wrong! Ni No Kuni 2 is an immensely satisfying and fun game, with a ton more complexity than you might expect from such a cute-looking style. It comments freely on the world we live in by mirroring aspects of it within its story. It gives you a taste of power, and an idea of how much inner-strength someone needs to have the fate of hundreds or thousands of people in your hands. And, like a good game should, it makes you feel.

Overall, Ni No Kuni 2 accomplishes what it sets out to do: It's a fun but deep fantasy world with heroes who remind us there is good in the world and villains who remind us that sometimes the worst-seeming people are just… misguided. It could be a more unified playing experience, and the pace is a tad too slow, but in the end It's an excellent game that has every right to bear the name of its predecessor. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Ni No Kuni 2 used for this review.]

Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam Review Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:55:10 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's C922 Pro Stream webcam has been on the market for a good while now. Released in 2016, this version is improved over the lauded C920, and it's one specifically geared toward providing pro-quality video to new and veteran streamers alike. 

Coming in at an affordable $99, the C922 has proven over the last two years to be a widely popular webcam: Dozens of streamers use it for their broadcasts every day, and it's easily made Top 10 lists around the web for its crisp video and sleek design. It also helps that the C922 is intuitive and easy to set up. 

We recently decided it was time to take the C922 for a spin and see what all the fuss was about. Here's what we thought. 


Out of the box, the C922 comes in two parts: the webcam itself and a detachable tripod. Both are sleek, if understated, and will fit right in with all the other peripherals on your desk. The point of a webcam isn't to call attention to itself, and the C922's utilitarian aesthetic nails that ethos. 

Looking at the wedge-shaped cam itself, the C922 has a single lens in the center and two omnidirectional microphones on either side. When the webcam is in use, two soft-white, half-moon lights flash to easily indicate you're live. With Logitech's more recent push to incorporate more RGB elements into their products, the C922's soft-white is a bit drab knowing what could be -- but then again, you can't fault a two-year-old product for not implementing more recent design decisions.  

Underneath the lens, the webcam is seated on a sturdy, L-shaped clip which has an adjustable mechanism that allows it to be clipped to a monitor (or other display). When in use, most of the clip sits on the back of what it's connected to. In most cases, I didn't find that to be a problem, but thinner displays may prove a tad fickle depending on the make and model. 

If you find yourself falling into that boat, or just don't want to mount the C922 on your display, then the included tripod is going to be your best bet. The bottom of the L-shaped clip is where you'll find the threaded hole for the tripod. Once attached, you can position the webcam how you want it and lock it into place. 

At its initial height, the tripod stands at about 7 inches when fully unfolded. Depending on your setup, this might work for you or it might not. I found that the tripod was the easiest, sturdiest way to mount the C922, but I also found that it didn't always provide the most flattering angles. In the end, it's completely up to personal preference since the tripod and clip both work as advertised. 

Lastly, the C922's 5-foot cable means you can basically place the webcam anywhere on your setup. It's nice to see a webcam afford its users flexibility in this regard, even if I'd prefer the cable to be braided instead of the usual plastic. 


Considering you buy webcams to actually use them and not look at them sitting on your desk, we're all really here to see how the C922 performs. And from our time with it, we can say it performs exceedingly well. 

The C922 camera can record (or display) video at both 1080p and 720p. However, unlike the C920, the C922 is able to hit 60 FPS at both resolutions, making it a much better option than its predecessor. What's more, whether you're streaming on Twitch or catching up with pals via Skype, this webcam's video is super crisp and clear. 

With the C922's easy-to-install software, you can tweak a ton of settings, too. Everything from contrast to field of view and more has a dial to turn. Even in low-light conditions, the C922 performs very well, taking photos and capturing video that were clear and essentially lag-free. 

Integrating the C922 into something like OBS is hassle-free. In my experience, I took the C922 out of the box, attached it to the tripod, plugged it in, and started using it in the streaming software in less than five minutes. And that's on the initial setup. When you're a streamer or YouTuber, time is always of the essence, so it's great to see that Logitech's made a quality webcam that's super simple to use. 

When it comes to actually streaming, I tested the C922 on my high(er)-end desktop. With an i7-770k 4.2GHz processor, 32GB of RAM, and a GTX 1080 8GB in my rig, I was able to stream Warhammer: Vermintide 2 on Twitch without too many issues. Although I would've liked to have gotten a solid 60 FPS, I was able to get 1080p video out of the C922 at about 45-50 FPS -- even with streaming the game on High settings at 2560x1440. That's pretty damn good for a $99 webcam. In fact, I'd argue it's more than enough for your average streamer.  

Green Screen Effect

OBS Chroma Cam capture dark room

The C922 Pro Stream also comes with Personify Chroma Cam, which lets you put various overlays on your video, among other things. But its biggest draw is that it purportedly allows you to remove your background sans green screen. In theory, it's an awesome bit of tech, saving you the hassle of buying and setting up your own green screen. But in practice, it's more hit or miss. 

If you're in a brightly lit room, Chroma Cam does a pretty darn good job of removing your background, although if you're like me and wear glasses, there are some areas that it just won't remove, such right through the lenses. In a darker room, Chroma Cam is considerably choppier, cutting off parts of your ears and head if you move too much -- or not removing all of the background, such as your chair. 

If you want to look as professional as you possibly can when you're streaming, it's a bit hard to rely on Chroma Cam to get things done. You're still going to want to grab a green screen and go that route. But if that type of thing doesn't bother you too much, then the C922's Chroma Cam works fine enough. 


Right now, this two-year-old webcam is still one of the very best on the market -- especially at its price point. Its popularity is underlined by its easy setup and ability to output 1080p video at 60 frames per second. It works with OBS and Xsplit out of the box, as well as PC, Mac, and Xbox One. 

It might not have all the bells and whistles found in other webcams, but it provides the essentials in a convincing manner. Sure, Chroma Cam green screen can be hit or miss, but most software solutions to background removal encounter issues from time to time anyway (that's why a lot of streamers still use actual green screens). Just buy the C922 and a green screen -- and you're more than future-proofing your setup. 

Reliability often comes at a price, but Logitech is giving it away at a steal.  

You can buy the C922 Pro Stream on Amazon for $99.

[Note: Logitech provided the C922 Pro Stream webcam used in this review.]

The Council Episode One: The Mad Ones Review Fri, 16 Mar 2018 12:35:02 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Few people truly enjoy confrontation. For most of us, it's something so painfully uncomfortable and awkward that we spend most of our waking moments scheming the best ways to avoid it. But the formula for any good narrative adventure embraces it, and The Council thrusts us into a world mirroring our own complex existence. 

In some ways, The Council's first episode, The Mad Ones, does a fantastic job of filling its confrontations with what feel like real stakes, all while iterating on the traditional design elements found in modern narrative adventures like The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls. Using a unique RPG-inspired system, Big Bad Wolf's first foray into the genre puffs new life into the drafty house that TellTale built. It's a game that truly respects player agency -- attaching firm, tangible weight to each and every decision. 

But in other ways, The Council feels incomplete in its current form. From a sporadic, at times tone-deaf score to unnerving character animations and more we'll unpack later on, The Council in some ways fails to capture the essential pieces of what so many other genre staples have already perfected. For as much attention as it pays to constructing its interesting story and eerie diegesis, The Council cannot (or perhaps will not) completely confront the demons undermining it.

The Council Sir Gregory Holm

The Council wastes no time thrusting you into delicate and tricky situations. Summoned to a secluded English island by the powerful and mysterious Lord Mortimer, you discover yourself in the very place your mother disappeared only days before. You're surrounded by the upper echelon of 1790s society, such as a powerful duchess and then president of the United States, George Washington, just to name two. 

It's a strange scene in which to find yourself and requires a bit of suspended disbelief, but The Council doesn't give you long to dwell on its strange historical conundrums (such as how Washington found time to secret away to the creepy abode of an old English pal for a murder mystery party during his presidency). Instead, it sets you about searching for your mother -- and questioning everyone in attendance. 

As you set about unfurling the mystery at hand, you'll find that The Council isn't your ordinary Twine extravaganza -- where you mindlessly choose questions and answers from an ultimately inconsequential dialog tree. Instead, The Council's choices instantly feel meaningful, carrying weight with them from the first encounter to the last. And that's because of the game's interestingly iterative skill system. 

The Council Skill Tree

Much like an RPG, The Council has schema dedicated to developing character skills and traits. Through your encounters, you gain skill points for various activities and in-world discoveries. You can then use those points to enhance 15 skills that fall under three main trees: Occultist, Detective, and Diplomat. Each of these overarching masteries provides you with competencies in areas such as logic, etiquette, subterfuge, and manipulation. There are even sub-levels within each of the trees that will help you become more proficient in one area over another. 

You use these skills to uncover secrets and win favor. But you also use them in what The Council calls Confrontations. Essentially, these are boss battles that require you to strategically maneuver conversations and situations to come out the victor. Sometimes that means not getting your face smashed in by a rebellious brute, and sometimes it means finally kneading out the final piece of a confounding puzzle. 

This system is made more complex by something called Blunders. Essentially, each Confrontation gives you a set amount of poor -- or "wrong" -- dialog choices. Say the wrong thing too many times, and you lose, potentially missing out on a key piece of information or an important activity that will change the course of the game forever. 

On top of all that, you also have what are called Effort Points. For some conversations, activities, and Confrontations, you'll have the option to exploit character or environmental weaknesses. Depending on the level of the required skill, dialog and/or action choices will show you how many Effort Points it will take to succeed. If you have enough effort points, it's basically like cheating (hint: you easily succeed). However, if you don't have enough Effort Points, you can't use the choice or action at all. 

Louis wins confrontation against Emily in The Council

Coupled with more than 30 traits and 45 talents (all of which also have their own unique advantages and disadvantages), it's a system that adds incredible variety and replay value to The Council. Add to that the fact that each character has their own immunity and vulnerability, and each conversation and confrontation feels exceptionally unique -- no matter how many times you experience them. 

I will take a moment to admit that it all can be a little daunting from time to time. As my wife watched me play The Council, she remarked how the menu system is a bit on the obtuse side -- and I tend to agree.

Even as a seasoned gamer who's played many, many RPGs, it was a bit tiring trying to remember the criteria for unlocking a certain talent, or what skill did what in which situation, or who said what when and how they said it. 

But in the end, I felt that my decisions were really going to matter in the next episode -- and that's a lot more than I can say about many other games in the genre. 

George Washington Gives a toast with characters around a dinner table

The problem, though, is that for all its intricacies and the additions it brings to an arguably stale genre, The Council has quite a few blemishes that are difficult to overlook. Ostensibly, they're ones that are painfully difficult to confront considering the potential this game carries on its shoulders. 

From sound design and voice work to character animations and a few glaring narrative anachronisms, The Council lacks the polish it deserves. In many ways, it feels meticulously developed and rushed all at once. 

In some scenes, the score tumbles over itself, one second delivering foreboding, ominous tones, and in the next, comedic, slapstick timbres reminiscent of a Weird Al record -- not a somber tale of mystery. In other scenes, the voice work is inarguably atrocious, specifically for the main character. His ineffectual delivery is only made more prominent by the often pinpoint delivery of other, more believable characters. 

And finally, the distracting and sometimes utterly terrifying character animations... From the stills in this review, you'd never know The Council's characters carry more terror in a single pixel than Stephen King carries in his entire body. From robotic head tilts to horrifying maws that gnaw at what I can only imagine are invisible bones, there were moments where I couldn't look away as the horror of it all devoured my soul. 

Ok. The disappointing animations aren't that serious, but for a game that looks so incredibly polished in screens and trailers, it's disappointing to see such stiff, unnatural movements and facial expressions from these well-designed characters. I know Big Bad Wolf isn't a major studio, but if any game could have benefited from mo-cap, it was this one. 


Despite my misgivings about The Council's first episode, The Mad Ones, I'm optimistic about its future. It uses good writing to tell a fun, compelling story full of intricate characters. I'm infinitely interested to see where it takes me. 

If future episodes are able to iron out some of the rough spots that haunt The Mad Ones, The Council has the potential to be the game that changed the narrative genre forever. If it leaves its awkwardness behind, that's a confrontation I think it can win.

You can buy The Council on Steam for $29.99.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of The Council for this review]. 

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Review Wed, 14 Mar 2018 16:00:14 -0400 Vrothgarr

Stories are heavy. Dirty truths and pretty lies, mashed up by the wild, unpredictable embellishments that coalesce around folktales time after time, all form the myths we know, love, and fear today. As mechanics and aesthetics serve as central pillars of video games, storytelling is as inextricably linked to the medium as any other, and that’s the core foundation that the award-winning Where the Water Tastes Like Wine beautifully builds upon.

As the debut effort of indie studio Dim Bulb Games, featuring a talented group of writers and a star-studded voice acting cast, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine eagerly explores the “mythological Americana folk adventure point-and-click visual novel” genre with an eerily unnerving but deeply loved austerity.

Folk Gaming

On its face, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a standard point-and-click adventure and choice-driven visual novel experience. Inside, the game is a unique storytelling experience in the truest sense of the phrase. Set in the prime realization of manifest destiny (turn of the 20th century America), it’s reminiscent of classic games that focus deeply on American mythology like The Oregon Trail and The Wolf Among Us, or novels like American Gods.

“It’s one big story, this country, woven of many small ones. Few of the small ones are strictly true, and the big story is mostly a lie.”

Like a good American folktale, it starts with gambling. You’ve indebted yourself to a card shark (or card wolf, rather), who just happens to have a way you can pay him back. You’re to carry stories for the wolf you owe, from sea to shining sea. You craft your first story for the wolf, choosing from several Tarot-esque cards to decide what very basic stories you’ll have in your repertoire as you set off to roam the country. Build on your first stories, collect more, share them, repeat. Story after story, your goal is to pay your debt, and find the mythical land where the water tastes like wine.

Journey for Stories

The wolf strips you of anything you were (literally and metaphorically), and sets you off to travel the country paying off your debt, one story at a time. You start in New England, specifically Maine, which is probably the best corner of the country to introduce the player to the mechanics of the game and the stories. You can follow the path before you or branch off to seek stories out in the distance. The way this game addresses the stories that create a uniquely American mythology is engrossing and inspiring. There is a deeply seated “one more turn” drive at the end of each story that leaves you yearning to share it, grow it, or just tell it.

The animation’s impressionist style is a perfect match for the surreal weirdness of the mythological nature of the game. The tales, characters, and backgrounds are starkly real but idealized, cartoonishly beautiful but also terrifying. Old things in a new and savage land. The rough, dirty brush strokes represent a diverse and wild land deep in the throes of some of its most defining growing pains.

A Travelin' Narrative Craftsman

The studio’s strength is definitely in 2D animation. It’s not the most beautiful overworld, sparse and uncomfortably scaled. Travel is further hampered by a vague map, incorrectly colored in places with inaccurate highways. Hitchhiking is useful, if a bit difficult to execute, not to mention only going one way. As an alternative to hitchhiking or trains, the novelty of whistling as you walk to speed up is a perfect way to engage and move the player wherever their heart will take them.

Yet, the graphics overall are effective in establishing the diverse look and feel of the country. The pace of your movement suits the this method of travel from state to state, as you absorb and disseminate the stories and lives that are so uniquely American.

Which is exactly what Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is about: living out the ideals of ol’ timey railroad hoppin’ bums, the heart of American folktales, by the dozens. Travel from town to town, picking up stories and sharing them, watching them change from telling to telling, each evolving around a well-written cast of different characters. You’ve got all night to tell your stories ... but once the sun comes up, it’s time to move on. You can build not just on the stories you tell, but the relationships that telling these stories will form with the main characters you meet on the road. Get to know them, what a funny story is to them, and build on that to greater ends.

The Sound of a Nation

The music is perfectly, mythologically American. It’s a dusty guitar or plinky banjo, a somber violin, soulful voices, and wooden stomp clap percussion. Real folkish fare that captures the spirit of a traveling American storyteller.

The voice-over work for these characters features truly incredible performances from some of the greatest voice actors working today. The wolf is expertly voiced by a talented musician who is at first difficult to recognize, but who delivers intimate, versatile acting: Sting, lead singer and bassist for The Police. Each of the dozen or so main characters features a talented voice actor, and their own writer as well, which contributes to the prismatic nature of the stories and the narrative pastiche it creates for the game as a whole.

Stories exist in every place, every nook and cranny of the country. Rural areas are where you can find stories and characters alike. Cities offer greater interaction, with stores and train stations, as well as job opportunities and chances to explore. Apparently we forgot the story of the Great American Invisible Wall project, because Canada and Mexico are off limits.

One Hell of a Tall Tale

As an American, I found a soft spot for this flawed but beautiful experience of ramblin' through the bleak, grimy patchwork that is American mythology. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine certainly has its weaknesses, but in the spirit of the wretched, teeming experience that is the subject matter of the game, even those flaws became endearing.

At the end of the session (or the game, really), you develop a deep sense of attachment to stories that weren’t yours. But you carried them across the land, you watched them change, you learned and taught, each success or failure just another in a string of opportunities in a land chock full of them.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is available now on Steam for $19.99 USD.

Danmaku Unlimited 3 -- The Only Shmup You'll Need? Wed, 14 Mar 2018 15:04:25 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Today, Doragon Entertainment released Danmaku Unlimited 3 for the Nintendo Switch. After revisiting it on a new platform, I gained new questions. Is this the best version of the game you can play? Is this one of the best indie titles on the Switch? Is this the best shmup released in recent years? 

Danmaku Unlimited 3 (DU3) is a top-down vertical arcade shooter. The Danmaku Unlimited series has been inspired by bullet hell shooters. By design these are games that normally have you surviving waves of enemies throughout each stage. These games are also notorious for seemingly high levels of difficulty. Over time, they've craved out a respectable niche.

The Not-So-Friendly Skies

Although the story is very vague, the player is thrown into the fray and proceeds to fight an unnamed army. The title takes place across seven stages, each named symbolically to piece together the narrative. The plot has loose parallels to the tasks of Valkyries and a pilot's duty.

Each stage take place in well-designed 2D spaces. As you progress, every backdrop appears more and more menacing. This is purposeful, to tell you visually that things are getting dangerous. From the vicinity of your space station to the ruinous cities of an unnamed planet, you are on a journey to hell and back again where no dialogue is needed. Why not enjoy the scenery ... while you avoid all the bullets.

Control and Comfort

The Nintendo Switch version of this game is the definitive version to own, mainly due to the options you have with control preferences. I found handheld to be the best. There's no change or downgrade of visuals if you go from TV to handheld. Handheld is the best from a personal perspective, and it allows you to bring the action anywhere and everywhere.

Alpha and Omega

DU3 is an interesting game overall, and if you've never played a shmup or have not played them for years, it is all that you need. The game has been built from the ground up to present the genre that has been around since the 1970s.

Like its predecessors, you are tasked with clearing the game and obtaining the highest score possible. To do this, you have to shoot down enemy ships, chain your attacks, and use the special graze system. The graze system, as its name implies, allows you to absorb bullets as they graze you. With enough energy you activate a trance mode. In this mode, you'll be glowing gold and possess even greater attack power and invisibility for a short period.

The game itself features an easy mode and hard mode. Easy mode doesn't feel easy for the unassuming player. Hard mode is well ... only for the most hardcore. The title also features unlockable weapons (with demanding prerequisites), leaderboards, and so forth.

As the game uses high-end 2D sprites, it's one of the most visually striking titles you'll play. The game is also vibrant and features a plethora of details you may not notice all at first. You will keep coming back for more before you know it.

All Things Considered

Danmaku Unlimited 3, despite being a solid title, isn't without its hiccups. The game's difficulty works against it as much as it helps it. There will be a small number of players who will appreciate its hardcore nature; others unfortunately will not. Hardcore games like this are often viewed as archaic. Again, this isn't so much a criticism but an observation.

The Definitive Experience

When you step back and realize this game was the work of one man, the feat is more astonishing. Developer Sunny Tam took a lifelong passion and made a modern-day masterpiece. He didn't sacrifice the natural difficulty of the genre but instead embraced its hardcore sensibilities. Admittedly, it'll take a certain kind of player to enjoy everything this title represents and provides as an experience. If you are that kind of player, this will be the only shmup you'll need for your Nintendo Switch because I doubt you'll find better.

Fans of indie games and shmups can find Danmaku Unlimited 3 available for the Nintendo eShop.

Note: A review code was provided by publisher.

SteelSeries Arctis Pro+ and Pro Wireless Headset Review Tue, 13 Mar 2018 12:52:58 -0400 Jonathan Moore

SteelSeries' Arctis headsets are already widely popular among gamers for their comfort, ease of use, and sound. With the release of the Arctis Pro line of gaming headsets, I'd posit they're about to get a lot more popular -- including with a subset of typically hard-to-please audiophiles.

Coming in two variants -- a wired Pro+ GameDAC version and a Wireless Pro Bluetooth version -- this new Arctis echelon focuses on high-quality, high-fidelity sounds for the PS4 and PC. The line sports an improved design, sturdy construction, and a few bells and whistles you don't typically find on most gaming headsets these days.

There's a lot to love here, and I'd wager these are the best headsets SteelSeries has ever released. Combining some of the technology found in the Siberia line of headsets, these new cans allow for nuanced customization for almost any setup.

The only "big" downsides are that they're fairly expensive when compared to many gaming headsets on the market, and they're both a bit cumbersome to set up out of the box. They're high-end for sure -- and going toe to toe with the likes of Sennheiser, ASUS, and Astro, they ought to be. If you've got the budget for these bad boys, you won't be disappointed.  

Arctis Pro Wireless headset


Whereas other headsets in the Arctis line have felt a bit flimsy in the past, the Arctis Pro tier feels anything but. Made with premium materials, the Arctis Pro+ and the Arctis Pro Wireless are made of sturdy aluminum alloy and steel across the headband and hangers, with bits of resilient plastic gracing the outside of each removable, customizable earcup. Sporting a gunmetal gray finish, the headset itself has a more elegant appearance than those headsets in the original line. 

Both sets of cans feature the same comfortable ski-goggle headband found in other Arctis models, while the earcups seem bigger and more agreeable than those on the Arctis 5 and Arctis 7. Moving to the left earcup, you'll find a retractable mic on the front of each set, as well as inputs and controls on the back. 

Something I find more pleasing on these headsets than the others in the Arctis line is that the mic mute buttons and volume scroll wheels are more prominent and textured this time around. This makes them easier to find and use in-game or during streams; finding them before was a pain, so I'm glad to see this improved in these prestige models. 

And as for the Wireless model specifically, SteelSeries has made the Bluetooth button more identifiable in this model (in comparison to the Arctis 3 Bluetooth model). On the outside, it's not a huge, headset-selling improvement, but from a usability standpoint, such an improvement is appreciated. 

Esports Player using the Arctis Pro Wired Headset

Sound Quality and Features 

Before we get into the feature sets of these products, I want to get something off my chest: Both of these headsets sound fantastic. Out of all of the SteelSeries cans I've been able to test over the past year and a half, these stand head and shoulders above the rest. 

Whereas previous iterations of the Arctis line often left me wanting more in regards to sound -- specifically surround sound -- I found that the Pro line finally provided the high-end sound quality I've been searching for in a SteelSeries headset. 

It's especially worthy of note that while the PC Master Race has mostly come to expect this type of quality from a gaming headset, most PlayStation 4 players will find a distinct improvement in sound quality from their typical console headset -- and they'll be able to enjoy the headset/home theater combo much more easily than they might have before. 

The Arctis Pro + (Plus) with box, game DAC, and wires on a grey background.

Arctis Pro+ GameDAC

I was able to hear directional sound for the first time on console with the Pro+ GameDAC (and with the Pro Wireless). There are several other headsets on the market that can do this, sure, but the Arctis Pro line does it more elegantly with single drivers. Playing games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Overwatch, I was able to pinpoint where enemies were coming from -- and bring them down with greater ease. It's something I loved in Logitech's G533, but something I never thought I'd get on console until now.  

SteelSeries says the Arctis Pro+ GameDAC achieves higher-quality sound than the Pro Wireless by using what's called a dedicated USB DAC (digital audio converter), along with an amplifier made specifically for gaming. It even received the Japanese Audio Society's Hi-Res Award -- if that kind of thing floats your boat. But honestly, the difference between the two headsets was negligible in our testing of the devices. 

If you go the Pro+ route, the DAC itself comes packaged with the headset and fits in the palm of your hand. It's made of black plastic and has firm rubber feet on the bottom. The top is home to an OLED screen that displays the audio mode you're currently in, your surround sound and EQ settings, your volume, and your audio/chat mix. On the back, you'll find I/Os for optical, USB, Line Out, and mobile. On the left side, you'll find the input for the headset itself.

Arctis Pro+ GameDAC

SteelSeries specifically states that the GameDAC model is best used when playing at a desk, an assessment I tend to agree with. One of my biggest issues with the headset's setup (even if it is a nitpicky one) is that there are a lot of cables here -- especially if you're wanting to use the headset's optical passthrough.

With that in mind, there are at least three cables attached to the DAC if that's the route you want to go: one coming from the headset into the DAC, one coming from the DAC to your PS4's USB port, and one coming from the DAC to your console's optical port. If you're using the headset on PC, you can opt out of the optical option and only have two cables, making things a bit more manageable. 

So for a living room setup, I can see things becoming a bit tedious and cumbersome. 

Arctis Pro Wireless with box, USB transmitter, and cables 

Arctis Pro Wireless

The Pro Wireless model provides similarly crisp and robust sound as the Pro+ GameDAC, but this time over lossless 2.4GHz wireless or Bluetooth connections. Here, surround sound is meaty, with nice highs and mids across games and music. Like the Pro+, the Pro Wireless isn't huge in the volume department, meaning we had to dial up the volume on each headset and corresponding input device to achieve comfortable sound, but the 7.1 surround of the Pro Wireless performed well and provided clear dialog and in-game sound. 

We found this to be true on both PS4 and PC. Playing Skyrim, for example, we were able to hear in-game breathing better than we had with other headsets, adding a sense of realism to our Elder Scrolls escapades. Outside of gaming, tracks by Anthrax sounded fantastic in high bit rate. 

As for setup, the Pro Wireless features a wireless USB transmitter a la SteelSeries' Siberia 800 and 840 models -- but sans the extra power supply. This is where you'll adjust your audio, EQ, and chat mix settings, as well as find I/Os for optical, mobile, and external speaker systems. Like the GameDAC, the USB transmitter is mostly user-friendly when it comes to getting your settings just right, and it's nice controlling all of your settings via hardware instead of relying on software to do the trick. 

The transmitter does suffer from the same tedious setup as the GameDAC, however, especially if you're trying to use (once again) the transmitter's optical passthrough. You'll have quite a few cables to contend with in any setup, and (pro tip) you'll need to set the transmitter to its PS4 setting if you want to use that functionality on PC -- something that's not terribly clear out of the gate.  

But if you've got a home theater setup, want to listen to podcasts in long load queues, or take calls while gaming, you'll find that the Pro Wireless makes multitasking essentially effortless once you've got everything dialed in. Pair that with a decent 20-hour battery life and the ability to charge batteries inside the wireless transmitter, and the Pro Wireless becomes more ubiquitous than it initially appears. 

Man in black shirt wears Arctis Pro Wireless while sitting on couch


In my eyes, the choice between the Pro+ GameDAC and the Pro Wireless comes down to usability. Both are Hi-Res certified, both provide awesome, clear sound, and both provide line-out capabilities for mobile and/or home theater setup (which is a huge boon depending on your setup and use case). On top of that, both headsets are comfortable, well-constructed models that can be used on the go if you like listening to music on the commute to work, for example. 

The Pro+ GameDAC features RGB lighting, while the Wireless Pro does not, which could potentially be a selling point for some users. But overall, the choice comes down to whether you want a wireless or wired setup -- and whether that's worth the $70 difference between the two sets. 

Ultimately, though, SteelSeries' new Pro line is a huge step up in audio quality over the original Arctis line of headsets. I'd (really) like to see the headsets come in at a slightly lower price point, but if you've got the pockets for them, you can't go wrong with either. 

You can buy the Arctis Pro+ GameDAC on Amazon for $249.99 and the Pro Wireless for $329.99. 

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis Pro+ GameDAC and Arctis Pro Wireless models used in this review.]

Warhammer Vermintide 2 Review - The Left 4 Warhammer Style Continues to Impress Thu, 08 Mar 2018 12:11:03 -0500 Ty Arthur

For all the steaming drek that gets constantly released in this franchise, every now and again you get a winner like Total War: Warhammer 2, or in this week's case, Warhammer: Vermintide 2.

While both games are sequels, the gameplay couldn't be more different between these two entries, showcasing very different ways to explore this grimdark universe.

Rather than a tactical strategy game, this time around we get a melee-focused FPS, as four heroes strive to push back a relentless tide of stinking rat men and foul chaos worshipers.

4 The Emperor!

Like its predecessor, this iteration of Vermintide is essentially an online-only Left 4 Dead set in the Warhammer universe. There's no getting around the comparison, because the similarities are too numerous and obvious to overlook.

You've got the exact same mechanics with the hordes of enemies, the same special creature types that can temporarily take a player of action (with very clear analogues to the smoker, hunter, tank, witch, etc.), the same method of reviving downed party members or finding lost survivors in a closet when a character dies, and so on. 

Thankfully, Fatshark pulls off this style here a lot better than with the less-than-amazing Space Hulk: Deathwing, and the low fantasy setting works surprisingly well alongside the mechanics. 

Getting attacked from all sides by a variety of nasty enemy types in Warhammer Vermintide 2 Assassin rats hold you down while dealing damage, while other special enemy types strangle you with ropes, knock you over, or cover you in damaging gunk

Vermintide 2 distinguishes itself from the clear source material with the setting but also with the addition of RPG mechanics, equipment salvaging/crafting, and loot crates.

Five different character types are available to play -- with big differences in play style -- and each of those five characters has three distinctly different class versions to unlock over time. Some focus on melee, others on ranged attacks or spells, and each has a unique ultimate ability that will be needed when the hordes are closing in.

Loot boxes handed out at the end of a match give you new equipment that can potentially feature special traits and properties, with better crates offered depending on how your group played. This makes the rookie matches less difficult over time, but as your power increases, you can upgrade to harder versions of the maps to maintain a degree of challenge.

Vermintide 2 loot boxes Opening my first loot box to claim new charms, trinkets, and weapons

Progression and Variety

It seems like all games these days have to feature randomized loot boxes and online progression, but that blueprint lends itself well to Vermintide 2's style.

Between new talents for your character, new classes, and new maps to unlock, there's plenty of reason to keep playing over time, even without a single-player campaign.

There's an excellent variety between the maps, and loads of enemy types to deal with, from standard Skaven spearmen and very zombie-like barbarian tribe fodder to more difficult monsters with special abilities.

 Yeah, you don't want to get caught in that blast

The Skaven gunner wielding a warpfire gatling gun is flat-out amazing and takes some serious cooperation to take down, while the evil rat with a pressurized warpfire weapon (like a medieval rendition of a flamethrower) belches out fiery blasts that push you back, so a frontal assault is doomed unless you time it perfectly between reloads.

The epic spawn of chaos takes the place of the L4D tank, and it's a giant pus-covered, tentacled monstrosity with hooves that exudes fear and will have the team sweating when they decide to open that barn door and let out the beast.

Along the way, there are a bunch of secret tomes and grimoires to discover that take up potion slots (thus making it harder to survive) but also offset that challenge by granting you better loot at the end of a map.

The corpse of a chaos spawn in warhammer vermintide 2 It was a hard-fought, bloody battle, but in the end, the Chaos Spawn fell!

The downside in that progression system is that you'll have to play the same map a few times before unlocking the other ones, and once you memorize a map, there's not a ton of variation except in the makeup of the hordes you battle -- and of course in the knowledge and skill level of your teammates (Update: with the release of v1.0 after the beta finished, there are now significantly more maps to play, and three maps to choose from as a beginner instead of just one).

That's actually a big part of the Vermintide 2 experience, as players who work cooperatively are going to carry the team to victory. When the hordes start rushing over the walls, it's all too easy to find yourself surrounded by a mob of enemies if you are away from the group and trying to play alone.

Getting separated is more deadly than most of the monsters themselves, so you need a team of players who aren't trying to lone wolf the map or who don't lag behind when everyone else is moving on. 

Preparing to be ambushed by Skaven in Vermintide 2 When there's that many Skaven pouring around the bend in the road, you don't want to get flanked

The Bottom Line

Even though it starts from a very familiar concept, Vermintide 2 really takes hold of the style and makes this genre its own. The post-apocalyptic maps are less about "kill all the Skaven and save the world" and are more along the lines of "help out in this area how you can while surviving an endless horde, then get the hell out of there."

Graphically, there are some simply crazy gore effects, like blood spurts and Skaven or chaos barbarians grabbing at the spot where their heads used to be before their bodies fall over. It's truly a sight to behold, whether saving peasants in a farm or slashing your way through an underground rat warren.

If you dig co-op games or want an online experience that's more fantasy than shooter, you can't really go wrong with Vermintide 2.

After sinking some hours into the game, though, I'm still left with this nagging thought ... when is that Left 4 Dead 3 finally gonna show up?

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Fear Effect Sedna Review: A Stumble Down Memory Lane Mon, 05 Mar 2018 11:04:11 -0500 Shawn Farner

There's a scene in Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix that perfectly sums up the game's approach to storytelling. Hana and Rain -- the game's female protagonists -- enter into an elevator and embrace. They're looking for attention, and as guards race to gather around a security monitor and watch, the most cliched possible adult film music plays in the background, and the camera cuts to the ladies in various states of undress.

Before things can get too steamy, though, Hana acknowledges her audience on the other side of the lens.

"Sorry boys -- this is private."

A jacket covers the lens, and the feed goes black.

The above story beat was, of course, a ruse; a means to block video surveillance so Hana could gain access to the elevator shaft and Rain could continue to a different area of the building. But it was done using all the hallmarks of the Fear Effect franchise: cheesy dialogue, a bit of innuendo, and the desire to at least tell a decent story.

Most of which seem to be missing from Fear Effect Sedna, a reboot of the franchise from developer Sushee and publisher Square Enix.

Storytelling Woes

Fear Effect Sedna is billed as a "perfect starting point for newcomers," which should mean characters are fleshed out to the point where those unfamiliar with the franchise can develop an affinity for them. But we don't get much to work with in terms of character development. Hana and Rain are quickly introduced without much of a nod toward their history together, and when characters from past games (Zeke, Glas) are brought into the fold, you don't get the sense that they're all old friends who've been through literal Hell together, but rather, random folks thrown together to complete a mission.

And that's just for the newbies. If you're someone who's been waiting for a new Fear Effect game ever since the cancellation of Inferno, the stars of Sedna may still feel like strangers to you. This entry into the series goes its own way on many fronts, but the most jolting change in direction may be in its tone, which now feels more mature. Hana is a shell of her former innuendo-fueled self. Rain lacks the underdog girl-with-the-brains personality that made her endearing. Zeke is a bit much, and not in a good way. And Glas isn't sure whether he wants to be clever or emotionally distant.

Oh, and there's a new character -- a Frenchman named Axel who is added to your team early in the game and is stale to the point that I almost forgot to include him.

As far as dialogue goes, previous Fear Effect titles weren't known for being standouts in that category. But if it was bad, it was bad in a campy way -- the way that might cause you to roll your eyes, like when a friend tells a lame joke. In Fear Effect Sedna, the dialogue -- and the way it's delivered by the game's voice actors -- is bad to where it takes you out of the experience entirely. The personality isn't there like it was in the older games, and the narrative suffers as a result.

And the narrative! The overarching story in Fear Effect Sedna, the thing that should keep you playing through the game. It's fast moving, but in such a way that is nearly nonsensical. Hana and Rain start out on a routine mission together, but a new job soon lands them in Tokyo, and before you fully grasp what's happening, you've added three more people to your squad and are in Nuuk, Greenland battling monsters. The story centers around a missing ancient artifact and a shadowy group intent on using it for evil, but because the characters are so underdeveloped, it's tough to care about what motivates everyone's actions.

All the above will likely come as a disappointment to those who've eagerly waited for Fear Effect's return. And unfortunately, I haven't even touched on the gameplay yet.

A Lack of Control

Bringing an older intellectual property into the modern day usually means some changes have to be made. After all, we aren't playing first-person shooters with GoldenEye-style controls anymore, and thank goodness. When innovations and new best practices come along, all games can move forward as a result.

The new isometric view in Fear Effect Sedna is a departure from the previous Fear Effect games

Fear Effect Sedna ditches the tank control scheme it shared with the older Resident Evil titles, which is great news. But instead of sticking to the close-view action shooting style it was known for, Sedna instead decides to put a whole new spin on the franchise: stealth action with real-time-strategy elements, paired with a new isometric view. It's Metal Gear Solid-style sneaking around guards mixed with pause-able gameplay that allows you to move your characters around and instruct them on their next actions.

Sometimes, it works. Most of the time, it doesn't.

The stealth elements aren't entirely friendly to start. Many guards are moving and have intersecting paths, which limits those "feel good" moments of sneaking up on someone and taking them out. What often starts as a move to dispatch someone quietly often turns into loud gun battles, which you'll often lose.

Which leads to my next gripe: enemies are a bit too tough, and friendly AI is a bit too stupid. Yes, difficulty is something the Fear Effect franchise is known for. But my bullets seem to hurt a bit less than the ones I'm being hit with, and no matter how much I try to babysit the other members of my squad, they're intent on leaving cover and being shot to bits.

And finally, character abilities are largely ineffective. Each of the characters under your control is blessed with a few special abilities; Rain has a taser, for example, and Glas can set up a turret. But it's difficult to find areas of the game where these weapons make much of an impact -- if they work at all. Axel, for example, has a crossbow that I've not managed to hit anyone with. And Hana has a ricocheting bullet that seems like more trouble to use than it's worth.

You'll probably just stick to sneaking where you can and shooting your default weapons. And, despite your attempts at assembling a strategy, you'll probably find yourself in all-out war more often than you'd hoped, with teammates who don't do you any favors. For Fear Effect to make such a large change and not pull it off -- well, it's disappointing.

Our Worst Fears

All these issues combined make the game, quite simply, not fun to play. There's no satisfying loop pulling me back in. There's no carrot on the end of the stick enticing me forward. Puzzles, a saving grace for Sedna, are few and far between. Instead, I load up each level knowing I'm probably going to die a lot, and when that happens, I'm treated to the longer-than-necessary process of exiting a "Game Over" screen and loading my checkpoint to try again. And because I'm not hooked by the game's story, and I'm not invested in the characters (as much as I'd love to be), doing so feels even more like a chore than it should.

Perhaps those "Game Over" moments will allow you time to ponder in between goes. You can ask yourself, "Is it worth continuing?" as I did while playing through for the review. In the end, I determined it wasn't.

Symmetry Review: A Harrowing and Uneven Survival Experience Fri, 02 Mar 2018 14:23:55 -0500 Jonathan Moore

By its modern definition, the word symmetry signifies a harmonious balance between two or more objects -- something is the same on one side as it is on the other. In our daily lives, we seek out symmetrical objects because their uniformity is calming and relaxing. That's why stability is often key to disciplines such as interior design and music.

Interestingly enough, Sleepless Clinic developed a game that embodies the antithesis of that dulcet definition. It's obvious by Symmetry's inherent difficulty and sometimes obtuse narrative that this was partly intentional. By what the game does right, it creates a ravenous disquiet within the player that gnaws at the psyche long after the game's been shut off. And by what it fails to deliver, it nurtures within the player a frustrating desire for answers and resolution.

It's a symmetry we're not entirely used to seeing because it's an inverse of our expectations -- a negative symmetry if you will. But in fact, it's one that perfectly aligns with the stark desperation of survival.

Symmetry survival opening with escape pod entering atmosphere, astronaut, and crash on frozen planet

In Space, No One Can Keep You Alive

Nietzsche once said about survival that "to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." It might at first seem odd to quote a 19th-century German philosopher in a review about an indie survival game, but I think the quote is indicative of Symmetry's take on the survival genre itself. 

On the surface, and perhaps unlike any other survival game since This War of Mine, the protagonists of Symmetry are indisputably suffering. Crash-landed on a remote, gelid planet without any memory of their derailment or immediate hope of escape is the textbook definition of hardship. 

And being a roguelite, Symmetry exacerbates that hardship by giving you a new set of survivors each and every time you play. Some survivors will have erudite knowledge in power plant repair, while others will be master horticulturalists. Some will have experience as lumberjacks, while others will be meticulous scavengers. These variances will inform your strategies and how you go about playing Symmetry on a molecular level.

But one thing remains the same no matter what -- the fact that these people are going to die. Some will freeze to death. Some will starve. And some will keel over from exhaustion. Because of Symmetry's unforgiving difficulty, mortality is a thin veil in the wilds of space. And using the skills of each character at the right moments is key to surviving even a few days, much less the weeks it takes to finish the game. 

Symmetry survivors in space suits standing outside of space-age shelter with crashed space craft behind them

The Monotony of Endurance

There's no doubt Symmetry is a polarizing game. Whereas other survival titles often employ moments of action to break up the monotony of staying alive, Symmetry embraces the tedium of endurance -- perhaps a whit too much. There's no doubt its gameplay captures the mundane reality of true survival -- and there's no doubt many gamers will love it because of that. But other gamers will loathe it for that very reason. 

On normal difficulty, Symmetry can be beaten in about three hours. All of that time is spent deftly micromanaging needs and tasks, commanding characters from one point to the next, from one task to another. And in the end, your most pressing concerns are delineating who makes food and who eats it -- or who cuts lumber and who heals their wounds. 

That's Symmetry's gameplay -- people management. It's watching them live droll, meaningless lives that ultimately lead them to madness. As the game progresses, machines will break and you'll lose power, while the weather will become even more dangerous, killing characters faster and faster.

Despite a story that draws you in with skillful mystery and adroit science-fiction elan alongside a stunning atmosphere and score, Symmetry's gameplay boils down to watching meters rise and fall.

Symmetry female survivor with blonde hair and purple jumpsuit works at station inside space-age shelter to make food


When you peel back the curtain, Symmetry reveals itself as an uneven survival experience because of rote second and third act gameplay, gameplay that relies too heavily on the managerial aspects of life and death, not its painful verisimilitude. As its bleak, heady story unfolds and truths expose themselves from the flickering, snowy shadows, you'll find that a few additions to Symmetry's core gameplay could have kept it more firmly in orbit for the latter part of its journey.  

There is meaning to the suffering -- it's just a question of if you can survive until the end to find it. 

You can buy Symmetry on Steam for $11.99

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Symmetry for this review.] 

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet Review Fri, 02 Mar 2018 14:10:13 -0500 Autumn Fish

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a party-based JRPG shooter modeled after the second season of the popular anime Sword Art Online. It follows the story of Kirito and his friends in the VRMMO Gun Gale Online.

Unlike the name suggests, however, this is not an MMO. This is an RPG with not one but two single-player campaigns and a couple of basic modes for playing online co-op and PvP on the side.

It's not your typical RPG shooter, either. There's a unique Aim Assist box that automatically targets enemies, prediction lines for bullets, and a number of other special features that really make this quite a unique game in its own right.

So is SAO:FB worth your time, or should you pass it by? Let's dive in!

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet Review

This game's story picks up where Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization left off. (Note that I have not played any of the previous games in the series and so I won't continue to reference them in this review.) Kirito and his friends have just joined Gun Gale Online and have started to make a name for themselves when they meet a few new friends.

One of these new friends is the customizable Main Character that you'll find yourself behind the wheel of for most of the adventure. I'm happy to report that there are just enough character customization options to make each character feel unique, but it's nothing that'll blow you out of the water. Additionally, if you find yourself regretting some decisions you made in character creation, you can go back and change anything you want -- except name and gender -- for free at any time.

Of course, all of this also applies to your ArFA-sys companion that you receive at the beginning of the game. They're essentially an Artificial Intelligence that not only has your back in combat but also helps you with your banking and investments. They're the only NPC in your party that you can actually allocate stats for, allowing them to play the role of exactly what you need to complement your Main Character.

A Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet main character dual wielding weapons

The Tutorial

During the introductory sequence, tutorial popups are well-timed and help you adjust to the flow of gameplay at a rather natural pace. However, as soon as you're properly let loose, the game drops a lot of tutorials on you all at once, and some of them talk about systems that aren't quite relevant to you yet -- even if they soon will be -- making them, sadly, easily forgettable.

Granted, the tutorials are in the pause menu if you ever need a refresher. However, the overload of tutorials that flood you after the introductory sequence made the early stages of SAO:FB feel unnecessarily convoluted. For example, there's a medal system they introduce here that allows you to turn in medals you earn out in the field in order to earn more Skill Points or gain access to other important items, and totally forgetting about this feature like I did honestly makes the game so much harder than it needs to be.

Thankfully, any tutorials after this point are generally well-timed and easy to remember, so if you can muscle through the initial hiccup, the rest of the game is fairly easy to grasp.

The Characters

After a big chunk of the tutorial is out of the way, the game starts introducing you to its colorful cast of characters. As someone who's actually watched the anime all the way through, I have to say that the way the characters are depicted here struck me as rather odd.

I'm not sure if it's shoddy localization -- I'm no localization expert, but it doesn't really feel that smooth here -- or if it's the way the characters were written to try and intertwine the events of the anime with an original story that threw me off.

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet features a wide and varying cast of characters

To be fair, the characters weren't exactly all that in the anime, either. Their personalities are strong, though, and while there may be some awkward moments, the vibrant cast of characters actually provides some rather interesting dialogue to help you get through an unfortunately drab main story mode.

The Story

I won't say much about the story, but I do want to touch on one little interesting tidbit. There are not one but two stories in Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet. After you reach a certain point in your Main Character's story, you can load the game into Kirito Mode to play as Kirito through a retconned version of the events of the anime. Interestingly enough, it actually follows the anime strangely well, even if they had to tweak a lot of the details to make up for all the inconsistencies.

In Kirito Mode, you can essentially do anything you could with your Main Character. You can use the Ultimate Fiber Gun, form a party with four people, and even travel around and go on side quests together. However, you can't change Kirito's stats or equipment at all, so what you see is what you get.

Overall I think Kirito Mode was a nice way to add that story to the game whilst still allowing you the room to have a personalized Main Character of your own.

The Environment

Gun Gale Online is set on a planet that was the site for some space war several years prior. There's only one real functioning city in this game, and it serves as a sort of HUB town. It's well designed and has a plethora of fast travel points, making it incredibly easy to get around. There are plenty of fast travel points out in the open maps and dungeons, too, so you'll never have to worry about making a trek back to anyplace you've actually been before.

Characters from SAO:FB standing amidst a setting sun backdrop

I don't especially enjoy how the open maps and dungeons were designed, however. While the first map was okay, the rest of the maps simply felt empty. Not only was there not much to do, but while wandering around the map, I often felt like I was walking in an area of the game that was meant to be out of bounds. It simply didn't feel finished.

Dungeons, on the other hand, are a little more interesting in design. However, they're such a linear affair that it feels like they discourage exploration even though there are plenty of goodies hidden behind nooks and crannies. If you can get over these environmental quirks, however, you may find the gameplay and combat interesting enough to dip your toes into.

The Combat

As a JRPG shooter, the gameplay is a little bit more unique than what we're used to in modern games. While simply calling it a "shooter with RPG elements" wouldn't be entirely wrong, it doesn't give much credit to the more unique features that really make this a different kind of shooter altogether.

For example, there's a togglable Aim Assist feature that helps out with your ability to run and gun without missing your target too much. It's essentially just a box in the center of the screen that zeros in on the closest enemy within that box.

On top of that, if the enemy is targetting you with their ranged weapons, you'll notice red Prediction Lines popping up to indicate the trajectory you can expect the next shot to take.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Hold up, this sounds like cheating!" And normally I'd agree with you. Except you have to remember that this is also a JRPG. You're fighting bosses with massive amounts of health and attacks that pack a real punch -- you need all the help you can get to stay on top of the situation.

Utilizing Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet weaponry to take on traditional JRPG enemies

You're also perpetually equipped with an Ultimate Fiber Gun that acts more like a pure utility tool than an actual weapon. With it, you can target any surface and grapple straight to it, giving you a range of mobility that far outclasses that of your party members. It can also be used to stun airborne enemies and steal items from them, but don't expect it to be doing any damage.

Then you have more traditional RPG elements like Skills and Gadgets. Skills are sort of like special abilities and powerups that you equip to your weapon loadouts. Gadgets, on the other hand, are specialized tools that you can buy and equip to your character that offer various other benefits out in the field. If you had to compare it to a right and proper RPG, the Skills would be most similar to magic, while Gadgets are closer to a rogue's tools.

All of these different features round out to make a very robust combat system. With so many unique mechanics slathered in, it's plain to see that there's no other game quite like it. But is that a good thing?

Verdict - Whilst It Has Its Problems, It's Still One of a Kind

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet certainly has its problems, but it boasts such a unique concept that its imperfections can almost be overlooked. I found myself having a better time than I thought I would, even though neither JRPGs nor shooters are really my cup of tea.

If you like the idea of a JRPG shooter with unique combat mechanics, SAO:FB pulls it off so well that it's certainly worth the try. If you can get over the rough tutorial, the somewhat cringey dialogue, and the generally empty maps, this game will treat you well.

SAO:FB characer aiming down a scope

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is available now on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One for $60.

Note: A review copy was provided for review by the publisher.

Past Cure Review - No Cure for Overwhelming Promises Thu, 01 Mar 2018 14:56:40 -0500 ChrisVeso

The old saying "hard work pays off" still holds true today, no matter if it's a game, a movie, a book, whatever. When we receive a finished project, we should always take into account how much work went into it.

And that is true when it comes to indie developers.

We've seen indie developers rise from financial struggles and problems with their own internal decisions to pull out an amazing product that they feel comfortable with and hope the vast majority will enjoy. In some cases, it pans out great.

Not this time. No sir. Nope.

Past Cure is a perfect example of a game developed by a new studio with little to no experience in the gaming industry but with hopes to bring a product that many would enjoy. Here, however, things clearly fell off the track, despite promising trailers and "game awards" to back them up.

The Story? I Wish I Knew. 

Here's how the developers explain the game:

Past Cure is a dark psychological thriller that blurs the lines between dreams and reality. An intense, cinematic, story-driven experience that challenges the player to use mind-bending mental abilities to survive.

You follow Ian, a troubled ex-soldier with no explanation as to how he was able to afford a two million-dollar house in the middle of nowhere. He has psychic powers that will never be explained along with amnesia from being abducted. Ian tries to find the cure to his power and a lead to the people who abducted him and gave him these powers. His brother Marcus, whom you never see, tells him that there's a drug called "Nexus" that gives the user powerful abilities. So it's up to Ian to find the president of the company that developed Nexus.

You enter these dreamlike sequences as your sanity starts to fade. And let me tell you, the only redeeming quality of these sequences is the Milk Men. They never explain who they are or how they affect your sanity, but they're there, and that's all you need to know, I guess.

What's worse is that there's an inconsistency in how the story builds up because it doesn't have enough time (or budget) to build a story around the world, so you're left with bare details. They barely tackle any subject or conflict, and when they do, they drag out poorly conceived segments, assuming that doing so will build tension. It's like reading a comic book by a 12-year-old -- there's little to no detail, but in their mind, it's a MASTERPIECE.

Gameplay? Good Luck With That.

Past Cure struggles with what it wants to be. It pushes the agenda for an "action vs. stealth" type of a game, where you can choose what path you want to take to progress through a linear level, only to be guided to one enemy. The controls are atrocious and poorly implemented. Ian moves like a sloth, and controlling his aim is close to impossible, with no thought-out targeting scheme. Your dead-angle will struggle to aim correctly, your shots will recoil like crazy as you struggle to play how the game wants you to, and most importantly, HAND-TO-HAND COMBAT is a no-go. Otherwise, you're forced into a "cinematic fight" while you're getting shot at.

The stealth segments in Past Cure are a joke. There's no reason to sneak around when the enemies present little to no threat. Crouching is sluggish and slow, and sneaking around will just drag out the game.

The progression in this game is not thought out at all, and they drag every sequence and tutorial till they can milk the four-hour time frame.

To summarize the controls in this game: The game doesn't want you to have fun and play the game with fluid controls; the game wants you to play how the game wants you to -- slow, clunky, and forced.

You know it's bad when the developer barely shows any gameplay depicting shooting at the bad guys. If anything, they'll show off a small, two-second clip on their twitter of them head-shotting a guy.

Visuals? Eh. Sound? Ha!

Using Unreal Engine 4 to the best of their abilities, the developers seem to have taken every preset object they downloaded and placed them wherever they seem to fit. Gotta fill up space? Just fill it up with random tables and chairs since you have no creativity.

Of course the game is going to look slightly presentable when it's built using Unreal Engine 4, but they do not use it to the best of their abilities. And it's clear once you see the whole game that any traces of exciting sequences that we were shown in the trailer were poorly implemented within the game.

This poor implementation includes the sound design. Sound is a very important feature to a game, as it helps build tension, excitement, and a calm atmosphere. Well, you can throw your hopes and dreams away because Past Cure is another example of using stock sound effects and stock music. Every second that passed by with repeating instrumentals was another second that I could have used to play a better game, like Max Payne 3

Final Verdict

Usually it's okay to give small indie studios a pass since they have a lower budget and often an inexperienced team. The team behind Past Cure should be given some credit, as they didn't get their game crowdfunded and started off with a small team.

However, that shouldn't give them a pass for the game's horrible presentation and the fact that they still ask for your time to play through the game and give it a chance. This is not a spoiler, but during the credits, they had the decency to list the people who left the project during production and still thanked them.

I would not ask anyone to try this game out.

0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West) - The Intersection of Surreal and Unconventional Thu, 01 Mar 2018 13:58:59 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

Now, I've played some pretty different and obtuse games in my life, and I can tell you that 0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West) has taken the crown. It's in a league of its own. Is developer Colorfiction's latest title worth playing? Read on to find out.

The game tells, or rather conveys, the story of a man and his bizarre adventure. You travel through multiple dimensions with no end in sight. Why? I can't be sure as to why. Is this a punishment? Is this a reward? These are all questions that arise in this surreal, unconventional, and synesthesia-inducing game.  

The surreal vistas of 0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West)


Webster's dictionary defines surreal as "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream." Basically, it's something that's unbelievable or fantastic. 0°N 0°W begins simply enough: you find yourself in an empty small town, with the only thing of note being a small movie theater. You approach the theater, and you're soon transported away. 

You then find yourself in a hallway that is devoid of all color except black and white. Being curious, I kept walking, and after five minutes realized that it was endless. So I then decided to walk through a door. At this point, I'm asking myself, "What is going on?" 

After walking through another door, I found myself in a strange, purple-dyed space. I was walking through the air. I saw many shapes, but I could barely make them out. I tried to make sense of this, but I couldn't, and part of me was bothered by that. I stopped caring once a path leading to a doorway came into view. So I walked through another door. Then I was back to the eerie doorway.

Again, I'm given no information, but here I am. I choose another door because now I'm feeding my curiosity. I arrive at a neon landscape that looks as if it was pulled from Tron. With no direction of any kind, this neon world was fun. It also was haunting because it was a temporary prison.

Where is the exit? I find it after 30 minutes of wandering. None of this make sense, but I'm back at the hallway of endless doors. Hours pass by, and this becomes cyclical. Is there an end here? Wait, there's another door, I'll walk through the door. How many dimensions have I gone through now?



When something is unconventional, it is by definition "not bound by or in accordance with convention." The developers of 0°N 0°W really made their point during one dimension in particular.

After walking through the door, I found myself in a random tiny apartment. The world was black and white. There was a series of stairs leading out of the room. So naturally, I took the stairs. As I went higher, the stairway then became a series of floating stairs that required precise jumping to get to. I failed a few times and got frustrated in doing so.

Eventually, I reached the last step. There I was, but where was the door? Then it dawned upon me: I was following standard convention. As I stood there baffled, this game hooked me. It's trying to deprogram us as players. It wants us to not fall into that box; it doesn't want us to conform. After this epiphany, I roamed this black and white space until I found the door. I found myself back in the endless hallway. Let me open another door ...

 Surreal, almost hypnotic images help 0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West) transport players


Synthesia is commonly described as a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. When playing 0°N 0°W, you realize it really asserts itself in its visuals and audio.

I have to say, if you suffer from epilepsy, you probably shouldn't play this game. Much of the game is conveyed through its use of colors. The visuals range from subtle to extreme. Some dimensions will be neon bright, dyed in one color, look like a colorless oil painting, etc. 

After experiencing these visuals, it triggers other feelings over time. The more time I spent in black and white spaces, for example, the more I felt solitude. In brighter dimensions, I felt a sense of excitement to find the exit. In darker dimensions such as the hallway, I felt pensive. 

The game's accompanying soundtrack is the embodiment of ambiance. The score will at times make you feel alone and at other times give you a sense of dissociation and insignificance. You'll be searching for the door and ask yourself many questions: Why am I here? Is there any point to this? The music here serves the important function of evoking feelings in tune with the game's always-changing world.

 The stark use of black and white in 0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West)

Art Is Subjective

0°N 0°W is a very different game. Most people play games for their textbook standards. This game, however, is directionless, offering no clues and providing no defined goals. A lot of people will put this game down after a few minutes and disregard it. This is the definition of a niche game; those who enjoy it will enjoy it profusely, but others will find it lacking.

Artistic Appreciation

Art is subjective by nature, and I feel that 0°N 0°W is an artistic game, a game made with the intent of not being a game. There are no worlds to save, no deep plots, etc. You are someone traveling through space and time for a reason or not. To me, Colorfiction has created a game which serves as a catharsis. When life and other games become a bit much, I can retreat here. I never knew the weirdest game I would play would be one I needed so badly.

Fans of indie games and artistic games can purchase 0°N 0°W (Zero North Zero West) via Steam.    

Note: A review code was provided by the publisher.

Dandara Review: Black Girl Magic Thu, 01 Mar 2018 09:51:10 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

In a lot of ways, the release of Dandara is, quite frankly, hard to believe. It's a mystical metroidvania that brings new life to the genre. Long Hat House's newest title is a game you should definitely play.

This title represents a lot to me as a videogame fan. Fact is in 2018, we still don't have much black representation in games. Being black myself, I was immediately drawn to this game. Dandara stars a spiritual being born of the stars on a quest to save the world. She is an Afro-Brazilian heroine out to stop evil. She also accessorizes with an awesome yellow scarf and wields magic. She's black, magical (literally), and powerful. The game's story isn't purely fictional, it was inspired by a real world figure -- a warrior who fought against oppression Brazil. Major kudos to Long Hat for being inspired to tell her tale.

A Story Of Freedom

Our narrative beings as our heroine is created by cosmic forces. You're then told you must save the day and the universe totally knows you can do it. You'll meet a number of deities, people, and other NPCs to guide you. The opposing enemy has a lot of bad things up their sleeve. They have spirits, animals, and robots, and the enemy army wants to subjugate the land to obtain salt. Sodium is a very valuable resource that everyone is willing to do anything for. It's both energy and power. So, you have to stop them before the land is run dry.

Why Walk When You Can Fly?

Dandara is a platformer, an exploration title, a shmup and a RPG. Does that all work? Actually yes, it works very well. Now, unlike most games you don't walk throughout the map. You fly/jump to get through stages. The jumping mechanic also gives you a sense of speed and agility. You see she's magical --- therefore she has no need for walking. 

The exploration experience is one of my favorite portions of the game. In no way does the game tell you where to go. Being directionless is really appreciated because hand holding is now a game design standard. Nothing is more rewarding than randomly finding power ups while flying around. You'll travel the greenest of forests, old cities, deserts, futuristic fortresses, and much more. 


Spirit Journey

As you'll remember, I mentioned that salt is a precious resource. From a gameplay perspective it's your currency. You'll gain salt from treasure chests, defeated enemies, and find them throughout the world. Salt allows you to upgrade qualities you have such as your life, healing powers, and offensive energy. 

As for the game's shmup comparisons? Well, this how I would best describe the combat. You'll need to be on the move constantly while blasting enemies, and it really goes into overdrive during boss fights. Much like arcade shooters, enemy fire can get frantic and enemies can (and will) try to swarm you. This builds high tension moments that requires the utmost attention. Otherwise it's game over.

Of course, as you make progress you'll see yourself become stronger, like a force of nature. You'll gain a variety of upgrades, like super jumping and  missiles to name a few.

The Ambiance Of Adventure

From an aesthetics stand point, Dandara is everything you'd want from an indie game. It's pixelated, very vibrant, and the maps are diverse. The art style (by Victor Leão) really does an excellent job of breathing life into everything. Animals, foliage, enemy fire, and so forth are animated so very well. I doubt you'll find yourself saying this game isn't pretty. 


Being an audiophile, I assess a game's soundtrack/audio pretty heavily. The music created by Thommaz Kauffmann has been crafted with great detail for this special journey. Songs are ambient, haunting, and experimental. During boss encounters, the music is tense, pulsating, and grandiose. You'll have feelings of solitude, serenity, and peace. That's how you make a solid soundtrack for woman on a mission.

Salty Much?

Now there are a few minor criticisms for Dandara. Some players won't really appreciate having no direction. People like being told where to go and what to do. The title also takes around 8 hours or less to complete. Games that are short tend to get a bad rap -- thought it is hardly indicative of their quality. The game is also somewhat difficult. It feels particularly difficult during boss encounters. This may prove too stressful for some. 

Magical Conclusion

Playing Dandara is a special experience. It feels trippy and empowering all at once. Its imagery and themes are handled subtly. It never feels as if it's too much. Enemies recognize Dandara as a threat and allies see her as a symbol of hope. The game is smooth and well executed from start to finish. João Brant and Lucas Mattos of Long Hat House really out did themselves.

Now, I want to express this game's significance to me in particular. If I'm ever a parent, I'd want my children to play this. I want them to see a hero that looks like them and play a fantastic game with a powerful black role model. A  game that shows them heroes are amazing and unstoppable. I can tell you this game holds a special place in my heart for what it is.

Fans of indie games and metroidvanias can purchase Dandara for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.

Gleaner Heights Review -- More Than Meets the Eye Wed, 28 Feb 2018 19:23:43 -0500 Ashley Gill

If you take a look at Gleaner Heights on Steam, it may appear to be an ugly Stardew Valley clone. I'm just going to tell you now that is not the case.

If you're coming into this game expecting something akin to the carefree and easy-to-manage Stardew Valley, you will be disappointed. If you're looking for a new farming RPG more in the line with the Harvest Moon series up to the Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance, you're in for a real treat.

Gleaner Heights, for whatever reason, meshes classic farming RPG mechanics, light action RPG mechanics, and a Twin Peaks-style world and plot to make what may be the most original-yet-unoriginal take on this genre yet.

I would wager to say that this game is perhaps a more mature take on a genre that has generally been the opposite. The bizarre plot, the struggles of the townsfolk, and the sheer amount of things to do have no trouble keeping you engaged.

Want to farm? Yeah, you can do that. But why don't you go forage, mine, dive, fight a boss, search for hidden chests, and break up a marriage while you're at it? Just for good measure.

You can do all of this in a single day in Gleaner Heights, depending on what's going on. The game lets you know things are a bit off before you even get to move your character, but at first glance -- and certainly as you're learning the ropes -- it just seems like a regular farming RPG. Your neighbors may say something odd once in a while, but who cares? Farming.

Something Old and Something New

The primary focus of this game is the farming, and as such, it is fair to compare it to other games within the genre. It does hold up against them, but the farming action you're going to get in Gleaner Heights isn't as fancy as the competing Stardew Valley. You're not going to be installing sprinklers on your farm and plopping down fertilizer.

Farming here is extremely stamina-intensive, as is any action that makes use of a tool. As with older Harvest Moon games, much of the effort you put forth in Gleaner Heights goes in stamina management and making the best of your situation. That very facet is what makes it appealing to me, though its story (and the prospect of multiple story paths) and wealth of secrets are not far behind.

The secrets -- the very prospect of them -- is especially exciting. While we've certainly seen secrets in modern farming RPGs, this game is packed full of them. None of them are obvious and even some of those that have already been discovered are obscure enough I'd expect most will miss them completely. I can only imagine what else there is to find.

This game isn't perfect, though.

Gleaner Heights, for all of its good (there's a whole lot of good), has some aspects that put a damper on the whole experience.

Unfortunate Circumstances

The first is the very small effect box for your tools. Unless you're the most precise gamer on earth, you're going to be missing watering your crops or hitting enemies sometimes. This is especially cumbersome during combat, as it will cause you to take hits you should technically should not. It's a waste of stamina, which is no laughing matter.

In addition, the game's character sprites just don't look good. I've played through the first year and a half and restarted twice so far, and I'm still not interested in the characters and have trouble discerning who is who. This is a stylistic choice that isn't likely to change as the sprites do fit the game's overall aesthetic, but it is something that bothers me.

Lastly: The keyboard controls, while functional, leave something to be desired. The game is best played with a controller, and even then I question the button to put an item away and to go back in the menu being the same. There are times this is not ideal.

These negatives don't do much to stifle my enjoyment of the game, but results may vary. Gleaner Heights is not a game I would recommend to younger gamers or those who did not experience early Harvest Moon games.

The above said, I would recommend Gleaner Heights to anyone who fell in love with the farming RPGs of yore or anyone who really enjoys figuring things out on their own. There is a distinct lack of spoonfeeding here, and I'd like to keep it that way. What's the fun when everything's right there in your face all the time? But that's just my preference.

If the controls were a little more forgiving and villagers easier to discern, Gleaner Heights would be an easy 8 for me. As it stands, it's a good 7. With so much to do, so much to see, and so many of the town's closet-bound skeletons to bring to light, how could I say no? Despite its appearance, this is a solid Harvest Moon clone from top to bottom.

Into The Breach Review: Casual Strategy Perfected Wed, 28 Feb 2018 16:49:07 -0500 Ty Arthur

You wouldn't expect the makers of FTL to come up with a game that has all the strategy of X-COM, but could also somehow be put under the category of "casual." However, that's what you get with the gaming triumph that is Into The Breach.

Although not stunning to look at, this little gem packs a whole lot of polish. The graphics are even more toned down than in the similar (but less well executed) Tiny Metal, but don't let that be a deterrent. Into The Breach reduces every last element down to its most basic component parts on purpose -- and its a design decision that pays off nicely.

Remember the "just one more turn" games like Heroes Of Might And Magic? Here it will be "just one more map" or "just one more reset" to see if you couldn't have completed that level a little bit better than the previous time.

Units fight on an 8 x 8 grid battlefield in Into the Breach These blocky pixels pack a lot of punch!

Strategy Rebuilt From The Ground Up

Every map starts as an 8 x 8 grid and you are always aware of all the mechanics and enemy attack patterns ahead of time, making the overall experience more like chess meets Advance Wars than the previously mentioned X-COM.

There's no fog of war, no giant maps to explore, no randomization in damage or tactics -- all resulting in a very simplified experience with the strategy component distilled down into its most pure essence.

Honestly, Into The Breach is almost more a board game or a puzzler than a strategy title, but it keeps enough of a veneer of the mech versus kaiju strategy style to keep one foot solidly in that genre.

While the map layout is randomized and you can choose where to place your starting units, there's very little in the way of RNG shenanigans in this game, so winning is very much about working the mechanics to your advantage instead of luck.

You know mostly everything ahead of time, including how and where an enemy will attack and where they will spawn. This means that positioning is much, much more important than dealing straight damage.

The only concessions to the mighty and maligned god RNGesus are a small percentage chance that a building may survive an attack (starting at around 15%, so its not a solid strategy to rely on), and of course, the enemy AI of whether a giant insect monster will choose to attack a building or your mechs.

Players fight for supremacy based on strategy and tactics in Into the Breach Tactical options increase dramatically as more tile and mech types are added, including putting your units in harm's way for the greater good

Giant Robot Fighting Tactics

Varying strategies are available for different play styles depending on which mech loadout you pick, with more squads of mechs available to unlock as you complete achievements and bonus objectives.

You might end up focusing on pushing and pulling units away from vulnerable cities, inflicting fire-based damage over time effects, going for straight damage, increasing health for mech damage soaking to outlive the enemy, or instead simply denying enemy movement.

Each map is typically more about “How do I get this unit over here” than “How do I kill this unit outright?” In essence, you are more fighting against the map than the bug monsters. Sure, I can punch this bug and kill it immediately, but it will fly into a city and destroy it, reducing my grid health for this island, and that's bad.

The squad selection and unlock screen in Into the Breach Unlocking other mech squads means more ways to complete each map 

An Issue Of Difficulty

There's really only one sticking point in this addictive strategy/puzzle mashup, and unfortunately, it may be a deal breaker for those who loved the developer's previous smash hit.

Simply put, Into The Breach is significantly easier than FTL in every conceivable way, although when you go into hard mode and start using randomized mech squads, the game does get a lot crazier.

If you lose all your grid power over the course of the game, a surviving mech heads into a time rift and starts over, with your upgrades for one pilot still intact. From then on, you can pick any order to the locations, but losing isn't really a major setback since the maps have randomized layouts and objectives.

There's no crazy final boss battle you might be expecting, and not much of a resolution overall at the end, but that may be expected based on the game's time travel/dimension hopping storyline. This isn't a game that's really about lore.

The backing story of a bug invasion following the earth being swallowed by rising seas is a vehicle for the mechanics, and not really the focus or anything to get hung up on.

The simulation complete screen in Into the Breach shows a man in glasses congratulating the player on completing the mission As long as you think through your turns before committing to a course of action, you won't often face defeat

The Bottom Line

Landing somewhere between puzzle and strategy, Into The Breach has a very satisfying mix of casual drop-in-and-play mechanics with a surprisingly in-depth level of tactical options.

It's easy to think of ways in which the game could be expanded down the line with different map types, enemies, and attacks as free updates or DLC, although that might take away from the core simplicity.

While the game is easy to learn, there's more here to mastering the mechanics than may be apparent at first. Surviving the level might be one thing, but surviving without losing any buildings while still completing the bonus objectives is a completely different challenge.

There's some major thrill to be had when pulling off a crazy combo, getting all the units into just the right places, and some unexpected moments of elation when you accidentally put someone into position for the perfect attack or movement.

Simply put, Into The Breach is addictive and has plenty of strategy without being frustrating, making it the best of all worlds.

Strikers Edge Review: TowerFall Meets Dodgeball Wed, 28 Feb 2018 14:54:02 -0500 Sjaak den Heijer

In late January, Fun Punch Games released their very first game, Strikers Edge, for PC and PS4. At first glance, the game looked like a Flash game that got taken way too far, but with a closer look, the game exudes quality and depth. For a new studio, I was already impressed by the game’s looks and couldn’t have been more excited to check it out once I saw more of the game.

Surprisingly Good Lore

Strikers Edge has a surprising amount of lore for an indie game. The game has eight short campaigns for each playable character, each with its own interesting backstory. The campaigns themselves are simple but still provide a good amount of story to make you want to play through all the other campaigns as well. It would have been cool if the stories had intertwined more with one another, but all in all, the lore of Strikers Edge is surprisingly good and definitely helps the game elevate itself above a glorified Flash game.

When reading the stories, it’s clear that a lot of time went into the lore and that it was thought out very well. This gives the lore a lot of potential to expand to new characters or even to new mediums like comics and books, and it would be interesting to see if Fun Punch Games will take their lore to a whole new level.

Intense Gameplay

Strikers Edge is a hero arena brawler that’s a little different from your standard brawler game. The core of the game mostly resembles dodgeball, everyone's favorite P.E. activity. In the game, you pick a character and take on your opponents in either a 1v1 or a 2v2 fashion. Both teams have their own sides and have to hit each other with projectiles. To make the concept a bit more exciting, the developers threw in a dodge mechanic, a charged attack, a block, and a unique ability for each character.

All these mechanics perfectly support each other and make the overall gameplay of Strikers Edge really fun and mechanically intense.

Simply said, the game just works!

The fights always feel fair, and you’ll need to be quick on your feet and utilize both your defensive options and your offensive options to come out on top of your opponents. The game’s mechanics really give you the ability to create your own playstyle and surprise your opponents with interesting ways to claim your victory.

Overall, Strikers Edge uses a simple concept but makes it so much more fun and mechanically deep by adding simple but impactful mechanics that really spice up the gameplay to the point where it's super intense and fun to play on your own in online matches or locally with a group of friends.

Arcade Look

When looking at Strikers Edge, the game just screams "arcade." From the graphics, sounds, and even the way the menu behaves, it almost seems like Strikers Edge was made to be played on an arcade machine. The pixel art and the overall fantasy style really suit the game and make Strikers Edge a joy to look at. The characters, though simple, all have a cool and distinctive look to them that expresses who they are.

The game has four different arenas that do vary in quality; three out of the four arenas look detailed and lively, while the last arena, “Battleships,” kind of looks unfinished or rushed and lacks the detail the other arenas have. Apart from that, the graphical design of the game is great and sets itself apart from other similar indie titles.

Satisfying Sounds

The music in Strikers Edge definitely could have been better. The menu music is a nice and calm track, but it doesn’t fit the game at all. The other music in the arenas does fit the game, but it's repetitive and not as good as expected. However, playing your own music over the game is a great alternative.

The sound effects are where Strikers Edge shines. The menu sounds are just like how you’d expect them to be and give off that arcade vibe once again. In the arena, the hit sounds and especially the headshot sounds are super satisfying, making each hit just feel a bit better. The crowd also cheers whenever you do something good, making the matches feel more lively and making you feel even better when you pull off that clutch win.

Small Player Base

At this point, the only thing that’s holding Strikers Edge back from becoming something big is its player base. Finding online matches takes a little while, and there is no real community around the game yet. This is sad to see because the game has a lot of potential to become a competitive game, and with features like Twitch integration, it is an awesome game to stream. Strikers Edge just needs some good marketing right now to grow its player base and become an awesome game.


With all that said, Fun Punch Games did an awesome job with Strikers Edge. The game feels great, it’s fun, and it looks awesome. There are still things left to be desired, like better music and some more in-game settings, but all in all, Strikers Edge is a very cool and interesting game that has the potential to become even better.

HyperX Alloy Elite RGB Review: Matching Color With Excellent Design Wed, 28 Feb 2018 11:47:57 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Having control feels good. With the right tools at your disposal -- such as a well-crafted mechanical gaming keyboard -- having control means you're an unstoppable force wrecking through thousands of moveable objects. And as with any tool, a keyboard's quality exponentially increases the chances of utterly destroying your opponents. 

Because of that, we loved the HyperX Alloy Elite gaming keyboard when we reviewed it back in October. And that's why we love its new RGB counterpart. 

At its core, the HyperX Alloy Elite RGB is the same fantastic keyboard that's been on the market for the past six months -- but it's one that's added a few interesting tweaks worthy of exploration. When compared to its contemporaries, the Elite RGB is a tool that stands toe to toe with products from Corsair, Logitech, and SteelSeries. 

Despite its lofty price, it's also one we highly recommend. Let's talk about why. 

Overall Design

On the outside, the Alloy Elite RGB sports the same sleek look of the Alloy Elite. A solid black aluminum body houses a full 104 keys sitting on Cherry MX switches (Red, Blue, or Brown depending on your preference). Unlike the HyperX FPS Pro, the Alloy Elite RGB has a 10-key numpad, as well as dedicated switches for media keys, key-lighting brightness, profile recall, and game-mode key locking. To increase or decrease volume, you'll find a nifty -- and easy to use -- volume wheel in the board's top right-hand quadrant. 

The board also comes with a textured wrist-rest that easily attaches to the front of the board. I preferred to not use the rest because my specific setup makes for an uncomfortable situation with it attached. However, on a desk with more room, the wrist rest is comfortable, if simple. 

To finish things off, the Alloy Elite RGB comes with sturdy plastic feet that don't easily slide across your desktop, as well as a durable braided cord that won't get easily tangled. The board features pass-through functionality that comes in handy for gamers needing an extra USB port closer to their playing surface. 

Ngenuity RGB Customization Screen

Ingenius Ngenuity

HyperX has historically held true to a minimalist aesthetic; almost all of their products have eschewed customizable features and RGB lighting for plug-n'-play mechanics and brand-standard red backlighting. Some gamers liked it, some gamers didn't. And at the end of the day, the choice didn't affect the quality of HyperX's products. 

However, with the Alloy Elite RGB, HyperX has embraced the customizability craze and combined their aptitude for quality with a more tailor-made approach. They do this through their Ngenuity software. 

When you first download Ngenuity from the HyperX website and launch it on your computer, the software looks a tad dated and unremarkable. It would've been nice had it been a bit more energetic on the visual front, but that doesn't particularly matter when it's easy as hell to use. 

Each menu and submenu item is accurately labeled to avoid any confusion -- "Macros" will open the Macro menu, while "Lighting" will open the Lighting menu. It seems obvious, but it's a nice touch that can be easily overlooked. Inside those menus, choosing colors within the full RGB spectrum and lighting presets options is a cinch, taking only a few clicks to set up, while the same can be said for macros. And yes, you can fully reprogram all the keys on the board and create libraries and profiles, the latter of which you can have up to three. 

The only gripe I have in this area is that editing and saving profiles isn't as intuitive as it could be, considering the rest of Ngenuity is basically super easy to navigate and understand. Once you do it two or three times, you should have the hang of it. But it is an area that has a just a few too many steps (you shouldn't have to choose the profile twice to edit it), and the whole process could be improved upon in the future. 

Alloy Elite Desktop Picture with Steel Series Rival 600 in the background


Like its predecessor, the Alloy Elite RGB performs exceedingly well both in the office and at home. Whether I was typing up articles, tweaking designs in InDesign, or queuing up unit actions in They Are Billions, this board remained a reliable piece of my arsenal. 

Whereas I've had issues with certain keyboards holding up after testing sessions and finding that certain keys begin to squeak two or three weeks into use, I've not come across that with the Elite RGB at all, which speaks to the board's craftsmanship and engineering. I've put in around 110 hours on the board playing input-intense titles such as Overwatch, Paladins, Cities: Skylines, Subnautica, and They Are Billions without any incident -- and I'm confident the board's going to continue to hold up while still providing impeccable performance. 

On top of that, each key provides quality tactile feedback, which I especially appreciate in-game. Requiring 45-50 cN of actuation force is what you'd expect from a board of this build, keeping it in line with other mechanicals in its range, such as the Corsair K68 RGB and the SteelSeries M750 TKL. Light-handed gamers might find they have to press a little harder to get their keystrokes to register, but I don't see a majority of users having any issues with the Elite RGB's keys.

I will say I wish the F12 key weren't as easy to accidentally nudge when pressing backspace, an issue we found somewhat frustrating in the original Alloy Elite. It's also an issue when browsing the internet and constantly opening the DevTools command in Chrome.  

HyperX Alloy Elite RGB viewed from an angleVerdict

In a nutshell, the Alloy Elite RGB is the same great keyboard as its predecessor -- except it has vibrant, fully customizable RGB lighting and programmable macros. If you're looking for quality craftsmanship and reliability to go alongside those things, then this is a keyboard you'll want to check out. 

My only real concern here is the price. There's no doubt the Alloy Elite RGB is worth the $169.99 price tag. It's made very, very well. But when you look at other very, very well-made keyboards on the market that come in at $10-40 less, things get murkier. If the Alloy Elite RGB had a killer feature that you couldn't find anywhere else (or perhaps dedicated macro keys similar to Corsair's K95 RGB Platinum), I'd recommend it hands down, no caveats. But that's just not the case here. 

Providing fantastic performance, vibrant lighting, and quality engineering, you'd do well to consider the Alloy Elite RGB -- just know you're going to pay a pretty penny for it. 

You can buy the Alloy Elite RGB keyboard on Amazon for $169.99

[Note: HyperX provided the Alloy Elite RGB unit used in this review.]

Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review -- Fear Is a Fickle Thing Mon, 26 Feb 2018 11:30:32 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Let me start my review with this: I wanted to love Remothered: Tormented Fathers. In fact, I wanted to love the game so much I've been stuck in the quagmire of an existential crisis since finishing it -- specifically because I seem to have had a much different reaction to the game than a handful of other reviewers.

I've even questioned my own sanity, mirroring the torment of the characters trapped in Remothered's psychological hellscape. But ultimately, I've come to the conclusion the game is lacking in a few key areas -- and I just can't get past that.  

Extolled as a love letter to games like Clock Tower and Haunting Ground, Remothered contains doses of what made those games great, but it falls short of becoming a masterful ode to those beloved franchises. Bogged down by convoluted storytelling, monotonous gameplay, and dubious sound design, Remothered: Tormented Fathers doesn't stand out because of what it does right but because of what it fails to accomplish. 

But regardless of the games it's meant to emulate, Remothered's most egregious sin is this: except for the first half-hour segments of Acts I and II, Remothered isn't particularly scary in any form or fashion, whether that be physical or psychological horror. It has the tools to be -- but it just isn't. 

A shame considering its potential. 

Rosemary Reed stands in the garden outside the main house in Remothered: Tormented Fathers

Piecing Together Tattered Memories

The plot of Remothered: Tormented Fathers is simple enough, but it's one full of convoluted twists and turns that leave even the sanest players reeling with confusion. Set up as a psychological horror-thriller, there's no doubt Remothered's plot ought to contain at least several mind-bending revelations. But when you're left reading the game's wiki to clarify beats that should be clear (or the backgrounds of certain primary characters) once the credits roll, it's obvious something important is missing.  

Without going into too much detail, you play as Rosemary Reed, a woman investigating the disappearance of Dr. Richard Felton's daughter, Celeste. In typical horror-movie fashion, curiosity gets the better of the tenacious Reed, and she ultimately becomes trapped in a house of horrors, chased by a deranged psychopath bent on her destruction.  

As you tiptoe around the house doing your best to avoid butchering at the hands of one of the game's three enemies (where only two ever appear on-screen at the same time), your primary storytelling devices are collectibles strewn about in various locations around the house. Whether it be portraits hanging on the walls or newspaper clippings shoved in drawers, these narrative-advancing collectibles aren't all that hard to find. 

Remothered Outside the House on the Porch Early Game

However, the story they tell isn't all that easy to fully comprehend. At some point in the past, there were experiments carried out by an associate of Felton, and those experiments didn't go well. The drug in those experiments led to tragedy, and the drug was recalled. Somehow, that drug totally bakes people's memories, morphing them into murderous sociopaths. Somehow ... moths are involved -- because according to the developers, they represent transformation, duplicity, and death. All themes I can get behind in a horror game. 

Unfortunately, it's the same telling of madness, deceit, and redemption(?) we've seen play out in countless other stories. Sure, it could definitely work here -- if the narrative better aligned the breadcrumbs in a more discernible path. However, when all is said and done, I'm still not sure why any of this happened, who certain characters are, what those characters' connections are, or if certain plot points were even real (or necessary). I can infer, but even those inferences are tenuous at best. 

I've played a lot of similar survival-horror games (Outlast, Amnesia, RE1The Beast Inside), so I don't need every plot point handed to me on a silver platter to piece together what's going on. But even five days on, I'm still scratching my head, trying to figure out all the plot points and connections.

Of course, some of the answers to Remothered's questions could (and probably will) be saved for its two planned sequels (of which you'd only know about if you followed the game's development). But with so few questions answered following the game's climax, I felt left out in the cold, a feeling that continued through the game's hamfisted, weightless ending and into its credits. 

Reed Looks at a desk with a mannequin head on it in the attic in Remothered

A Slow Crawl to the End

It doesn't help the story that Remothered's gameplay is meticulously repetitive. At best, Remothered can be described as a horror walking-sim with QTEs sprinkled in for added gameplay gravitas. 

When you begin, it feels as if Remothered's gameplay will be a slow, terrifying crescendo into a symphony of unforgettable horror later in the game. The fact is ... that kind of happens. In reality, it's a slow burn toward a frustrating finale full of trial and error -- and tantrum-inducing insta-deaths exacerbated by a less-than-optimal save system (pro tip: do not ever quit and assume your autosave will start you where you left off).  

In fact, by the time you get to the game's climactic scene, you've probably gotten bored with walking slower than a crippled snail from one end of the house to the other to find this item or that. Not to mention most of that gameplay consists of constant backtracking. 

You can run, of course, speeding things up. Just expect to be constantly harassed by one of Remothered's three enemies. No matter where you are in the house in relation to where they are in the house, your enemies will find your exact location within mere seconds of you running, making it an irritating movement choice at best -- and a frustratingly deadly one at worst. 

Remothered. Reed looks at a painting in a dark room.

And yes, I know Remothered is supposed to reintroduce classic survival-horror gameplay to a modern audience, gameplay pioneered by titles like Clock Tower, but spending nearly 65% of the game sneaking back and forth along the same exact route can get unbearably tedious. In fact, there's so little variation in setting in the early- to mid-game that you might rather watch paint dry than look at the same bookshelf or desk or lamp over and over again. 

At least RE1 took you outside the house or had greenhouses and gardens you could explore. Remothered made me claustrophobic, but not in a way that re-emphasized the narrative or conceit. 

Considering that, I will say that despite its overall monotony, Remothered's control system is solid and intuitive. Moving Reed about the ostensible hell house is fluid and responsive. I could turn on a dime and dodge enemies effectively. The defensive mini-game (initiated any time you have a defensive item in your inventory and an enemy grabs you) was easy to understand and complete. The only time I died in Remothered was when I didn't have a defensive item or wasn't paying attention to the white orb in the center of the QTE. 

Accessing your inventory to use items also adds a sense of dread to the game. In fact, it was one of the only times I was every really apprehensive while playing Remothered. Two or three other times I was legitimately scared by the game's deliberate horror, but going into my inventory knowing a murderer lurked somewhere behind me gave me goosebumps every time. 

Reed creeps through the wine cellar in Remothered

Gorgeous Environments, Muddy Characters 

For the most part, Remothered is a pretty game. Environments are well detailed and each room is filled with embellishments that make it realistic and believable. Particularly, though, lighting in Remothered is fantastic. The sun creeping through trees in the game's opening is mesmerizing; lightning piercing through half-covered windows in the mid-game is striking; and the shadows cast by your flashlight as you near the climax can make you see ghouls that aren't even there. 

But where the environments do such a fantastic job of drawing you into Remothered's diegesis, the character models often leave something to be desired, especially in 4K. At times, they're fantastically rendered. At other times, they look like something from the PlayStation 3's early days -- muddy or, as is sometimes the case with Reed specifically, strangely cel-shaded from certain angles (let's not even talk about Richard's weirdly fused butt cheeks). 

Sure, Remothered was made by a small indie team, and it's not necessarily meant to be photorealistic -- or even to sport high-end graphics. But it's really the inconsistencies that crawl under my skin and burrow into my bones. At the end of the day, they're immersion breaking, sometimes bordering on the comical. And in a game centered on terror, those issues only stand out more profoundly. 

A Frightening Sonata With a Few Sour Notes

If you're looking for a game that has a moody and haunting score, you'll find what you're looking for in Remothered. Produced by veteran video game composer Nobuko Toda, who has worked on games like The Evil Within, The Evil Within 2, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Final Fantasy XIV, the soundtrack to Remothered emphasizes your claustrophobic surroundings and keeps you planted within the world. It adds a sense of foreboding that would be absent without it. 

The same cannot be said for Remothered's sound effects and voice acting, both of which sometimes border on the atrocious. In the opening moments of the game, voice-overs are especially muddy, sounding unproduced. In some cases, you can even tell the voices are coming from a sound booth in some far-off studio. As the game progresses, there are instances where volumes fluctuate -- and where screams are unbearably loud. 

The same can be said for the foleys in Remothered. Lighting a cigarette early in the game, the striking of a lighter's flint echoes -- but you're standing on the front porch of a house. Walking across leaves overpowers other sounds and dialog. 

But the primary -- and most agonizing -- culprit comes in the form of footsteps. While you're supposed to be able to pinpoint where your enemies are by their footsteps and voices, that's rarely ever the case. Sometimes, footsteps are loud and clacky, as if your stalker is in the room with you. Then you find out they're actually in the room above you. Other times, footsteps and voices are muddled, as if they're coming through a wall -- but your attacker is right behind you. 

It's something that can lead to hollow frights, but it often leads to cheap deaths. All of this gets better as you progress through the game, although I'm not sure if it's because the sound design gets better or if you just get used to it and adjust your playstyle. 

Richard Felton burnt to death Remothered


At the end of the day, I'm being hard on Remothered because it was a game that I was not only very excited for but one that had a ton of potential. It's not unplayable by any means -- or even "broken" in the truest definition of the word. And it really does have some scary moments (specifically in the second act). But it takes so long to get there, has rage-inducing insta-deaths in its end-game, poorly edited subtitles, and inconsistent sound design -- all things that can quickly turn off gamers that would have otherwise loved it. 

If you're a die-hard Clock Tower fan, you'll probably find something to love in Remothered: Tormented Fathers. But even then, this is a hard game to love. Hopefully, the sequels will fix some of the issues found here because the potential of this franchise shouldn't end here. 


DISCLAIMER: Get the Steam Full Release of Remothered: Tormented Fathers. Coming soon for PS4 and Xbox One. Copyright © 2018 Darril Arts. All rights reserved.

Mulaka Review: Magic, Mystery, and Culture Mon, 26 Feb 2018 09:15:01 -0500 Steven Oz

At its core, Mulaka is mechanically very similar to previous games like Prototype, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed. It’s an action-adventure game that pits players against mythical creatures in stunning 3D areas with a full range of light and heavy attacks. The fast-paced action requires astute observation of your surroundings in addition to keeping tabs on hidden secrets and areas in each level.


The complex nature of Mulaka is easy to swallow due to the rich historical nature that was created in collaboration with anthropologists and Tarahumara leaders in order to capture the true heart of the culture in the game. You are the Sukurúame -- a Tarahumara shaman -- as you fight in a corrupted land while drawing upon the abilities of demigods to aid you.

One standout component of this game is the folklore and background that the developer Lienzo wanted to show the player: controlling a Rarámuri warrior, narration in authentic Rarámuri, and exploring the actual landscape of the Sierra Tarahumara. The story mode tells of the birth of the world and how the Sun, Moon, and Twilight want to destroy the earth. You, the Sukurúame, with the powers bestowed upon you by the demigods, protect the region. Advancing through the story gives you an enjoyable opportunity to soak in the culture and the Rarámuri language. The soundtrack is a spectacular use of preserving the music unique to the region, which is also available on SoundCloud


Mulaka does the player a favor with its minimalist approach to the on-screen presentation. The HUD uses the same graphical style used by the actual Tarahumara culture. The level of intricacy within the details of your health and D-Pad is more akin to an MMO than an action-adventure game. Given the game's slow-paced nature, it seems almost too easy to keep track of everything on the screen -- so much so that you will find yourself lost in the vibrant, low-poly visual landscape of northern Mexico, just trying to focus on a single goal.

For some, Mulaka's simplistic nature is not what they are looking for, but within the game controls are hidden moves that inflict more damage to the corrupted enemies. This more complex nature could be what they are looking for. If you put in the hours to play Mulaka, there is a fantastic action-adventure game underneath it all.

Each of your three standard lives is represented as a soul, and as you lose them, each soul gets taken by the enemy that damages you. What is stunning about that is you see the soul being ripped away and drifting towards that enemy. To retrieve your soul, you craft a magic potion and perform a ritual dance. In addition to that, you will craft various items to help you on your journey.

For the average player, Mulaka might be the right game to play for cleansing the palate after playing 50 hours+ games. It’s easy to see that many people will get through this game within a few hours, but that's not the point. Like Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the information of the world is integrated within the story. The game presents critical information to the player through the lore of each enemy and land. For instance, the tutorial eases you into the controls with totems of the spirit animals. An on-screen prompt appears with the appropriate move required.

There are points within the game, however, that feel like an unnatural means to introduce harder enemies for the player. An example of this can be found with the game's “fighting circle.” These circles have the player face about three waves of various enemies while locked within a determined space. The gameplay loop of the “fighting circle” is often used too much here -- around two to three times per level. This forced grind is a poor decision that robs the player of the option to enjoy the game how they see fit. When the same enemies are in the surrounding area, these “fighting circles” seem unnecessary. While the gameplay is fun, given the intensive care to the narrative and wonderful writing, it’s more likely that you will stick with the story and see it to the eventual conclusion than worry about the gameplay.

There’s no denying that Mulaka takes a huge risk in trying to do something unique, from the developer creating a Kickstarter to using the lore of old books and forgotten texts. This game asks the average person to pay attention to the words of the past and to how stories are told and spread, proving how different cultures can touch players through storytelling and gameplay.

Mulaka comes out February 27 for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Note: A review code was provided by the developer.

The Disappointment of Yume Nikki: Dream Diary - Review Sun, 25 Feb 2018 15:39:28 -0500 wlkrjesse

When DmC: Devil May Cry was released, the term "not just bad for a Devil May Cry game, but a bad video game" was the most popular criticism. The people who enjoyed the game saw this as unfair, as DmC made no claims to be a sequel to the previous games and was instead a reboot. My gripe with this argument made by the defenders of DmC: Devil May Cry is that, like it or not, this game is called Devil May Cry. You can claim it's whatever weird spin-off you want, but when you use the words Devil May Cry, in that order, in the title of your game, it invokes a certain idea. You don't get to have the marketing cake of naming your game after a genre-redefining action series and then eat it too by telling your audience to suck it up because "it's a reboot" when the game was ultimately rejected for a myriad of reasons, most of all for being a bad video game.

This is the inevitable issue that comes with reviewing Yume Nikki: Dream Diary, which is bad as a Yume Nikki game but merely poor as a video game.

This does not mean that Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is entirely without merit. The inclusion of Super Nasu is cute, the graphics are serviceable (for the most part), and for fans of Yume Nikki, it will be nice to see a 3D realization of the game to any degree. In addition, this is a completely different kind of game than the original Yume Nikki, so in that respect, to compare both titles is unfair to Yume Nikki: Dream Diary. All this being said, the small, piecemeal sections of the game that show an inkling of competence do not justify the $20 price tag, nor does the game trying something different from the first excuse its overwhelming mediocrity.

Ghastly shades of red and black make for an eerie scene

Yume Nikki: Dream Diary falls short all on its own, but the title does it absolutely no favors. If this game were called Sweater Girl's Stealthy Dream Dunkin', it wouldn't have even breached the surface of the Steam shitty-horror-indie game ocean, and there would be no need to review it. The first Yume Nikki was a game where you were encouraged to explore and see all there was to see. While it did have the objective of collecting all the effects, that certainly was not the goal of the game. You wanted to get lost in Madotsuki's psyche because it was so visually stunning. The original game was steeped in surreal, hypnotic atmosphere that was so perfectly complementary to the bizarre dream world it lovingly crafted.

Yume Nikki Dream Diary removes all aforementioned elements from its predecessor, instead bringing us a chimera of only the most uninteresting indie game elements, creating what is the functional equivalent of Yume Nikki by way of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, forming an unholy union with Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. The game is an aggressively unnecessary creation, where the meager table scraps of exploration you're able to pool together in a cruel charade of the original Yume Nikki are tarnished by invisible walls and puzzles that would make an early Myst game blush from their levels of inanity, all of which is blended to a gray-vanilla flavored puree and then topped with a spoonful of game-crashing glitches.

Yume Nikki Dream Diary presents a sense of isolation through its imagery

The platforming sections in Yume Nikki: Dream Diary are just a goddamn bore, constructed of tired levels that could have been shaped into any middle-of-the-road, 2.5D, side-scrolling section thrown together in Unity and then sheepishly hocked on Steam for $5 a hit. The stealth portions take the game from unending doldrums to clustered tedium, creating a true chore for the player to slog through that is so deprived of any kind of reward on completion that the alternative of simply not doing that part of the game sounds like a far better use of your time. I haven't even broached the mountainous lack of polish the game possesses, leading to the only logical conclusion that it is in fact an unfinished product (which the two patches since release on February 23rd support.)  There was an area I entered in the game where my screen cut to black, and the game immediately crashed on the spot, apropos of nothing but trying to explore the game clearly in vain. The collision detection is capricious at best, where without warning you will fall through the floor or an object you're standing on and be rewarded with instant death

The horror in the first Yume Nikki was a slow burn, with the disturbing imagery that sloshes around in the player's mind blending with a soundtrack of rhythmic noise and ambient minimalism. While Yume Nikki: Dream Diary's soundtrack is actually quite serviceable, it takes a ham-handed approach to the horror, reducing the iconography of Yume Nikki down to jump scares that would seem more befitting a pop-up haunted house in central Florida.

A playground sits unused in Yume Nikki Dream Diary, much like other things mentioned in this review

Yume Nikki: Dream Diary did not have to be a 1:1 ratio 3D remake of the original Yume Nikki to be a good game. I would even make the argument that the only necessary followup to Yume Nikki that stresses accuracy from the original would be a VR game. However, Yume Nikki: Dream Diary misses the point of a reboot entirely. A reboot does not mean to completely ignore everything that made the original game great, to make something entirely new that has the occasional wink to the camera in reference to the original and then call it a day. Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is related to Yume Nikki more or less in name only, carrying only a pocketful of imagery from the first game, and gameplay-wise having next to nothing in common with it. The latter issue would be fine, but the fact of the matter is the gameplay path they chose to go down is middling at best and flat-out does not operate properly at worst.

It's a truly bizarre game in this aspect, because who is it for? People who loved the first Yume Nikki for its free-form exploration are going to find dust in the wind with Yume Nikki: Dream Diary, with the only real selling point for fans being the chance to see a scant few elements from the original game rendered in passable 3D. This is a reboot of a game that came over a decade ago; I can't imagine the people who are champing at the bit for more Yume Nikki are looking for anything like Yume Nikki: Dream Diary. While the game isn't a Highlander 2 level of betrayal to the first, it feels so wholly and completely unnecessary that you will not get anything from playing it as a fan that you couldn't find in a YouTube video, and if you have a passing interest in Yume Nikki, you're far better off playing the original, which is free on Steam.

Yume Nikki: Dream Diary is a game that, more so than just disappointing fans, fails to leave any lasting impression outside of "Wow, that was $20?" 

The Station Review: Short, Engaging Sci-Fi Mystery Walking Simulator Fri, 23 Feb 2018 15:42:11 -0500 Ty Arthur

A crowdfunding success finally hitting consoles and PC, The Station offers up an afternoon's diversion with a short but engaging first-person, sci-fi mystery set in the near future. 

An alien world has been discovered, and it's time to make first contact, but there's a hitch -- the aliens are in the midst of a world war, and revealing ourselves to them seems dangerous.

It falls on a stealth, cloaked space station to monitor the world and learn as much as they can before a decision is made about how to proceed. Unfortunately, as things tend to do, something has gone wrong, and the aliens are made aware of the station's presence as systems start to malfunction.

When the crew stops communicating, it falls on you to explore the station, repair broken systems, and rescue anyone you can before terminating the mission.

The Station is set -- not surprisingly -- on a space station Will there ever be a game about how everything goes right in space?

The Station's Style -- Horror or Suspense?

There are a lot of ways this game could have gone. The story seems like it could have equally housed an action FPS where you gun down aliens and save crew, or instead go a stealth route that's high on the tension. Neither is the case here.

Like Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch, you might be expecting a scary game going in based on some of the imagery and descriptions of The Station, but as with those games, there's not actually any horror going on here at all.

While the gameplay is very much in the Layers of Fear or SOMA style, this is more of a drama with some occasional suspense elements than anything even approaching the horror genre. Sure, there are a few eerie sound effects here and there, and some sudden events like explosions or catching a figure out of the corner of your eye might get a mild jump.

Honestly, the scariest part for me was walking out onto the see-through view ports and feeling like you were going to fall into space. Most of the time, The Station is entirely exploration and story-focused, though, even with some light humor here and there.

The Station does lend the player a sense of cosmic expansiveness  Fear of heights on a cosmic scale!

Space Exploration Meets Walking Simulator

The bulk of the game is all about solving puzzles to open new areas, and then listening to audio logs or reading emails to discover what happened.

More than just a straightforward narrative of the ultimate fate of the crew, there's plenty of back story between the three main characters on the station to get you invested.

Along the way, the art style and sound effects are top-notch. The Station's sleek graphics of this futuristic space station are integrated really smoothly into the gameplay, like with the floating visual emails and menu screens.

The Station features a sleek, futuristic style of menus Menus and notes feel more substantial with their futuristic style

I liked that there's no tips or mini-map pings to tell you where to go or how to solve the puzzles, but they aren't impossible to figure out, either. The puzzles make sense within the game universe, and you can usually solve them within a few minutes by paying attention to your surroundings.

In particular I had a blast with an early puzzle to unlock storage bays with items I needed, then employing a magnetic pulse and shutting off lighting power to determine which parts where broken and which were functional.

A puzzle after that, where you have to memorize and repeatedly try several different patterns that are very similar visually, was more frustrating, but it's unlikely anyone's going to throw a controller over these.

You won't pull out your hair trying to figure out how to solve puzzles in The Station Puzzles aren't overly difficult, but still give a sense of accomplishment

Story and Play Time

The Station is essentially a toned-down, exploration-based Prey (minus all combat) with a similar twist ending. If you pay attention to the logs and what's happening around you, though, you should guess it pretty early on in the story, but it's still a fun ride to get there.

Overall the story asks some big questions about humanity, the ways we act, and what would it would mean for us if we discovered alien life. Plenty of zingers are thrown in at the way people and corporations behave in the current era, and how that sort of selfish behavior would continue to occur in various ways even after we start exploring the stars.

At most, you're looking at around two or so hours to fully finish that story, and I recommend playing the full length in one sitting, as there's more impact that way.

There are a few achievements to nab by finding some side stuff, but otherwise really no replay value to speak of. A free exploration mode is in the works and due out in a future patch, however, so eventually there will be reason to boot the game back up.

The Station is a short game, but despite its length, it offers some fun moments Welcome to the Espial, you won't be staying long!

The Bottom Line

Whether you should bother with The Station and its $14.99 price tag depends entirely on how you feel about walking simulator games.

If you like being immersed in short, visual tales where you have to solve some puzzles to unlock the next segment of the storyline, then The Station is worth trying out (although probably wait till it's on sale).

If you aren't crazy about walking simulators -- or only care about them if they aren't incredibly short -- then you can skip The Station without hesitation.

With how much polish this game has graphically and on the puzzle front, I'm definitely interested to see if this team expands on the idea and gives us something meatier down the line.

Yume Nikki Is as Good Today as When It Came Out Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:56:32 -0500 wlkrjesse

When anyone wants to talk about games as art, Yume Nikki should be the first game that is mentioned. An exquisitely detailed exploration of one unconscious, Yume Nikki is both the follow-up to LSD: Dream Emulator that we desperately needed and a new gold standard in the murky waters of exploration games.

The elevator pitch is deceptively simple. You play as Madotsuki (窓付き, lit. windowed) while she dreams, where you explore and collect 24 various "effects" that change how you can interact with the world. While this seems like a simplistic setup, what is around the game is what makes it so special.

Impatience is your absolute worst enemy in Yume Nikki. You're in Madotsuki's apartment. The TV can be turned on and off, but it doesn't receive any channels. There's a Famicom where you can play a bizarre game of futility called NASU. Her desk allows her to write in her diary as a save game feature. You're also able to go outside on the balcony. However, you can't leave your room. Whenever you attempt to interact with the door, Madotsuki shakes her head no. The only way out of the room at all is through the bed.

This is why the game is worth playing. For someone of relatively few words, Madotsuki's inner life is a rich tapestry of isolation, anxiety, and Mesoamerican imagery. In addition to the hub world with 12 doors that lead to large overworlds that appear in a nexus after she initially falls asleep, there are over 100 unique interconnected locations to explore. While that might not sound entirely impressive compared to the open-world games of today, Yume Nikki is arguably the most brilliant game when it comes to making use of its space.

Every world is a vivid, haunting experience. From the lonely underground mall to the dazzling, populous neon world, every place you visit in Yume Nikki is something you will remember. There's an entirely Famicom-inspired world that takes clear inspiration from Mother and is even complete with an in-game ending "glitch" where the Famicom crashes and Madotsuki wakes up from her dream. There's an area fans refer to as Hell, a giant red maze full of dead ends and disorientingly similar routes that obliterate your sense of direction. Every single tile set that makes up Yume Nikki is both necessary and breathtaking. Its world is as rich and varied as a grandmother's quilt, created over what seems like eons into such a rich, multifaceted object that every aspect of it serves to draw you in. The visual playground that Yume Nikki displays simply cannot be matched, having the sheer punching weight of a phenomenal aesthetic palette that has prevented itself from being dated.

Yume Nikki's sound design exists solely to prop up the imagery. Unmelodious, rhythmic, humming drones are there to pull you further into the trance of Madotsuki's inner life. The soundtrack could be compared to noise or sound collage, and while that isn't entirely off kilter, there's more of a vibration to it, a hypnotic element that always seems to perfectly match whatever surreal landscape surrounds you.

Further aiding Yume Nikki's focus on exploration are the effects. These are the game's term for items that Madotsuki can use to impact the world around her, through physical interaction or changing her own properties. They can often be very useful -- like a bicycle that increases your movement speed or turning Mado's head into a lamp to see in the game's darker areas -- but they can also dip into the absurd and useless, such as turning Madotsuki into a neon sign or removing her face. Most notable of the effects is the knife, which can not only scare away the few enemies the game has (which annoyingly send you back to the waking world) but also be used to trigger events.

The events are Yume Nikki's frontal display of artistic meaning. They're caused by using an effect (usually the knife) on a specific part of the dream worlds and reward your curiosity with a small animation. They can range from small changes, such as Mado waking up with a crick in her neck, to drastic occurrences, such as the infamous Uboa event, where Madotsuki is chased by an enormous bleeding monster set to a haunting few sounds. The events are often well hidden, but it's always worth your time to explore and see Kikiyama, the creator of the game, peel back another layer of the onion.

Yume Nikki is a game that so perfectly captures dreamlike imagery that many people experience it in an uncanny way, as it seems incredibly familiar but also alien and frightening. It's something you play right before bed, sleepy but unable to close your eyes, and let your mind wander. Games have come before Yume Nikki that have done similar things, and there are certain to be games after. Never have there been games that have nailed it down this goddamn well. Ten out of ten.

Metal Gear Survive Crashes And Burns Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:53:29 -0500 Ty Arthur

There was always destined to be controversy and negative fan backlash from Metal Gear Survive. Even if it hadn't drastically changed styles from previous games, the very public, very ugly split between Hideo Kojima and Konami meant there was already a built-in base of haters ready and waiting to drag this game down.

We saw that unfold before the game even launched, with massive review bombing at Metacritic by people who never played the game, complaining about the bad mechanics on PC ... two days before it actually unlocked on Steam. Those people weren't reviewers with advanced copies either, because the advanced copies didn't unlock until the same time as the first-day buyers.

Having now finally been able to get on the PC version, I can say with authority that it turns out those overly eager Kojima fans were more right than they knew, just for all the wrong reasons

This image of destruction is apt according to our Metal Gear Survive review The opening cut-scene of being utterly destroyed and sucked through a wormhole into an alternate dimension is a very apt metaphor for this game's place in the franchise.

Failure To Launch

Konami seemed to go out the way to shoot itself in the foot as frequently and as horribly as possible during every stage of this game's conception and execution. A word like "botched" doesn't even begin to describe the release, which was alternatively listed as happening on February 20th, the 21st, or the 22nd, with no consistency on that front.

When it unlocked for consoles, no one could play for more than 12 hours, as a glitch requiring an update prevented anyone from logging on. Things went even worse on the PC front, with no pre-load available.

When the projected unlock time finally arrived, suddenly the Metal Gear Survive page was yanked entirely from Steam, causing an uproar and extreme backlash from Windows players who were already out of patience. Later that night, a Tweet went out explaining the game would be available after a fix, with no projected time or date. It wasn't until this morning -- 3 days after releasing on console -- that PC players actually got to play. 

When the game starts with you as a battered, dead soldier being forcibly raised from the dead and sent out into the wilderness unarmed and alone to get decimated by angry hordes, I started to feel like this is a social experiment gone wrong and that we're all being punked.

These sketchy guys send you through a wormhole in Metal Gear Survive "He's dead, Jim." "Too bad, raise him from the dead anyway."

Who Designed These Controls?

Whatever word is ten orders of magnitude higher than "clunky" is the one you'd want to use to describe the controls and menu screens for Metal Gear Survive.

There are times I feel like I'm playing Octodad or Goat Simulator -- two games that have completely wonky controls on purpose -- instead of a AAA polished title.

First up, you can't use the mouse during setup screens, the main menu, crafting bench menus, or in your inventory and can only navigate with the keyboard. At first it was unclear if this was a bug or if the developers just didn't bother to change the controls from console so that PC players can actually use the mouse.

The answer to that question was cleared up by going to the "Controls" screen to see that the keyboard mapping literally brings up an image of an Xbox One controller, with no keyboard controls available. The level of laziness and disregard for the PC fan base there is frankly infuriating.

Metal Gear Survive controls like a nightmare for PC players How did THIS get past quality control?!?

Apart from the keyboard nonsense, the game as a whole just has really odd controls. You've got to hold the right mouse button and then click the left to use any weapon, even if using a melee weapon like a spear and not something that has to be aimed like a gun.

Your avatar also slides when you stop running, so between that and having to stop, hold down right-click, then aim with the mouse and hit left-click to attack, hunting or attacking is extremely frustrating and imprecise.

Making matters worse, the game glitched out and wouldn't let me select the spear on my back during the early portions of the game for no apparent reason. This meant I had to run around trying to beat sheep to death with my fists so that I didn't starve ... which obviously didn't work. Time to start over from the beginning and watch all those cut-scenes again to fix the problem.

Sheep in Metal Gear Survive prove to be ruthless Say hello to my arch nemesis -- the invincible sheep!

Tutorial: The Game

When we get past the launch disaster and figure out the awful controls, it's time to actually dive into the game, right? Wrong!

There's an absurdly long slog through cut-scenes before you actually get to play, and then an even longer slog through tutorial missions before getting into the majority of the game itself.

We're talking 2+ hours of cut-scenes and tutorials before you are seriously playing the game for real. This creates an incredibly choppy, un-fun experience, as the game puts its worst foot forward and makes a very bad first impression.

You'll become all too familiar with text-based tutorials in Metal Gear Survive For a little over two hours, this is the screen you will see most frequently

When you finally get to actually play Metal Gear Survive, what you get is essentially Fortnite meets Ark with technological zombies. The resource gathering, weapon crafting, defense, and base-building segments are very much in the vein of Fortnite's Save The World mode.

The survival elements like hunger and thirst go more towards Ark, but here these constantly dropping meters are significantly more punishing, to the point that I expect more than a few players to give up within the first few missions.

Hunger and thirst meters even drop while you are in your iDroid menu or crafting objects, so you can literally be on death's door just by spending a few minutes crafting fences or making new weapons.

Metal Gear Survive's take on hunger and thirst is unforgiving and unfair Forget the zombies, these numbers are your biggest enemy

Story Meets Survival

Although the gameplay is similar, Metal Gear Survive is much more story-focused than either Ark or Fortnite, so it does offer something different on that front.

A mysterious organization sends a nearly dead soldier through a wormhole to deal with an infection that destroyed an alternate Earth in another dimension in order to prevent the same thing from happening on their world. Of course, there's more going on than you realize at first.

The mashup of biological and technological infection results in some really interesting zombie enemies, and there's a fun Dead Rising-type scene at the beginning depicting being chased by a gigantic horde of zombies.

A few other similarities to that franchise pop up from time to time, like rescuing survivors and bringing them back to base camp, or the way the disembodied voice over the radio sends you out on missions.

Solid Snake meets Frank West in Metal Gear Survive Where's Chuck Greene or Frank West when you need them?

The Bottom Line

So here's the deal: this is just Metal Gear art assets (and some of the franchise standard stylings like the radio communication scenes) but in a survival/tower defense game that's all scavenging, building defenses, and fighting off a wave of enemies. 

Essentially, this is Metal Gear Fortnite: Rise Of The Ark. It's a serious shame that so much went wrong here, because this is a game with loads of potential that I wanted to like.

Metal Gear meets Fortnite meets Dead Rising is exactly the kind of game I want to play, and if you can make it past the first few hours to get into the real game loop, it is a somewhat satisfying experience. Sadly, I don't expect many to get that far or to actually keep playing over the long haul on the multiplayer front.

Candleman Is an Introspective Journey That Will Warm Your Heart Wed, 21 Feb 2018 12:56:27 -0500 Andrew Krajewski

Candleman: The Complete Journey arrived on PC on Jan. 31, after launching on Xbox One last year. This unique platformer gives players 10 seconds of candlelight to help them see every level, and that is where the challenge lies. Developed by Spotlightor Interactive, Candleman puts players in a dark world that manages to calm and unnerve at the same time.

While the platforming can feel laborious at times, the true strength of this game is the touching story that makes you reflect much more than you'd expect in a video game about a candle. Let's take a quick look at some of the highlights of the game.


Candleman: The Complete Journey follows the story of a sentient candle with two dinky little legs and no face (it manages to somehow be both creepy and charming). This little candle wakes up on a boat and sees a lighthouse in the distance, which he aspires to become. The chapters of gameplay divide the story well, with different themes ranging from crushing bleakness and fear to hopeful optimism. There is an ongoing poem that accompanies each level which helps amplify the emotions surrounding the candle's journey. If not for the DLC chapters (10-12), the story would be disappointing, but those new chapters offer a new perspective that makes the story shine. Ultimately, players and the candle will come to find out how great of an impact they can make on the world without realizing it, and the importance of the journey they take rather than their destination.



Many games are praised for things like their lighting, shadows, and art style. Candleman's experience depends on it. What Candleman does extraordinarily well lies within how it takes advantage of light and darkness. The darkness is often your most frustrating obstacle, while there is just enough light to help you through each level. The camera is fixed in a way that diversifies the challenges players encounter within a level. The levels themselves look pretty good most of the time, although the background is sometimes lacking. Each chapter has a unique aesthetic, which definitely helps you continue playing the game; if each level looked the same, this would be a much different review. The sound of the game is simple, but it does its job well. The metal clink of the candle's footsteps is comforting as players traverse darkness. The boss level (yes, there is a boss level -- I didn't expect one either!) does a tremendous job using both sound and bright lights to create genuine anxiety. While not being able to skip cut-scenes may annoy some gamers, the overall artistic choices made by the developers positively contribute to the game experience. 


Candleman features a tremendous little mechanic. Players can only keep their candle lit for 10 seconds before they burn out. This leads to tough decisions on when to use that light and makes simple platforming twice as difficult. Players can't get mad at the game for dying; they can only blame themselves, either for being too impatient, misjudging a jump, or poorly utilizing their candlelight.The controls in Candleman are simple (I recommend using a controller). You move, you jump, and you light/extinguish your flame. That's it. At times, these controls felt lacking, but the developers did a fine job coming up with new ways to utilize light and the fire of your candle to make every chapter feel unique. The candle even drips wax when he burns, which is a helpful little tool to help you keep track of where you've been and where a ledge might drop off. These little wax spots help you preserve your light upon respawning because now you know where you can safely go.

Some levels feel absurdly easy, while others will challenge you over and over again. Often it felt like the only challenge the levels provided was seeking out all the hidden, optional candles that contribute to a 100% completion for every level. I do recommend seeking these candles out, as there aren't too many to find, and getting all of them adds bonus lines to the poems for each level that add more depth to the experience. Personally, the severe changes in difficulty helped keep the game fresh and rewarding, but it's likely that some people would find these inconsistencies annoying. The game often felt slow, and it punishes players trying to rush through a level, which can become really frustrating after dying several times in a row. While the mechanics of the candle are fun to experience, the gameplay isn't compelling enough to justify continuing through the game if you're not invested in the story of the candle.

My Final Take

For $14.99, Candleman: The Complete Journey is a fair value and an impressive accomplishment from a small team. If you like platformers and want a unique challenge, or if you're looking for a nice six-hour story about facing the world, then you can get Candleman on Steam. Otherwise, don't feel too bad if you want to give this game a pass or want to wait for it to go on sale.


Did you play Candleman, and if so, what did you think? Let us know in the comments below! Be sure to stick around GameSkinny for more game reviews, guides, and news!


Note: A review copy of this game was provided.


Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy Review: Why Must You Hurt Me Tue, 20 Feb 2018 14:19:59 -0500 Greyson Ditzler

I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I had to review this game. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is the most recent game from -- who else -- Bennett Foddy, an on-again-off-again game designer most famously known as the man behind QWOP. Similarly to that classic pass-around title, Getting Over It can most easily be defined as a rage game built around an intentionally complicated and frustrating control scheme.

If you've been hanging around the gaming scene on YouTube and Twitch lately, odds are you've seen this game at least a little. It exploded in popularity as a game that people love to watch people throw their controllers and scream over, and laugh over the difficulty and absurdity of when they play it themselves. But the question I'm here to ask is this: How good of a game is it really? 

This sort of thing tends to happen with rage games that explode online and live to be watched -- people don't review them as often as other games --maybe because most reviewers think that these games speak for themselves and that the community has already made up its mind. Well, I for one have made up my mind, and it's dead set on analyzing this cauldron of rage and mocking philosophy. I accept your challenge, Bennett Foddy, and I don't take kindly to being made fun of.

Let's try and get over it together.

The Appeal of This Game

Let's go over the basics for all those uninitiated. In Getting Over It you play as Diogenes -- a reference to Greek mythology -- who is a man sitting in a cauldron attempting to climb a very tall and convoluted mountain using nothing but a sledgehammer. While you play, the game's developer, Bennett Foddy, comments over the gameplay, explaining why he decided to make this game the way he did, what inspired it, and his general feelings about progression in games as well as challenges in both entertainment and life.

What you see is what you get in this case. After you play the game for about a minute and start to understand the controls, and struggle to pass a single obstacle that would be simple in any other game, you've basically seen it all. Just multiply the effect by a dozen hours or more, and imagine the whole thing getting harder and harder to a frankly ludicrous degree, often being purposely obtuse and unfair, sprinkled with some vaguely philosophical quotes, and you've got the whole experience right there.   

There are some positives to the experience, don't get me wrong. While in most places the visuals are kind of drab and basic, the random mishmash nature with which some of these pre-made assets are smashed together has a sort of quirky charm. Some of the quotes that are given are insightful, Bennett Foddy does have some nice poetic language and a few little tidbits about difficulty that are intriguing, and I'll admit that I did have some fun for the first few hours, even when I was very frustrated.

However, what positives the game has weren't nearly enough to nullify the fact that I was extremely frustrated by a game that is extremely basic and wildly hard and often unfair. I decided that I didn't want to play anymore after getting barely any further after nearly six hours of playtime, and I gave up.  

I Couldn't Get Over It 

I'm going to be clear here: I did not beat this game. Maybe I can beat it, but after hours and hours of playing and barely getting anywhere, I decided that is was too annoying and often repetitive and boring for me to want to. I just stopped caring. 

I understand the overall message it's going for -- the idea that there are great challenges in life that will wear and tear us down, and that we only truly fail and lose when we stop trying and give into despair, but honestly, I found this approach pretentious at times. The mechanics of every mistake being permanent and auto-saved constantly and there being no checkpoints to act as a safety net are definitely effective in conveying the game's themes of dedication and struggling through adversity, but from a gameplay perspective, it's all just so annoying. 

Image Unrelated. Or is it? - Greyson Ditzler

Whatever the truth or value in the game's message and the way it chooses to approach it, in practice, it plays like Hell on Earth. The controls are so sensitive, and the pace so often fluctuates between slow and careful planning in tighter spots and frantic high-speed panicking in moments of stress, that you are absolutely guaranteed to get upset with this game at some point. I'm also fairly certain that while the physics are at least fairly consistent, they are weighed against you.

You will constantly either get thrown off of a ledge because of a tiny little mistake and lose 20 minutes of progress, or not be able to move reliably at all if you and your hammer are wedged in an uncomfortable spot.

On top of all that, there's no music to speak of, and once you run out of quotes and commentary for the section you're on if you're very bad, then you're just left in silence with nothing to do but get frustrated and stare at the often very basic visuals. After not too long, the joke will wear thin, and all you're left with is a very basic and intentionally frustrating game with nothing to do in it but try and fail over and over to do very basic tasks.

This spot right below is immediately after the first major section of the game. It too me over four hours to get here. Four hours of playing the same three minutes over and over. I knew what anger was before I played this game, but it very kindly reminded what it truly means.

Started from the bottom now we're here. - Drake

Who Is This Game For?

It's not a horrible game really, but it's just so frustrating and mechanically basic that I feel you're well within your right to get bored or angry with it after an hour and put it down to play something else. Bennett admits openly that this game is horribly, bitterly difficult and frustrating by design, and that he feels some people's tastes are suited to this sort of challenge. While I feel he's right, I also feel that for me, and a lot of other people, that doesn't make the game any better or more fun as an experience.

It's been so difficult to write about Getting Over It because I think this may be the most subjective gaming experience I've ever encountered. There just doesn't seem to be a completely clear consensus on it.

While I am a firm believer in the idea that there are certain aspects of most games that can be viewed objectively, and that there are contributors to a game's quality on both a technical and artistic level that can be logically qualified, I also firmly believe that anyone is allowed to enjoy any game they want. While I've already got my own issues with this game, and there are plenty of technical faults I could point to, I also understand that a lot of people enjoy this kind of game.

I always try to take into consideration the fact that there's bound to be somebody who likes even the games I hate the most and vice versa, but with Getting Over It, it was just too hard to ignore the divided opinions on it. I've seen equal amounts of people both online and in real life that either hate the game because it's condescending and obnoxiously and purposely unfair, or who think it's hilarious for those same reasons and have a great time laughing at its absurdity.

This is why I'm scoring the game like I am. For whatever its faults -- intentional or otherwise -- it's a game that seems to either leave you ecstatic or enraged. If you want to play a different 2D indie game that's very difficult, but actually fairly designed, and also based around scaling a mountain analogous to overcoming a massive personal conflict -- then get CelesteGetting Over It is not what you're looking for if you want something hard but fair. It's the kind of game you either play to get angry or to have a laugh, sometimes in the span of the same 20 minutes.

Also, I'd like to take a moment to briefly address Bennett Foddy himself. Bennett, I don't know you, and I will probably never meet you in real life. I have nothing against you personally, and I'm sure you're a nice guy, but since you and your game have taken to poking fun at me and its other players, I'm sure you won't be too upset if we trade blows for a minute.

Your game left me too frustrated to continue, and both it and you have beaten me for today, and you will always have that over me. However, I am also content with the knowledge that while that is true, I don't like your game all that much anyway, and I'm off to spend my time on games I find much better, and I will always have that over you. I may not have been able to get over it, but I am totally over it.

I can only recommend this game if you think the idea is funny enough to carry itself or if you genuinely like the idea of a monumental, often unfair challenge. Otherwise, I would stay away from this one.

Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy is available now on Steam. You can watch the trailer for it down below (and frankly, I think it describes the whole game better than I ever could):


The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Comes to PC -- And It Was Worth the Wait! Mon, 19 Feb 2018 17:55:23 -0500 Stephanie Tang

For fans of the The Legend of Heroes series, a second Trails of Cold Steel (or Sen No Kiseki as it's known in Japan) isn't exactly new news at all.

First released in 2014 in Japan, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II  would wait another two years for localization studio Xseed Games to bring an English translation to North American PlayStation consoles in 2016. It's taken almost as much time for the game to make the jump to PC -- a global release finally hit the platform only a few short days ago on Valentine's Day

Xseed Games has been instrumental in bringing a ton of Nihon Fancom's games to North America, and both companies have big plans to bring the full roster of hit JRPGs to Steam, fueled by overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community. 

"I decided early on that ToCS2 should at the very least have all the PC-only features that were in ToCS1, including those which were ready for the release and also those implemented in later patches."
-- Durante

It's due in large because Peter Thoman aka Durante -- the creator of the PC down-sampling tool GeDoSaTo and the modder behind Dark Souls DSfix and Deadly Premonition's DPfix -- is basically the only reason Dark Souls is playable on PC at all.

Straddling the two occasionally frustrating realms of knowing what PC gamers want out of their PC games while also knowing the relative time and effort it takes to implement those features, Durante contributed the majority of the porting effort for the original Trails of Cold Steel, and is once again at the forefront of pushing out tons of PC-friendly features for this latest hit. 

Trails of Cold Steel 2 Overdrive in actionToCS2 introduces new ability, Overdrive

And ToCS2 is an undeniable hit -- if you give it the time it deserves. 

Set one month after the closing events of ToSC1, the game barrels the player through an introspective opening monologue by protagonist Rean and a series of flashbacks before carrying on -- never truly trying to reiterate exactly what happened before. (Let's be honest, would we really want it to?)

New entrants to the Legend of Heroes franchise might be able to jump right into playing this particular title if they really wanted to, but they probably won't get as much enjoyment out of the experience. Together, the Trails games play beautifully off one another -- alone, you'll probably find yourself missing way more than you'd like if you're looking to fully immerse yourself.

This game has also lovingly localized absolutely everything -- each and every reference to the previous games, and to other titles in the series, some of which haven't yet made it to North America.

(Note: The console version of the Trails of Cold Steel II would change some of the interactions in ToSC2 if you had a clean ToSC1 game saved. I don't own the first Trails on Steam, so I wasn't able to find out whether this is also the case with the PC version.)

Lady Schwarzer talks to two characters

Happily, while the front half of the game locks you into a somewhat linear path through the store, the latter half fans out into an open-world that allows your characters to more freely roam -- a welcome change from the structure of the school schedule from the first Trails.

The story itself drags a little in the opening half as well, but, without spoilers, evolves into a fantastic final act that sets the stage for the next chapter of the Tails series. A common theme in sequels is to keep the characters and the surroundings so much the same as to make it feel like a DLC... you never get that feeling experiencing ToSC2.

ToSC2 brings back the classic turn-based system of the first game with some new improvements like the new Overdrive ability (shown above) linking character turns together with Rean, and the addition of mecha Divine Knight battles (because Japan, of course).

But Is It a Good Game on PC?

Again, undeniably -- if you're one of the lucky ones to get through it without running into any bugs or glitches along the way. I wasn't nearly so lucky in this respect and spent about 20 minutes cursing at my computer as I went through the usual suspects (vcredist, game cache, third-party antivirus/malware software, etc.) to figure out why the game wouldn't even load up. 

I did figure it out, eventually. And having been almost strictly PC only for about two solid generations of consoles to come, stick around, and stick around some more; I'm fairly used to having this happen, to the point where trouble-shooting is par for the course. Most PC gamers tend to share this resigned view, particularly on Day One releases, maddening as it almost invariably is. 

Characters battle enemies in a snowy landscape

But the answer is -- yes, it's worth it. 

And the reason why so much of the lead-up to this article centered so squarely around Durante's involvement is because of his dedication to making the PC experience the best that it possibly can be. It shows.

In ToCS2, this includes loads of graphics options, capacity for playing at different native screen resolutions and FPS, key rebinding, controller support, high-end image quality support (a must for our elitist sensibilities, of course) and a “smart" configurable turbo mode to speed up the game however fast you want. 

(Note: Although there is supposed to be arbitrary resolution support, I didn't personally find my screen resolution while using the configuration tool - and by this point, I'd already fussed around so much in getting the game running that I pretty much left it at as is.

You will also find that while using the turbo mode, you can occasionally blitz right into a cutscene before the background music and visuals really have time to catch up properly and a scene or event will happen without its corresponding cues.)

Trails of Cold Steel 2 configuration screen

Most of the options given will also show up on the preview image so you don't have to pop in and out of game in order to play around with them. Super handy, like most of the options available through this configuration tool.

The in-game menus haven't really been touched, so you aren't able to do any key-mapping. If you didn't look over this tool too closely before jumping right into the game, you might feel a little lost -- it's set by default to Xbox controls, so the in-game tutorial prompts will all correspond to that controller map. The default WASD and mouse controls will still work, though, even if you don't set the button prompts to reflect mouse and keyboard. (You should probably swap the button prompts to the correct ones anyway...)

If you're looking for detailed graphics performance, this game also has you covered. Down-to-the-details work has been put into making realistic-looking shadow effects and fixes for shading artifacts that appeared in the original game. PC gamers with powerful PCs are able to get even more out of the game. 

Add in better 21:9 support while in-game, but also during cutscenes (no image stretching), and easy alt+tabbing in and out of game (discreet music muting while tabbed out), plus full Steam overlay support, and you've got one for the books. This is how to make a PC game blow the original completely and utterly out of the water. 

Was it worth the wait? If what you're looking for is a better-looking, much more functional, easily customizable game with 50% more English voice-acting than the original, then yes. Completely and utterly yes. I haven't actually been this excited about the efforts put into a port since the N64 Zelda games hit the 3DS. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

In Japan, Trails of Cold Steel III was released last September, and a fourth and final game, Trails of Cold Steel IV: The End of Saga, is supposed to be released later this year as well. No word yet has been announced regarding English localizations, and at this rate, we probably can't expect one for a few years yet at least. 

Considering the impressive success of Nihon Famcon's games on Steam though, and the fact that a remastered version of ToCS2 is coming out on PS4 soon as well, the future seems fairly bright. Here's hoping we can stand the wait. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Trails of Cold Steel II used in this review.]

Bayonetta 1 + 2 Switch Review Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:42:50 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

It's hard to believe that Bayonetta, of all characters, is more affiliated with Nintendo than with any other brand. Given the M-rated nature of her games and the fact that she started out on the 360 and PS3, it's hard to believe the overtly sexual, demonic angel slayer has found her home with the more family-friendly mascots of Nintendo. But, here we are, nearly four years after Nintendo helped fund Bayonetta 2 and a few months after Reggie Fils Aime came to The Game Awards and showed off an announcement trailer for Bayonetta 3, and announced that Bayonetta 1 + 2 would be coming to the Switch. It's kind of like how Disney is now allowed to market and even make films about Deadpool; it's a bit to take in.

Anyway, regardless of where she's from, Bayonetta makes her current-gen debut with her two previous ventures. In a world where hack-and-slash games have become a dying breed (save for Dynasty Warriors and the hundreds of franchises that wear its skin), it's great to see a combo-based action game come out. As someone who grew up playing games like God of War, Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden, I've missed these types of character-driven action games, and Bayonetta 1 + 2 are still some of the best around. If you have a Switch, it's a no-brainer whether you should get it or not, though returning fans will be left wanting more.

Bayonetta has made her home with Nintendo

First the bad news: Bayonetta for Switch is nothing more than just ports of both titles. There's little in the way of any sort of graphical updates; both titles are still 720p, and there's little in terms of new features. You can use amiibos to help get certain Nintendo-themed costumes at a faster rate, and the co-op mode now supports offline play (two Switches required, no split-screen), but don't expect anything like a boss rush mode or any form of new content. It also should be noted that Bayonetta plays the same in both docked and portable modes. Given these game were released years ago, you'd think Platinum Games would at least give returning fans a bone, but sadly, that's not the case.

That said, the framerates for both titles have seen improvements. Bayonetta 2, in particular, now runs at a near perfect 60 FPS, whereas before it had trouble holding its framerate on the Wii U. Seeing how chaotic the action can be, it does make sense to sacrifice graphics and resolution for better framerates. Even at 720p, Bayonetta's twisted and crazy world still looks great, thanks to fantastic art design, great use of color, and some of the most creative creature design in the industry. It goes to prove that art will always trump pure horsepower. Bayonetta's crazy visuals look great on the Switch

Playing Bayonetta 1 + 2 is still a joy, even after all these years. You'll get a good thumb workout since you'll be alternating the various combos to get high scores and better rankings. Bayonetta starts of with small skirmishes before going into overdrive with bigger enemies, bosses the size of of a city, and even throwing said bosses in with regular foes. Along with her trusty handguns, Bayonetta also has her witch-time, allowing her to slow down time to get a few hits (after she's dodged at the right time). She can also use enemy weapons for a short time and upgrade her list of attacks with the halos that drop from the enemies she kills. Bayonetta's combat is deep, simple, and just a whole lot of fun.

That said, the original Bayonetta is showing its age. Its visuals have a worn-out, dragged look and feel to them, and the game's pacing isn't as tight as that of its sequel. The action set pieces are still top-notch, but as the game goes on, you feel like chapters should have ended 10 or so minutes earlier, especially in the third act. That being said, Bayonetta 2 fixes all this and lasts a solid 9 hours, while the original will last you about 11 or so.

Bayonetta's plot follows the footsteps of other Nintendo games, as it's mostly there to connect the action. The first has an amnesia-stricken Bayonetta fighting to save the world from demonic angels, which leads her to find out who she is, while the sequel has her trying to save her friend Jeanne before her soul is lost forever. You'll meet a cast of colorful characters, from the Joe Pesci-inspired Enzo to the cool and collected Rodan, but don't expect that much depth or cohesiveness from the original's plot; the sequel does a much better job of trying to make you care about Bayonetta and the world she inhabits.

Bayonetta is more than a sex symbol, and she knows how to capitalize on her looks to defeat demons

Bayonetta may appear to be nothing more than just a sex object, but there's more to her. She's confident, tough, and uses her sexuality to mock her opponents and catch them off guard. She's kind of like the video game version of Catwoman: never afraid to show off and unashamed of it. In an age where female characters are constantly strict, somber, and always showing a no-nonsense sensibility, it's nice to have a female character that can actually have fun and not take things so serious. 

Bayonetta 1 + 2 are still great games. The original may be showing its age, but it's still a wild ride, and its sequel is still fantastic. While it would've been better to have some new features, there's still enough content here to keep you coming back for more for a good while. From tons of unlockable costumes, characters, and weapons to constantly trying to beat your high score, you'll be coming back for seconds and even tenths. If you love action games, you owe it to yourself to buy this collection. They're fast, sexy, and just a whole lot of fun. And isn't that all we can ask from Nintendo? 

Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition Review -- Don't Even Waste Your Time Sun, 18 Feb 2018 13:01:24 -0500 buymymixtape123

In a world where even indie studios are making games that are rivaling or are even better than Triple-A games, you should be able to make something at least playable or fun. Dreamz Studio failed to do either with the buggy and poorly made game that is Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition.

Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition is a free to play platformer with a few good aspects to note, but sadly the bad vastly outweigh the good.

The Good

The game has a creator feature in it, which allows you to create and share your own custom-made levels with people around the world. What really stands out about the creator mode is the game's best feature: the ability to create custom code for parts of your level. You are able to code different NPCs to do what you want them to do, and it is very similar to real coding. Let's say you are trapped in a room at the start of the level, and you want the rat with the giant sword to help the player out of the room and to talk to the player -- well, you can just program the rat to do exactly that. This is a pretty unique feature and more game should try to do something similar.

Good ol' coding!

Another great aspect of Crazy Dreams: MagiCats Edition are the levels that people create. Some of them can be very challenging and creative, and it's fun to see what people come up with.

The Bad

This game is very unoptimized on iOS and has game breaking bugs that make some levels unplayable. I couldn't even play the tutorial because every time I would start up the first tutorial, it would not let me move and none of the controls would pop up on the screen. I tried to wait it out for a few minutes to see if anything would happen, but nothing ever did, which led me to not knowing how to play for the first 40 minutes of the game.

Still waiting for the tutorial to load...

Another problem was dying to things that shouldn't kill you. My character jumped at a wall trying to climb it, but instead died for no reason. When doing that same jump, he survived and was able to climb it. This random dying is extremely problematic in hard levels where you would have to redo a difficult segment again.

Also, the controls are very wonky and unresponsive at times, but this is a problem I have with a lot of mobile games and this may not be a problem in the PC port. 

One of the most annoying things about the game is the Unity ad that plays every four times you die. I understand that ad revenue is a great source of income for a free to play game, but this takes you out of the game and makes you just want to just exit the app. They should find a better way to place ads in the game, and at least have some variety to it, because you will see that same Unity ad a lot on difficult levels where you die a lot.

Just imagine seeing this 40 times in a hour.

One of the biggest flaws of Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition is that it does nothing special for the platforming genre to make it stand out, even with the coding aspect. Instead, you could be playing something like Super Mario Maker -- even though it may lake the intricate coding system, it still does everything else this game does, but better and in a more polished manner.

Overall, Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition is mess that needed more work put into it. I wouldn't even recommend downloading the game for free in its current state. It has a lot of potential but it just falls flat.

Note: A review copy of this game was provided.

HyperX Cloud Flight Headset Review: Soaring on Soundscapes Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:17:00 -0500 Jonathan Moore

There's no plainer way to put it: bad sound sucks. When sound is grainy or distorted, it can put a real damper on your favorite game, movie, or album. Using a mediocre headset to consume media is worse than wearing a shoe that's two sizes too small. It's uncomfortable, grating, and just downright annoying. 

Luckily, the Cloud Flight gaming headset from HyperX is none of those things. In fact, it's the exact opposite. The Cloud Flight is a plug-and-play masterpiece that delivers unbelievable sound quality on both console and PC. Sure, it's a bit pricey at $159.99, but it stands toe to toe with the other sets in the high-end space, specifically the Logitech G533 and the Corsair Void Pro

A few design hiccups here and there keep it from being the Swiss Army Knife of gaming headsets, but considering it produces great, high-quality sound for all your devices, it's a headset you're going to want to consider if you're currently in the market for a set of cans. 

Cloud Flight and Corsair K68 Gaming Keyboard


If you've ever used or seen a HyperX gaming headset, you know what you're in for when it comes to the Cloud Flight's looks. With its black, red-accented aesthetic, the Cloud Flight probably isn't going to turn any heads at first glance, but it has an elegant design that in some ways hearkens to a simpler time when not everything had to sport futuristic, Weyland Corporation-inspired motifs. And in that regard, I think some gamers, such as myself, will find its minimalist exterior entreating. 

Starting with the headset's earcups, you'll find that the Cloud Flight does have a few splashes of color on its predominantly black, hard-plastic frame. The outside of each earcup sports the truncated HX logo emblazoned at its center and an exposed red wire reaching up into the headband for added flourish. Depending on how much battery life you want to get out of the Cloud Flight, you can set the HyperX logo on either side of the headset to solid red, pulsing red, or off when the headset is in use. Moving up the headset to the headband, you'll find the full HyperX logo sprawling in glossy black across the top. 

One of the more comfortable headsets I've ever worn, the Cloud Flight's earcups are also roomy and soft. They employ a combination of memory foam and pleather to create a snug, agreeable fit. You'll also find this cushy material on the inside of the headband. After 40ish hours of using the headset, I can say that even gaming in an upstairs bedroom with basically no ventilation save a creaky old box fan, my ears and head didn't sweat at all.

Cloud Flight Controls

Coming in at around 315 grams without its detachable microphone, the Cloud Flight is also lighter than both the Logitech G533 (350 grams) and the Corsair Void Pro (368 grams). Unlike some other headsets, the weight of the Flight didn't cause any discomfort across the top of my head, and my ears never felt weighed down. 

As for the Cloud Flight's controls and inputs, you'll find them conveniently placed on the underside of the earcups for easy access. On the right earcup, you'll find the volume wheel, and on the left earcup, you'll find the power button, the microphone jack, the USB charging port, and the 3.5mm port. Interestingly, the microphone's mute button is the entire outside plate of the left earcup. It's a unique design choice that I'm surprised hasn't been implemented on other headsets -- and it's a feature I can see being very, very useful for streamers and competitive players. 

Oh, and it features rotating earcups you can lay flat on your chest when you're not using the headset, something I find extremely useful in everyday situations -- and a feature I think every headset made from here on out should implement, no questions asked. 

Cloud Flight Cushy Earcups


What I really love about the Cloud Flight is that it's a ubiquitous headset that you can use with any of your devices. Whether you're gaming on PC or console, listening to music on your smartphone, or watching a movie on your tablet, the Cloud Flight provides fantastic sound right out of the box. There's no software to fiddle with or dial in, but that's nothing to fear because the Cloud Flight's audio quality is simply that good.  

Providing 2.4GHz wireless capabilities for the PC, PS4, and PS4 Pro, the Cloud Flight also works with the Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices via a 3.5mm connection. We tested the headset on the PC, the PS4 Pro, and the iPhone 6S+ across mediums, from games to movies and music. 


In all applications and on all platforms, the HyperX Cloud Flight provided clear, exceptional sound. Its 50mm neodymium drivers thrummed with meaty bass and surged with soaring treble. It's nice to see a headset provide such parity of sound without equalizers or special software. 

Tested on the PC with Battlefield 1 (our go-to for high-quality sound engineering), tones were vibrant and lush. Dialog was easy to understand, even amid violent explosions -- and the game's score was the same sonorous soundscape it was when we tested out Logitech's G533. Unfortunately, the Cloud Flight doesn't provide the surround or directional sound found in the G533 -- meaning I couldn't hear exactly where enemies were coming from -- so that's something to keep in mind if you're strictly a PC gamer.  

On the PS4 Pro, we tested the Cloud Flight with Horizon: Zero Dawn, and again, the game's score and sound effects were on full display. Herds of Striders thundered across the plains outside Mother's Heart, and arrows swooshed through the air as if I had loosed them just inches from my ear. The only discernible drop in quality I noticed with the Cloud Flight during my time playing HZD was during sections of dialog. Although the voice acting was loud and full, the background noise and music were oddly quiet, making it sound almost as if characters were speaking within a vacuum. 

For mobile, it's no surprise that the Cloud Flight's sound is impeccable here, too. Plugging the headset into my iPhone 6S+ with the included 3.5mm jack was super easy. Watching The Force Awakens, I felt as if I were in the theater, and while listening to Mesmer by Northlane and You Are We by While She Sleeps, I was able to pick out every instrument and tone -- without any wonky distortion or muddiness.

The only gripe I have when it comes to using the Cloud Flight on the iPhone is that the volume wheel on the right earcup doesn't seem to do anything when hooked up to the device. The only way I could change the volume was by adjusting it on the phone itself. A little annoyance, sure, but something to be aware of. 

Me, Cloud Flight, and Scary Sheldon


Tested in both gaming and work scenarios, the Cloud Flight's detachable, noise-canceling microphone worked well -- mostly.

When playing team-based games like Paladins and Battlefront 2 on PC, communications were crisp and clear. And in meetings with colleagues over Skype on the PC, the microphone was able to easily cancel ambient office noise for clear communications. The same can be said of using the microphone on the PS4 and PS4 Pro.

However, I was disappointed to find that the microphone didn't work when using the headset in analog mode. That means anything requiring a 3.5mm jack won't support the capability. It's something that I find (very) odd, considering many other headsets offer the functionality for a fraction of the price. It's an oversight that's more than head scratching -- and an oversight that really holds this headset back from being the best of the best. 

Cloud Alpha, Mic, and Cables


At the end of the day, the HyperX Cloud Flight might be a bit pricey at $159.99, but it's the only high-end headset currently on the market that's platform agnostic. If you're a gamer that wants a comfortable, great-sounding headset that can be used across multiple devices without sacrificing quality, provides up to 30 hours of battery life, and has a wireless distance of up to 20 meters, then the HyperX Cloud Flight is a gaming headset you're going to want to consider. 

Just keep in mind that it's not completely wireless; you'll have to use a 3.5mm connection for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and mobile. And you won't be able to use its noise-canceling microphone to chat with friends on those devices either. However, if that doesn't deter you from checking out the Cloud Flight, its sound is only rivaled by the PC-only Logitech G533. And that's damn good company to keep. 

You can buy the HyperX Cloud Flight on Amazon

[Note: HyperX provided the Cloud Flight used for this review.]

Kingdom Come: Deliverance Review -- A New Standard in RPG Storytelling? Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:28:41 -0500 Sergey_3847

Kingdom Come: Deliverance has come a long way from the very first alpha version with cartoonish animations and mute characters to a realistic medieval simulator that has grown into one of the most large-scale role-playing projects of the last few years. The developers from Warhorse Studios have promised a lot to all their backers. But did it all work out as intended?

KC:D is a great-looking game. It brings you into a unique setting and offers a whole slew of unexpected situations, but at the same time, it will make you suffer through a series of utterly annoying bugs. Is it worth buying the game at this stage and taking an immediate trip to 15th century Bohemia, or should you wait? That is the real question.

Beware, a few early-story spoilers follow.

The Story and the Setting

One of many scenes from the lengthy Kingdom Come Deliverance prologue

The prologue of the game is rather lengthy and starts in the village where Henry, the game's main protagonist, lives. The army of the Hungarian king Sigismund attacks the village, and the hero's parents get killed, but he himself miraculously manages to escape and take cover in the neighboring city. The introduction lasts about three hours -- if you're not in a hurry -- and throughout all this time the developers will kindly guide you from one cut-scene to another. But this will not last for too long, and soon Henry is released into the open world on his own.

Bohemia is a place you really want to explore and check every single corner. The best part is when you try to see how the NPCs will behave if you get into their houses, or steal from the merchants in the square, and then offer them their own goods. Bohemia can offer a lot in this regard, although sometimes the guards may attack you for no reason at all, which is a bit frustrating.

It becomes very clear early in the game that you have to sleep and eat in order to survive. Besides that, it is necessary to wash because NPCs will talk with contempt or mistrust you if you're wearing dirty clothes or armor covered in blood. Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a realistic simulator, which tells a life story of a regular guy from the medieval kingdom, and all this wouldn't be possible without the very realism that the developers are so proud of. 

A Living, Breathing Open World

Kingdom Come provides gorgeous vistas in its open world

There are people who might call KC:D the next Skyrim, and they aren't wrong. There are lots of fetch quests here, and even some magic in the form of alchemical potions. Although some of the mechanics are rather lame, the game wins in the visual design department. No one else has ever tried to recreate the medieval era with such precision.

Every city is immaculately designed with apartment buildings, taverns, and other large and small structures. NPCs inhabiting these cities live their own lives according to schedule, chat with customers, and spend their evenings in the taverns. The technology finally took the necessary step forward, and the imitation of life in Kingdom Come really looks beautiful and believable.

The areas beyond the boundaries of cities are absolutely huge, with a few scattered farmsteads here and there. The farmers live simple lives by cultivating fields, cutting wood, or weaving -- all this plays a key role in creating the plausibility of the world of Bohemia.

Even the Smallest Actions Play a Huge Role

It may sound strange, but one of the main drawbacks of Kingdom Come is that it is extremely easy to get off the right track. For example, the father sends Henry shopping, and he asks him to visit their neighbor along the way in order to take care of his debt. Even if your neighbor refuses to give the money back, your father will still pay you after you return with nothing on your hands so that you have a way to pay for your purchases.

But that's way too simple; instead, you could steal the neighbor's stuff, sell it, and buy everything on your own. You could also intimidate him, but that's something that requires persuasion skills. As a result, you may get involved in a fight, which you can easily lose. In any case, you can forward the plot as you wish, and these actions will certainly be remembered by everyone involved in these types of situations. This means that every little action will influence the development of the story, and if you got it wrong from the get-go, you'll be in trouble.

The technology finally took the necessary step forward, and the imitation of life in Kingdom Come really looks beautiful and believable.

Another example of underwhelming gameplay design is alchemy, which doesn't require some exotic ingredients but rather the most common herbs: nettle, wormwood, valerian, and the like. Therefore, you can walk onto a random field, pick up a bag of dandelions, take them to the alchemist, and make tons of gold. Do this a few times, and soon you will have enough money to buy an armor or at least a chain mail and a sword.

As already mentioned, clothing is one of the most important aspects of the social life of Bohemia. The armor in the game isn't just a means of protection but also an indicator of social status. If Henry's wearing a brand-new plate armor, he will be greeted much more warmly than if he were dressed in rags. In practice, it will be much easier for you to persuade somebody to do something for you. This means that diplomats, who have chosen to develop their Speech characteristic, most definitely should invest in a set of expensive armor and regularly repair and even wash it.

Underwhelming Combat

With lame fighting, you probably won't need many kingdom come deliverance combat tips

Unfortunately, not everything works well in Kindom Come: Deliverance. At the early stages of development, we were promised that it would be almost a professional fencing simulator and that every stance, every blow, and every parry would be based on authentic medieval textbooks. It's hard to argue whether all that was included in the game, but combat still feels quite tame even with all the available slots for clothes and armor, including separate slots for a helmet, six aiming zones, parrying and counter-attacks, etc. Opponents are very skillful and make really good attacks and blocks, but for some reason, it all feels rather dull.

To start, the stamina indicator (the yellow gauge on the bottom) doesn't work as it should, and instead of making a huge impact on the combat, it changes almost nothing. Also, it regenerates too fast, and all you need to do is to step back for a moment and it will fully restore. The AI will let you do it as many times as you need to, which makes combat a bit underwhelming, if we're speaking about realism here.

Wherever a fight takes place -- in the field, on the road, in the woods, or in the water -- the characters maintain a perfect balance, as if they were fighting in sneakers on dry pavement. No one ever stumbles or slips on wet soil. The combat is wooden at best, and the animations make your opponents look rather funny. Maybe that's the reason the game was implemented in the first-person perspective.

Remember the combat in The Witcher 3, which was super fluid, with every movement looking absolutely gorgeus? Unfortunately, you won't get the same aesthetic satisfaction from Kingdom Come's combat.

Final Verdict

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is not a perfect game ... but it is totally unique. If you like slow and deliberate development of the story, which is at the heart of this game, then you can safely purchase it after all the bugs get fixed. Be prepared for a few hundred hours of gameplay!

However, don't expect that these hours will be filled with incredibly tight storytelling. On the contrary, you will mostly do side quests and explore the endless landscapes of Bohemia. If none of this makes you excited, then don't bother with a game you will most likely drop after seven or eight hours of playing.

Dynasty Warriors 9 Review: The Musou That Shouldn't Be Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:43:05 -0500 Ashley Gill

Would it be wrong to say Dynasty Warriors 9 is probably one of the worst games to come out on console in a while? That this may be the worst game on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?

I've debated this over the past week, both internally and with my husband. The Dynasty Warriors series has never been of stellar quality, but you know what you're getting into when you buy a game in the franchise. Smooth combat, killin' loads of dudes, and some sweet music. All with that timeless Romance of the Three Kingdoms story, one that admittedly has seen a bit too much play in these games.

And of course, these games are not for everyone; they have never been for everyone. But this is the first time I have ever felt that a Dynasty Warriors game is not for anyone at all. It should be tossed in the trash, scratched off Koei Tecmo's record, and burned out of the collective gaming memory.

Dynasty Warriors 9 is so collectively bad that it fits the Japanese moniker of "kusoge" -- a shite game. It is one so bad that I am eager to wash my hands of it, delete it, and pretend it doesn't exist.

Imagine this: A game series running for this long based solely off its simple combat system, goal-based missions, cool music, and item/equipment collecting. Take all that good stuff and then add a huge, empty open world and a bunch of half-baked mechanics that mean nothing at all. Then strip down everything the series was known for and toss it into the market with a $60 price tag. That's Dynasty Warriors 9.

There is so much wrong with this game that it's hard to pinpoint it all, and as a fan of the series since its third entry, I can't help but feel like this is an affront to those who have stuck with the series for so long.

This game is the culmination of every possible way a Dynasty Warriors game could have gone wrong. Every single aspect of it is bland and boring, from the open world and missions to the cutscenes and actual combat. None of your actions mean anything at all, and the game is padded out with this massive map with nothing to grab your interest.

For the sake of argument, I'm just going to present to you in bullet points some of the biggest problems with Dynasty Warriors 9 -- because you definitely wouldn't read them all written out in paragraphs:

  • The world is big, empty, and boring
  • There are 90 characters, but only 36 weapon types
  • The English voice acting is abysmal (but Chinese and Japanese are available on PS4 at least)
  • Every character essentially feels the same due to the new move system
  • You can do a full elemental attack combo by using a special attack, then pressing attack into oblivion
  • Sometimes when you try to use a finishing attack, a QTE finisher (gross), the game just doesn't register it at all and you dash at someone unrelated
  • Playing through multiple stories is a chore because you tend to have to watch the same boring cutscenes over and over again
  • There are so many bugs that listing them would be longer than this review
  • Standard cutscenes are, once again, characters just standing there bloviating

Literally, every one of Han Dang's lines has him mentioning how
no one pays attention to him.

  • I won't go into details on the endings, but let's just say most feel unfulfilling and are confusing for those not familiar with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story
  • Towns are difficult to navigate and NPC markers in towns, particularly dialogue NPCs, are rarely exactly where the map says they are
  • There is absolutely no point to exploring because there is nothing to find but crates full of crap you find anywhere (or you can break the game and just buy outright)
  • Hunting is a total joke
  • Archery is busted; often you can just shoot humans' nameplates until you get lucky
  • Enemies are not a challenge in the least, even on Chaos mode
  • Enemies don't use special attacks or musous, ever
  • Chaos mode officers' main lines of defense are rolling around and having disgustingly huge lifebars
  • The game is so incredibly boring on Normal and Hard that you really have no choice but to play Chaos mode if you want some sort of challenge
  • Spreading missions out wastes a ton of time
  • Those same spread missions actually mean nothing, and you can just (usually) fast travel to the main objective, climb the town walls, and go straight for the target
  • You can trivialize every mission's steps just by using the grappling hook
  • The rain effect shows the rain as white over enemy lifebars, making them very hard on the eyes
  • Enemies can be knocked into obstacles or into the water and stuck
  • Hell, when you knock them into the water they just wade in place until you come near or push them out

Here I am pushing Guan Yu, my mission objective, back to land
because his AI broke in water.

  • You get the best weapons just from currency grinding
  • Currency grinding is unbearably slow unless you go out of your way to break the game
  • There is no incentive to killing enemy officers that are not the mission objective -- ever
  • There is no incentive to go off the beaten path and do your own thing
  • Side quests are all pretty much the same thing (either the NPC wants an item or for you to go outside town and kill some enemies), and their rewards are not worth it
  • The music is not remotely on par with the rest of the series
  • There is a ton of slowdown, which is par for the course in the series, but especially bad at times
  • After you finish a mission you have to wait for all the side dialogue to wrap up before the game recognizes you finished the mission
  • Mission objective characters don't load until you've been right inside the mission area for a few seconds
  • Sometimes the game will load a cutscene, then load again and let you move around for a little bit, then load another cutscene, then load another cutscene right after, then load you into another town and let you move around, then load another cutscene (this is not an exaggeration)
  • The load times are atrocious when they stack like in the above situation
  • Don't even get me started on the villagers working rice fields -- if you see them in-game, you'll know what I mean
  • There is only one savegame at a time, and it's shared between Story and Free mode
  • It honestly and truly looks terrible

Just why, dude. Why release this game

Does this look like a big bitch-list? It is one, because Dynasty Warriors 9 is a horrible game. Can you imagine how long this review would be if I didn't condense the bad points above?

I don't like to write reviews where I complain the whole time, but this is an exception. I cannot find a single good thing about this game, not a single aspect I can say was even halfway decent. This is really and truly a reprehensible game -- and its sheer existence has made me reconsider my loyalty to Koei Tecmo and the Warriors brand.

These captains were following me for a mission. Whenever they caught up to me, they'd just gather and stand in front of me -- and be impassable as you see here.

They tried something new here, and the fact is, it didn't work. It doesn't work, and it's not going to work. Have you ever seen Koei Tecmo put out a big patch for a release? Hell no. You're going to have to cough up the dough for the Extreme Legends release or a Power Up Kit or a totally new version of the game with new bells and whistles.

As a nearly lifelong fan of Dynasty Warriors, I feel hurt that this game is so unapologetically bad. Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 two years ago wasn't very good either, and it suffered from similar quality control and content issues.

One can't help but wonder if it actually is time to put these two series to rest, or if Koei Tecmo is trying to bury it themselves. No matter the case, Dynasty Warriors 9 is an absolute must not buy. Who cares what Extreme Legends is going to be like when they release a full-price game as busted and unloved as this one here.

[NoteDisclaimer: Koie Tecmo provided the copy of Dynasty Warriors 9 used in this review.]

Shadow of the Colossus: A Novice's Review of the Remaster Fri, 09 Feb 2018 11:43:56 -0500 Joseph Ocasio