Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Kirby Star Allies Review: An Afternoon with Kirby & Friends Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:06:35 -0400 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

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 (PurplePocketPirate)

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

When reviewing a classic in any medium, it can be hard for a new generation to talk about the importance and significance that a piece of work has had, especially if it's one that has a dedicated cult following. Whether it's due to its narrative structure, artistic value, or how distinct it was from other similar pieces of art, it can become a challenge. That's the position I find myself in when talking about Shadow of the Colossus. Prior to this remaster, I had only had a small interaction with it, when it was made free on PSN for PS Plus users back on the PS3. I only managed to play up to the first fight before I ended up selling my PS3 in order to find something else to play on my new PS4.

A couple ominous eyes searching for you in Shadow of the Colossus

Rebirth of a Classic

Since then, I could only rely on tales I'd heard of Shadow of the Colossus: discussions about how each Colossus represents different aspects of humanity, how it's able to tell a story with very little dialog, and much more. I've wanted so badly to be part of the discussion, but my brief experience with it wouldn't allow me to join in. Enter E3 2017, where Sony announced that it was allowing Bluepoint Games, the same people who worked on the excellent remasters for the Uncharted trilogy, to remake this classic for modern audiences. I feel that the only way for me to review this game is to recall my past experience while judging it for what it is now. 

And So It Begins

As it opens, a young man rides his steed with a dead woman lying with him. He rides on to a temple and is told by unknown voices that in order to bring this woman (it's unknown if it's his sister or lover) back from the dead, he must slay 16 giant beings called Colossi ... and that's about it. There is a little more to it, but that doesn't happen till near the end of the game and falls into spoiler territory.

Shadow of the Colossus relies more on its atmosphere and music to give its story emotional depth. The world you traverse through is bleak and feels hopeless, but it's also filled with beauty and serenity. The same can be said about the music, which helps sell this tale and is absolutely at its best when you confront any of the Colossus. 

If you just take a glance at a screenshot of the original PS2 version of Shadow of the Colossus, it's pretty obvious the amount of love and care that Bluepoint Games put into remaking this game. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best-looking games you can get on PS4. The animations of things like character movement, grass, and facial hair look so natural that they border on realistic. Textures have greatly improved, and the frame rate never buckles. If you have a PS4 Pro, you can even choose to play it at 60 FPS, and while that leads to better controller response, it also adds a bit of phoniness and breaks some of the immersion the game creates. But, it's still up to you how you want to play.

Despite being 12 years old, Shadow of the Colossus still has some of the best art and creature design of all time. The various ruins, grassy fields, and desert lands exude personality, as if they were characters themselves. The Colossi are equally pleasing, representing some of the most unique enemies seen in gaming. Much of the game reminds me a lot of Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time; I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Team Ico took some inspiration from the Zelda series and vice versa. In all, this remake keeps all of the original's graphical charm while updating it to make it more appealing, without sacrificing the original intent of its visuals. 

Attack on Colossus

A towering Colossus staring down at you

What really made Shadow of the Colossus a classic was not only its visual art style and its unique approach to storytelling but also its equally unique gameplay. The only enemies you fight are the Colossi, and they do not disappoint. Every encounter feels different and constantly fills you with dread, as each of the giant Colossi looks and feels enormous. Taking them down is simple enough; just stab at the glowing weak points on each of the Colossus's bodies, but it's easier said then done. Getting to these spots has you constantly studying a Colossus's attack pattern and seeing where you can grab on. 

Making this matter more difficult is having to watch your grip meter, which depletes the longer you hold on. You have to know when to let go and wait for it to replenish. This might sound tedious, but it actually keeps things tense and interesting, as the meter never feels like it will drain as you're about to kill or strike a Colossus. What keeps the gameplay from getting too repetitive are the various forms the Colossi take on. From simple walking giants to birds to sand sharks and much more, each fight feels like s puzzle to solve, and they never feel too complex to figure out. When you finally slay a beast, you'll get a great sense of accomplishment that few, if any, games will give you.

The game features amazing lighting

While it might be blasphemous to nitpick classic, I do still have some issues with some of the design and gameplay choices. Despite the game lasting just six hours, the sense of repetition does start to set in after long play sessions. You'll use your sword to find a Colossus, fight and defeat it, and then get sent back to the starting temple. While the lack of anything else to do (other than hunting for lizards that increase your grip meter) is intentional and adds to the atmosphere, it can get tiring having to repeat the same process after the first two or so hours. Equally annoying is your horse, which has an annoying tendency to instantly slow down when you're trying to turn. Seeing how integral your trusty steed is to gameplay, it can grow quite annoying, especially when you're fighting a Colossus that practically requires you to have your horse with you.

Finally, Shadow of the Colossus could have explained some of its mechanics a bit better. For example, you can only see a Colossus's weak point if you have your sword equipped. You also have a bow you use to slightly hurt and get their attention, but the game doesn't tell you that it won't show a foe's weak point when that weapon is equipped. It's more of a nitpick, but it did cause me a bit of trouble early on.


Shadow of the Colossus is still a great game despite its game design becoming repetitive and the fact that some of its mechanics can be quite irksome. There still isn't a game out there that can match its dreary atmosphere, simple but effective storytelling, and outstanding boss fights. It's a one-of-a-kind game that still holds up and that PS4 owners should check out -- especially since it's only $40. It may be flawed, but it's another example that shows that truly great games are timeless.

OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes Review: His Very Own "Videos-Game" Thu, 08 Feb 2018 15:58:21 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

There's a tendency among licensed games -- especially those made for kids --to be shallow, poorly designed, and unoriginal in the name of creating something as fast as possible just to trick fans of the property into buying it. But with Let's Play Heroes, Ian Jones Quartey and Cartoon Network didn't do that. Ian loves his work, his fans, and video games, and decided to do what he could to actually make something mechanically solid, fun, and unique.

What immediately sets OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes apart from other licensed games is the detailed nature of its conception and development. Cartoon Network has been restructuring the way in which they approach creating games based off their properties, actually taking time for regular development cycles and providing talented studios with reasonable resources, and Let's Play Heroes is one of the first of these projects to be approached with this new direction.  

OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes is an action-RPG adventure game based on the hit Cartoon Network series OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes, which was developed by Capy Games and recently released on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One by Cartoon Network Games. The show follows a young boy named KO, a bright-eyed optimist with an unbreakable spirit who aspires to become a great hero in a world where everyone has a power level and special powers inside them, and living legends of heroism can work at strip malls in their spare time.

The game follows the show dutifully, feeling often like a series of simple episodes from the show strung together with a loose and free-flowing overarching plot, and everything from the show is faithfully repurposed as in-game locations, enemies, and NPCs. The show's recurring antagonist and salesman of mass-produced evil fighting robots, Lord Boxman, finds a way to reset all the Power Levels of all the POW Cards (trading cards of real people around the world with notable powers and traits) in the Plaza, and KO must accomplish heroic acts in order to restore them to normal as well as raise his own level.

The show's creator Ian Jones Quartey chose to approach Capy Games himself, being a big fan of their work (Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EPSuper Time Force, etc.), and Capy took to the idea quickly. So we have all the pieces set in place to be a legitimate gaming experience. But the real question is: did it end up being any good, or is it just another mediocre licensed game to add to the bonfire?

Let's Be Heroes is authentic as can be

Grab some lightning nachos and strap in. Let's Be Critics!

Let's Be Heroes!

Let me just start off this review by saying that this game is miles better than about 90% of other licensed games. That's mainly because it has solid and mechanically sound core gameplay that's inherently fun, and because it clearly had actual hard work put into its presentation and writing -- you know, almost like they were trying to make an actual game.

The gameplay mostly consists of beat 'em up-style combat against enemy robots, and adventure game-style questing and talking to people as you run around the plaza being everybody's favorite good boy. Usually a quest involves talking to a character in the plaza -- usually one of the main characters in the bodega -- and then searching the plaza for an important item or two, getting into a fight, or both.

The combat is surprisingly deep -- though not significantly so, it's still pretty far from something like Odin Sphere, but what the hey -- and actually gives you a decent selection of moves to work with and unlock over time, from uppercuts to throws to crouching maneuvers, and even a surprisingly helpful and skill-reliant dodge move for both the ground and air. The combat reminded me a bit of Viewtiful Joe, in a good way, often allowing the player the options of juggling enemies into other enemies, deflecting enemy projectiles back at them, and managing charging meters throughout the fight.

The game has rich visuals

Pew pew pew pew pew! Take that, Darrell! 

The fights may seem a bit long at times, as every enemy has a health bar that's slightly longer than you'd expect of average grunts, but overall the combat is fast-paced enough and has enough options that it isn't a deal breaker. There are also some light RPG elements that slowly unlock new moves for KO as you level up, which works fine, but they aren't really worth elaborating on much for how simple they are. Then, of course, there's all the characters from the show chipping in with their "Powie Zowies." 

Throughout the game you can purchase and collect the POW cards of the different citizens of the plaza, all of whom are regular recurring characters from the show, and unlock the ability to summon them in battle to use their special attack, which take a variety of forms. The characters you can end up summoning range from series staples like Rad and Enid to smaller recurring characters like Drupe, Red Action, and even Colewort (no Joe Cuppa, though, unfortunately). You unlock their "Powie Zowies" as the game calls them by completing side-quests for them, which -- once again -- usually involve fighting some bots to find an item or just searching the plaza for that item or buying it in one of the handful of shops. 

This aspect of the gameplay takes some slight influence from the Persona games in the fact that you can only help a character with one side-quest per day to make progress on unlocking their Powie Zowie, and have to wait until tomorrow to try another one. Thankfully you can still complete multiple quests for multiple people alongside one main quest at the bodega without wasting time, because the day only officially ends when you choose to end it. Sometimes it can be a bit irritating to see how long it can take for just one hero to warm up to you, but once you've unlocked their Powie Zowie, it's all worth it just to have a new tactic in battle.

The Game's Connection to the Show

A question that must be asked of every licensed game is "does it represent the license well, and do you need to be a fan in order to really get into it?" In the case of Let's Play Heroes, I would say yes and yes.

The game very faithfully follows the show, no doubt due to the show's creators' heavy involvement in its development, and fans of the show should feel right at home right away. The plaza is loaded with familiar faces, all lovingly animated and expressive, and what little dialogue there is for some of them is still representative of each of them.

Every main character from the show is voiced by the usual cast, and the actors actually sound invested in what they say, as if they're just recording for the show like they normally do, which is how it should be. The writing is also very true to the show, often loaded with surprising jokes that come out of left field, nice little nods to past episodes, and in some cases, little mini-arcs for certain characters. I'm happy to admit that this game made me laugh quite a few times.

Parts of OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes are really hilarious

The style, voice acting, and writing all work together to bring the comedy together.

The animation and visual presentation as a whole deserve special mention. While the game's art style isn't directly consistent with the show's, the simplified lacking-outlines style that they went with is quite interesting too, and I personally like it a lot. Every character has a lovingly detailed and elaborate idle animation when it's just standing around, and without ever having watched one episode of the show, you could probably guess each of their characters just by looking at them.

There's also lots of little details in the presentation that make the whole game feel alive and happily show-accurate. From KO's inexplicably noodle-like arms whenever you buy something to his cute little beatbox tune over the pause menu to the equal parts tranquil and action-oriented soundtrack, the game has a strong personality that feels very OK K.O.!   

The game also has a very direct tie-in with the show that affects the gameplay, which I found to be very interesting and well implemented. At random points throughout the show in random episodes -- if you look carefully at the backgrounds -- you can spot a series of three symbol patterns. These are things like dumbbell-bandanna-skull, and remote-skull-heart and stuff like that.

Strange code-like symbols adorn parts of this game

There's one such code down in the corner next to the Cartoon Network logo. Image from the episode "Jethro's All Yours".

If you enter these codes into the in-game POW Card machine, you can unlock secret cards and upgrades that are otherwise unobtainable in-game. You can unlock "Snappy Wappys," which are permanent upgrades for your cards that you can apply to any one card in order to seriously strengthen its Powie Zowie. You can also slowly unlock pieces of cards for special characters that you can't normally unlock in-game.

I personally find this method of directly integrating the game with the show it's based on to be pretty smart. The strength and variety of the already in-game POW cards is by no means too weak or too little, and while the upgrades from the codes are significant, the game is by no means so hard that these bonuses are necessary to get what feels like a balanced or complete experience. 

It's all just a big bonus for people who already watch the show, and I think that making a sort of big secret-scavenger hunt for fans of the show to keep in mind as they rewatch old episodes as well as new ones is pretty great cross-promotion. It reminds me of that big contest to win real treasure that surrounded the Swordquest games on Atari 2600, where the players would have to hunt for codes in-game to then cross-reference in a tie-in comic book in order to learn the secret password for the sweepstakes. It's pretty neat stuff.

What Unfortunately Brings the Game Down

While I did enjoy my time with this game and feel that it's still worth the time of fans of the show as well as people looking for a good time, it's unfortunately held back by a few major issues throughout. The biggest ones are the game's overall pacing and how often it repeats itself.

I hate to say it, but for as fun as the combat and the dialogue-driven quests are, they're literally all you're going to be doing for the next few hours. Like I implied earlier, nearly every single quest involves either searching the plaza for an item, beating up Boxmore bots, or both. It doesn't take long for this to get obvious.

The plaza is slowly opened up over time, with a few new areas inside it allowing you access to further quests and exploration options, but this happens at about an hour per area, sometimes more, and you still really never go far from the plaza. While it never really feels like you're doing the same thing over and over, it does feel as though you're doing a very similar thing over and over.

The window dressing and writing around the little mini-quests and even-more-mini quests is nice and varied in theme, but again, ultimately the content of your mission never really changes. Whether you're hunting for a lost golden burrito, counting the number of syllables in the names of a group of people, or trying to convince a self-conscious robot that she should be free to feel confident and dress how she wants (no, seriously), your overall goal is still the same: run around on scavenger hunts and beat up robots.

Not to mention, the game is very stingy with its money. You need it to do basically everything, from buying new packs of pow cards to unlocking new quests to buying items for quests to buying stat boosters to temporarily boost how much you level up in specific stats in battle. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if you got money just a little bit faster, but every coin you earn is few and far between each other.

Mr. Gar is an imposing figure

As funny and well drawn as this screen is, it seriously makes me wonder if Mr. Gar is violating child labor laws with how little he pays KO.

You get paid six technoes at the end of every work day, a quest item usually costs three technoes, and a pack of POW cards costs 10 technoes, and you aren't even guaranteed to get new cards after not too long because duplicates are indeed a thing. After a while you can turn in both duplicates cards -- as well as special computer chips punched out of stunned robots -- into KO's friend Dendy, but it's still not a very fast way of making money regardless.

While it is nice to see a good licensed game that isn't too short for once, the progression model was obviously adjusted to last over a longer period than it had space to comfortably fill, and the slower pace and slowly allotted resources throughout the campaign reflect that. To some people, the repetition and general lack of variety among the main game modes won't be an issue, and can be forgiven if they find the combat fun enough and the quests funny and varied enough in theme, but I can easily see this wearing some people down a bit.  

Does This Game "Break the Stigma?"

So in the end, OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes isn't a masterpiece by any means, nor is it even great, but it's definitely still good. Its greatest advantage is that it was obviously made by people who were actually happy to be working on the project and who had a vision in mind for what they wanted it to be, and then made it because they wanted it to happen.

It may be a licensed game that is probably meant more for children than serious gamers, but it nonetheless plays like an actual game that somebody put time, thought, and genuine effort into rather than yet another cash grab that exists solely to fleece money out of fans like so many others before it. This is what we should take away from this game more than anything.

While this game didn't turn out amazing, the quality and depth of a game it presents is still true to what the show's creators and the people at Capy wanted to do -- break the stigma of licensed games. There have been good licensed games before Let's Play Heroes, and there will be after, but the outspoken crusade by the developers to improve the popular opinion of licensed games, as well as their and Cartoon Network's efforts in the game design itself, gives me hope for a sphere of gaming that's needed a face-lift for quite some time now.

I genuinely hope that the actions of the developers spur even a short-lived renaissance for licensed games. There are so many advantages and untapped potential in adapting an existing property, which Capy clearly realizes, and hopefully in time we can be rid of the phrase "good for a licensed game" and just say "good game."

But for now, on its own merits, OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes is a fun and solid game that could have been better, ultimately let down by slow pacing in many places and a lack of variety. It's a game that's still fun and enjoyable to those not familiar with the show but still better enjoyed by fans. It's a pretty good time, but maybe wait for a sale if you aren't sure about it. Let's say it's around a 7/10 for non-fans, and closer to an 8/10 for most fans.

OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes is available now on On Steam, PS4, and Xbox One at the price of $20. Ian Jones Quartey has also said that if the game sells well enough, they may consider porting it to Nintendo Switch as well. You can watch a trailer for the game below:

Aegis Defenders Review - Rage Against the Machine Thu, 08 Feb 2018 14:37:07 -0500 ThatGamersAsylum

Developed by GUTS Department, Aegis Defenders was Kickstarted in 2014, and finally, three years later and with the addition of Humble Indie Bundle as a publisher, we have been rewarded with this 2D action platformer that prominently features puzzles and centers around tower defense gameplay. If that previous sentence didn’t make it abundantly clear, Aegis Defenders wears many hats.

The Setup & Story

The game does a great job of not taking itself too seriously.

You start out the game playing as Clu, a teenage girl, and her grandpa, Bart, as they journey through ancient ruins looking for items from a long lost civilization that can be scrapped. Things quickly go awry once they find a working service robot, known as a Kobo, that leads them to an ancient war machine known as the Aegis. Said war machine would be very valuable to a certain dictator, so your mission quickly becomes about stopping the Aegis from falling into the wrong hands; thus you become an Aegis defender.

The game’s story starts off on strong footing and even evokes a Studio Ghibli-like sense of wonder early on. But as the story wears on, a handful of tropes, as well as underdeveloped characters and themes, make the story feel more like an intriguing backdrop for the gameplay as opposed to the driving force that it was early on.


The Macro

Aegis Defenders follows a formula. You have your base camp where you upgrade items, talk to teammates, and partake in the game’s “Hall of Builders,” which is a survival mode that lasts as long as it takes for all the Kickstarter backers’ names to pass on the screen.

On the world map, you select your mission. Each mission consists of a series of puzzles as well as a unique mechanic that’s introduced early on and which is iterated upon until finally being implemented into the tower defense section that comes at the end of every mission. These levels also have three bonus goals: complete the mission, don’t let the objective take damage, and collect all the items in the level. Throw in some bonus missions where you get to earn items from guest characters, and a couple of levels where you are guiding a vehicle through a level, and you have basically encapsulated the whole game’s structure.

Racking up the points in Aegis Defenders

My new Hall of Builders High Score is like 2,362, but who's counting?

And most of this works relatively well. The base serves its purpose while also letting you bond with your characters, although I couldn’t help but feel like there should have been more downtime dialogue. The Hall of Builders was something I played through dozens of times even after I’d earned the highest reward; in fact, I’d go so far as to say they should have built upon this concept as its own mode. For an action game, the puzzles are generally of a high quality and do a good job of both teaching you about the game's mechanics and using them in interesting ways. The bonus missions are fun and force you to use characters in ways that you wouldn’t anywhere else in the game. However, one is an obstacle course that caused dozens of deaths, so such drastically experimental gameplay does not come without its caveats.

The Party

Resting by a campfire in Aegis Defenders

Now that we’ve gone over the macro, let’s dig into the details of gameplay. Your party eventually balloons from two to four characters, with each having his or her own unique special ability, weapons, and aforementioned towers. Characters can create their own unique towers by using their own personal resources found throughout the levels. In turn, these towers can be fused together to form new and entirely unique towers.

For instance, Clu, a stereotypical archer/huntress-type character, can place powerful single-use mines that become spikes when fused together. Fusing these same mines with her Grandpa’s building block creates a turret that shoots bullets in a cone shape. Fusing with the monk’s torch creates a spirit that shoots ice balls that freeze enemies. It’s a fun system that places emphasis on the characters’ uniqueness while never feeling alienating when switching between them. This was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of the game.

Controlling the Party

As mentioned above, you have a large party and are allowed to switch between characters. You're also given some extra control over them via the L2 trigger (on the PS4 anyway). Pressing L2 toggles between having your teammates follow you as translucent, inactive observers and having them wait in their current spots as active defenders that will fight off enemies. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for this system’s problems to become apparent.

I started the game out with two-player couch co-op (which activates extremely smoothly at the main menu, which I greatly appreciate since so many co-op games force you to jump through hoops), so this problem didn’t rear its ugly head until the third party member joined. But after we’d spent an entire level confused and bewildered, we knew that this was one of the game’s greatest stumbling blocks.

AI Companions *shivers*

AI design could be better in this game

I'm using this to insinuate that I'm crying from bad AI design.

You see, your AI companions are rather dumb and have absolutely no initiative of their own. While this is good in some ways -- you really don’t need their help during the platforming sessions other than to stand on a switch -- it manifests itself in the worst ways possible during the tower defense segments.

Let’s go down a list of their inadequacies:

  • Bart is a melee character but won’t actually move into melee range. In fact, he won’t even attack when enemies get near; he just guards. While this can be a life-saving strategy at times, it also means he can’t be left alone because he’ll never do any damage, nor will he ever utilize the large knockback inherent to his weapons.
  • Bart is also the builder. While everyone has their own towers, it is Bart that can speed up their fusion and repair them. But Bart won’t do that on his own unless you first move him on top of the tower, which largely defeats the purpose. He will not so much as take one step forward in an effort to help you out with these tasks.
  • Similarly, despite having one minute between waves, your allies will not help you gather the resources necessary to build the towers that will be needed for the coming wave.
  • AI companions also go down for several seconds after taking a hit, meaning they can let a copious number of enemies past them when they’re supposed to be defending.
  • The game also uses a color-coded system whereby hitting a foe with the correct color deals triple damage, but AI allies won’t switch to the proper weapon, meaning you have to babysit them.
  • AI allies will also not go out of their way to adequately defend against flying enemies, and since the game doesn’t bother to tell you when they are coming or where they are coming from, you just have to be on your toes.

I understand what the developers were trying to do. They wanted you to multi-task and use the limitations of your allies as a creative tool to solve the strategic problems placed before you. But the limitations on your allies were way too great for them to be useful tools. When I place three of them on one lane, while I am by myself guarding two lanes on the opposite side of the map, I shouldn’t have to swap over there to save them every five seconds.

Shovel Knight in Aegis Defenders

There's even a Shovel Knight cameo.

Combine this with two problems I alluded to above -- a one-minute preparation time and the lack of an enemy forecast -- and you have a lot of yelling; just ask my family.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the three levels where your objective is moving -- two where you have to protect vehicles, and one where you are on an elevator -- which are extremely difficult because they up the amount of multitasking to an ungodly level. I died so many times on the first one that I was borderline ready to call my friend up and demand he come help me beat the level. Ultimately, after having died dozens of times, I learned the patterns and was able to get through, but it was still only by the skin of my teeth.


While that last section may have sounded really bad, and the game is admittedly rough around the edges in some places, I think there is plenty to be loved here. Couch co-op can be great fun, and not merely because it’s always fun to play with other people, but because it helps mitigate the ineptitude of the AI while forcing you to work together to do all of those things the AI won’t help you with. Who would have thought that actually being forced to work with and help other humans could be pretty fun? Moreover, while the game is very difficult (there really needs to be a difficulty level lower than Normal), it can be extremely rewarding to simply beat many of these levels, and much more so to actually earn all of the bonuses for each level.

You can have some smooth jazz going in this game

We all have a process. For me, that just means there's jazz everywhere.

Tower defense games, especially ones that are mashed up with action elements, have always been a darling of mine. At their best, they combine strategy, skill, and multitasking into this beautiful mess that I absolutely love, not to mention the mashup’s relative rarity keeps them fresh. But even with these rose-tinted glasses on, I must admit that Aegis Defenders' unyielding difficulty makes it a niche product. In this way, I think the Aegis is an adequate metaphor for the game itself. When seen only from the outside, its inherent danger belies a core that’s worth so much more. You just have to fight a bloodthirsty dictator hellbent on destroying the world's order to uncover it.


A review code was provided for Aegis Defenders by the developers. 

Corsair K68 RGB Review: A Colorful Dust and Water Resistant Variant Wed, 07 Feb 2018 11:24:13 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Following the pervading trend of colorful, RGB backlighting in modern PC gaming -- where almost every peripheral needs the functionality to stay hip -- Corsair recently released an RGB variant of their unique, and highly reliable, K68 mechanical gaming keyboard. In our review of the original K68, we gave the keyboard high marks for its innovative design, accuracy, and nearly unbeatable price point. 

Fast forward a few months and not a lot has changed for the K68 RGB -- what we liked about the original is still here, and some of the same (small) issues are still hanging around. Nonetheless, let's dive in and take a quick look at why you should consider the K68 RGB if you're in the market for a mechanical keyboard in 2018. 

Corsair K68 RGB Mechanical Keyboard angled view

(Very) Similar in Form and Fashion

For all intents and purposes, the K68 RGB looks identical to the K68 on both the outside and the inside. Sporting the same matte black finish as the original K68, the RGB's durable hard-plastic chassis looks elegant and refined -- especially with the silver Corsair logo emblazoned at the top of the board. 

Above the ten-key numpad you'll find dedicated media playback keys (stop, previous, next, play/pause) and volume keys (up, down, and mute). For the most part, these keys are tight, responsive, and easy to reach. However, just as with the original K68, I often felt that the media playback keys were a bit close to the numpad and could use a bit more room; reaching over the keycaps required a bit of a concentrated effort. To the left of those keys, you'll find the board's brightness and Windows lock keys. 

Moving on to the main part of the keyboard, you'll find it's host to the industry-standard 104 keys. All of the Cherry MX Red switches beneath each keycap employ gold crosspoint technology and are as responsive, accurate, and quiet as you'd expect them to be. Guaranteed for 50 million keypresses, these are your standard Red switches -- the ones that are going to last you a long, long time. 

Missing are the dedicated "G" keys found on Corsair's higher-end offerings (which makes sense since this isn't one of those). But overall, that's only going to (really) impact MMO and/or MOBA players that need extra keys for standard operations and complex macros. For the average player, omitting those keys from the K68 RGB most likely isn't a deal breaker. 

Close up of the K68 RGB's rubber protective coating surrounding Cherry MX Red switches

Water and Dust Resistance for the Win

Like its predecessor, the K68 RGB is also water and dust resistant. It's hard enough to come across a keyboard that's "kind of" water and dust resistant, much less one that actually is. And that's the main feature that sets this board (and its predecessor) apart from other mechanical gaming keyboards on the market.  

Implementing IP32 standards, the K68 RGB is able to protect its most vital mechanism from foreign bodies such as water and dust. That doesn't mean it's waterproof or dustproof, but it does mean that if you spill water on your keyboard or drop a crumb between the keycaps that the Cherry Red switches beneath will be (much) less prone to malfunction. 

How does the K68 do it? Specifically designing the board from the ground up with these type of resistances in mind, Corsair product engineers developed a translucent rubber cover capable of shielding the board's switches from water seepage and dust particles. On top of that, they manufactured small channels within the chassis to then transport any liquid through the board and safely through small drainage ports on the backside of the board. 

It's something that sets this mechanical apart from the competition. 

Changing the K68's lighting effects in CUE 

RGB Backlighting Adds Pizzaz 

Whereas the original K68 mechanical keyboard only offered red backlighting, the K68 RGB adds (as its name implies) ... RGB backlighting. Using Corsair's CUE software, you're able to fully customize the backlighting and lighting patterns of the K68 RGB -- down to each individual key. 

As is basically standard in the industry these days, you'll have access to the entire RGB spectrum of 16 million-plus colors so that you can program any hue you desire -- down to the exact shade if that's your thing. On top of that, Corsair provides 11 distinct lighting patterns, from spiral to rain and more. You can even select the speed at which patterns oscillate and in which directions they move about the board.

Each of these presets -- and any you come up with yourself -- can be programmed to the board and easily recalled at any computer, regardless of if CUE is installed on the device or not. 


It's curious that full RGB backlighting wasn't a feature on the original K68 since the only real distinguishing factor between this board and its predecessor is that functionality. But I suppose we expect options these days, so here we stand.

Like its progenitor, the K68 RGB features reliable Cherry MX switches (the board currently comes in both the Red and Blue variety, but we only tested the Red variant), unique water and dust resistance, fully customizable macros, 100% anti-ghosting tech, and NKRO. It's comfortable and reliable, providing pro-level capabilities in a compact frame. 

At any rate, it's a mechanical keyboard well worth considering if you're a casual or competitive player. Just know that if you spend hours ulting noobs in the mid lane or grinding in preparation for high-rank raid, one of Corsair's more robust, higher-tier offerings may be what you're looking for. 

Coming in at $119.99, the K68 RGB isn't the most expensive board out there. In fact, I'd say that its price tag is well-deserved for what you get. However, being that the K68 provides all of the same functionality of the K68 RGB sans RGB lighting for $89.99, you have to ask yourself: Is having access to 16 million colors worth the extra $30? 

You can buy the K68 RGB on Corsair's website

[Note: Corsair provided the K68 RGB used for this review].

Hyper Universe Review: The Lights Are On, but No One's Home Fri, 02 Feb 2018 12:12:45 -0500 Anthony Merklinger

Developed by Nexon for the North American market, Hyper Universe is a free-to-play 2D action MOBA wherein two teams, chosen from an eclectic cast of over 40 characters, clash for the sole purpose of destroying their opponent’s base.


Nexon wedges into the saturated MOBA universe with two side-scrolling, mechanically identical arenas: the futuristic Delta Station and medieval fantasy Dragon Refuge. The uninspired approach to PvP combat, combined with recycled navigation tactics (e.g. ladders, teleports, springs, and dashes), dominates the look and feel of Hyper Universe, but fails to drown the extensive roster that offers a playing style (and aesthetic choice) for every gamer.

While no two characters feel the same, the cast, regardless of role, wields an arsenal of six unique abilities, including an ultimate, that can be activated by pressing A, Q, W, E, and R to fire off a series of devastating combos, or lack thereof, to forge through enemy defenses toward the Final Defense Turret. The key orientation can be a bit awkward, especially for those used to clicking or using W, A, S, and D to move; however, key binds can be edited in the user settings, and players can also opt to use a game controller.

The graphics in Hyper Universe aren't too shabby

Ability execution is seamless and complemented by a cooldown timer. The interface is predominantly free from obstruction, though upgrading equipment with gold collected from downing enemies seems to put an unreasonable onus on players to have a working knowledge of the various stat improvements. More competitive players can preset several equipment configurations, though they are restricted to one per match.

Unlike other MOBAs where teams may rely on brute strength, Hyper Universe encourages social strategy to complete objectives; lone players are primarily unable to charge lanes without a teammate’s support. It’s apparent some classes require nerfing, as unbalanced characters may experience gross respawn times that, when combined with a player detracting from the map’s main objective, all but guarantees defeat.

Connecting to the HyperNet does pose an issue. Players queuing for regular or AI matches are paired regardless of experience or level, with some wait times exceeding 30 minutes. Stepping away from the computer, even briefly, can cause some to miss the 10-second ready check, resulting in a requeue. The community is exceptionally small, so the odds of entering a match are entirely dependent on peak playing hours (unless you organize a custom match). With the absence of a central storyline, players are left with testing new kits in Training Mode, as doing so in regular PvP is ill-advised.

None of the Hyper Universe characters feel the same

There are four servers — North America, South America, Europe, and Asia — that players will be asked to choose ad nauseam. Victims of recurring lag will have their character replaced with an AI when disconnecting from the server, which, for better or worse, will impact the match’s results, as well as your performance history.

The odds and ends: Hyper Universe’s achievement and crafting systems are forgettable. Playing characters and completing story-based objectives, such as adding them to your roster or winning a series of matches, unlocks text interactions that fail to bring the intensity of the game’s combat system. With no central playable thread to hold the lore together, interactions fail to hold any real significance. The incentive to completing story achievements is to stock up on in-game currency that can be used to buy new hypers and equipment.

Players can grind for crafting materials to make skins, equipment, equipment slots, emotes, and emblems, or skip the hassle altogether and purchase the desired items using cash directly. But with such long match queues, it begs the question: why spend the money on something I may not be able to use?

Graphics & Sound

Hyper Universe unjustly maintains relevance on the back of its roster, which overall lacks a genuine diversity. The character models, packed with a trove of inspired skins, are not indicative of their intended meta, or are otherwise wholly clichéd; however, where the hypers lack refinement, the game makes up for in polished combat arenas. Transitions are smooth, abilities are executed clearly and believably, and enemy bosses, such as the Dragon, are particular standouts.

Hyper Universe characters often rely on cliched tropes

The soundtrack is limited but maintains the upbeat, battle-inspired, futuristic tone Hyper Universe sets out to achieve. Sound effects mirror their animations in degree and quality.

Replay Value

Nexon’s foray into the MOBA genre with Hyper Universe is far from revolutionary. The gameplay is enjoyable, but it lacks the stamina to hold up against its competitors. While the mechanics, arenas, and soundtrack may devolve into a passive, albeit comfortable, numbness, players will return to wreak havoc each week with their favorite hyper. The game’s strongest selling point is that it remains free to play. Implementing any subscription service will surely erase whatever remaining players populate its servers. Only new maps, a compelling storyline, and iconic heroes will allow Hyper Universe to realize its fullest potential.   

Hyper Universe is available on Steam. You can watch a trailer for the game below: 

Monster Hunter: World Review -- The Most Addictive Grind Just Got Even Better Fri, 02 Feb 2018 11:58:46 -0500 Autumn Fish

We seem to be in an era of old franchises getting full remasters, and Monster Hunter: World is no exception. With video games and technology evolving at such a rapid rate, it's only natural for established series to follow suit, after all, in order to keep up with the rest of the industry.

So the real question is, did Capcom manage to successfully reimagine Monster Hunter, or did it lose its identity along the way? Is it any good, does it have enough content, how does it stack up to previous entries, and is it worth your time?

Monster Hunter: World Review

But first, an introduction. Monster Hunter is a series all about, as it happens, hunting monsters. You pick up a quest in a HUB town, you go on a hunt to fight a large monster out in the wild over a prolonged period of time, you carve up your kill for crafting materials, and you craft better armor and weapons with it so you can go hunt bigger and tougher monsters.

It's a simple formula, but it's addicting, especially since the prolonged fights with monsters feel so organic and lively. And thankfully, that core is still here in World, even if they shook it up quite dramatically. I'd argue, however, that every change they made only serves to improve the core gameplay.

The Hunt

While the basics of hunting monsters are the same as they've always been, there's been quite a number of alterations to the way it plays out and the options you have while out and about.

As you fly into base camp at the start of a quest, you'll notice a few new things. First of all, there's a tent, where you can access your item box and change your equipment. Then you'll see a mini canteen that can seat up to four people where you can eat once every 10 minutes. On top of that, each map has at least two camps, and they can be fast-traveled to whenever you're not in combat.

This is huge, too, since the maps are fairly large and open. No longer do you have to go through a loading screen and hunt each zone for a monster. Now you're just roaming around one giant map, and traversing the entirety of it on foot is an adventure all on its own. I'm still discovering plenty of secrets to each of the five main maps over 90 hours into the game.

It's thrilling fights like this that explain why to Monster Hunter World 5 million copies sold is just a start

With maps so large, though, searching for monsters by just aimlessly wandering around wasn't going to cut it in this title, so they added a new tracking system and scoutflies to guide the way. Once you've seen a monster or interacted with its tracks enough, you'll know their location on the map for the rest of the hunt, saving you the embarrassment of losing your mark.

Fighting a monster is an experience all on its own. It basically revolves around studying a monster's attack patterns and finding the openings where you can unleash hell on them using a variety of unique weapons. However, fights are so much more than just memorizing attack patterns. Monsters get angry, they get scared, and they get exhausted as if they were real creatures. They're willing to eat or flee to their nests to sleep in order to regain their strength. They'll even fight other monsters if they get in the way. It feels like you're a part of a living, breathing ecosystem, and the gameplay only serves to accentuate that.

Once the monster is dead or captured, you'll receive a bunch of materials from it that can then be used to craft new armor or upgrade your weapons. However, merely calling them materials doesn't quite impress upon you exactly how important they are.

You're Expected to Supply Everything Yourself

You're expected to supply absolutely everything yourself. You won't be receiving gear or items as quest rewards. Rather, you receive herbs, ores, bugs, bones, and monster parts used in crafting. If you're running out of potions and traps, you're going to need to craft more. If you want better equipment, you need to work for it.

Yes, that means you'll sometimes find yourself grinding a monster for parts that you need. Yes, sometimes you'll have to go on several dozen hunts to get that one rare item you need. However, while playing through a 15-minute hunt over and over again may sound tedious, I actually find every moment of it to be rather exciting, especially while playing with friends.

Taking on another vicious Monster Hunter World beast

Besides that, there are plenty of new features in this installment to boost your luck with materials, and they aren't even tied to microtransactions. For example, every day you receive a Lucky Voucher that can be used when accepting a quest to receive double the rewards on a mission. Then later on in the game, you can even receive a Palico Gadget specifically designed to gather extra materials from monsters.

Overall, I like the idea of supplying everything myself because it makes me feel like I've actually earned all of my accomplishments. I crafted the gear that helped me survive, I crafted the potions that I drink to heal, and I even crafted the flashpods and demonpowders I need to support and buff my party. I get to decide how prepared I am going into a fight, and all of my accomplishments are my own.

Progression and Story

Monster Hunter: World focuses more on story than MH games of yore, and unfortunately, it's not that well executed. It's an interesting way to learn about monster lore; however, the plot is bland, and characters don't tend to react to things in a very natural way. But that's okay. This series was never known for its storytelling, and it's not about to start to be now.

Rather than actually being something to get invested in, the story is merely a means to an end. It's meant to propel you through the game and help you progress, which is leagues better than simply receiving several quests at a time with no clue on which ones are needed for progression. (Yeah, that was actually how we had to progress in past games -- it was a trip.)

Progressing largely revolves around fighting monsters, using their materials to craft armor and weapons, and fighting stronger monsters. However, as you progress through the main missions, you'll slowly unlock special features that layer onto existing features and make the game deeper and deeper. For example, you'll eventually unlock a farm where you can essentially duplicate certain kinds of herbs, mushrooms, and bugs.

Astera is incredibly detailed in MH: World

As you progress through the story, you'll even unlock upgrades for all sorts of facilities in the main HUB town, including new items for the Provisions Stockpile, new ingredients for the Canteen, and new Hunter Tools for your ever-growing arsenal. You'll even unlock bigger houses with more room for placing all the Endemic Life you captured as pets. 

Eventually, you'll beat something that resembles a final boss, and you'll probably think to yourself, "That was it? I could have sworn everyone said this game was longer than that." In truth, though, that's because that's not it, and it is longer. You just entered a new mode called High Rank, where old monsters are stronger, you can craft all sorts of new things, and there are a plethora of new threats roaming the land.

Rather than simply throwing you into the thick of things, though, the game brilliantly adds a bit of padding to the main quest during the transitional stage in order to encourage players to fight the High Rank monsters, make new gear, and prepare for the challenges to come.

Now I'm over 90 hours into the game, and I am not quite done with High Rank yet, but I've heard from several sources that there is still plenty of content left after beating the final boss. Suffice it to say, I'm extremely excited to continue playing and see what awaits me in the endgame.


One of the biggest draws to this game is being able to play almost every single quest with your friends. Up to four people can band together to hunt a monster, and up to sixteen hunters can gather in the same multiplayer lobby together. You can even create a Squad with an emblem and everything and invite up to 50 people so you can all hunt together whenever you want. You can join up to eight squads, so you don't have to worry about dedicating yourself to just one.

Monster Hunter World is no slouch in the graphics department

The main story quests force you to start solo until you've seen all the cut-scenes; however, this is essentially not an issue since anyone in your lobby can just drop into your quest mid-hunt now so long as there's room in your party. And if you require assistance, you can even fire an SOS in order to open up your quest to random players outside of your lobby.

The great multiplayer improvements, combined with communication features like voice chat, stickers, and gestures, really round it out as an incredible multiplayer experience.


Monster Hunter: World is an absolutely brilliant reimagining of an already-adored franchise. It improves on every aspect of past games and even fixes most -- if not all -- of my major gripes with the series. It may just be a silly game about hunting monsters, but it's so well refined and put together that it's honestly a hard title to ignore.

If you're a newcomer looking to get into the series, this is the game you want. If you're a veteran looking to get back into it, trust me when I say you won't be disappointed here. And if you're one of those people who has tried several times to get into the series but just can't for some reason, I highly encourage you to try again with this entry. It really is just that much better.

Monster Hunter: World is available now for $60 on PS4 and Xbox One, with a PC version planned for release in Autumn.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT Review: Nostalgia Can't Overcome Bland Story And Gameplay Thu, 01 Feb 2018 16:23:25 -0500 Ty Arthur

Way back in the days of the SNES when Final Fantasy VI was dominant (then called III for the North American crowd), nobody ever could have foreseen how wide ranging this series would become.

From the unexpected Chocobo Racing to the turn-based combat of Final Fantasy Tactics to the open-world style of FF XV and on to the crossover brawler mechanics of Dissidia, this is a franchise that just can't stop morphing into new forms.

PS4 players who have ever wanted to see Golbez beat the snot out of Cloud Strife or watch Terra from FF6 go to town on Ultimecia (in a non-hentai way) are now getting their wish with Dissidia Final Fantasy NT

The frenzied nature of an arcade game meshes with team-based, 3v3 fighting mechanics in this crossover entry that sees dozens of Final Fantasy characters duking it out for combat supremacy.

The Chaos of Combat

There are some changes from previous entries to the Dissidia series, although the basics remain the same. If you are just jumping in, the lengthy tutorials make it feel like there's an incredibly complex system going on here, but in practice, it all pretty well devolves into chaos when actually in play.

There were times in either online multiplayer matches or offline AI battles where I honestly had no idea who I was targeting or who was targeting me. All the dodging, guard raising, combo chaining, and combo stopping to get your poise attacks off first just collapse when real people are mashing buttons.

With six players fighting and other potential objects on the screen to target, there's not much use in trying to focus on a coherent strategy most of the time. More than just a ground-focused battle, combat is also frequently acrobatic and air-based to a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon level.

That being said, there is absolutely room for skilled players to take advantage of the game mechanics and rise above the chaos, but on the whole, any given battle is a giant mess of screen-clearing sword strikes, energy blasts that launch across the arena, and summons that overtake the entire match.

Lots of chaos between Final Fantasy fighters There is often far too much happening on screen to keep track of it all.

Two different modes are available, one where your group of three lays the smack down on the other group of three until one team is dead, and another where you have to defend your core or take out the opposing team's core.

Combat is essentially the same experience in either mode, as players try to knock down each other's bravery and then go in for an HP attack kill. You can make yourself vulnerable to launch a summon that helps your party, with the usual suspects like Odin and Leviathan on tap.

Ex Skills are essentially the spells of the series, like Poisonaga sending green damaging orbs or Regen giving everyone an HP or bravery boost. Ex Bursts have been nixed since they'd interrupt the flow of 3v3 combat so frequently, but summons still give you a mini cut scene to sit through.

Leviathan in the midst of battle in Dissidia Being up in the air is frequently just as useful as dodging side to side.

Final Fantasy History Brought to Life

The whole point of Dissidia is the lineup, and there's an impressive character roster here, featuring 28 Final Fantasy heroes and villains from the very first NES game all the way up to Final Fantasy XV's emo boy band front man.

I'm not personally a fan of this 3D interpretation of Kefka, but otherwise, the wide range of character types offers just about anything an FF fan could want, from Cecil to Zidane to Cloud of Darkness.

The character lineup is broken down into Vanguard, Marksman, Specialist, and Assassin types, each excelling at various skills and offering differing speeds and attack order precedence.

There's a lot of customization possible as well in play style, since you can choose different Ex Skills and summons between matches, and each character has a variety of basic bravery attacks to call on.

Characters from different FF games set to fight together How often do you get to see Ramza from FFT, Firion from FF2, and the Emperor from FF3 all lined up, prepared to do battle on the same side?

The Non-Paywall Paywall

There's one potential major pitfall to consider for those who like to play the single-player story segment of fighting games.

To experience the Dissidia Final Fantasy NT story, you need to spend points called Memoria (essentially unlocking memories), but you only start with one single Memoria for unlocking the opening scene.

A whole bunch of nodes are found along the story mode path, some of which are cut-scenes and some of which are actual battles. Unlocking further nodes means earning more Memoria, which only happens when you level up -- and that only happens by playing online matches or going through lengthy offline AI battle sequences.

It's not exactly a paywall, but at the same time it's odd that single-player story segments are locked until you grind through online matches. On the one hand, that does make players improve their skills, but on the other, it doesn't make much sense to force someone to play online before they can go through the single-player areas.

On that front, Dissidia NT's basic story framework is something interesting to consider -- that all these iconic characters through the franchise's history have literally no purpose in a peaceful world free of strife -- but the overall execution is about what you would expect from a fighting game.

Exdeath is a specialist fighter in Final Fantasy NT Then again, there's only so much you can expect from a story that crams Exdeath into the same universe as Squall Leonheart. 

The Bottom Line

I can see how Dissidia Final Fantasy NT would be a blast on a Friday night at the arcade with your five buddies all hopped up on Rockstar, but as far as actually playing at home for extended periods of time, there's a limited fun factor here.

While it has the iconic music, classic locations, and interesting character mashups that will appeal to Final Fantasy fans, without the continuing story of a traditional RPG or the more structured format of a typical fighting game, there's just not a lot of reason to keep coming back to Dissidia Final Fantasy NT.

3v3 brawler fans might get some use out of it, and of course series fanatics will want to try it, but otherwise, this is very much a "rent before you buy" scenario.

Celeste Review: Reach the Summit Thu, 01 Feb 2018 14:37:34 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Celeste was a pleasant surprise to start off the year for me. I had heard nothing about it before release and had only casually glanced at it once, while walking by a booth for it at PAX West, thinking nothing of it. I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, that looks alright, nothing too special." At first glance it just looked like another simple, little pixelated platformer, with maybe a few new ideas. I owe the developers a sincere apology, because I severely underestimated what quality and depth lie beneath the game's simple exterior.

Celeste was developed by the studio Matt Makes Games, headed by Matt Thorson, who also developed Towerfall. It's a level-based 2D platformer that tells the story of Madeline, a stubborn girl struggling with personal issues who is attempting to climb a treacherous mountain called Celeste, where mysterious history and mystical forces lurk down every forgotten path.

So the stage is set for a grand platforming adventure, and it doesn't take long for Celeste to start impressing. Because I'll be blunt -- Celeste is one of the best platformers I've ever played, and it's because of nearly everything it does.  

On that note, let's go over everything, shall we?

I Do Not Jest When I Say I Was Impressed By Celeste

Celeste is the kind of 2D platformer that reminds me why I love 2D platformers so much; it's because they're the purest type of game there is. You can shape the basics of the genre into any number of things, and all you really need are tight controls, solid core mechanics, and new mechanics over time that build off of the basics without compromising their simplicity. Celeste understands this very well.

The game establishes the basics early on. Madeline can jump (of course), dash in eight different directions, jump off walls, and cling to walls and climb them for a short amount of time, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can dash once before it must be restored, and you only restore the dash once you touch solid ground, but not a wall, and whether or not you have a dash to spare is indicated by the color of Madeline's hair.

The dash is the core mechanic around which all of the gameplay and its many twists and turns revolve. Celeste takes this dash and the other basics it establishes from the start and then continues to build on them with loads and loads of clever mechanics and new ideas that change from level to level from start to finish. It also helps that even though you die in one hit, you respawn very quickly, and new checkpoints come with new screens, so any lost progress is, in reality, about 10-20 seconds or less on average.

You have everything from moving blocks that throw you around with momentum, surfaces you can only touch once before they become dangerous, items that recharge your dash in midair, all kinds of new ways to move around, and the list just keeps going.

Every level feels unique with both its mechanics and themes, as well as their relevance in the story, which constantly keeps the game fresh, exciting, and surprising. The variety of obstacles and gradual changes to gameplay gave me pleasant reminders of games like Yoshi's Island and Shovel Knight, alongside its fantastic level design that is loaded with screen after screen of intelligent design, and packed to the gills with extra secrets and challenges. 

 By this game's standards, this isn't even a hard part. Also yes, that's me playing.

To be honest, the only real complaints I have about the game at all have to do with the sometimes ruthless difficulty -- which we'll get to later -- and the fact that I at times had some slight issues with the controls. For the most part, Madeline controls very well, and she may be a bit heavier than some other platforming protagonists, but that doesn't take too long to get used to. The issue I have is that the dash can be a bit temperamental and overly sensitive at times.

Unlike a game like Super Meat Boy, where you always have full control over your character's range of movement, Madeline can only dash in the eight basic directions, and at times it feels as though in a frantic moment you may accidentally dash sideways instead of up because you were ever so slightly off on the control stick. It didn't happen terribly often for me, but enough that I noticed it (though to be fair, that was mostly during the very tight and more difficult levels towards the very end and among the bonus content).

This isn't a deal-breaker, though, as I'm certain this is a minor issue that can be overcome with enough practice, and if you're good enough with a D-Pad on a controller or the directional buttons on a Switch Joy-Con, then maybe it won't bother you all that much. Just understand that you need to be patient with the game in general in order to improve over time, and it shouldn't get to you.

The Young Girl and the Mountain 

What especially surprised me about Celeste was how solid and sweet the story was, and how much I could relate to it personally. I'll do my best not to spoil anything in this review, but I will lightly touch on some of the game's themes and plot points, so consider this your warning.

Alright? Here we go then.

What I thought was very unique about the story was the way it discusses and portrays mental health issues. It isn't the deepest or even the strongest narrative about mental health I've seen in a game, but it's nonetheless very genuine, honest, and well executed. It also manages to analogize and explain these complex issues in a straightforward manner without coming across as insensitive, while also making it accessible to a younger audience. 

At the start of the game, there's a bit of mystery as to why Madeline is climbing the mountain in the first place, considering the fact that she has no prior experience, and the task is highly dangerous. The answer to this question really surprised and pleased me; it's because she thinks she has to.

It's hinted at from the start and outright revealed some ways into the game that Madeline is struggling with depression, and that climbing Celeste is her way of trying to put her life back on track. This may actually be my favorite aspect of the game, as it puts basically everything else into context, from the strawberries to the darker side of Madeline to the general lack of enemies.

The fact that the mountain is magical and rich with a mysterious history is basically irrelevant to Madeline because she isn't climbing it for that. There's no family history with the place or mysterious force that drew her there, or even a great treasure or free wish at the top of the mountain to motivate her. She's doing it because she thinks overcoming this seemingly impossible monumental task will somehow get her head back in order and give her back control of a life she feels she's lost control of.

While I can't guarantee everybody will see eye-to-eye with Madeline on this, speaking as somebody who has depression, this really resonated with me -- the idea that overcoming some nonspecific challenge will prove that you can sort out your own life and deal with your own problems, when really the problems are still there with you, and the best but still hardest thing to do is to just try and understand them and then work up from there.

It's a simple but highly effective aspect of the story that really provided great context for the gameplay and gave it all emotional weight for me. You can easily sympathize with her because she's perfectly capable of getting things done, but what she's doing is really hard, and she's no less vulnerable throughout most of the story, often beating herself up out of a lack of confidence. I just really wanted to see Madeline make it to the summit and see if she felt any better by the end.

I refuse to leave her here.

The rest of the writing and story elements are pretty solid too. Every character has a distinct personality and serves a purpose in the plot, even if they don't get much screen time, and the lightness of tone most of the game has manages to blend well with the more serious and sad moments seamlessly. Overall, I came away from the plot liking all the characters and feeling very satisfied with the ultimate conclusion.

All of this is, of course, helped out by the very pleasant presentation. Similar to games like Cave Story and Hyper Light DrifterCeleste has a colorful pixelated art style that's just detailed enough to give everything definition, but just simple enough to leave certain details up to the imagination. That, coupled with the excellent and often exhilarating soundtrack, come together to make Celeste feel like a Game Boy Advance game from your wildest dreams.

Celeste's Layered Difficulty

One thing that you need to know going into Celeste is that it can be very hard. The main game is challenging but curves gently and very naturally as it goes, so it never feels like the difficulty spikes or creeps up on you, but rather progresses naturally.

That's the first layer of challenge, while the second comes in the form of collecting the strawberries. All throughout each level there are multiple optional routes you can take for additional platforming challenges in order to collect a floating strawberry.

What's really nice about the strawberries is that they're completely optional in every way. They're basically never put in the normal path needed to beat a level, and are usually found on their own separate path or screen, where the player can simply choose to ignore them when they want to. There's also no explicit reward for collecting them either, which normally I'd harp on considering how hard it is to get many of them, and how many there are, but this is a rare case where I don't really mind it.  

The act of merely collecting the strawberries and discovering more through exploration -- which can also lead to additional secrets -- is fun, different, and challenging enough that collecting them is their own reward. Not to mention, in the context of the story, it makes sense, considering that the whole trip up the mountain is the reward in itself for Madeline; the strawberries are just a little treat on the side of that. Plus, while there is no direct gameplay benefit from collecting them, there is a slight reward at the end of the story, and grabbing them is fun anyway, so collecting a few couldn't hurt.  

Then there's the B-Side levels. Which are pure evil.

The B-Side levels are optional challenge levels that you can unlock by finding the corresponding cassette tape in each of the game's main levels. Like the strawberries, they're also out of the way of the main path, but a bit more hidden in this case. Once you collect the tape, you unlock an extra-challenging remix of the level that you just completed, albeit more linear and lacking strawberries, serving as a pure platforming challenge. Sorry, did I say challenging? I meant to say MURDEROUSLY CHALLENGING. 

The B-Side bonus levels are hard. Insanely hard. And I'm not talking like Super Meat Boy Dark World hard, or even Cuphead on Expert hard. I'm talking like competing the secret ending of Cave Story hard, or even harder. The first one that I tried was the third B-Side level -- and no joke -- it took me an hour and a half to beat, and I died 832 times. I am not kidding.

This is a screen from that same B-Side level. This one part seriously took me like 20 minutes. 

These levels are so hard that it's almost hard to believe that they're from the same game as the main story. In contrast to the typical level design, which is generally more open and forgiving, these are much more tightly focused, timing-based to a very specific degree, and completely linear. Words cannot do them justice; they must be played to be believed.

Apparently Matt Thorson was an active member of the Super Mario Maker community, and in these levels, it really shows. A lot of these levels involve the kind of precise platforming that is meant only for super players and the kind of determined experts who are willing to put hours into each level if they have to.

I should say that these levels are still fair and fun like the rest, but the jump in difficulty from the main game is absolutely massive, so be warned. There are rewards directly linked to completing these levels (aside form bragging rights), however, so there's a little more incentive to keep trying.

Additionally, it was very smart of the devs to make these levels entirely optional. Putting them in the game as a bonus side dish for the feast that is the story and its gameplay means that Celeste has enough difficulty options for everybody, while still keeping to a determined difficulty curve and structure with its normal gameplay.  

And while we're on the subject of feasting, the game is fairly generous with content as well. The main game took me around nine hours to complete, with me collecting 104 strawberries, which is quite a bit longer than I honestly expected, and there's a ton of extra time and content to be found for the hardcore gamers and completionists out there. At the price of $20, I'd call this game a steal.

You Need to Reach the Summit Just for the View Up There

I'd like to clarify that my score does not mean that Celeste is a perfect game, because it isn't. By my standards, a score like this is meant for games that aren't necessarily flawless, but deserve to be played by everybody possible regardless. While the extreme difficulty and odd fiddling with the controls did frustrate me at times, the things that the game does well vastly outweigh its few hiccups. 

It's the consistent variety and inventiveness, the simple but honest and emotional story, the notable amount of content, and the difficulty that gets so nuts it must be seen to be believed that all make this a game a must-play. Celeste is a game I heartily recommend to any fan of platformers, gamers looking for a real challenge, and anybody who wants a good story -- so basically everybody. I absolutely loved my time with it, and I'm sure many others will as well. This is a mountain I'd gladly climb back down just to scale the whole thing again.

Celeste is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam. You can watch a trailer for the game down below:


SteelSeries Rival 600 Review: Gaming Mice Can't Get Much Better Mon, 29 Jan 2018 14:35:03 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Finding the right gaming mouse is like finding a snug glove in winter -- it’s warm, it’s toasty, and it’s protection from the bitter chill of losing yet another ranked match in Paladins. Finding the right gaming mouse can also be an elusive prospect, one that’s made difficult by the overwhelming glut of mice filling every peripherals storefront on the internet.

In all my time reviewing mice over the past year, I’ve found two that I could definitively say are the right fit for my hybrid grip style -- and can keep up with the way I play video games on the PC. Sure, there've been some great mice to come across my desk, but only a small handful really stand out across the vast expanse of time. Now, I’ve found another.

SteelSeries’ Rival 600 is a phenomenally engineered piece of gaming hardware. It's a mouse that should be on every gamer's desk -- casual or competitive. Because of its TrueMove3+ sensor set (yes, it has two sensors), the 600 sets itself apart from the competition in a unique way. It's the mouse I never knew I wanted until I got my hands on it. 

And now I can't let go. 


If you were to take a cursory glance at the Rival 600, you'd probably walk away thinking it looks a lot like the Rival 310. In fact, the 600 has a (very) similar shape and contour when compared to its TrueMove cousin. But take a closer look and it’s immediately apparent that when it comes to design, the Rival 600 is fiercer and much more aggressive.

Where the left and right mouse buttons of the Rival 310 stop at the prow of the mouse, the split-trigger switches of the Rival 600 reach out over the front of the mouse like prongs on a cyberpunk starship, lending the mouse a futuristic aesthetic that fits well with modern gaming’s RGB, space-age zeal. Move along the top toward the middle of the Rival 600, and you’ll find the obligatory mouse wheel and a relatively large middle mouse button for switching CPI on the fly. I found the 310’s middle button a bit small, so I was glad to see the surface area of the 600’s MMB grow to allow for easier access in tense situations.

From there, move along the left side of the mouse and you'll find three more buttons along the periphery, just above the absurdly comfortable silicone grips. These buttons aren’t as large as those found on the 310; their slimmer designs don't provide large targets for your thumbs. But considering the 600 isn’t as tall in the middle and the back as the 310, the 600 fit in my palm better and helped my thumb easily find each button without any problems.

As is customary with the Rival series of mice, you’ll find the SteelSeries logo branded on the back of the Rival 600. But what isn’t customary is the mouse’s eight-zone RGB lighting. Hop into this clicker’s Engine 3 software and you’ll find that you can not only adjust the lighting beneath the SteelSeries logo, but also the lighting beneath the mouse wheel and in the channels just below the LMB and RMB. The latter conduits add character to the Rival 600 -- offsetting its rather austere all-black color pattern. Using Engine 3, you can cycle through four different effects and millions of colors to program the perfect combination of lush, vibrant lighting. 

But one of the very best things about the Rival 600’s design is that it has detachable side plates that let you customize the weight of the mouse. Coming it at around 96 grams without its detachable cable, the Rival 600 is already one of SteelSeries' heavier mice right out of the box. However, by detaching the sides and inserting one or all of the included eight four-gram weights, you can get the Rival 600 up to 128 grams, making it the perfect choice for those that prefer weight customizability for different gaming situations. It also helps that the weights are on the sides of the mouse -- not the middle -- allowing for more pinpoint customization than that found in some other models.


Featuring SteelSeries’ TrueMove3 Sensor (here called TrueMove3+), the Rival 600 provides fantastic accuracy and performance. Just like the Rival 310’s TrueMove3, the 600’s TrueMove3+ eschews jitters and jerks for ultra-low latency and what really does feel like true 1-to-1 tracking up to 3,500 CPI. The mouse can reach 12,000 CPI, but SteelSeries can only guarantee 1-to-1 tracking up to 3,500. Regardless, in the same ways I adored the Rival 310 for making Paladins headshots effortless, and in how I praised it for increasing my accuracy while sniping in Battlefield 1, the Rival 600 gave me the accuracy and precision I needed to stay competitive. 

But what really makes the Rival 600 stand apart from every other mouse on the planet is that it sports not one but two sensors. Putting the + in TrueMove3+, the Rival 600’s dedicated lift-off sensor lets you calibrate the mouse’s lift-off distance from 0.5mm to 2mm via SteelSeries Engine 3 software. 

Since I’m one of those players that picks his mouse up as he moves it back and forth, I found the 600’s liftoff sensor to be a savior when playing They Are Billions. By setting the liftoff distance in the middle, I was able to select specific units and structures without having my mouse stop in the middle of my movement -- saving valuable seconds. Playing Killing Floor 2 and setting the lift-off distance as low as possible, I was able to better home in on targets and pull off more crits because my crosshair didn't float off target. 

There’s nothing worse than getting killed because you lifted your mouse just a hair -- and now you’re staring at the ground or at a wall, not the enemy. The Rival 600 all but eliminates that in the eyes of this average Joe. 

SteelSeries wants the Rival 600 to be the go-to mouse for eSports players the world over. Whether they share my sentiments remains to be seen, but I think the 600 has a shot of making that goal a reality. 


The Rival 600’s spoiled me. Having the ability to customize my lift-off distance was a functionality I never knew I wanted in a mouse until I had it -- and I don’t know if I can ever go back to a mouse with a single sensor. Coming in at $79.99, the Rival 600 is a high-end mouse at a great price point. Comparing it to SteelSeries’ other offerings, the 600 should be the company's flagship. Hands down.

Rated for 60 million clicks, the 600's buttons are going to last you a long, long time. Using SteelSeries Engine 3 software, you can program profiles to the mouse for both lighting and functionality, easily recalling them even if you don't have the software installed on the computer you're using. And the mouse's USB cable is detachable, making it easier to transport between LANs if that's your thing. 

If you're looking for a mouse with a veritable bevy of buttons, you might find the Rival 600's seven buttons a little on the light side. If so, you'll want to check out SteelSeries' Rival 500, which boasts a whopping 15 buttons and is specifically made for MMO and MOBA players. And if you're looking for something feather-light, you'll want to look elsewhere, too. 

However, the Rival 600 is your go to if you're looking for a generalist mouse that performs well across all genres, lets you customize lift-off distance, and provides killer accuracy and precision. 

You can buy the Rival 600 on Amazon for $79.99

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Rival 600 used for this review.]

Resident Evil 7 - Not A Hero Review: Return of Redfield Thu, 25 Jan 2018 13:56:15 -0500 Beckett Van Stralen

*This review contains minor spoilers for Resident Evil 7’s main campaign.

After being delayed months longer than originally planned, and as part of a final gift for an amazing Resident Evil year, Capcom released the first part of the conclusion to Resident Evil 7’s main campaign in the form of the free Not A Hero DLC on December 12, 2017. The player leaves the shoes of the previous protagonist, Ethan Winters, and adopts a more hands-on role as the classic series mainstay Chris Redfield, who is only revealed in the campaign’s final moments. While Chris’s story is a breath of fresh air, it also feels like a missed opportunity. Despite these issues, Not A Hero is still very much Resident Evil 7, and I thoroughly enjoyed my two-hour playthrough.

Not A Hero begins right as Resident Evil 7’s main campaign concludes, when Chris Redfield is revealed to be a member of New Umbrella -- a group of ex-Umbrella employees who created an organization to combat bioterrorism and correct the atrocities committed by their parent company. After tracing leads of a bioweapon trade deal to Dulvey, Louisiana, Chris Redfield and his team are dispatched to deal with the bioterrorism offenders and squash any biological threat permanently.

Chris’s story immediately feels different from Resident Evil 7’s main campaign because the player no longer controls a character that is essentially a helpless civilian. He is a well-trained combat operative, and Not A Hero plays out accordingly. This time around, successful headshots can be followed up with a physical punch attack, sending your enemy flying backwards. Chris also has access to an impressive arsenal of weapons, including a shotgun, handgun, grenades, and a combat knife, to deal with the array of Molded enemies that will mostly be encountered throughout the 2-3 hour journey.


While Not A Hero faithfully gets many aspects of Resident Evil right, its story feels like a massive missed opportunity. Most of the interesting backstory as to where Chris has been since Resident Evil 6, and why he’s part of New Umbrella, are questions that are answered by finding notes and files instead of through cut-scenes. The final showdown with Lucas also left something to be desired -- his boss fight ended too quickly and much too easily. This is likely due to the fact that the default difficulty is Normal, but the same "Normal" for Resident Evil 7 felt like it packed a much greater challenge.


Like other titles in the series, Not A Hero does offer substantial replayability for completionists. Replaying the game on a harder difficulty, finding collectibles, and performing speed runs all come with rewards for players ready for the challenge. After my first playthrough, I started a new game on Professional Difficulty. I instantly discovered that “Professional” was meant literally, as ammo was incredibly limited and forced the player to utilize the combat knife as well as physical attack prompts to stay alive.


I briefly played Not A Hero in VR and found that it was extremely nausea-inducing within about 15 minutes of play. My VR controls were set for smooth gameplay instead of set angle increment turning, which likely contributed to the motion sickness, but the fact that it felt so different from the main campaign’s VR was unexpected. I had to remove the headset and take a breather because that was the closest I’ve ever come to losing my lunch due to PSVR.


With the release of Not A Hero, the wonderful and overarching campaign of Resident Evil 7 begins to draw to a close. For not meeting the high expectations created by the main game (nor justifying the incredibly long release delay), it was still an enjoyable experience that will undoubtedly satisfy Resident Evil fans -- especially the ones who longed to be in the shoes of a familiar character. While the story is hollow, with many missed opportunities, it’s hard to forget that Not A Hero’s DNA is still very much Resident Evil, and for being a DLC that’s 100% free, players can’t go wrong in experiencing everything Not A Hero has to offer.

Resident Evil 7 - End of Zoe Review: Fists of Fury Wed, 24 Jan 2018 15:30:32 -0500 Beckett Van Stralen

*This review contains minor spoilers for Resident Evil 7s main campaign. 

When it came out that Capcom was planning on releasing additional DLC alongside Not A Hero to complete the overall story arc of Resident Evil 7, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It reminded me of when Bioware reworked the ending to Mass Effect 3 after huge fan backlash -- was it completely necessary to put a bowtie on the story of a character we didn’t have a chance to become familiar with? It turns out I was wrong, very wrong. End of Zoe serves as the perfect terminus for Resident Evil 7 and its characters, while managing to provide an incredibly satisfying gameplay experience that begs to be replayed once the credits have rolled.

Cabin from End of Zoe

End of Zoe begins at the point where Ethan decides to cure his wife Mia, instead of Zoe Baker, and leaves her to her fate on the Bakers’ river dock. As Zoe makes her way through the woods, ready to accept her inevitable doom, she becomes calcified and immobile. Soon she is discovered by a bearded man, only to find out that the man is Joe Baker, brother of Jack Baker himself. Seeing his niece in such a state, Joe takes it upon himself to find out what happened to her and to save her life -- if he can.

Typical Resident Evil 7 scene

End of Zoe shows how the development team can flex their creative muscles to make something that feels completely different from the main product, and have it still exist in the same framework.

Like Chris Redfield, Joe Baker has his own particular set of strengths and skills. Instead of opting for a large weapons arsenal, Joe’s main weapons are his fists. Combos can be utilized for quicker or stronger punches, and the gameplay encourages the player to observe the enemy and respond to their attacks, like ducking or dodging side to side. Healing also receives an aesthetic rework; instead of relying on medicinal herbs, Joe lives off the swamp, finding centipedes and bugs to ingest and replenish his health. The bugs can also be combined with chemical fluid to increase their potency. Aside from good old fisticuffs, a limited number of firearms can be obtained, as well as a device that brings punching to a new level of enjoyment.

Picture of RE7's haunting atmosphere

Opting for hand-to-hand combat in End of Zoe allows for the gameplay to feel quite different from Resident Evil 7’s main campaign and accompanying DLC. Due to the fact that he lacks Ethan Winters’ helplessness and fear, the scare factor is slightly reduced because of this approach and is further lessened by Joe’s apparent indifference towards the enemies he encounters. For me, this actually gave me a bit of confidence and allowed me to play the game in a more action-oriented fashion, which was a wonderful change of pace. But, don’t get me wrong -- Resident Evil 7’s slow, deliberate, and tension-building approach is utterly fantastic; End of Zoe just shows how the development team can flex their creative muscles to make something that feels completely different from the main product, and have it still exist in the same framework.

Ghastly creature from Resident Evil

End of Zoe is the final piece of an unforgettable experience that began on January 24, 2017, in the form of the highly anticipated Resident Evil 7. It carves its own identity amongst the large amount of post-release DLC, and manages to come out on top as the most exciting and replayable. The only fault I can point out is that the conclusion comes much too quickly after giving us a taste of refreshing hand-to-hand combat, and introducing us to the incredibly interesting (and slightly comical) Joe Baker. End of Zoe is highly recommended for Resident Evil 7 enthusiasts to enjoy and provides an extremely satisfying conclusion to the game’s overall narrative while leaving a thirst for even more.

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory Review Wed, 24 Jan 2018 10:54:51 -0500 Autumn Fish

In Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory, you play as a young guy who is after revenge against a hacker who stole his personal account -- which is something akin to personal identification in the digitized world of EDEN that coexists with the real world. In his quest to recover his account, he falls in with a vigilante hacker group and discovers digital monsters called Digimon.

He quickly forms a bond with these Digimon and pairs up with them in order to defend himself against other hackers and their own powerful Digimon. Through experience earned over countless battles, the Digimon with him will grow and Digivolve into even more powerful and spectacular creatures.

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory Review

It's a familiar formula, collecting monsters and battling with them. I've sunk several hours into games like it, but I can't say I've ever picked up a Digimon game before now. It's been quite the experience for me, to say the least. There's a lot of good to be had here, but there's also a fair bit that I'm not fond of.

The Good

I found the battle system and the Digimon themselves a lot more interesting than I thought I would. For starters, Digimon compete against each other in 3-vs-3 teams. Sometimes you'll find about four wild Digimon together, or have extra allies on your team, but as a general rule, a single hacker can only command three Digimon at once.

Always having a bunch of Digimon in the field certainly makes battles interesting. However, instead of a traditional turn-based system where each team takes turns attacking, every individual Digimon actually has their own spot in the order of battle. The turn order is displayed on the right side of the screen and is entirely subject to change depending on what moves are used, making combat feel more lively than a typical turn-based game.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth Hacker's Memory Review The Good

And of course, like any good monster battling game, there's not one but two strategic typing charts. Each Digimon has a Type and an Attribute that affect their strengths and defenses. Types are the main classification, and they determine whether your attacks are essentially super effective or not very effective. Attributes, on the other hand, merely boost your damage a smidge if they are strong against the opposing Digimon, but your damage will never be weakened by them. I really had to consider which Types and Attributes I was filling my team with to make sure I had decent coverage across the board.

The Digimon themselves are intriguing, too. I never knew that Digimon were so fluid; one Digimon can Digivolve into several different species of Digimon. They can also De-Digivolve back into any of the potential previous forms of a Digimon. All throughout these evolutions, the Digimon gain various unique skills from each form. There looks to be a lot of strategy and customization to be had in raising a Digimon up a certain path so that they have the Skills you want when they reach their final form.

Additionally, I like the idea of scanning Digimon to gradually gather enough data in order to make one of your own. It's nice not to have to worry about specifically finding wild Digimon since you can just as easily scan other hackers' Digimon. The process can become a little grindy, though.

The Eh ...

While I found the core gameplay enticing, I was a little put off by the learning curve, the plot pacing, and the writing. While I found the gameplay and systems engaging, a lot of things came across as unintuitive. I felt overwhelmed early on, like I didn't know much of what I was doing. While combat quickly clicked with me, the rest of the game wasn't always so plainly explained.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth Hacker's Memory Review The Eh

The game tells you where you need to go through dialogue, and doesn't indicate that you have any way to double-check your destination until hours in, which led to me getting quite lost whenever I spaced through text. It turns out there's an easily accessible NPC you can converse with to hear your objective at any time, which kind of saves it, but it's hard to call it intuitive. I've heard this game is much like the original Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, so returning players shouldn't be too overwhelmed by the learning curve, but new players, I suspect, will be.

The pacing of the story was a bit odd, but not unfamiliar to me. It's a cycle where you start or end a chapter with a main-plot segment and then fill in the gap-time with side missions. Some of these missions are required to progress the story, and while they do offer a humorous diversion and some extra insight into the lore of the world, they don't typically tie into the main plot, which harms the momentum slightly.

The plot itself is pretty interesting. It's not exactly gripping, but it doesn't put me to sleep either. The writing is chuckle-worthy at times, though it occasionally misses the mark. Unfortunately, the cut-scenes tend to really drag out and are totally unskippable to boot, which really creates problems when you take a look at the checkpoint system.

The Bad

In fact, it's almost as if there isn't a checkpoint system. If all of your Digimon get knocked out in battle, then you're kicked back to the title menu, left to continue from wherever you last saved. You might be inclined to think that isn't so bad -- after all, plenty of popular games these days roll you back to your last save upon death. However, many of those games also feature auto-saving at certain intervals, whereas this one absolutely does not. Saving is completely your responsibility, gosh forbid it ever slip your mind.

Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth Hacker's Memory Review The Bad

It just makes the game feel antiquated, and it doesn't stop there. The odd menu layout makes it unintuitive to navigate, and moving around the world feels weirdly constricted in the sense that you're strictly confined to tight spaces even when they should feel more open -- and you can't even turn the camera. Additionally, many level designs in EDEN quickly begin to feel repetitive as you make your way through them. While the scenery can change a tad, many of the map layouts just end up feeling repetitive.

Altogether, the game feels clunky in my hands. I feel like I'm playing a JRPG from the last console generation, which isn't necessarily all that bad, but it's not exactly compelling to me, either.

The Verdict

Overall, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory is a pretty solid monster collecting game, though I wouldn't say it really shines anywhere else. If you're itching to duke it out with digital monsters on your PS4 or Vita, then this could be a solid pick-up for you.

I suspect that this game is pretty dang cool for fans of the series, though I can't speak for them. For newcomers, however, I suggest holding your breath. If you like the unique concept of Digimon a lot and aren't bothered by the game's setbacks, you'll likely really enjoy this title. If not, then this is probably going to be a challenging one to sink your teeth into.

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory is available now on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita for $60 or $40 respectively.

Waiting for the game to download? Be sure to check out our beginner's guide!

Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: An Early Contender For Fighting Game Of The Year Tue, 23 Jan 2018 23:02:23 -0500 Ty Arthur

Fighting game fans are about to get spoiled very, very early this year as Dragon Ball FighterZ is destined to make a whole lot of year-end lists when 2018 finally wraps up.

A large number of characters from the anime series are available at launch with fast paced, 3v3 matches available in story, arcade, or multiplayer modes. It's clear Fighter Z is a labor of love from the developers, who absolutely nailed the feel of the Dragon Ball Z while interweaving elements from the anime into the gameplay.

From the color palette to the combo scheme and the sound effects, there's just not much that Dragon Ball FighterZ does wrong. Let's face it: letting you throw a guy through a couple of mountain ranges (ouch) or fill the screen with blazing blue fire is fun in its own right, but even better when it's Dragon Ball.

 Fighter Z doesn't lack series character diversity

Fighter Z is a Head Banging Anime Wonder

Dragon Ball FighterZ has a whole lot of different elements at play, but they all fit together really smoothly, offering up an experience that's a joy to either watch or play. It's not just the graphics and fighting mechanics either (although those are spot-on), but all of the game's backing details as well.

Considering developer Arc System Works has been involved in the Guilty Gear series, it probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but there's a killer hard rock/heavy metal soundtrack working to connect the game's moving parts, from cut scenes to battles and even some of FighterZ's menus. Most surprising to me (in a good way!) was that the opening trailer even has some guttural, harsh vocals, which you don't typically find in video games -- even when they do go more on the metal side.

Providing a strong contrast to the heavy music score is the offbeat way the menus work. Instead of just providing a standard menu screen to pick a game mode (although you can use a menu if you want to move around faster), there's an adorable chibi game hub where any mode can be accessed by running to a different hut. 

You can actually spend a good deal of time here if you want, using stamps and emotes to interact with other players or swapping between different chibi characters unlocked over time. It provides a feeling of community and a reason to earn different outfits between FighterZ's matches.

  Welcome, adorable chibi fighter!

Randomized Loot That's Not a Terrible Grind

One of the primary reasons for the chibi hub is to swap out color schemes and other items based on what you've unlocked through Z Coins (otherwise known as loot boxes).

Wait, wait, wait -- loot boxes?!? Yeah, they are even here in your beloved Dragon Ball Z -- but they are only for cosmetic items and random extras like new outfits for your DBZ characters.

Unlike some other games we're not going to mention, you don't have to spend real money (the option isn't even available) or waste hundreds of hours in random number hell trying to unlock full characters.

Although they aren't really needed for anything, if you want to buy those loot boxes, you can earn Zeni really fast by completing trials, playing different game modes, or just accessing different areas of the chibi hub in the tutorial.

 Unlocking 10 items with Zeni

Beating Up Your Friends And Family in FighterZ

But enough about the music and loot -- the heart of any beat 'em up, of course, is the combat, and if that aspect fails, then everything else is just window dressing. Thankfully, Dragon Ball FighterZ knocks the combat mechanics absolutely out of the park.

There's a decent number of combos to learn without going either overboard on complexity or pandering into simplistic. Potentially anyone -- maybe even grandma -- could pick up Dragon Ball FighterZ and grasp how to play.

The game utilizes a universal style for combos, one where you can essentially understand how to play any character once you've grasped the basics, then eventually master the specific differences between character types as you go along.

It's a system that's easy to get into, but there's enough depth present for the hardcore crowd to show off their skills

Plenty of options are available in how you want to fight as you build up a combat gauge for better attacks on the ground or in the air, with vertical recoveries to learn and a few different ways to break an opponent's guard.

FighterZ's 3v3 style offers up a nice change on the tactical side for swapping out your other two characters or using them for combo assists -- or even forcing the opponent to swap to another damaged character when they would prefer to stay with one healthy warrior.

 Any character match up offers fast, fun combat 

Substance With A Heaping Dose Of Style

While the combat feels fluid and is plenty of fun, Dragon Ball FighterZ doesn't skimp on the super slick graphical presentation. Every arena and character is lovingly crafted, and frankly, this game is just much more visually interesting than recent big name entries like Street Fighter V.

Every single color and super powered combo draws your eye in with an amazing combination between the game's anime style and a 2.5D fighting orientation. There's an incredibly organic feel where the characters, background, and effects are all melded together without a hitch.

It frequently feels like you're playing an episode of the anime series, and the little mini cut-scenes for certain devastating combos are smoothly transitioned so it doesn't feel like you are losing time or having to wait to get back into the action.

 As the power gauge builds, beautiful shots like this become more frequent

The Bottom Line on Dragon Ball FighterZ

I can't really overstate how visually appealing this game is, whether you care about the anime or not. Even people who don't normally show interest in fighting games can have a good time here just with the impressive visuals that feel like a moving graphic novel.

Before testing out your prowess in multiplayer, there's plenty of fun features to try out with the campaign mode -- like leveling up, unlocking different bonuses, plotting a course across the map to the boss, and earning new companions for the 3v3 battles.

On the campaign side, you are basically getting a couple of extra episodes of the show with a story that's very meta as you the player inhabit Goku's body and the other characters recognize this while talking directly at you.

Secret cut scene segments are available to unlock that are very much aimed at long-time fans of Dragon Ball Z  -- if you get the right combination of characters in story mode locations (or if you defeat an enemy with the proper team build). This extra effort to please the fans gives a reason to keep playing the single player campaign in different ways and adds a lot of replay value over time.

My only real complaints so far are that sometimes all the clone battles in between the boss stages feel a little repetitive, and the story isn't going to win any Oscars, but its definitely serviceable.

The bottom line here is that whether you are a fighter newbie or hardened vet, Dragonball Fighter Z is a killer entry that's well worth your time and has brought the anime series to life in a way no game before it has managed.

 This guy approves, and shouldn't that really be enough of an endorsement?

Genetic Disaster Review: A Co-op Experience Gone Wild Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:45:43 -0500 Sjaak den Heijer

Team8 Studio fully released their very first game, Genetic Disaster, on December 18 of last year. Sadly, the game was flooded with bugs, including some game-breaking ones. However, within 30 days, Team8 Studio rolled out several patches solving almost every major problem and all game-breaking bugs, so now it’s finally time to check it out!


When playing Genetic Disaster, it becomes very clear that a story is not the main focus of this game; in fact, the only information I could get on the story was from the official Steam page. The four playable characters are trying to escape a so-called “mad mansion” over the course of 10 randomly generated levels that significantly increase in difficulty. When you die in the game, you're also shown a picture of an evil-looking scientist, who could possibly be the person who runs the mansion. Other story bits might be added later since the developers are actively updating the game, but for now, that’s all we know.



Genetic Disaster is an isometric, co-op, roguelike shooter (played with either a controller or keyboard-and-mouse) that mainly focuses on having a great co-op experience and offering tons of replayability. Because of the lack of story, Team8 Studio was able to focus all their resources and time on the gameplay and art aspects of the game. One of Genetic Disaster's main selling points is its variety of gameplay. The game has four unique playable characters with different abilities that determine the way you play. Bunker can generate a shield to protect him and his allies, while Panic can quickly stun enemies around him and run away afterward. There are over 65 unique weapons, many of which can be found through secret chests and bosses, all with different behaviors, ranging from standard submachine guns and shotguns to a gun that shoots corrosive bubbles or a fully automatic boomerang launcher.

The variety in its gameplay is definitely a big deal for Genetic Disaster, and the game has a really cool and unique mechanic that changes the rules of the game itself. At the top-right of the screen, away from all other elements of the UI, the game displays a timer that switches between special “rules.” These rules can include things like bullets bouncing off walls, friendly fire turning on, or all enemies dropping bombs when they die. You will never know what rule is going to come next, so you always need to pay attention to the timer; if you don’t, it might cost you your life. This constant danger of a rule suddenly changing can create some very tense moments, really upping the gameplay.

To get every single bit of enjoyment out of Genetic Disaster, it's highly recommended to play co-op with one or more friends. Playing co-op will completely change the game by raising the difficulty and significantly increasing the combinations of weapons and skills you can have, giving the game even more variety. This large number of variables makes every shot you give at Genetic Disaster a new experience and a whole lot of fun. All these mechanics give the game a big boost in replay value, making this a perfect game you can come back to all the time.


Team8 Studio did a tremendous job on the art. It is beautifully hand-drawn in an art style that perfectly matches the chaos and craziness of the game itself; all the assets blend together perfectly, making this game a pleasure to look at while playing. Genetic Disaster features some really impressive particle effects, especially for a hand-drawn art style, that do a great job of depicting the impact of shooting a gun or making something explode. It's also very cool to see how a character's design alone, without any backstory, can reveal some of a character's distinctive quirks. The animations in Genetic Disaster are sometimes somewhat interesting. The character models only actually move their legs; the rest of the animation is done by making the sprite bounce up and down and stretch a bit. This might not be the way to animate, but it sure is creative, and it actually has charm. All in all, Genetic Disaster looks like a completed and high-quality game, and the sometimes weird animation doesn't take away from that.


With all that said, Genetic Disaster is a really cool co-op experience that you can sink a ton of hours into if it clicks. The varied gameplay gives you countless ways to play the game, and the awesome art style wraps it all up into one nice package. It's something Team8 Studio can be proud of.

Corsair HS50 Headset Review: Big Bass, Small Price, Few Features Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:57:00 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Corsair's HS50 gaming headset is a frustrating set of cans. On the one hand, it's built as good as, if not better than, some of its god-tier cousins -- and it's just as comfortable, too. But on the other hand, it doesn't provide the best sound you can find for $50. Of course, budget headsets aren't necessarily known to produce tones and frequencies that cater to audiophiles, but the HS50 lacks a few key features that hold it back and could make some average users concerned. 

After more than a month with the HS50, I can say that all in all, it's a good headset -- but it's an entry-level set that doesn't do a whole lot to differentiate itself from other models in its price range. That doesn't mean you should skip it if you're budget hunting or want something that's ubiquitous, working across PC, console, and mobile. But it does mean that you should weigh everything it has to offer before taking the leap. 


Where some gaming headsets opt for pomp and circumstance in design, the HS50 opts for a less ostentatious affair. Available in three color options -- all black, black with green accents, and black with blue accents -- the HS50 isn't terribly interesting to look at, with the only flair coming in the form of the Corsair logo emblazoned on the outside of each earcup and black, blue, or green accents around the edges and on the headband. 

Looking at the earcups themselves, you'll find that they're comfortable over-the-ear types made of cushy foam on the inside and metal mesh on the outside. The latter layer helps for ventilation and breathing and seems to work as advertised. You'll also find that the earcups swivel slightly, providing wriggle room for different ear shapes and sizes. They don't fully rotate like the earcups found on models from SteelSeries and Logitech, but overall, that's not something everyone is going to care about. 

On the left earcup, there's the volume wheel, the mic mute/unmute button, and a little notch for the detachable microphone. This is also where you'll find the roughly four-foot-long plastic cable that ends in either a 3.5mm jack for mobile and console use or the included (and detachable) Y-splitter for PC.   

Moving up the headset's sturdy metal frame (which feels like something you'd find on a model three times the price), you'll find that the HS50's headband is stout and comfortable. On the outside, it's covered in the thick plastic you'd expect to see on almost every gaming headset currently on the market. And on the inside, you'll find a plush cushion that sports more green, blue, or black accents depending on your model. 

What I like about the build of the HS50 is that it doesn't feel cheap in the slightest. In fact, I've reviewed headsets much, much more expensive that creak and groan when you move your head -- and you won't find any of that here. I don't feel like I'm going to break the headset when I take it off, which is a huge plus for someone that's constantly transporting all of his gear from place to place. 


Overall, the HS50 is a fairly comfortable headset. Weighing in at about 11 ounces, this set of cans is a bit heftier than, say, the HyperX Cloud Stinger, and after about four to five hours of use, that weight becomes apparent, causing a bit of discomfort across the top of the head. 

However, the HS50's round earcups are cushy and some of the coziest ones I've had the pleasure of wearing. The wide inner cavity of the earcups provides nice, recessed areas for your ears to rest comfortably, and the plush pleather surrounding the inner areas of each earcup provides nice padding against the side of the head. 

The HS50 is a bit uncomfortable to wear around the neck because its earcups don't rotate to rest against the chest, a functionality found in other headsets that would have been a nice addition here. And even if it is a small gripe, it's something that could have set the HS50 apart from other headsets in its price range. As it stands, you're better off setting this set of cans on your desk when not in use.  


When used in its primary environment (gaming), the HS50 performs admirably. Playing Battlefront 2, I was able to hear most blaster bolts and explosions in thrumming clarity. For more story-driven games like Fallout 4, I was able to hear dialog well and didn't experience any muffled tones in that regard. I wasn't able to pick out directional audio all that well, but again, that's something that you pay the big bucks for. It makes sense that you can't do that here. 

Since the HS50 can plug into your PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, I also tested it out on Nier: Automata and Breath of the Wild. In each instance, the headset performed extremely well, adding deep bass tones that amplified the experience. 

However, for all the things the HS50 does well when it comes to gaming, it stumbles in other areas -- namely music and movie playback. When it comes to both, the sound design of the media in question has a huge impact on the performance of the HS50. Being that the headset is innately hefty on the bass side of things, music and movies with large amounts of bass often overpower other tones. Trebles can be difficult to hear, and dialog can get muddied. 

It would have been nice if the HS50 had some type of EQ setting or a piece of accompanying software that allowed users to dial in their own EQ settings. Since this is often the realm of higher-end headsets, you won't find anything that resembles that here. It's plug and play, sure, but what you hear is what you get. 

The bright side is that chat audio is crisp and clear, as is the HS50's microphone. Whether I had it hooked up to my iPhone 6S Plus or my PC, my friends and squadmates could hear each and every syllable. 


The Corsair HS50 is a plug-and-play, budget headset that does a lot of great things but never really sets itself apart from the pack. Its audio quality could be better, and it could use a few more features to help it achieve that. 

If you're looking for a headset in the $50 range, I'd suggest checking this set of cans out, while also looking at how it compares to other sets such as the HyperX Cloud Stinger, which provides better sound quality but might not be as comfortable for some users. 

At the end of the day, you can't really go wrong with the HS50, but depending on what your budget is, you can do better for just a little more. 

You can buy the Corsair HS50 on Amazon for $49.99. 

[Note: Corsair provided the HS50 used for this review.]

Never Stop Sneakin' Review: Mel Brooks Metal Gear Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:32:36 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Announced about a month before it was set to release, Never Stop Sneakin' is a game whose very existence genuinely caught me off guard. It is a new project headed by indie game developer Dean Dodrill, who was responsible for the hit Metroidvania game Dust: An Elysian Tail back in 2012. In contrast to Dust, which was a 2D action-adventure game loaded with exploration and a fairly serious plot, Never Stop Sneakin' is a simplified sort of stealth-action game presented in a similar style to a Mel Brook's parody film. 

And not just a parody of anything, but of the Metal Gear Solid series -- in particular, the very first installment on the original PlayStation. It's an intriguing premise: taking one of the most serious and yet also most silly gaming franchises under the sun and spoofing the nano-machines out of it. Unfortunately, Never Stop Sneakin' launched several weeks ago on the Nintendo Switch on the same day as about 10 other games, including Enter the Gungeon and Yooka-Laylee, so it was somewhat overshadowed. I guess it's pretty fitting that a stealth game like this slipped under the radar, isn't it?

The obvious question here is did it deserve to be overshadowed? Is Never Stop Sneakin' a game that you should take time out of your schedule to play as soon as you get the chance, even among all the major releases recently, or is it another game you potentially add to your list of games to maybe check out in the future if you find the time?

Mission Briefing 

Never Stop Sneakin' starts off on a strong note. The title screen greets you with a well-made and funny-bone tickling James Bond-style song number to set the tone, which is also quite reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 3's "Snake Eater" number. The cut-scene presented shows off a comedically over-the-top scene of a general jumping from a plane without a parachute just to retrieve his coffee mug, all in Metal Gear Solid-faithful, PS1-style polygons with blurry, pixelated faces, and the intended tone is immediately established.  

I also have to point out how the character Major Milestone is voiced by Arin Hanson, also known as the animator and internet personality Egoraptor. Considering his now famous and long-memed history of animated Metal Gear parodies in the form of Metal Gear Awesome 1 & 2, this is nothing short of genius casting. On that note, what little voice acting there is remains solid, being as serious as it needs to be, and as goofy as it needs to be, when the scene demands it. There's not too much of it, but it gets the job done.



The plot is also a nice, tongue-in-cheek nod to the ludicrous politics and straight-faced melodrama of the Metal Gear series, with former Vice President Amadeus Guildenstern using a time machine to kidnap all of the U.S. presidents (even the bad ones). It's all very self-aware and fun in its approach to mocking Metal Gear, and it displays a clear love and understanding of the series by mocking it in such a bold-faced way.

Additionally, the presentation in cut-scenes is spot-on to the source material of Metal Gear Solid, and the breaks between missions resembling a mobile game-style base management simulator were worth a few smiles, but in actual gameplay, the presentation is less impressive. The actual gameplay takes place in a level of graphical quality more akin to an upscaled PS2 game than one from the PS1 era, and the smooth textures and often drab, muted colors are both fairly separated from the style of the cut-scenes. They're not all that impressive.

The music is pretty up-and-down in terms of quality as well. I wouldn't call any of it bad, especially not the opening number, which I love, and legitimately get stuck in my head whenever I do so much as read the game's title, but most of it is just forgettable. Any songs I remember -- aside from the main theme -- I only really remember because of how often they loop and repeat themselves over and over.

On that note, repetition is sort of a running theme in Never Stop Sneakin', and it doesn't take very long to notice this. 

Never Stop Grindiiiiiiiiiiiinnnn'

The core gameplay is where most of Never Stop Sneakin's problems lie. The game presents a unique style of gameplay where the player can become a master stealth agent using only one stick and one button, and usually only the stick. Everything that the player does in-game is contextual and based on their position and inventory, whether they're attacking a guard from behind, shooting them from a distance, hacking a door open, lobbing an EMP grenade, and so on. 

The focus seems to have been on keeping the gameplay flowing and constantly moving, ensuring that you "Never Stop Sneakin'" as opposed to many other stealth games, where keeping yourself from getting spotted often brings the pace to a halt. Once you get used to the controls and the slightly off-putting overhead-ish perspective, then the game begins to feel fairly natural and fun. Keeping your score multiplier up by taking out as many guards as you can in quick succession while also pushing towards the exit can be great fun, and the controls making you feel so badass with so little effort helps that happen. 

Deftly dodging between enemy vision cones before slashing one guard and shooting the other all with one hand can give you quite a rush.

Mechanically, there's very little actually wrong with Never Stop Sneakin', and the simplicity of its gameplay isn't the biggest problem. What brings this game down the most is the fact that it begins to repeat itself very quickly. While I really did enjoy the game at the start, I wised up quickly to how much the game recycles its content. In all honesty, it's very possible to see pretty much everything that the game has to offer in terms of gameplay in just an hour, and then that one hour repeats for several hours.

In order to move on to the next mission, in most cases you are required to earn a certain amount of in-game money, called ESP, to invest into your base of operations. You can get more ESP more easily by keeping your score multiplier up during gameplay, which involves taking out loads of guards in quick sucession, then collecting the goods while the numbers are jacked up. This stays true for the entire duration of the game.

While it is true that grinding for ESP is not your only objective, as there actual objectives during story missions, carrying these objectives out doesn't change the gameplay in any significant way at all. They usually involve getting to a certain section of a level, having the Major tell you your objective is nearby, finding it, and leaving. This also stays fairly consistent throughout the game.

It dawned on me after about three hours that the game wasn't about to change significantly any time soon. I had been killing the same guards with the same tools, sneaking around in the same environments, and fighting the same bosses, all of which had lost their charm quite some time ago. It honestly took me some time to realize that the levels were somewhat randomly generated, as the environments, enemy threats, music, and layouts repeated themselves so often that I genuinely couldn't tell whether or not I was just playing levels over again.

The simplicity of the mechanics, which had initially impressed me -- and still do to an extent -- began to feel like a detriment to the intelligence of the game's core premise and clever ideas. I slowly found myself drifting into auto-pilot and focusing on little more than getting my score multiplier higher and higher, all so I could earn cash to unlock the next stage, so I could then mow down the same guards in the same and similar locations to earn even more money.

I would have appreciated it had there been many more cut-scenes than there actually were. I found the writing and presentation in these to be the best the game had to offer, as well as the most entertaining aspect of the game, and there could often be 45 minutes to an hour between them, depending on how much in-game money I needed to grind for in order to progress. 

In terms of variety, there are a handful of things to unlock in the game, but they're all purely cosmetic. There are different agents to play as and weapons to use in missions, all with the same mechanics, and no variance in cut-scenes or dialogue -- though it is nice to have something extra to unlock. 

Without wishing to sound too mean, I think that this screenshot right here sums it all up pretty well for me:

Coincidence or tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing? You be the judge.

Never Stop Sneakin' 3: Sale Needer

Never Stop Sneakin' isn't a bad game, really. It's just underwhelming. The genuine charm and quality of its premise, writing, and pieces of its presentation are let down by competent yet unremarkable gameplay, constant repetition, and a dire lack of variety or surprises outside of cut-scenes and initial encounters. 

While it wasn't perfectly executed, it is still fairly unique as a game, especially for one meant to directly spoof a well-established gaming franchise. I did have some fun with it -- even if most of it faded fast and there were patches of boredom in there -- and there's enough good here for me to say that I'm overall glad I played it.

It's a game I can tentatively recommend, if mostly to people who really enjoy stealth gameplay, as well as people who like the idea of seeing Metal Gear Solid caught with its pants down. Never Stop Sneakin' is fairly polished and unoffensive, but not particularly outstanding in the gameplay department, and it's carried mostly by its charm. I would wait for a sale on this one.

Never Stop Sneakin' is available now for Nintendo Switch. You can watch the trailer for the game down below (really soak up that theme song):  

[Note: Review copy of the game provided by Humble Hearts.]

Disgaea 5 Nintendo Switch Review. Totally awesome Dood!!! Sun, 31 Dec 2017 10:00:01 -0500 chester0334

Disgaea 5, a great game that has been ported over to the Nintendo Switch, offers plenty of enjoyment and many hours of gameplay. I often find myself playing in short bursts in handheld mode. Thus, Disgaea 5 could easily create a “pick-up-and-play” experience, which separates the Switch version from the PS4 version. However, Disgaea offers so much more than a great “pick-up-and-play” experience.


In terms of gameplay, Disgaea 5 provides sweet honey that satisfies even the hungriest of gamers. Additionally, Disgaea 5 will provide you with hours upon hours of endless gameplay. However, it's the fighting mechanics of the game that prove to be some of the most addictive. With combination techniques, different special attacks, different abilities, and class changes, Disgaea 5 offers several different battle mechanics and techniques one should become acquainted with. The variety of battle techniques creates additional enjoyment within the game and allows the player several choices on how to dispose of certain enemies. Want to watch a combination attack, with a cheesy cut-scene of people jumping into space to bone-rush the crap out of an enemy? You can do that. Wanna beat the sh*t out of someone with an eight-man tower? You can do that. Wanna be that guy that just uses nothing but strong, broken characters? Well, you can do that if you really want to ….

The ability to constantly rotate and try out different characters allows the player to try different flavors and discover how to create the perfect recipe for success. The constant mix and matching in combat sequences never bores the player and creates a fresh and unique experience for each battle. Thus, in terms of combat, Disgaea 5 offers a great experience.

Disgaea 5 offers several great gameplay experiences outside of combat. Leveling up your class, upgrading weapons to crush withering opponents, buying and purchasing items to create advantages before combat sequences -- Disgaea 5 allows the player to customize characters with ease. However, the council meetings offer some of the most interesting gameplay experiences. Council meetings help the player pass bills that normally benefit the player. You can bribe members of the council to sway a few votes in your favor. However, you also have the option to duke it out with council members if everything fails (would not recommend doing). You can also recruit characters that you can customize and take along with your main party. Additionally, the Switch version includes all the DLC thus far released; you have access to all the side quests and additional characters. With the variety of customizations, the player forms a special connection with the playable characters. The multiple customization options make the characters feel unique and makes the customized character feel special in their own aspects.



The characters provide simple yet comical humor that makes each of them likeable. Watching the characters interact with each other allows the player to feel a connection with each character. Additionally, while each character may have different motivations, each character pursues the same objective. This allows each character to form relationships with each other and makes the player have a stronger understanding of the plot. Disgaea 5 revolves around Killia and the rebel army that wants to defeat Lord Void Dark, an overlord who currently has captured several Netherworlds. Each character within the rebel army has different motives, such as being driven by revenge, driven by wanting to become the strongest overlord, and simply not wanting to follow through with a marriage. However, each character has the same end goal: to defeat Lord Void Dark. Thus, the different motives allow each character to stand out and help the player grow attached to the different characters within Disgaea 5. Do you enjoy watching soap operas? Do you like cheesy skits? Yes??? Then you probably will enjoy the dialogue in Disgaea 5. Watching the dialogue and interactions of different characters provides laughter and enjoyment. Overall, in terms of story, Disgaea 5 offers a solid one that makes the player want to progress through the game.



Graphically, Disgaea 5 does its job and not much else. The colors do have a cute little charm, and the characters have great detail. Some stages however, look very similar. These similarities unfortunately make a few stages lack in special value.


Overall, Disgaea 5 provides many hours of entertainment and a great on-the-go experience. If you like JRPG’s and want a game that will last a while, I would recommend Disgaea 5. The great gameplay, plot, and character development will bring you great enjoyment for a long time.


Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy Review Fri, 22 Dec 2017 15:33:15 -0500 Lee Forgione

Created to rival mascots Mario and Sonic, Crash Bandicoot was once a prominent platformer that could compete head to head with those famous Nintendo and Sega icons. But after developer Naughty Dog sold the rights to their first smash hit in the gaming industry, Crash went awry, popping up in games that felt absolutely nothing like the games he started out in. Thankfully, the first and best three entries in the series have been given a tremendous facelift in Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.

I was skeptical at first, considering Vicarious Visions helmed the project rather than Naughty Dog. But the end product is not only beautiful, but completely faithful to the originals. This is especially impressive considering the games were built from the ground up, using the old games as a template. Upon seeing the opening scenes of the first game gorgeously remade, I was struck with nostalgia and felt like I had been transported back to the mid 90's, where platforming games were king. Crash looks cooler and goofier than he ever has, and little additions like lighting effects while performing a spin add a lot of polish. All of his humorous death animations stay true to the original as well and put a genuine smile on my face, which can make dying a bit less infuriating. 

The first Crash Bandicoot is by far the simplest and most difficult game in the bunch. Your moveset is limited to running, jumping, and spinning. But subsequent games introduce new moves, such as the bellyflop, crouching, sliding, and double jumping, which alleviate some difficulty associated with the first game. Crash Bandicoot is a straightforward, hard-as-nails platformer with little room for error. Since Warped was always my favorite game as a kid, the first Crash felt like a slog to get through. Repeated level designs and obstacles make it the most bland of the trilogy, and the difficulty curve can make getting through it just as frustrating as when I was younger. However, it did feel great to make it past the level that ultimately trumped me as a kid. "The High Road" is an unforgiving trek through a fog-filled bridge where the slightest misstep will have you throwing your controller in rage. I died about ten times more in the first game than I did with Cortex Strikes Back and Warped.

Though the second and third games also repeat environments throughout, they're more spread out and varied as opposed to the almost constant jungle theme of the first game. Cortex Strikes Back will take you to snowy landscapes and armored rat-filled sewers, while Warped takes steps in other directions with its medieval stages, romps across The Great Wall, and futuristic cities. Box counts and time trials, features not originally in the first game, have been added to increase replayability. Strangely, though, if you want to collect the gem for smashing every box, you also have to make it to the end of a stage without dying. This seems unfair given how difficult some later stages can be, but it should keep any dedicated completionist busy for quite a while. Coco is also available to play with in all three games -- even the first game, which was before she made her debut. This is thanks to some clever workaround using the time travel elements from Warped

Given that the first Crash game was released before the Dual Shock controller came out, I had an easier time playing through it with the D-pad rather than the analog sticks. Once I dove into Crash 2 and 3, the analog stick felt more natural to use. Though the controls felt great in the latter two games, there were moments where jumps from edges required the utmost accuracy in order to make it across. I kind of had to take a half step off of certain edges just to barely make it to the other side. This can get frustrating, especially when it looks like you've performed a perfect jump just to fall into a pit. Crash 2 and 3 also add a little more depth with small story elements and crystals you must obtain in each level in order to fight the boss of that world. 

One small gripe I have about Warped, and this is probably just nitpicking, is the fact that the enemies in the level "Midnight Run" who run around carrying buckets of water have had their rice hats removed. This may have been done in order to be culturally sensitive, but I feel as though they should have kept that in the game. Besides that, these games remain faithful to the originals in every way. 

​Seeing Crash Bandicoot make a return to form gives me hope that future Crash games are possible and will follow suit instead of taking tremendous leaps in another direction like the last few Crash games have. Crash works best as a level-based platformer with old-school goals like smashing every box in order to obtain 100 percent completion. Bringing him back to his roots with these wonderful remasters is a step in the right direction toward making Crash stand out again in the video game mascot world. It was amazing reliving games of my past with a fresh coat of paint, and I look forward to what Crash has in store for us in the future.


Nioh review - A Masterpiece from the East Thu, 21 Dec 2017 17:12:24 -0500 Rango the Mercenary

I first played the Nioh alpha build one year ago, and I was treated to a discombobulated mess of a game trying its hardest to be Dark Souls. It felt unbalanced, and I was getting one-shotted by every enemy I ran into. It was too frustrating to enjoy, and too convoluted for me to understand what I was doing. Maybe part of it is because I failed to adapt to the game, but I knew that Nioh had issues in its current state.

At the very least, Team Ninja was very receptive to player feedback during the alpha, and they made great strides to listen to the community -- but part of me was worried that we'd still wind up with another cheaply-made Dark Souls knockoff. However, the team behind the famed Ninja Gaiden proved me wrong.

You Are William Adams

The player character, William Adams, is based off of the historical figure of the same name: William Adams, an English pirate who sailed to Japan. However instead of gold, William Adams collects magic stones called Amrita in Nioh. Prior to the beginning of the game, William stumbles upon a military project to weaponize Amrita, and is subsequently thrown into prison.

As is tradition, Nioh teaches you the basics of Souls-like combat during your brief stint in prison. Once you've escaped from your cell, you'll meet Edward Kelley (who also steals your guardian spirit, Saoirse), and defeat the prison executioner. Then, you'll chase Kelley all the way to Japan, where your adventure truly begins, and where Nioh truly comes into its own.

He is kind of a badass, right?

Experiencing Dark Fantasy Japan

If there's one thing Team Ninja always does right, it's the visuals -- Nioh is strikingly beautiful to behold. Characters are highly detailed, and the visceral animations glorify your ability to hack off the limbs and heads off of your enemies, be the humans or yokai.

Sanada Yukimura

The enemies you pursue will deploy various demons to attack you, some of which make for some truly terrifying encounters, like the Oni. Others, however, are strikingly beautiful, and the environments in the game are particularly well-crafted to match them.

I wouldn't call Nioh's soundtrack as a whole defining by any means, as much of it is ambient and atmospheric, with a nice oriental theme. However, the boss music is epic, and I will say that some of the boss battles are quite memorable partly because of the accompanying soundtrack.

Building Character

In Nioh, character customization lies in your preferred weapon choices, Guardian Spirit, and abilities.

In addition to the vast array of weapons you'll be able to wield, you'll be able to learn Ninjutsu, which lets you learn special skills, like the ability to sneak up on enemies, throwing shuriken or kunai, and even self-revival. You'll also have access to Onmyo magic, which will allow you to imbue your weapon with elemental energy, and even buff yourself and debuff enemies.

In battle, you will utilize a Low, Mid, and High stance with each weapon, all of which can be expanded upon by acquiring new abilities from your skill tree. From your skill tree, you'll find abilities like parrying, grappling, and execution strikes. Your weapons choices include a sword, axe, kusarigama, or spear. Later, you'll also be able to wield a hammer and even an odachi greatsword. You can equip one weapon, one subweapon, and two long-range weapons (bow, rifle, handcannon), so there's a lot of build variety when it comes to selecting your weapons.

Each piece of armor will grant you various buffs and attributes, so long as you have the proper stats to use them. Your chosen guardian spirit also gives you enhancements as well as the Living Weapon ability, which is like a glorified Devil Trigger from the Devil May Cry series.

Warfare During the Sengoku Period

During the first stage of the game, you'll find a variety of weapons that can be looted from enemies you defeat. Once you clear the stage, you'll be given access to a world map, where you'll find that, as opposed to the open-world structure of the Souls series, Nioh is mission or stage-based. The game's layout is far more like Ninja Gaiden's in that you're expected to follow a path to your destination. It's linear, but those who go out of their way to explore the nooks and crannies of each stage will reap the rewards.

The levels in Nioh are quite varied -- you'll go through villages, castles, mountains, caves, battlefields, and even underground passages. The last locale in particular feels like something straight out of Silent Hill or even Resident Evil 7. The underground area is dark, spooky, creepy, and you'll find monsters lurking around every corner.

Umi-Bozu boss fight.

What makes Nioh so special is the amount of content in the game. There are 20 main missions, and plenty more sub-missions. Each mission rewards you with various treasures, including potentially stronger weapons and armor, and you'll be able to learn the backstory of some the characters you meet. You can train at the Dojo to enhance your abilities, forge weapons from the Blacksmith, and even engage in PvP combat with other players. Speaking of multiplayer, this game has a co-op feature that can be accessed by using an Ochoko cup at a shrine.

If you're a fan of Castlevania, Dark Souls, Ninja Gaiden, or anything similar, I implore you to try Nioh for its combat -- it's some of the absolute best I have ever found in a game.

However, if I could have the game do one thing different, it would be to add a bit more enemy variety. Humans come at you with various weapons, and you'll fight snipers, ninjas, and onmyo mages later on in the game, but the larger yokai tend to fight similarly -- they're either zombies or hulking brutes whose attacks can be easily dodged.

But the real meat of the enemy variety is found in the boss battles, which are some of the most epic, engaging, and challenging enemies you'll find in the Souls-like genre.


Between the amazing action, epic boss battles, the use of Japanese history and folklore, and the multiplayer gameplay, there aren't enough good things to say about Nioh. Where the Souls series was innovative and genre-defining, Nioh was Ninja Gaiden's refinement of that genre. I went in expecting a Dark Souls clone and left it beyond impressed.

For all it's worth, Nioh is a must-have for any PS4 collection.

AOC AG271QG Review: Nearly Everything You Could Ask for in a 2K Monitor Thu, 21 Dec 2017 16:12:53 -0500 Jonathan Moore

The TN vs. IPS panel war has raged for what feels like millennia. Historically, TN panels have been popular among gaming aficionados due to their swift response times, fast(er) pixel switching technologies, and brawnier brightness settings. Conversely, IPS monitors have been the choice of gamers looking for wider viewing angles, more vibrant color options, and anti screen-tearing technologies such as G-Sync and FreeSync. 

But IPS monitors have come a long way over the past several years, with many affording gamers with lush colors and high refresh rates. Getting their start in consumer electronics about 50 years ago with one of the world's first color televisions, AOC has been making monitors meant for business and design use for years. And as they've expanded into the gaming space, their monitors are some of the most drool-worthy peripherals you can get your hands on.

Specifically designed with gamers in mind, AOC's AGON class of IPS monitors meshes the best of both the TN and IPS worlds, marrying high refresh rates with rich, consistent colors and wide viewing angles. And the AOC AG271QG is no exception. An AHVA IPS variant, the 271QG reaches refresh rates as high as 165Hz, provides viewing angles up to 175 degrees, and supports NVIDIA's G-Sync technology (this monitor's cousin, the AG271QX, supports AdaptiveSync, which is compatible with AMD and Intel graphics cards if that's what you've got in your rig). 

The key takeaway is that this 2560x1440 monitor does a lot -- and it does that lot almost flawlessly. 

Beautiful, Practical Design

Coming in at 27 inches, the AG271QG is without a doubt a high-end display. On first blush, that's obvious from its elegant design. 

Looking at the monitor head-on, a matte black bezel adorns its thin sides and top, while the skinny bottom sports a brushed bezel and an AGON logo in the middle. The anti-glare screen completes the front-facing look with class, while the pressable menu buttons hidden underneath the monitor's bottom-right edge are stylishly tucked out of view. 

Going around to the back, the monitor's black plastic is complemented by an embossed AOC logo near the top and a dynamic red chevron festooned within the monitor's middle portion. Here is where you'll also find the connection point for the AG271's sturdy steel wall bracket and stand. An added quality of life feature (as well as a necessity, of course), the stand is fully adjustable and highly durable. 

You'll be able to raise, lower, pivot, and tilt the monitor at your leisure, as well as position it in either portrait or landscape orientations. On top of that, the stand also has a dial feature along the edge that helps you select a preferred height if you ever decide to disconnect it from the stand or readjust its orientation. 

As for connections and ports, you'll find quite a few along the AG271's bottom: one Display Port 1.2a, one HDMI 1.4 port, a 3.5mm microphone-out port, a USB 3.0 upstream, and a USB 3.0 downstream. Along the right side of the monitor, you'll also find four other ports: another USB 3.0 downstream port, a USB 3.0+ fast-charging port, a 3.5mm headset port, and a 3.5mm microphone-in port.

Needless to say, you've got plenty of options for charging peripherals or affixing card readers to the monitor itself. Having all of these connections at your fingertips is convenient and fast for ancillary tasks, attaching a gaming console, or, for example, quickly plugging in a webcam for streaming. Of course, you'll still want to connect things like your mouse and keyboard to the computer itself, as you'll come up no dice by hooking them directly to the monitor.

Menu and Settings

As I mentioned earlier, the AG271QG's small but responsive menu buttons are elegantly tucked under the lower right-hand side of the monitor. Activating the menu, increasing and decreasing the volume, and switching between the Display and HDMI ports is easy. I specifically found the latter two capabilities invaluable; slogging through menus just to switch ports or change volumes is a real pain in the rear. I know -- my LG and ASUS monitors make me do it, and as much as it's a first-world problem, it grinds my gears nonetheless. 

It's also a good thing those options lie outside of the primary OSD since the 271QG's menu is drab and counterintuitive. Opening the OSD, you're met with a lackluster interface set against an opaque grey background that reminds me of something from the early 2000s, not a "cutting-edge" monitor from 2017. Of course, that's not nearly a deal-breaker in and of itself, but the menu is also frustratingly difficult to navigate. It's a bit difficult to explain, but once you get inside the OSD, you'll find that buttons which should move you forward take you backward and vice versa, making for a slightly head-scratching experience. 

What's more, and often endemic to G-Sync enabled monitors, the 271QG doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of presets. You can adjust brightness intensities, contrast levels, and gamma settings, as well as color levels and the OSD's primary setup by hand, but there's no one-size-fits-all option.

You can also enable the monitor's G-Sync functionality and ULMB settings here, the latter of which decreases motion blur and ghosting for games with fast-moving objects, such as Project Cars 2. Unfortunately, like with most monitors that provide both options, you can't enable G-Sync and ULMB at the same time, but that's a small price to pay once you actually start using the monitor.


Here's where the AG271QG really starts to shine. Out of the box, the monitor provides good color and brightness settings that you could very well just run with. Colors are lush, and except for a few ultra narrow sections along the edges, the screen didn't appear washed out overall. There was a bit of light bloom on certain letters in the headers of the Steam Client, for example, but nothing too noticeable in-game or when browsing the Web.

Brightness & Contrast Ratio

Looking at white luminance and brightness, the AG271QG is factory-rated at about 350 cd/m², but in testing, it can reach into the 380s, pushing it above some ASUS and Dell models. Out of the box, the brightness settings provide a uniform, consistent look across the monitor, something some TN monitors struggle with. And using the OSD, you can adjust these settings to your liking, with exceptionally pleasing results.

Having a contrast ratio of 1000:1 (with its darkest dark and whitest white measuring around 1160:1), as well as a dynamic contrast ratio of 50 million to one, you'll also get some truly eye-popping scenes in games like Destiny 2 and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. 

Gamma & Color

When you first plug it in, the AG271QG's colors are slightly skewed toward green, and its grey scale measurement is on the higher side, coming in at about 4.04 Delta-E. While dE ratings of around 1.0 mean that differences between colors are nearly imperceptible to the human eye, those that come in higher along that value chain mean differences become more apparent. So while a 4.04dE rating isn't terrible, it's a bit higher than other monitors. Thankfully, this value can be changed in the OSD to reach a value closer to 1 and provide a sleek viewing experience. 

With colors outside of the grey spectrum, the AG271QG gets high marks. Color temps are vibrant, and as you'd expect from an IPS panel, this AGON model reproduces colors very well. Including warm, cool, and sRGB options, colors are accurate from almost every viewing angle. Compared to LG's 24UD58-B 4K, my everyday gaming monitor, shades on the 271QG are just a bit drabber when using factory settings in games like Fallout 4, but this is easily adjustable through the OSD via the User setting, which allows you to change each color value individually.

As for the monitor's gamma settings, you're afforded three different options. The first option provides a nice depth and vibrancy, while the second and third options do slightly cut into color performance when using specific settings. However, the overall gamma selections are more than adequate for a monitor of this type and most likely will be imperceptible for most users. 

Obliterating Screen Tearing with G-Sync & ULMB

As mentioned earlier, this AOC monitor comes with G-Sync capabilities, which you can use if you have an NVIDIA graphics card in your rig. Running a GTX 1080 with 8GB of VRAM, I found that the AG271QG G-Sync reacted as you'd expect, eliminating screen tearing and jittering even at higher refresh rates. Having the ability to disable V-Sync in-game and removing the processing burden from the GPU definitely has its advantages, allowing for smoother gaming experiences on the whole.

If you're exceptionally perceptive to blurring, you can opt to enable the monitor's ULMB settings to counteract that, but keep in mind that you'll also need to match the refresh rate to the frame rate for it to work as advertised. At higher refresh rates, such as 165Hz, that's a tall task. However, if you're willing to play at lower rates, such as 85Hz, you might find some value in the feature.

Consequently, G-Sync is probably a better option here, as it flawlessly prevents tearing (and basically negates blurring) at higher refresh rates. And if you're seriously considering adding this monitor to your setup, it's something you're going to want to take advantage of.

Response Times & Latency

The best part about this IPS screen is its low response times and nearly non-existent latency. When playing competitive games like CS:GO or Overwatch, low input latency is paramount. It can mean the difference between a quick kill and a quick death. 

As is the growing trend amongst newer IPS monitors, the AG271QG has a crazy-low response time of 4ms, putting it on par with or above a lot of TN monitors out there. And when compared to other IPS monitors, such as some of those in the ASUS and Dell lines, its black to white transitions take the cake. In essence, pixel responsiveness and signal delay aren't issues you're going to fight with -- at least not at levels that are going to affect your playing. Being made with eSports players in mind, this AGON model does exactly what it's advertised to do. 


As far as G-Sync IPS monitors go, the AGON 271QG stands near the front of the pack. Its colors and contrast ratios are fantastic, and it provides excellent refresh rates without screen tearing or jittering. Input lag is practically nonexistent, which is a boon for competitive gamers of all shapes and sizes. 

Sure, its menus could use a bit of love, but if that's the only complaint we can really find here, it's a minute one that can be easily overlooked. (I mean, how long are you going to spend in menus anyway?) If you're in the market for a 2560x1440p 2K monitor that can blow refresh rates out of the water while also providing great color and expansive viewing ranges, the AG271QG is a monitor you're going to want to seriously consider. Its high price tag might dissuade more casual gamers from picking it up, but when you start to look at everything you get in this near-complete package, it's a little easier to swallow. 

You can buy the AGON AG271QG on Amazon for $599.99. 

[Note: AOC provided the AG271QG used for this review.]

Tiny Metal Review: Bringing Pocket Warfare Back to PC and Consoles Thu, 21 Dec 2017 13:02:24 -0500 Ty Arthur

While next-gen graphics trying to simulate realism certainly have their place, there's something about a more artistic rendition that stands the test of time far better. The bleeding edge will always end up being outdated, but when you have an iconic art style, people will keep coming back and enjoying a game for years to come.

That's what you get with Tiny Metal, which utilizes Japanese anime for the character art and story, but shifts into an adorably cutesy style during turn-based combat missions that may bring to mind Army Men more than Command and Conquer.

There's no question Tiny Metal has its own unique graphical style and that the game presents that style very well, with a strong mashup of colorful landscapes and gray tones as you roll your units through enemy territory.

    I wasn't expecting a samurai warlord to show up in my tank combat game!

Tiny Metal Gameplay

A game is more than just its graphics, though, so how does it play? Quite well, actually. There's Skirmish mode if you just want a map to play, but the campaign is solid as well, building on concepts over time and providing varied victory conditions.

During any given map, there are plenty of tactical options to gain an advantage. Keeping fast-moving units at the borders to reveal enemy movement is helpful, as is taking to the high ground or flanking during combat. Your ground soldiers will also need to spend time conquering buildings so you can heal or recruit new units.

One of the concepts you need to immediately master is the Lock-On function, which has multiple units lining up from different directions for a single attack that deals multiplied damaged. Positioning becomes critical, as different units have different movement speeds on the grid.

 Using a Gunship to clear enemy Riflemen from a conquered building

Multiple unit types to mix and match will show up as you progress through the campaign. Riflemen are essentially the weakest, squishiest units, but they also capture buildings the fastest, so they are a necessary evil.

A full army of Metal units (the equivalent of tanks) sounds great, except that they can't capture buildings and are vulnerable to the rocket launcher-wielding Lancers. Even a large army of seemingly unstoppable units has a weakness that can be exploited.

Some Flaws

For all those positives Tiny Metal has going for it, there are a few cracks in the armored division. The AI needs a bit of a tweak in places, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a patch soon addressing just that issue.

There were times during the campaign when it didn't make sense for the enemy to attack, since they would obviously get killed in the counterattack and wouldn't deal any significant damage due to low numbers. 

This problem is especially odd in a level where the goal is to eliminate all enemy units, since the AI is essentially working for you by committing suicide. It would make much more sense (and make the level more challenging) for weakened units to retreat and heal at a building so that you have to break off whatever you are doing to chase them down.

A few minor UI issues also pop up, like times where it's hard to tell which tile you are selecting when a bunch of units are grouped up close together. Furthermore, some nonstandard quirks to the keybindings will take getting used to, like right-clicking to exit a menu instead of hitting backspace.

Those gripes aside, Tiny Metal remains fun from beginning to end, even if it does need just a bit more polish.


 Bombs away!

Style And Story

Much like the art, there's a mashup of styles on the units that makes Tiny Metal a pleasure to explore, pushing you onto the next campaign mission to see what will pop up next. The main characters are all Japanese, while Metal units are American, Lancers are British, and Heavy Metal units are Scottish.

Combat animations are fun and change slightly based on environment and which direction you are facing, but unfortunately they do get repetitive -- as do the sound effects and taglines of each attacking or defending unit. "Wham, bam, thank you MA'AM!" was funny the first couple of times my Metal tanks fired on enemy positions, but now I just don't ever want to hear it again.

Outside of combat, during the story cutscenes you will meet some colorful and bizarre characters, like a crazy clown arms dealer. There's almost a Persona-style tone to the characters and interactions as you move along, with the main characters feeling like teenagers who are in positions of power for some reason while really evil people are showing up in their lives.
  Would you buy guns from an evil clown businessman?

The Bottom Line

I was playing an advance copy before official release when multiplayer wasn't available yet, so I can't offer any critiques on that front at this point. Based on the skirmishes and campaign, it feels like a multiplayer match could be fun but that there would be too much possibility for one side to get an overwhelming advantage too quickly by conquering unit production buildings.

On the single-player front, if you liked Advance Wars, then you will find Tiny Metal very satisfying, as the game is similar in concept but with a revamped 3D style.

While the storyline and characters tend to be more serious and deal with matters of honor, the actual gameplay and unit lines made me think of a turn-based version of something funny and over-the-top like Toy Soldiers: Cold War.

The mashup works more often than it doesn't, and it's great to finally have a handheld-style, turn-based strategy game of this variety available on PC and console again.

The Count Lucanor Review -- When Seeking Wealth, Don't Forget to Save Your Soul Thu, 21 Dec 2017 11:06:04 -0500 Erroll Maas

The Count Lucanor is an indie horror puzzle adventure game published by Mergegames and developed by Baroque Decay. In The Count Lucanor, you play as a poor boy named Hans who wishes to be an adult and go on adventures. Hans has just turned ten, but due to his family's poverty and his own naivety he runs away to make it on his own. After a few peculiar interactions with other characters, Hans finds himself at the mansion of Count Lucanor, where a Blue Kobold tells him that if he can guess its name in one night, he will inherit Count Lucanor's wealth.

No Fighting Allowed

There is no combat in The Count Lucanor, with the gameplay consisting of puzzle solving and stealthily sneaking past enemies. The puzzle solving doesn't offer anything new for the genre, but the puzzles are still well-made and may end up stumping the player every so often.

Hans' movement is just a little too slow, with no button to run. Sometimes this can be a hindrance when trying to escape from enemies or get around certain obstacles. Once a player becomes accustomed to it as the play the game, it gets a bit easier, but still should have been sped up just a little to help enhance the gameplay.

Enemies are rather grotesque in appearance, which is quite impressive given the pixel-based graphics of the game, but the developers were able to give many enemies a disgusting and disturbing appearance. Many times throughout the game, enemies can spot you before they're visible to you, so you have to think about where you place candles and constantly be on the lookout for torches you can light. There's also only a finite amount of candles, so you don't want to put use too many in one area.

The Benefits of Helping Others

Hans obtains a cane from his mother before running away, which you would think would serve as your starting weapon in an adventure game like The Count Lucanor, but you wind up giving it to an elderly woman who later gives you a helpful key item in return. There are quite a few individuals like the elderly woman who, if you help them, will help you in return. The game has multiple endings, which are unlocked depending on your actions and interactions throughout the game, and while some are straightforward, others are quite strange and will have you seeking more answers in order to understand the mysteries of the mansion.

Backtrack and Save, Always

The game features only one save point,  which costs one coin each time it's used. Due to backtracking, a player's instinct may tell them that they should save as often as possible in case they are killed by an enemy or hazard, but coins are also needed to purchase a few necessary items from the merchant next to the fountain. There are more than enough coins spread around various treasure chests, but you have to choose wisely when you save, because you'll never know when you might have just enough money to purchase an item you need. The game isn't long, so this feature isn't too detrimental as a whole, but it still feels feels strange to have to spend in-game currency to save your progress.

Visuals & Sound

The overworld graphics use a pixel art style, while the character art has that cartoon-ish and almost anime-like appearance that other indie games have. The graphical style is only truly bad if you're not fond of that type of style, but there's nothing here that we haven't seen before.

Although there are only a few tracks due to the game's brevity, the music featured in The Count Lucanor is relatively standard for its genre. It's not very memorable, but it serves its purpose well enough.


For players who prefer indie horror, some metroidvania style gameplay, and/or brief experiences, The Count Lucanor should provide plenty of enjoyment. Other players may not be so fond of the game, but it's definitely worth a try if this review managed to pique your interest.

The Count Lucanor is available on PC, the PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch. It should also be available on Xbox One, but the game has not shown up on the Microsoft Store yet.

A review copy of the game was provided by the developer.

SteelSeries Rival 110 Review: Awesome Precision on a Budget Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:38:26 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Not every gaming mouse needs dozens of buttons and insane DPI capabilities to make an impact on a gamer's quality of life. In fact, most casual gamers will likely bet on something that's easy on the wallet and highly functional. When you've got a budget of about $50, you need to make sure every penny counts. 

Historically, gamers looking for high-quality mice in that lower price range have struggled to find something that stands toe to toe with mid-tier mice. SteelSeries wants to fix that with its growing line of gaming peripherals, and that's where the Rival 110 looks to change things up. The successor to the Rival 100, the 110 makes a few small but impactful upgrades to the original Rival 100 design that make it worth checking out. In a nutshell, the 110 is a great budget mouse that gets the job done very well.

There are a few things to consider before picking it up, but they're mostly small hiccups that can be overlooked considering its $39 price tag. 


The Rival 110 looks a heck of a lot like the Rival 100: it sports the same matte black finish that looks good alongside your other SteelSeries gear. The finish keeps your palm locked onto the mouse's body when performing quick movements and doesn't get slippery if that palm gets sweaty. The 110's plastic side grips do an adequate job of keeping your fingers locked in place, but aren't as cozy or effective as the Rival 310's silicone grips.

Moving around the 110's body, you'll find the standard six-button configuration found in many of the mice in this price group: LMB, RMB, DPI switch, mouse wheel button, and two lateral buttons along the left side. All of the buttons look to be about the same size as those found on the 100 -- and in testing, they felt about the same, too. Personally, I prefer the fatter, more rounded lateral buttons of the Rival 310 to the sharper, skinnier buttons of the 110 because they're easy to locate and provide a wider actuation surface. But that's completely personal preference, and other gamers will most likely find the buttons aren't overly obtuse. 

In form and function, all of the 110's buttons work well and provide nice tactile and auditory feedback. Rated at 30 million clicks, the 110's switches don't have the longest shelf life, but for $39.99, you really can't ask for too much more than that. 

On the bottom of the mouse, you'll find the TrueMove1 sensor, which has a slightly larger port than that found on the Rival 310, as well as three feet that are also slightly larger and slicker than the 310's. While we'll talk about the TrueMove1 sensor in just a bit, the larger feet on the 110 make it glide across mousepads and desktops faster than the 310 -- for better or worse. If you couple that movement capability with the 110's feather-light weight of 87.5g, it can sometimes feel as if the mouse is going to fly right out of your hand. 

As someone who's used to heavier mice -- like the 310 or Logitech's G703 -- the 110's weight and flightiness were a small hurdle to overcome, but a hurdle all the same. I found myself pulling shots and missing a few clicks here and there while acclimating to its weight. 

However, for those gamers that predominantly play twitch-style games or are looking for a nimble mouse for those weekend LAN parties, the 110 checks those boxes pretty well. Just keep in mind there aren't any weights associated with the 110, so what you see is what you get in that department. 


Where the Rival 110 really stands apart from its predecessor is in the sensor. Using the TrueMove1 sensor, the Rival 110 is one of the most accurate and responsive budget gaming mice on the market. The same technology that made the Rival 310 and Sensei 310 stand out from the pack can be found here in all its glory. 

In my time with the 110, I didn't notice much difference between the TrueMove1 and the TrueMove3 outside of the 1 and the 3 in the name. And that's a good thing. Each sensor provides pixel-perfect 1-to-1 tracking, making movement latency nearly nonexistent. That's not to mention each sensor focuses on doing that with advanced jitter reduction and SROM technology. In other words, it's hella' accurate and responsive, effectively matching your real-world mouse movements with on-screen cursor movement.   

Supporting up to 7,200 DPI at 240 IPS, the Rival 110 performed very well in Paladins and Battlefield 1, helping me nab headshot after headshot. By not focusing on ludicrously high DPI values, the TrueMove1 focuses on eliminating latency -- and gets it right. At every DPI tested, the Rival 110 didn't jitter or jerk, mirroring my movement across the mousepad on screen. The mouse cursor moved precisely where I wanted it to go and abruptly stopped when I needed it to.

I did miss some shots here and there -- especially when first picking up the mouse -- but the more I used the Rival 110, the more I chalked that up to the mouse's overall weight (and how alien it felt to me), not the sensor itself. 


The Rival 110 is marketed as a budget mouse for esports and competitive gamers -- and in a way, it is. With the TrueMove1 sensor, the 110 marries low latency with high-precision accuracy. However, it doesn't reach the DPIs that the Rival 310 is capable of producing, and its feather-light weight might deter some gamers that are used to heftier options. That means it might not be the perfect fit for the competitive gamer.

However, for casual gamers, especially those on a budget, the Rival 110 is a damn steal at $39.99. Not only do you get the TrueMove1 sensor, but you get high-performing switches, robust customization options via SteelSeries Engine 3, and tons of cool lighting effects that are often relegated to higher-end options. 

You can buy the Rival 110 on Amazon for $39.99.

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Rival 110 used for this review.] 

Cobalt WASD Review: Aim! Shoot! Destroy! in 2D Tue, 19 Dec 2017 12:08:28 -0500 Sergey_3847

Indie game developer Oxeye Game Studio, mostly known for the original Cobalt, has released a spin-off of their game featuring only one particular mode -- an online 4v4 co-operative action platformer, Cobalt WASD. Players who are familiar with the unusual presentation and gameplay of Cobalt will know what WASD is all about. But if you've never played Cobalt, then think of it as sort of a 2D Counter-Strike.

On the other hand, if you enjoyed Cobalt a lot, or you generally like the idea of precise timing and controlling your shots, then Cobalt WASD should be right up your alley. But there's a lot more to this little off-shoot of a game, so let's get into the most important details, shall we?

Gameplay Mechanics and Gadgets

As already stated, getting into Cobalt WASD will be easy for anyone who has experience with the original Cobalt game. But if you've never played a game like it before, then it's a bit of a curvy learning process, since the game doesn't explain anything at all to you in terms of the end goal and the controls.

In the very beginning, you are given the choice between two teams: Metalfaces and Protobots. Each team needs to have four players, who start on the opposite sides of the map. The red team, or the Protobots, are required to set up a bomb mechanism and protect it from the blue team. Meanwhile, the blue team, or the Metalfaces, need to rush in and prevent the Protobots from accomplishing their evil plans.

This little charade is accompanied by fast movements, jumping, sliding, and shooting. The gameplay can become really fast-paced, and when all eight players know what to do during the match-up, then it can really charm you with its unbelievable dynamism.

In addition to all this fast-paced action, you get to use a pretty large pool of weapons and other items, such as equipment and armor. These can help you significantly in terms of protection and boost your little bot.

For example, one of the best pieces of equipment available in the game's shop is Jet -- a pair of jet shoes that lets you fly around the map. Having the Jet early on in the match-up is a real blessing, and it can save you a lot of time and energy, especially if you're playing for the Metalfaces. 

But even such cool equipment like Jet can be easily deflected by the Chrono body armor, which slows down time if you play for Metalfaces, or speeds it up if you're playing for Protobots. Both effects are a lot of fun and can potentially throw any match-up into complete chaos.

Controls and Teamwork

Cobalt WASD is all about mastering controls. There is no way around it. Timely reactions to enemy players' threats and an ability to aim with great precision are the two main factors that decide the results of the match-up. That's why taking advantage of the most useful mechanics is so vital for both teams.

The maps are designed in such a way that you have to be able to shoot through the smallest openings in the walls, overcome the most complicated angled obstacles, and dodge the most unobvious bullets. On top of that, you can't forget about your teammates, so throwing a timely healing kit on a dying mate can win you the game just as much as taking care of your own little, shiny, metal body.

But even players with slower reactions and an inability to aim well can find their way into the game. All you need to do is to not play for the Protobots so that you don't have to frantically run around the map, trying to plant the bomb. Instead, you can choose to stay in one place and defend the bombsites, and if attackers come close enough, just throw a couple of grenades and watch them get blown to pieces.

Overall Impression and Verdict

Cobalt WASD is definitely a worthy investment if you care about all the things described above. Especially if you like the 2D aesthetics of the game, it should bring you a lot of joyful moments.

However, the game doesn't entirely grip you, even with the abundance of weapons, armor, equipment, and gameplay mechanics. After half an hour, you may feel that you want to play something else entirely due to the fact that all matches basically boil down to the same repetitive actions.

But the game was designed in such a way as to simply give players a quick burst of energy instead of requiring that you sit in front of your computer screen for hours. So this makes complete sense, and if you are looking for a quick adrenaline rush in a game, then Cobalt WASD will definitely do it for you.

[Note: A copy of Cobalt WASD was provided by Mojang for the purpose of this review.]

Logitech G603 Review: A Functional, If Curious, Mouse Tue, 12 Dec 2017 11:39:50 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Logitech has a shining reputation for good -- if not amazing -- gaming mice. With their LightSpeed technology, they introduced a line of wireless mice that are elegant and highly responsive. The G603 is the third in that line and sports adept and reliable mechanisms underneath a sleek design. It also boasts one of the very best sensors on the market in its High Efficiency Rated Optical movement detector. Couple that with insane battery life, and the G603 is a viable option for many gamers. 

But it's also a curious mouse. Launching alongside the Logitech G703 earlier this year, it provides functionalities not found in that mouse but doesn't take advantage of the 703's PowerPlay wireless charging abilities. Sure, the G603 is a fantastic mouse that tackles myriad situations with sangfroid, but it's also a mouse I sometimes think could have been absorbed by the G703 -- especially given the quality and ubiquity of the 703.  

High-End Functionality on a Budget

Coming in at $69.99, the G603 puts itself in the higher echelon of mid-tier mice -- the wired G403 Prodigy is nearly $20 cheaper and offers a lot of the same core functionalities. But at that price, the 603 also brings quite a bit to the table, not the least of which are its battery life, wireless accuracy, and Bluetooth capabilities. 

Battery Life

Instead of a lithium-ion battery, the G603 uses two AA batteries for juice. Boasting advanced battery life by providing two performance modes via its HERO sensor, Logitech's newest mouse can stay powered for twice as long as a plethora of other mice. According to Logitech's press materials, you can get up to 500 hours of gaming out of the G603 when using it in HI mode, which delivers better in-game Lightspeed reporting of 1ms. Alternatively, you can set the mouse to LO mode, which greatly slows response times to 8ms but affords you up to 18 months of battery life on a single set of AAs. 

Of course, I didn't put in near enough time with the mouse to drain the batteries, but it didn't lose charge in my 50-some-odd hours with it. To put things in perspective, I had to charge the G703 twice in that same time when not using the PowerPlay charging mat, so that's something to consider. 


On the accuracy front, Logitech developed a brand new sensor for the 603. Dubbed HERO, the optical sensor is supposed to provide enhanced power efficiency while still pushing exceptional accuracy and performance. Whether at low or high DPIs, HERO doesn't use pixel rounding or smoothing to deliver information between the mouse and the computer -- keeping you ahead of the game.  

Thing is, I didn't really notice a monumental difference between HERO and the G703's PMW3366 when it came to sniping skulls in Battlefield 1 or controlling the point in Paladins. Both mice are entirely capable of delivering kill shots in BF2 and effectively moving units in Total War at both low and high DPIs. Consequently, the main draw of HERO appears to be its power efficiency when doing all of that. In a nutshell, it's power conscious and responsive, but not revolutionary. 

Bluetooth Capabilities

An interesting addition not often found in other gaming mice, the G603's Bluetooth functionality allows the mouse to be used across multiple devices at a single time. If you don't want to go the LightSpeed dongle route, you can connect the 603 to your computer via Bluetooth, as well as one other device. As of this writing, the functionality supports iOS and Android tablets, laptops, and computers. 

Giving it a whirl with a MacBook, I found the functionality competent, if a bit difficult to pair at times. And although Bluetooth makes the 603 a bit more productive for day-to-day office situations -- and keeps you from having to move the dongle from device to device or rely on per device inputs -- in a gaming capacity, I didn't find much use for the functionality outside of very niche use cases. 

The G603's Design Is Nothing to Write Home About

There's not much to say about how the G603 looks on the outside. In a nutshell, it's the G703 and/or G403 Prodigy with a slightly different color scheme and rougher, grainier finish. You'll find the same six programmable buttons here that you will on the 703 and 403: LMB, RMB, two lateral buttons on the left side, a mouse wheel button, and a nice, easily reachable DPI button beneath the wheel. On the bottom of the mouse, you'll find two feet at the front and back, the power/LO/HI mode switch, and a button for Bluetooth pairing. 

The mouse body is designed just like the 703 and 403, too. Made for right-handed players, it favors palm- or claw-grip styles and fits ergonomically in your palm, although some players with larger hands may find its apex sits a bit awkwardly in the crook of their hand. 

The main panel of the mouse body is detachable. This is where you'll find the batteries and a nicely designed notch in which to house the LightSpeed dongle when not in use. That latter attention to detail is something I truly enjoy about the mouse. Losing dongles is just the worst. All in all, the G603's design is unassuming. That fits with the ethos that this is a gaming mouse that won't stand out on your office desk.

On top of everything mentioned above, the G603 doesn't provide any RGB lighting functionalities. None whatsoever. So although you can take it to work and back without your colleagues wondering why you have a gaming mouse in the office, you won't be able to get those cool lighting effects at home, which kind of makes the G603 a bit boring against all of your other RGB gear. That's not to mention that you could just, you know, turn the 703's RGB lighting off when at the office. 


The Verdict  

At the end of the day, I'm torn about the G603. On one hand, I see where it fits into the Logitech line of products and how it provides great functionality on a mid-tier budget. What it sacrifices when compared to the 703 gets it into that $70 price range. Its Bluetooth functionality is a bit sluggish in-game, but for office work, it's nice to be able to switch between devices with a single input device. And even if its battery life doesn't entirely stand out against other office-centric mice, it's sustainable while providing great accuracy via HERO. 

But on the other hand, some of its functionalities really could have been incorporated into the G703. Not taking advantage of Logitech's new PowerPlay wireless charging capabilities is a bit head-scratching. And with all the R&D spent on a new sensor that makes the 603's battery life last longer -- and has no terribly discernible effects on accuracy when compared to the 703's PMW3366 -- it seems that the 603's other primary functionality, Bluetooth, could have made it into the 703's design. 

But as it stands, the G603 is a functional, reliable, and efficient mouse that offers some neat tricks and awesome accuracy for those not willing (or able) to afford the higher-priced 703 and its $100 PowerPlay charging pad sidekick. If you fall into that boat or want something that functions as both a gaming peripheral and an unassuming office point and clicker, it's definitely a mouse you'll want to check out.

However, if it were me, I'd opt to spend the extra $30 for wireless charging capabilities, an infinitely refillable battery, wired and wireless capabilities, full RGB lighting options, and near-identical performance. What's more, the switches on the G703 are rated for 50 million clicks, while the switches on the G603 are only rated at 20 million clicks. It's not a one-to-one ratio, of course, but even if you don't count all the extra functionality you get in the G703, you're still paying $30 more for 30 million more clicks -- and a mouse that will last you 2.5 times as long. 

The 603 is a fine choice for many gamers, but if you can afford to splurge on a truly sensational option, I'd go with the 703 instead.   

You can buy the G603 on Amazon

[Note: Logitech provided the G603 used for this review.]

SteelSeries M750 TKL Review: A Solid Addition to a Line of Growing Options Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:00:09 -0500 Jonathan Moore

SteelSeries is one of the few peripherals companies that affords gamers a cornucopia of options for gaming mice, headsets, and keyboards. Over the past year or so, the company has worked to diversify its growing catalog to include options for almost every type of gamer -- and every type of gaming scenario. 

Earlier this year, SteelSeries released the M750 gaming keyboard, one that's responsive, reliable, and suited for both competitive and casual gamers alike. Now, they've released the same keyboard in a tenkeyless variant.

Coming in at $199.99 ($10 cheaper than the M750 tenkey), the M750 TKL is a compact option that delivers the same reliability and functionality of its predecessor. Sporting a sleek black finish, the TKL's aircraft-grade aluminum chassis is crazy resilient, and coming in at 13.5" x 6" (and only weighing about two pounds), the keyboard is small enough to fit into your backpack without worry. 

It still sports the odd rubber feet of its predecessor, a design choice that I found interesting yet cumbersome and ineffective. For a board geared toward eSports professionals, it's odd that the board's rubber feet don't seem to stay attached when you move it around. Simply pushing the board away from me and then pulling it back toward me continually dislodged the feet, which was frustrating at best. And not amending it here seems a bit of an oversight. 

However, the M750 TKL performs where it needs to. The board's QX2 switches are responsive, swift, and comfortable. Just like the switches found in its predecessor, these switches are sensitive enough to register light keystrokes but resilient enough to not launch accidental ults in your favorite MOBA. Sure, the QX2s are bit noisier than the Cherry Reds found in most other gaming keyboards, but they get the job done and are rated for 50 million clicks -- which means they're going to last a long time. 

On the customization front, you'll get your 16 million color RGB spectrum, fully programmable key rebindings, macros, and keystroke shortcuts with the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. 

All in all, the M750 TKL is simply a more compact, slightly cheaper version of the M750. You'll get the same robust functionality and, for better or worse, the same design minus the ten-key numpad. Coming in $10 below the full-sized M750, the main question you have to ask yourself is: "Do I really need a ten-key numpad?" If the answer is no, the M750 TKL might just be what you're looking for -- especially if you're a tournament player looking for something small, reliable, and built to last. 

Check out our M750 review for a more in-depth look at all the features and functions the M750 TKL has to offer.

You can buy the M750 TKL on Amazon

[Note: SteelSeries provided the keyboard used in this review.] 

Gran Turismo Sport Review: Competitive Racing Redefined Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:54:13 -0500 Beckett Van Stralen

Drivers to your cars! Drivers to your cars! The wait for a new entry in the Gran Turismo franchise is finally over. Polyphony Digital has released their new love letter to cars, autosport, and racing culture in the form of the incredibly polished Gran Turismo Sport for the PlayStation 4 exclusively. There has been a lack of variety in simulation-oriented racing games available for the PlayStation 4, and GT Sport definitely helps to correct this problem. While it may not possess a large car roster or the level of customization offered by its direct competitors (or predecessors), its heart and guts remain intact because GT Sport is comfortable in its own shoes and what it has to offer -- an incredibly realistic driving simulation experience backed by a competitive online racing platform designed for the sport of racing, and racing alone.

To get your feet wet,
GT Sport offers a variety of different modes to conquer before jumping right into Sport Mode, its epicenter and main feature. The Arcade and Campaign modes can be tackled in single player, and there is a Lobby mode which allows you to create an online room where your friends and other players can race together casually. The campaign mode is quite extensive and serves as the perfect practice tool for familiarizing yourself with the required driving techniques to win races and drive the tracks themselves. Arcade Mode allows single-player racing or split-screen racing, and also includes the attractive yet limited VR mode, but more on that later. So far I’ve spent the majority of my time with GT Sport in Campaign mode when I’m not in Sport Mode -- each challenge completed nets you a gold, silver, or bronze award depending on what position or finish time was achieved. It didn’t take long for me to get into a habit of aiming for gold on each challenge, and constantly retrying when my ghost silhouette would leave me in the dust. Somehow I managed to get all gold, and it truly felt like a significant accomplishment.

Outside of the Driving School, the Mission and Circuit Challenges offer less of a trial and error experience (that’s only if you’re aiming for gold on all challenges) and throw you into the racing immediately. They allow you to get comfortable with track racing vs circuit racing, passing other racers on narrow tracks complete with sharp corners and more. It’s a sample buffet of all the skills you’ll need to master to be the best racer possible when in Sport Mode, and it’s highly encouraged to complete these challenges before attempting to race competitively.

Sport Mode is the meat and potatoes of 
GT Sport, and it’s the driving force of the game itself. Racers will enter online daily races and championships to bolster and increase their Sportsmanship Rating (SR) and Driver Rating (DR). SR is governed mainly by clean driving, from what I’ve experienced myself, and this is a skill that is highly encouraged and basically mandatory for racers to climb through the ranks. GT Sport even forces players to watch two videos on racing etiquette before entering any race whatsoever. After coming from racing games like Need for Speed 2015, where the path to winning races by most players is something similar to Battle Royale, this approach to curbing dirty driving and promoting clean races is incredibly refreshing and appreciated. Drive poorly enough, and you’ll find yourself racing alongside the bottom feeders with the same driving habits, who prefer smashing their way to victory instead of driving a clean race.


While Sport Mode does encourage clean driving, there is one significant drawback when it comes to the SR system -- sometimes a loss in SR will be applied when another driver impacts you, but not as a result of your own driving. This will assuredly frustrate some players, as it did for me, but what’s good is that if you persist with clean driving, the results will be noticeable, and the SR will balance out. If this happens, take note of the username of the erratic driver and avoid them like the plague. One or two bumps are not detrimental, and driving the rest of the race clean will still provide an overall increase to your SR.

Another point that needs to be addressed is the timed entry into competitive races. Instead of being able to start driving immediately, players will sometimes have to wait up to 15 minutes or longer until the event actually starts. Waiting between races can be spent minimizing your personal qualifying lap time, but once you’re happy with your lap time, there isn’t much else to do until the race begins. On one hand, I can understand Polyphony Digital’s desire to engineer the races this way -- it allows the player to decompress, get up and walk around, and refresh their brain. On the other hand, waiting can be bothersome, especially if the allotted time to play is already slim. Once the first race has been completed, if you enter the next race immediately, the wait time is roughly 4-12 minutes. However, since the championships have now commenced, it seems like the wait time is now longer, with the races refreshing every 15 minutes or so.

GT Sport
doesn’t possess a vehicle library as quantitatively broad as some of its direct competitors, but it has included the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to vehicles and their respective brands. Looking at these vehicles gives the impression that Polyphony Digital pored over every single square inch of each car, as they look jaw-droppingly gorgeous inside and out with breathtaking detail. While the total number of drivable cars is a little over 180, I feel that isn’t necessarily a drawback. Some of GT Sport’s competitors offer over 700 driveable vehicles -- is it possible that every single one will be driven in the duration of the single-player campaign? Likely not. GT Sport encourages you to work with the vehicles you accumulate. My main vehicle has now become the Gr. 4 Subaru WRX, and its miles counter has been steadily increasing. Polyphony Digital has also announced that by March 2018, 50 additional cars will be available.

PlayStation VR now has its killer driving app in the form of GT Sports rather limited VR Tour mode, but it is immensely more enjoyable than DriveClub VR. Comparing the two, DriveClub VR has loads more to offer in terms of playable content, but the feel of the VR driving is absolutely knocked out of the park in GT Sport. Playing DriveClub VR caused in me a sudden onset of motion sickness (and I was not alone in this regard) and required me to stop within 10 minutes of playing. It might be because GT Sport doesn’t emulate the natural head tilt when turning corners as noticeably as DriveClub VR, but this minor difference allowed me to race repeatedly for over an hour before I removed my headset. It’s unfortunate that GT Sport’s VR mode is so limited. You select your vehicle and track, and you’re racing against an AI opponent -- that’s it. I hope in future patch releases that Polyphony Digital will expand on its VR mode, because there is truly something amazing here.

One of the most divisive aspects of GT Sport is the fact that there is less to be enjoyed when the game is played offline -- players aren’t even able to make progress in their personal campaigns. This is now actually being remedied by Polyphony Digital in the form of allowing access to the Scapes, Campaign, and Livery Editor while in offline mode, as of November 27th in the newest patch being introduced (although to save any campaign progress, scapes, or liveries, you will still need to be connected to the internet). That’s not all, either -- in December, there will be a single player “GT League” that is exclusively played offline. While accessing all of GT Sport’s features is troublesome for those who aren’t constantly connected to the internet, I think that games in general are moving towards an online-only direction, and I believe the benefits outweigh the negatives. For example, GT Sport has an integrated social media platform where you can post pictures of your car in a race or from the amazing Scapes photo mode, and people can like, comment, and even share your photos. Other players can upload liveries online for people to peruse and download into their own libraries. Personally, I’ve already downloaded Overwatch and Resident Evil decals. Without its online platform, this service would likely have to exist outside of the game itself.

Gran Turismo Sport is the driving simulator that PlayStation owners have been waiting for since GT6 on PlayStation 3. This time, there are no “standard cars” -- all cars look jaw-droppingly gorgeous and meticulously rendered within GT Sport’s engine. While there are some aspects of the package that some may not look kindly upon, such as the number of drivable vehicles and the mandatory online connection to enjoy most of the game’s features, GT Sport performs exceptionally well and provides the distinct racing experience that fans of driving simulators are looking for.  

Images for this review were screen-captured from my PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Surge Gets Silly With A Walk In The Park Sat, 09 Dec 2017 13:24:29 -0500 Ty Arthur

It wasn't that long ago that Deck13 gave us a proper, devastatingly-hard Souls-style experience with a junkyard sci-fi twist in The Surgebut if you've been away for awhile, now there's plenty of reason to come back and take A Walk In The Park!

The amusement park theme here espouses visions of Nuka World dancing in my head (and all the promo shots of a theme park inhabited by killer robots didn't do anything to dissuade that image).

Over the course of this 3-4 hour DLC there's plenty of silly, tongue-in-cheek nonsense that's also gruesome in the extreme. My initial impression needed to be revised, as this is less Nuka World and more a nightmare Itchy And Scratchy Land. While there are robot enemies galore, many of the baddies are humans gone mad, and the blood spurts just as easy as the oil!

 The rest of the complex is filled with homicidal robots... might as well take time out to visit the amusement park

A Relaxing Vacation Where Everyone Dies

Before I could even get to all the theme park mayhem with The Surge's A Walk In The Park DLC, I was reminded of how ludicrously hard these types of games can become.

Just yesterday, I lost all my hard drive data after a Windows 10 update (thanks Microsoft), so I had to start Warren's story at the Creo corporation entirely over. Just getting to the second level to access the DLC was an hour long slog filled with more than a few four-letter words, but eventually, I got my footing back under me and figured out how to engage in the deadly dance of slow motion robotic combat. 

Honestly, that may be the best way to experience this expansion, going in fresh from the beginning so you aren't overpowered and don't breeze through while exploring different attractions like the Lumber Jack Show and Skybound Adventures.

After finally getting to Creo world, players used to the base game will be in for a shock witnessing the juxtaposition of a bubbly, brightly lit amusement park with shattered and bloody bodies everywhere.

There's almost a Dead Rising or Borderlands feel in the eye-popping silly factor and zany shenanigans going on. One of the first things you do after leaving the train is fight a giant animatronic donut.

Remember that campy '80s slasher Chopping Mall where the totally non-lethal mall guard bot suddenly goes kill happy after a surge of lightning, even though he had no weaponry of any kind a few seconds before? Oh boy, are we ever in that territory here -- and its kind of a blast.

 Some of these bots shoot frickin' laser beams from their eyes!

New Additions To The Surge

Some fun new gear is ready and waiting to be viciously hacked off your enemies, from a glowing light axe to something that looks oddly like a mashup of a parking toll meter and an electric razor.

Frankly, you will easily again be thinking of of Dead Rising when crafting the Head Of Donnie Donut helmet or picking up the candy cane power pole as a weapon.

While they are fun to look at, the new gear isn't particularly awesome at its base level without being upgraded, so as mentioned above this DLC works better on a first playthrough rather than in New Game+ mode. If you have all those powerful secret weapon drops from the bosses and have maxed everything out, your current gear will be an order of magnitude more powerful than anything found in Creo world.

While the gear may not be worth your time, the enemies are definitely more interesting and less drab than in the main campaign. Warren will battle everything from a giant partially eaten candy bar to a huge soda can (although sadly not in Saint's Row purple).

Cutting the equivalent of Freddy Fazbear in half with a pilfered hydraulic piston and then tearing apart his head for parts is a pretty good time. Besides the fun new enemies, the location itself offers something totally different from what fans of The Surge might expect.

The dual theme going on really hits home when the fake, plastic nature of the amusement park is jarringly set against a backdrop of a crashed roller coaster, with blood splattered across the concrete and a shattered body in pieces on the ground. In the latter half of the DLC, there is some truly odd, disturbing stuff going on.

 Not often in gaming can you get killed by an evil robot leprechaun whose main weapon is literally garbage

The Bottom Line

A Walk In The Park features more of the same on the gameplay front, with a player carefully balancing stamina for dodging, blocking, and getting in calculated strikes.

If you face too many enemies in one area then you're dead (sort of like in real life, you should be concerned if multiple people in mascot outfits have you cornered in an alley), and if you miscalculate your stamina for that return swing, well, you're dead. 

The big draw is in the totally new areas and the bonkers setting, offering something way outside the norm for this style of game. Since the DLC is set during the events of the campaign, A Walk In The Park is basically a big side quest to offer some levity (and a lot of blood).

If you liked The Surge and want more, do yourself a favor and pick up the expansion. Ready to get started? Check out our guide on getting into the new DLC park area over here!

Puzzle Fighter Review - It's Not "Super" for A Reason Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:31:50 -0500 bazookajo94

Some games are just meant to be mobile. They should have tap functionality, the personability of a small screen close to a user's face, and repetitious gameplay that isn't as fun on a big screen, or with a joystick or d-pad.

While a few games make the transition from PC to mobile well enough, such as Five Nights at Freddy's or FTL, Puzzle Fighter does not.

The HD sequel to Capcom's Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Puzzle Fighter combines Street Fighter hero battles with Tetris-like puzzles. Think Dr. Mario with less parasites (unless micro-transactions count) and more combo attacks. Players match their skills against others online, trying to upgrade their characters and enhance their skills in order to become the best puzzle fighter around.

Puzzle Fighter entered the Play Store on November 27, and long time fans of the original puzzle game are finding themselves disappointed. In the transition from beloved arcade game to mediocre mobile title, its blatant exploitation of micro-transactions and lack-lustre single-player mode has soured the release for many fans.

The Money Struggle

Puzzle Fighter's appeal is that it's free-to-play, so at least players won't have to spend any money if they don't want to. However, if a player ever wants to make a name for themselves and feel like they're accomplishing something, they'll have to partake in the bane of modern gaming -- micro-transactions.

Players can either grind their way to the top (which is rendered nearly impossible considering the limited single-player mode) or they can buy their way to the top. Using in-app purchases you can upgrade skills that no longer require actually playing the game to unlock, along with accessing characters that should be available to all players, as they were in past titles. 

And that's without mentioning the loot crates that are available, which are most easily accessible to players who choose to shell out some money. Suddenly, the similarities this game has with Star Wars Battlefront 2, which also withheld popular characters and attempted to push players towards spending money on loot crates, is strikingly apparent.

Characters and skills that should be reasonably acquirable through standard amounts of gameplay make enjoying this app a chore. What was wrong with unlocking characters through beating levels? Seems like a tried-and-true method that didn't need to be turned into an all too transparent cash grab.

The Game Mode Struggle

Perhaps the reason micro-transactions are necessary in this game is because of the limited single-player mode. Not everyone enjoys playing games by themselves, and the rush of annihilating an anonymous face of a stranger can be exhilarating. But for those that like to up their skills before throwing themselves to the wolves (read: online gamers), it's nice to play in a single-player mode.

But Puzzle Fighter doesn't give players that chance. They can complete the three missions available and then have to either wait half a day for the missions to refresh, or they can pay to have them refresh sooner.

The three missions have multiple difficulty levels, but how difficult are they if the AI doesn't use the dragging feature of the tiles? The AI's tiles gently float to the bottom of the screen, while players can quickly drag theirs to the bottom and easily defeat even Expert level missions.

If players decide that they'd rather not pay, they are left to play multiplayer -- an intimidating arena that can bring back flashbacks to the early days of Rocket League, when everyone was better than you and death was a constant.

True, the game pairs players with similar rankings, but if people decide to play the game without using money, they're going to spend a lot of time grinding through similar levels with the same three teammates over and over, until finally they start to think that maybe spending a few dollars couldn't hurt.

So really, players have four choices: 

  • Play single-player, wait, and be bad for a while
  • Play single-player, pay, and grind three levels over and over again
  • Play multiplayer, don't pay, and grind for a long time in order to advance
  • Play multiplayer, pay, and advance immediately without any work

At what point does Puzzle Fighter stop being a game and start being a transaction? 

The "Everything Else is Fine" Struggle

Despite it all, Puzzle Fighter has some good aspects. The concept is fun and reminiscent of arcade games, and it's easy to get addicted -- just one more level, one more shot, I'll do better this time, I'm on a roll!

The graphics are nice if viewers can look passed how the HD effects can make the paring of tiny bodies with big heads appear awkward. That being said, the animations have smooth transitions, with no awkward stances or noticeable oddities in the idle animations. 

The vibrant and popping colors work well as puzzle tiles but can sometimes be distracting in the menu screens, which caused me some confusion in the shop and upgrade menus. There always seems to be something going on, and the colors make it difficult to discern right away what that something is. 

The voice acting sounds professional and well done, but the lack of variation in scripted lines and the repetition of sounds during combat can become very annoying, very quickly. Especially if you're someone who hasn't spent money to get new characters, meaning you're stuck with the same characters for a long time.

Gameplay is easy to pick up, with a helpful tutorial and simple mechanics. Though not even a tutorial can teach strategy as effectively as losing a bunch of times can.


Puzzle Fighter and the mobile plaform seemed like a match made in heaven. The simple puzzle tactics paired with cutesy art and animation are a perfect fit for a hand-held title, with Dr. Mario-esque fun.

But Puzzle Fighter's shortcomings reveal themselves in the excessive dependence on micro-transactions for its players to succeed. This, along with the limited single-player mode, turned what could have been an addictively fun game into a mediocre caricature of its past self. Puzzle Fighter serves as yet another reminder that some publishers and developers don't care if people enjoy playing a game, as long as they're spending money. 

SpellForce 3 Review Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:28:48 -0500 Ashley Gill

The SpellForce series has been kicking around since 2003, but there's a pretty high chance you may have never heard of it. With nary a full release or an expansion since 2014, some fans may have considered this niche strategy series dead.

SpellForce 3 is the first full-fledged release for the series since 2006, and a lot has changed since then. Is it for the better? It's hard to say -- I haven't played a SpellForce game in nearly a decade -- but it's definitely "different".

You'll explore vast lands as you try to seek out and cure the Bloodburn plague through a mix of classic CRPG-style and RTS gameplay in this odd hybrid RPG. Set a full 518 years before the events of the first game, the game takes place before the Convocation ritual that changed the world of Eo forever.

The setting and storytelling make this a good starting point for first-timers and prevents old fans from feeling left out, but a glimpse into Eo pre-Convocation wasn't enough to make me enjoy my time with SpellForce 3.

Getting Started with SpellForce 3

You are slapped right into the tutorial-slash-prologue as soon as you start the campaign. The prologue lets you learn the basics of the game's RPG and RTS systems with a pre-made story character party, after which you're tossed into character creation.

You have a few faces and hairstyles to choose from and can adjust your character's starting attributes and its ability trees in character creation. This process is fairly rudimentary.

Something to note for those who choose to make female characters: all the game's dialogue will still refer to you as "he" or bring up that you're the "son" of Isamo Tahar. This is a minor but extremely irksome oversight by Grimlore Games if you happen to roll a woman, and it happens often enough it's impossible to overlook.

Once you've pushed through the prologue and character customization, you're thrown straight into the story -- and also happens to be where my gripes with SpellForce 3 begin.

Eo -- Land of Ants

If you somehow don't really grasp how tiny the characters are in the prologue, you'll figure it out pretty quickly once you start wandering around.

The scale of the world in SpellForce 3 can be summed up in one word: massive. Everything is huge! That's great and all, but the people who actually reside in Eo are comparatively ants.

In each area of the game, there's a whole lot of space but not a whole lot of things going on. You're given this sense that the world is massive, but comparatively, it's very hard to tell where you are and there are not a lot of interesting details sprinkled about. You're small, your party members are small, your units in the RTS segments are small. With maps so big, it's easy to lose track of them.

This wouldn't be so much of an issue if it was easier to tell what was going on in fights or the minimap had more noticeable character markers, but as it stands, it can be a pain to keep track of where you are.

Your units' minimap indicators are the same color and
a close size to your buildings.

One might think the fact the player can rotate the camera would make this easier, but I'm of the opinion this game could have benefited from having a non-rotating camera.

You can rotate the camera a full 360 degrees, which you often have to do in both the RPG and RTS modes, but the camera is clearly not meant to be turned and panned in certain directions in particular areas. I repeatedly met with a jumping camera when trying to rotate the camera near exceedingly tall structures.

By rotating the camera in either mode, you can find chests and other lootables, but it eventually becomes cumbersome because you have to do it so often. Re-aligning your camera to stay oriented all the time is, well.. not fun.

It's a shame because SpellForce 3 is absolutely gorgeous and the developers clearly want you to see all the details they worked in, but it just left me feeling detached from my party and frustrated when it came time to deathball my way through enemy outposts in the RTS segments.

Let's Talk About Actually Playing the Game

This is an RPG, so surely I have to talk about the gameplay. Surely.

Classic CRPG fans will be familiar with the vast majority of features found in SpellForce 3's RPG mode, which is used most often in wandering around town or inside dungeons. Wandering around town and talking to people is not as interesting as it is in some other games, but taking your party through dungeons is.

You have to fight and puzzle your way through the game's many dungeons, which feature classic-style real time combat. A character can only have three skills on their bar at a time, though you can rotate between their skill and equipment loadouts based on the situation.

Dungeons and the sights (and fights) within are easily my favorite part of the game. Aside from having to rotate the camera all the time, it feels very much "at home" in dungeons.

The RTS segments of the game are less enjoyable, at least for me. Building new resource buildings, managing workers, and expanding to outposts is all right but not engaging.

Going against enemies in RTS mode is mostly working up to a deathball, then trying to defend from waves of enemies or rolling that ball over their outposts. You can use your heroes' skills in battle, but keeping track of them amidst all the other action is a nightmare. Giving them health bars of a different color from the generic units would definitely help here.

Control Issues

Something to note about both modes is how cumbersome the controls are.

The controls are the same between both RTS mode and RPG mode, with some differences. You can hotswap between the game's two control schemes at any time, but you're probably going to be fumbling around unless you dig into your control options and customize them.

Customizing your controls in either of SpellForce 3's control schemes is mandatory to enjoy it -- there is simply no getting around that. The game claims that one control scheme is more suited to new CRPG players while the other is for experienced, but I'd clump both together as "unnecessarily convoluted".

The player should not have to manually switch between two control schemes throughout the entirety of a 25+ hour campaign. Halfway through the game's story, I ended up going into my control options one final time and customizing nearly every keybinding because I was sick and tired of it.

The Sum of All Parts

Part RTS and part RPG, SpellForce 3 doesn't excel at either genre it tries to incorporate.

The RPG segments, while interesting, are marred by some truly terrible voice acting (Geralt's voice actor's the lone exception) and huge and hard to navigate areas. The game's RPG dungeons are its gameplay's crown jewel.

The game's RTS segments are fine for what they are, but ultimately do not serve up much of a strategic challenge and eventually turn into deathball matches.

SpellForce 3 excels in both its graphics and overall sound design, and its RTS segments will give most gaming rigs a real run for their money, but it's difficult for me to recommend this game as it stands. Grimlore Games tried hard here and it really shows in all the details, but the game needs some sizable quality of life changes to make it worth investing the money and time needed to play it.

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of SpellForce 3 used for this review.)

Hello Neighbor Review: Fancy Some Light B&E This Evening? Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:19:43 -0500 Ty Arthur

While browsing through the toys at Gamestop last week in search of Christmas gifts, I couldn't help but notice a Hello Neighbor plushie prominently displayed on prime shelf real estate.

I think it's safe to say that Early Access and crowd funding have made a pretty serious dent in the industry if an indie game that wasn't even out at the time and had only been played in alpha somehow got its own merch in major retail stores.

More than a year and four alpha builds after first getting noticed, we're finally able to get our hands on the full, complete version of Hello Neighbor. The end result is a pleasure for those who have been following this eye-catching game since the early days, and I'm excited to report more of the horror elements have returned after going missing in recent builds.

 When a ball slowly rolls into frame in front of a menacing house,
you know it's about to go down for real

Another Day In Paradise

The art style and color palette may seem an odd choice for the game's horror concept at first, as Hello Neighbor is sort of like a brightly colored, '70s-drug fueled version of Tom Hanks classic The Burbs (which is about to be re-released on BluRay -- coincidence or dark providence?).

That nightmarish Dr. Seuess-on-acid house from the previous alpha build is gone in the full version (well, in Act 1 anyway), replaced by a warm, quiet neighborhood where nothing bad could ever... and oh god we've been kidnapped.

Long time alpha players will be very pleased with the story elements wrapping everything together now, and there's an excellent mashup of style and substance here, like seeing the game world from a little kid's short, slanted, and dyslexic point of view.

Now more than just random breaking and entering for fun and profit, there's a reason for everything going on, with plenty of twists and turns you won't expect. Get ready to jump, scream, and maybe even feel a little bad for the villain.

 Apparently, a bunch of kids have gone missing in the neighborhood...

Stealth And Puzzles

The bulk of the game is figuring out how to work your way past the observant neighbor to unlock new secrets in, around, under, and even above the main house.

There's quite a lot of content to explore in that one location, and plenty of clever puzzles to work out as you try to reach a closed off area, nab a key, access an object, and so on.

While the puzzles can be difficult, they aren't ever completely illogical or devoid of a clear solution. If you take the time to explore and think about how items in the game are connected, it won't be too frustrating to reach the next area.

The opening cinematic for instance actually shows you exactly what object you need to get and how to get there to work through Act 1, but if you aren't looking for the clues, you could easily miss what's right in front of your nose.

 How do we get past this guy?

Many of the same types of puzzles and objects from the alpha builds return, but they are arranged in different ways now so you can't just repeat what you've done before. There's still the magnet gun for instance, and having to use boxes to create ladders or break windows, but the layout is completely different.

Actually getting past the neighbor and unlocking the basement, which was previously the ultimate purpose of the alphas, is now just the beginning. There's much, much more to explore now as the game builds on previous concepts in each successive act.

Along the way new players will have to learn from trial and error how to draw the neighbor away from unexplored areas, using a combination of stealth and speed, and open new routes or close off old ones so he can't catch you as easily.

The whole experience is wrapped up in fabulous sound effects and a wonderfully odd visual style, like Wallace and Gromit collided with We Happy Few. Style is easily the game's strong suit, and it's used to stunning effect in several notable locations.

 A table missing its family, centered around a painting of a mustache with shelves for platforming... that's Hello Neighbor in a nutshell!

The Bottom Line

Having played the game in various early iterations and watched new players give the full build a go, I'm left wondering if those who devoured the alphas will get more out of Hello Neighbor than anyone just now jumping into the fray.

In particular, there's a major sense of satisfaction just in seeing a lot of the concept art come to life in scenes that weren't present in the previous builds. TinyBuild Games also utilizes a really clever use of player knowledge on gameplay mechanics to give you a sinking sense of despair when you reach the end of Act 1. You can practically hear Bender saying “well, we're boned” when you reach the end, and then there's an unexpected twist and satisfying opening to the second act.

Totally new players who didn't puzzle things out in alpha, on the other hand, will probably be more than a little lost. Sadly, there are still some game mechanics not explained well, like that you have to hold E to pick up objects, not just press it, or that the longer you hold right click the farther and harder an object is thrown. 

Some of the controls themselves are also still a bit wonky -- simply figuring out how to jump up objects without bouncing off takes some major effort.

 Your first time carrying boxes up to the roof will be an exercise in frustration

Despite all the alphas and feedback, there are still some bugs as well. For example, if you are noticed and start a chase, but then quickly manage to get in a spot where the neighbor can't reach you -- like up on a segment of roof – the game will crash as the neighbor tries to go somewhere he can't physically access over and over.

Furthermore, there's the issue of game length to keep in mind. Depending on how good you are at puzzle solving (or how often you are referencing guides), we're talking about 5 – 8 hours or so of content. While that's on par with any given shooter's campaign these days, keep in mind there aren't any other game modes.

Replay only involves mopping up remaining achievements you might have missed or trying to tackle the challenges in different orders. The AI does change up its tactics based on how you play, so there's different ways to be caught or successfully hide, but probably not enough to warrant playing through more than once or twice. 

There are plenty of differences between each act's layout and puzzles, though, so its not the exact same experience all the way through and has plenty of variation.

While the game is short and lacking in clear direction, it does excel on nearly every other front. The visual aesthetics are eye-popping, the story is intriguing, and the stealth/puzzle mechanics are satisfying. For an indie excursion that tries something unique, Hello Neighbor is mostly a success, and well worth checking out.

RF8 Flight Simulator Review: A High-Flying Ace Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:36:12 -0500 Jonathan Moore

There was a time when flight simulators were all the rage, when the likes of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Falcon, and X Plane ruled the digital skies. Things have invariably changed since then, with flight simulators taking a backseat to many other genres and subgenres in the pop culture gaming sphere. However, that doesn't mean flight simulators don't still exist -- and it also doesn't mean there aren't some out there well worth your time, even if you aren't an enthusiast.

When I first received my review copy of Real Flight 8, one of the more popular franchises in the simulator subgenre, I wasn't sure I'd even remember how to get back in the pilot's seat. I hadn't played a flight simulator since Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. But once I installed everything and booted it up, I found that Knife Edge Software's newest offering made that a cinch. 

Even though it's predominantly an RC trainer and aerial simulator that revolves around hands-on training, RF8 made me feel like an ace -- and reminded me how much fun flying a digital airplane can be. 

Unboxing Real Flight 8

It's true: not many game reviews start out with an unboxing, but with Real Flight 8, there's quite a bit in the initial package worth going over if you opt for the $179 Interlink controller package. If you've already got a radio or controller and are only thinking about getting the game, you can skip ahead. 

Out of the box, you'll get the RF8 game disc, the Interlink-X controller, a JR/Hitec radio cable, and a micro plug adapter for square-port support on Futaba radios. Having such flexibility right off the bat is great, especially if you already have one of those compatible radios on hand -- or want to switch out for practice, familiarity, or comfortability. That's not to mention that offering two packages (one with a comfortable, hyper-realistic controller and another with just the game itself) is something you don't see every day. 

Sure, the price for the average gamer is a bit high, but considering what you get for the money, it's well worth the initial investment.

Taking RF8 to the Skies 

Thanks to the plug-n-play nature of the Interlink-X and the game's swift install time and easy-to-navigate startup menu, getting behind the controls in RF8 is faster than a MIG-29. It was a bit strange that the game immediately dumped me on the runway and sent my plane zipping off into the wild blue yonder right out of the gate, but that's because I'm so used to pressing "start" or "new game" in a menu overlay -- and I had the Interlink-X's throttle accidentally set to maximum, so that's my bad. 

But what I did absolutely love about it was that I was in the sky in mere seconds after crashing my first RC in that initial debacle. I didn't have to set anything up. I didn't have to download anything. I didn't have to choose my difficulty. I was simply in the game. 

Buzzing off the runway, I pirouetted into the vibrant blue sky, twirled around, and shot off into the distance. The controls, even though I've never flown an RC plane, immediately felt comfortable and responsive. The Interlink's layout is intuitive despite its many controls, and its sensitivity is tough yet rewarding, teaching you how to keep your aircraft aloft and on-track on the fly. 

For those who might be worried they don't have the chops to pilot one of RF8's 140 planes, helis, or drones -- or maybe need a refresher on radio controls before taking to the sky -- Real Flight has plenty of in-game training and tutorial videos you can watch at any time. Some cover basic flying mechanics such as pitch, yaw, and acceleration, while others cover advanced mechanics such as heli hovering, pitch cyclic, and roll cyclic. 

That's another aspect of RF8 that I really appreciate. Sure, it throws you on the runway right out of the gate, but it's got plenty of tutorials to slow things down and educate you along the way. Of course, most vets won't need these, but for us newbies, it's great to see a game built for experts and new players alike. Lowering the initial barrier to entry, RF8 does what a lot of other games try to do -- but ultimately fail at. 

Now, that doesn't mean I can pilot a damn helicopter very well, but that's another story ... 

Real Flight 8's Graphics and Sound Design

Running on a Powerspec G427 with an Intel i7-7700k at 4.2Ghz, 32GB of RAM, and a GTX 1080 graphics card, RF8 looks great in 4K. Of course, it wasn't necessarily built for that high-end resolution, so there are areas that take a graphical hit when upscaling. Aircraft and the immediate runway and surroundings are vibrant, lush, and gorgeous. RF8's water is nearly as pretty as Fallout 4's. 

Where things start to get a bit muddy, however, is when you look off into the distance: far away mountains and valleys, trees and fields, buildings and pirate ships -- all can look painted on at times. One desert map has a distant mesa climbing into the sky that's completely flat, looking as if it were simply smudged onto the horizon. This issue is most noticeable when using RF8's chase camera as you fly around the map, but if you're using fixed camera mode, these blemishes are less obtrusive. And since most players will stay focused on their aircraft while playing, it's not something that will inhibit many players from enjoying the game. 

Zipping over to the sound front, RF8 does a good job of recreating true-to-life RC and aircraft sounds, both on the runway and during flight. Engines rumble and propellers buzz as you'd expect, and the audio stays consistent throughout the game. 

Vast Customizability

It's not just the radio controller you can customize in Real Flight 8. Whether you want to tweak the game's physics from beginner to realistic, fly with limited fuel reserves, or change the direction and speed of the wind, you can almost fully customize your RF8 experience. 

What's more, you can even edit the game's individual aircraft and airports, aspects I found the most interesting and engrossing. Don't like where the fuel tank's located on the B-25 Mitchell? Move it (but at your own peril). Don't like the sky color on the Soccer Field map? Change it to pink, purple, or cyan. Don't like that the desert map doesn't have any water? Add a huge lake and grove of trees to change things up. 

You can add myriad components to any and every airfield in the game, change the sun's inclination, and set where your planes spawn. On top of that, you can change the length of the wings and tails on your aircraft, gear weights, and deflection parameters. 

At the end of the day, the customizability here really is amazing, dramatically adding to the game's replay and training value. 

The Verdict

Sure, RF8 is a bit on the pricey side for the average gamer -- but this robust flight simulator isn't really geared toward that audience. Although it has multiplayer features, combat simulations, and obstacle courses, Real Flight 8 is much more a training and educational tool for current and aspiring RC pilots. 

With hours of instructional videos, tons of free add-ons and expansions, robust, hyper-realistic mechanics, and hundreds of aircraft, RF8 is well worth the price. It delivers what it promises and is the perfect stepping stone between RF 7.5 and RFX.

You can buy RF8 on the company website. 

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Real Flight 8 for review. The game is VR compatible, and that functionality will be added to this review.]

NEXT JUMP: Shump Tactics Review: Jumping Into Strategy's New Frontier Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:25:36 -0500 ThatGamersAsylum

NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics is an indie title that combines turn-based strategy and shmup/bullet hell games into a nice, roguelite package. While the game technically takes place in a sci-fi world filled with traditional high-fantasy races -- like orcs, elves, and dragons -- there really isn’t any story to talk of here outside of an intro cutscene that establishes a world that runs on alcohol. Alcohol that the dragons stole. Ultimately, it is this that serves as your call to action.

Riding The Dragon

The Basics

To actually catch a dragon, you must perform “jumps” across the galaxy in order to eventually catch and kill them. You accomplish this by choosing what path you want to take through the nebulas on the star chart. Doing this initiates combat, as the dragons send forth legions of drones to get in your path.

On these small, screen-sized battlefields, you have three turns to kill as many enemies and gather as much scrap (money) as you can while surviving. You take actions on a grid until you run out of energy -- aka the ability to take actions -- at which time your turn ends.

Three turns might not sound like a lot, and at the start of a playthrough it really isn’t. But once you start purchasing upgrades that increase your energy capacity and movement ability, then things really start to heat up. This is especially thanks to the fact that enemies drop energy orbs when they die, thus allowing you to string together multiple kills. And this works well; there is something extremely satisfying about starting a turn with a screen full of enemies, only to then end the turn with nothing left but a ton of scrap to pick up.

Semester Abroad (in Space [Chasing Dragons {for Alcohol}])

The intricacies of this game bear the markings of some of the best strategy titles: easy to learn, hard to master. While early on I understood how to play the game, it wasn’t until a few hours in that I really “got it.” And it was at that time that I really felt everything come together. Understanding how close you can cut by enemy bullets, the AoEs for certain attacks, or just the simple fact that sitting on the same tile as an enemy doesn’t hurt you were all learned experiences and slowly led to me employing sharper strategies over time. This might sound obvious, but many strategy games fail to force you to do that, or they neglect to provide you with the tools to make tighter strategies.

Ships Make the World Go Round

Even better is that all of the six ships -- two from release, two from a free DLC, and two you unlock -- truly feel unique from one another. The Ballista is a long-range ship whose basic attack actually recoils you backwards. The Hammer is a much larger, less nimble ship that charges forward into oncoming enemies with a shockwave that hits everything around it. The Shield can reflect enemy shots back, turning its main attack into both an offensive and defensive weapon. The Sword, my personal favorite, is actually a large energy “sword” that you can activate to slice through foes with ease. 

Welps and Warts

There were myriad small issues I faced with combat, which I detail below, but one of the larger ones comes in the form of enemies' energy drops. Since they are dropped right where they die, it is usually most advantageous to move on top of an enemy, then use your attack to ensure you instantly pick up the energy, which usually completely replenishes it. This means that direct, close-range strategies are usually the ones that are rewarded most; consequently, the Ballista is a lot harder to play. In short, it feels like the system was created to specifically incentivize close-range combat, which pigeonholes units into particular strategies at times.

The Morning After

A lot of the trouble this game gets into comes from its inability to display combat information properly. In the chaos of battle, you could easily have four or five overlapping sprites on one tile, so jumping somewhere you thought was safe can actually result in your death. Add certain enemy attacks -- but not all -- that will scroll from the top of the screen to the bottom without warning (or a logical basis), enemies that can teleport on top of you to cause damage from seemingly any range, harmful projectiles and energy pickups that look painfully (pun intended) similar, AoEs for explosives that are extremely vague at best, and hitboxes that are inconsistent, and you quickly realize that it is extremely easy to get damaged in myriad ways without even knowing it. In fact, twice I died in gigantic explosions and couldn’t figure out how or why it happened for the life of me. The literal life of me, mind you!

Roguelite Problems

Combine this with the game’s yearning to be a roguelite, and it can come across as quite draconian. For instance, your max HP is 4, but ships start with anywhere between 1-3 HP. Enemy attacks deal at least 1 damage if you get hit, but some, such as toxic attacks which deal residual damage, can easily one shot you. The real problem here is not that you have a small amount of HP and that it is easy to die, but rather that most of my deaths were caused by things that I could not even see. Roguelites are supposed to be challenging, broadly speaking, but when the majority of the challenge, and my deaths, came from things that were almost impossible to keep track of or just downright buggy mechanics, it could become frustrating fast.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: most of the stuff worked properly 95% of the time. But when you need borderline perfection to be able to get through a gauntlet of challenges, your personal margin of error shouldn’t be cut into so drastically thanks to the game’s own margin for error.

The Supporting Cast and Other Misc. Items

A lot of the game’s supporting systems are small in scale and scope. There are a handful of “environments” to fight in, including an asteroid field, nebula, solar winds, and storms. While these are interesting from the onset, they quickly grow stale.

Likewise, certain locations have SOS signals or unidentified signals, but there’s only a small handful of various dialogue options you can receive, so that too becomes mundane relatively quickly. Progression for your ship is also relatively straightforward. You buy upgrades for your battery (determines the number of actions you can take), engines (determines how far you can move per energy), hull (HP), and basic attack. There are also secondary weapons and accessories that you can buy, like mines, missiles, or teleporters. But after playing for a couple hours, you will have seen all the various items that you can possibly see. Only a couple of these actually left a lasting impact.

On one hand, this feels bad. I’d love to have more content to play through since the base gameplay is so fun and the setting is charming. On the other hand, I realize this is a small indie game that costs $5, and that small size is going to be apparent in some places.

The art direction and music direction aren’t anything particularly unique -- they’re just standard fare for an indie title -- but they get the job done. The game does have somewhat frequent typos, but nothing too egregious. There were also a couple glitches here or there, like being able to use certain menus when you shouldn’t be able to, but nothing that broke the game.


The real star of the show in Next Jump is its combat, both because it is the best, most developed part of the game and because it is how you will spend the vast majority of your time with this title. Everything else is generally serviceable, whether it be the upgrades, weapons, or overworld map. While there are a handful of frustrating problems mixed in, I feel the unique premise and successful execution of said premise really make the game come to life. If you’re a fan of strategy, shmup, or roguelite titles, then you should definitely give this game a chance.


A copy was provided for review by the developers. 

Logitech G703 PowerPlay Mouse Review: Reinventing Wireless Gaming Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:00:14 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Logitech has been in the peripherals business for a long time -- since 1981, to be exact. And what put the company on the map was its attention to detail, its engineering prowess, and its damn good mice. In the 36 years since the company came onto the world's stage, Logitech has expanded its peripherals catalog to include gaming keyboards and top-of-the-line gaming headsets. But the mouse remains one of its biggest, most reliable products. 

The Logitech G403 Prodigy gaming mouse wasn't the company's first attempt at making a revolutionary gaming peripheral, but it was one that proved widely popular with fans of the brand. It's a wired mouse that provides immense accuracy and speed, and a mouse many pros and competitive players swear by. But the next logical step in iterating that mouse meant it should be wireless. 

Enter the Logitech G703 PowerPlay wireless mouse. At $99, it's a bit more expensive than the years-old Prodigy, even though it looks exactly like it on the outside. However, what's on the inside of the 703 is what sets it apart.  


Out of the Box

The G703 comes packaged in an unobtrusive box that keeps its various parts well organized -- and can double as a nifty carrying case if needed. Inside, you'll find the mouse itself, a charging-data cable, a wireless extension adapter, a lightspeed-enabled nano receiver, and a 10g weight. In the mouse itself, you'll find a lithium-ion battery and a PowerPlay charging cookie. 

The about 4.5-foot-long charging and data pass-through cable is braided and made of high-quality composite. It's flexible but sturdy enough to ensure you won't get any shorts in the wire itself over hours of use. Being that it's a tad on the thick side does means that it can sometimes catch on the edges of certain mousepads, such as the thick sides found on the SteelSeries Qck Prism, which can somewhat impede mouse movement depending on your setup. At any rate, you'll really only use the cable when charging the mouse if you're not using its PowerPlay functionality or want a wired alternative, so most players won't come up against this issue anyway. 

Looking toward the wireless front, and to what this mouse is really all about, you'll find in the box a wireless lightspeed nano receiver and a wireless extension adapter. The former is what provides the G703's game-changing wireless capabilities, while the latter allows you to bring the lightspeed receiver closer to the mouse, giving you a better, purer signal if need be. 

Finally, the 10g weight is for those who find the G703's 107 grams a bit too feathery. Inserting the weight into the bottom of the mouse is extremely easy and takes about five seconds to do. However, using it means you won't be able to take advantage of the mouse's PowerPlay charging features. Consequently, using the mouse's weight is really only an option for those not using the mouse's wireless charging functionality, which seems like a bit of an oversight by Logitech. 


G703 Design

There's no way around it: the G703 looks identical to the G403 Prodigy. From its ergonomically curved architecture to its six programmable buttons, the G703 doesn't do much to distinguish itself through its outer shell. The only real noticeable difference is that its body doesn't sport the complete black finish of the Prodigy. Instead, you can get the G703 in both a grey/black color scheme and a black/white color scheme, the latter of which pops when coupled with the mouse's elegant design. 

Made for palm- or claw-grip styles, the G703 feels great to hold for both long and short periods. I often found myself switching between styles for different games and different scenarios without a single hitch. I preferred the mouse's slicker matte finish to the grainier finishes of other mice, such as Logitech's own G603, a mouse that also imitates the 703 and Prodigy. And I loved the mouse's rubberized sides, which helped me better grip the mouse and keep it firmly in control. 

On top of that, the 703 has the same six fully programmable buttons as the Prodigy and G603: the right and left mouse buttons, two lateral buttons on the left side, one below the scroll wheel for DPI cycling, and one on the mouse wheel itself. The peripheral's LMB and RMB are clickable from the tip of the mouse to about halfway up the 703's body -- and they're rated for 50 million clicks. The DPI is nicely placed and easy to reach, and the mouse button itself provides a nice, meaty click when depressed. 

On the underside of the mouse, you'll find the switch to turn it on, the circular area for the weight and/or PowerPlay cookie, and two feet. Although I've seen some complaints that the feet provide a bit too much friction because of their placements at the front and back of the mouse, I never felt as if they impeded my use of the 703. 

G703 Performance and LightSpeed Technology 

Since the dawn of the digital age, man has dreamed of going truly wireless, while retaining the robust performance of the wired mouse. And for a long time, that was simply unachievable. But -- if I may be a tad bit melodramatic -- that day has finally come with Logitech's LightSpeed wireless technology. 

In my day to day, whether it be gaming or pounding out gear reviews and news, I exclusively use wired mice because of two reasons: One, that's mainly what we have lying around the office, and two, wired mice are so damn reliable. Historically, lag and latency have plagued wireless mice, keeping them from being the go to for a lot of gamers, especially those in eSports and the competitive scene. 

Using the G703 for more than a month playing games like Battlefield 1, Battlefront 2, Fallout 4, Endless Space 2, and Paladins, I can definitively say that G703 is as accurate -- if not more accurate -- than any of the wired mice I've reviewed this year. Click latency is virtually nonexistent, and using the PMW3366 optical gaming sensor in conjunction with Lightspeed means the G703's motion latency is top of the line. Getting headshots in BF2 with the 703 is a cinch, and commanding units in Endless Space 2 is effortless. 

Using zero smoothing and no pixel rounding, the G703 completes its responsive arsenal with technology that ensures accurate sensitivities even at high DPIs. As someone who typically plays with his DPI somewhere in the 800-1,000 range, toying with higher settings was a breeze with these functionalities, and I even found that I was more accurate scaling up my typical settings.  

PowerPlay Wireless Charging 

Even when gamers choose wireless mice over their wired brethren, those gamers still have to plug their mice in to charge them. It might be a bit pretentious, but plugging and unplugging cables can be a real pain in the keester -- and having dangling cords can pose other problems, too, the least of which is aesthetic. But Logitech has solved that with true wireless charging in the G703. 

Using the PowerPlay charging mat, which we reviewed extensively here, the G703 never (ever) has to be plugged in. Really. Never. 

The TL;DR of it is that the PowerPlay mat (which is sold separately for $100) uses electromagnetic resonance to create an energy field just above the surface of the mat, which is then converted into a charging current. All you have to do is insert the PowerPlay cookie (receiver) into the slot on the bottom of the G703, and you're ready to go. The mat even has a LightSpeed receiver built in (which sends the main wireless signal over a cable to the computer). 

Without the charging mat, you'll get about 24 to 32 hours of game time before having to recharge. With the charging mat, you essentially get unlimited charging power. In my time using the G703 and the PowerPlay charging mat, I never once had to plug the mouse in to charge -- and that's after playing 36 hours in Fallout 4, 25 hours of Battlefront 2, 12 hours of Endless Space 2, and 15 hours of Paladins

And for those of you who might think the electromagnetic charging field might interfere with the accuracy of the LightSpeed signal, you can rest easy: the mouse functions as optimally with the mat as it does without the mat in that regard. I did experience some stuttering when first powering on the mouse and moving to the extreme outside the widely defined signal area of the mat, but those instances were (very) few and far between and had more to do with the mat than the mouse itself. 

All in all, the G703 works with the PowerPlay mat exactly as advertised, ushering in a truly wireless gaming future. 

Customizability Using Logitech's Gaming Software

If you've owned a Logitech gaming mouse or peripheral before, you're already aware of the vast customizability options the Logitech Gaming Software offers gamers. From setting specific RGB lighting sequences and macros to creating per-game DPI profiles and keeping track of your battery life (if not using the PowerPlay mat), everything you could possibly ask for is at your fingertips. 

And if you're a competitive gamer or want to take the mouse with you to LANs, the G703 provides five on-board profiles that can hold your settings for quick recall. 

The Verdict

On the surface, the G703 looks a lot like the G403 Prodigy. It even has some of the same bells and whistles under the hood. But what really sets this mouse apart from the Prodigy, and essentially any other mouse on the market, is that it's truly wireless -- and ridiculously accurate while doing it. 

At $99, it's well worth the investment if you're looking for a wireless mouse that has all the functionality of its wired brethren. If you're willing to plunk down another $100, you'll have a wireless mouse with infinite battery life. I'm not one to lightly suggest anyone spend $200 -- that's a big chunk of change to drop on anything, let alone a mouse and mouse pad. But what you get for that investment is well (well) worth the price. 

I would have liked to have seen Logitech take the G703 as a chance to iterate a tad bit more on the Prodigy's design -- perhaps add an extra button or incorporate some of the features found in the G603 -- but all in all, the Logitech G703 is a fantastic wireless mouse that reinvents wireless gaming -- and aggressively challenges the status quo in the gaming peripherals space. 

You can buy the Logitech G703 on Amazon

[Note: Logitech provided the G703 mouse used in this review.]

Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2: Survival Horror on the Go Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:48:24 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

In January, Resident Evil 7 kicked the year off strong and brought the series back to its roots with a hardcore survival horror experience that ended up being one the best games of the year. Now, Nintendo Switch owners get to enjoy the complete side story of Revelations with Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, two titles praised for bringing the series back to basics after the polarizing Resident Evil 6. It's fitting the latest version of these 2 games makes its home on Nintendo's latest console, as the original Revelations started life on Nintendo's other handheld system, the 3DS, back in 2012. It also marks Revelations 2's debut on a Nintendo system, since Capcom decided to not port it to the Wii U. The end results are two solid ports of games that manage to find a perfect balance between old school RE goodness and the newer action focus.


Taking place between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 6, Revelations 1 & 2 has you playing as several different characters from the franchise. Revelations 1 has you primarily taking control of Jill Valentine as she and her new partner Parker Luciani are in search of Chris Redfield, who was last seen on an abandoned ship, the Queen Zenobia. Along the way, you'll have to deal with a new group of bio-terrorists who are out for world domination, and, of course, it's up to the soldiers of the BSAA to put a stop to them.

Revelations 2, meanwhile, has you playing as Clair Redfield (Chris's sister) as she and her young friend, Moira Burton, are kidnapped and forced to survive numerous Saw-inspired traps and trails on a deserted Island, while Moira's Dad, Barry Burton, tries to find them and simultaneously take care of the young girl he finds.

Both stories follow similar plot-lines and themes from past games, such as evil corporations attempting to use bio-tech for world domination and isolating protagonists from the outside world to add tension, but there's just enough new here that it doesn't feel like a complete retread. Both games seem to be aware of the convoluted timeline of the Resident Evil franchise and even have with it, with many corny one-liners and tongue-and-cheek dialogue. Despite a few references here and there, you can go into both games without playing past installments, though series fans will enjoy the various throwbacks  to past games. Just don't go in expecting the same kind of intensity as RE7.

Familiar Evil

Both Revelations titles follow a familiar structure to previous games. The big difference it that each game separates the dozen or so areas you visit into acts and episodes. Each has you exploring and trying to survive various areas to get to the exit and find the next one. Both games are linear affairs, but you'll do a good amount of backtracking through each area to look for keys and other items. Along the way, you'll be upgrading your weapons and solving simple puzzles to break up the action as well. Neither title is mold-breaking, but the formula is utilized well, so doesn't need much changing here.

Each game can be completed in about 6-8 hours, but there's a fair amount of replay value for each. From unlocking additional guns, costumes, and higher difficulty settings, each game has a decent amount reasons to got back and give them another shot. Along with the main campaigns, you'll get access to a fun, if basic, raid mode that you can play online that also unlocks new features for each of the campaigns. Both games also support coach co-op, though you still can't play either story mode online.

The New

One new feature exclusive to the Switch versions is motion controls. They're not quite on the same level as RE 4 on the Wii, but they're competent alternative control schemes, should you choose to play with them. The other new addition is Amiibo support that allows you to obtain various upgrades more quickly or gives you more points you can use to upgrade your skills. But that's about it. Don't worry about which Amiibo, as you can use any of them. The lack of any additional and meaningful features is a bit disappointing, and you'll probably find less of a reason to re-visit these games, if you've already completed them on other platforms.

Survival Action

Both Revelations games control as well as any other competent third-person action game that's been released over the past 10 years. Aiming is mostly solid, and the controls work well across both games. Ammo can be sparse at times, though more so in the sequel, so you'll have to use it wisely. But enemies don't make that easy. With their constant movements, it makes it difficult to get a good lock on them and makes those life saving head shots much harder. Despite this, enemy encounters never feel unfair, so the game is balanced well.

Revelations 1 introduces a scanner that allows you to search the environments for ammo and other items, as well as analyze enemies so they can be dispatched easier. That being said, it's far too easy to over-abuse the system and you'll be finding ammo and health at such frequent rate that the sense of tension and dread that the series is known for is practically non-existent. This puts the original Revelations a bit on the easy side, but it still holds up as a fun action game.

The only thing that that doesn't hold up is the awful dodge mechanic. You press up, just as an enemy is attacking, but the window to do so is so small that it's almost useless to pull off. It's awkward, to say the least, and feels more like an annoyance that anything else.

Revelations 2 is a bit more of what you expect from Resident Evil. The game is more scarce with its items, creating a more intense and challenging experience than with its predecessor. Enemies are most re-used throughout, though. From zombie dogs to the standard enemies you'll fight often, they all just come off as generic. Yet the encounters you have are still just as entertaining and tense, thanks to smart combat design, especially in the boss battles. These fights are, in general, much more creative and interesting, involving interesting creatures as well, like what you'd expect from past games. The inclusion of an ally (Moira) that has her own ability is a much better function than just using a scanner as well. Changing between characters adds another layer of strategy and tension to the mix, as you'll have to switch your tactics on the dime or suffer the consequences. Also, the dodge mechanic actually works!


While the graphics won't blow you away, both Revelations games hold up strong in the art department. The ship from the first game might grow a bit repetitive, but it does a nice job of keeping itself distinct from areas within the RE canon. The best survival horror games make the worlds you visit act as characters in themselves, and the Queen Zenobia does just that, as does the island in Revelations 2

In terms of performance, both run at 1080p docked and 720p in handheld. However, only Revelations 1 runs at 60FPS, where as the sequel now runs at an unlocked frame-rate. It's understandable, given that it's more technically demanding, but it would of been nice to cap it to 30, when jumping form game to game. There were some frame-rate slow downs in the second installment that weren't there in other versions, and you'll need to be prepared to face load times as long as a minute when loading up a level in Revelations 2. It's not too frequent, but it's definitely noticeable. While the music isn't anything to write home about, the sound effects pack a punch, and the voice acting matches the overall atmosphere and setting.


If you've already played both games, there isn't much here to recommend. Though they work a bit better for portable play, you wouldn't be missing much if you just bought both games for $20 at the bargain bin at any store. That being said, if you never played them, they're worth checking out. This sub-series of Resident Evil may not be perfect, but it still manages to do a good job in combining the old style of play with the new.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review: One of the Most Unique RPGs of the Year Thu, 07 Dec 2017 14:51:04 -0500 Autumn Fish

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Monolith Soft's latest JRPG for the Nintendo Switch. It's the official sequel to the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles -- a game which I, unfortunately, haven't sunk my teeth into yet. However, it's not a sequel in the traditional sense, where the same old characters go on a new adventure. Rather, it's a brand-new adventure with all new characters set in the same universe.

You're still traveling around on the backs of Titans, like in the original, but you won't be fighting giant mechanical life forms with the mystical Monado. This game has a truly unique sense of identity that refrains from relying on the success of its predecessor without forgetting its roots. So how does it shape up on its own?

This is a massive game, and there's so much to talk about, so for your sanity and my own, I'm structuring this review with a more traditional format. First, we'll go over my thoughts on the story and plot without getting into spoilers. Next, I'll take a moment or two to gush about the gameplay. Then, we'll touch on the graphics and art style, music and audio, and overall performance. And finally, we'll talk a bit about the replay value before wrapping everything up.

The Story and Plot of Xenoblade 2 (Little to No Spoilers)

From the very moment you hit New Game, XC2 introduces the characters and the world absolutely beautifully. First, you get a glimpse of the main character, Rex, who you find salvaging under the water-like Cloud Sea. Upon snagging his haul, he emerges onto the back of a Titan ship, where he eventually spies another Titan dying and sinking into the Cloud Sea. This entire scene cleverly introduces the main character, the Cloud Sea of Alrest, and the grave state of the world in one fell swoop, and it only gets better from there.

Rex's personality is continually strengthed through the first Chapter as you're introduced to a colorful cast of characters, many with their own motives and desires. You're also introduced to Blades and their Drivers shortly before Rex actually becomes a Driver himself. These aforementioned Blades are essentially living weapons that have resonated with and fight alongside Drivers, lending them their power and their weapon.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Story and Plot

On an expedition, Rex discovers a Legendary Blade called the Aegis and, in a twist of fate, resonates with her in exchange for promising to take her to Elysium, the World Tree. Now a Driver, Rex embarks on the journey to fulfill his promise in hopes that they might find something at Elysium to save the dying Titans.

The adventure spans the backs and insides of several Titans, each with its own environments and ecosystems. And of course, everywhere the party goes, people recognize the emerald core crystal of the Aegis, which causes countless problems as others seek to control her fate in one way or another. 

On the way to Elysium, the party accomplishes a lot. What's interesting, though, is that the more quests you complete, the more XC2 runs through cause-and-effect scenarios. The main story questline itself is brilliant about doling out consequences for the party's actions, but you'll even find plenty of nice surprises simply by completing side quests. It gives the feeling that they really put a lot of thought into the plot.

Rather in line with the nature of cause-and-effect writing, though, you'll find the story to be quite tragic. There were several moments where I couldn't help but cry, and even just thinking back on them now makes me teary-eyed.

That's really a testament to how great the characters are. They feel real to me. Their personalities are so strong that I feel like I know these characters after only a few interactions. And then they all somehow manage to get deeper and more layered the more time you have with them.

The humor here is really solid, too, in contrast to the cheesy humor found in previous entries. Some of the environments just lend themselves to hilarious interactions between characters that just seem natural. The heart-to-hearts are even a brilliant extension of that much of the time. However, the humor isn't always tasteful.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Fanservice

If you're used to playing JRPGs or watching anime, then you're probably already used to this, but there is a bit of "fanservice" sprinkled throughout. Of course, by that, I mean scenes where a female character is awkwardly exposed or objectified in order to tap in on that sex appeal. While some of these scenes did bring characters closer together, I found them largely unnecessary. What's so jarring about the whole thing is that this kind of fanservice wasn't really present in previous entries. I'm just thankful that these scenes are few and far between because the story is otherwise phenomenal.

So yeah, much of the story is conveyed through cutscenes, and cutscenes may not have the best reputation these days, but these ones are stellar. XC2 may have you sitting through 10-20 minutes of cutscenes at a time, but they're so high quality that I feel like I'm watching a flashy anime. I never once felt like they were dragging on or wished they were over so I could get back to the action. It felt like a natural extension of the gameplay that had me thrilled to see what was next.

Additionally, while you don't need to play the first game to understand what's going on, a friend told me that if you have played it, the ending is a lot more enjoyable. I can't vouch for this since, like I stated above, I haven't gotten past the beginning stages of the first game. However, the story of Xenoblade 2 has me so engrossed that I feel driven to go back and give it a proper go.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Gameplay

Part of the reason I never got invested in the series before now is that the gameplay put me off. I didn't like the idea of scrolling across a hotbar on a controller in order to activate combat abilities. I was able to push through it for X because I wanted to fly in a Skell really bad, but I was never really all that fond of it.

On top of that, I never liked the idea of finding items randomly via non-descript crystals out in the wild or all the fetch quests that went with them. The cherry on top was, of course, the confusing mess of menus that I never bothered to delve into out of sheer intimidation.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Gameplay and Combat

Thankfully, it seems XC2 fixes most of these issues. Instead of scrolling across a large hotbar full of abilities to activate anything, Arts are now assigned to the face buttons B, Y, and X, with A being used for Special Attacks. To make up for the reduced number of Arts, you can now switch between three Blades mid-combat and utilize their different Arts and Specials.

On top of that, the combat system has been totally revamped. It has a rhythm to it, and if you get really good at it, you have the potential to unleash attacks that deal enormous amounts of damage. If you want to read up on the details of the combat system, check out our combat guide. It's worth a read just to see how they've changed the combat in this iteration -- and I wouldn't want to take up another 1,800 words expanding upon it here.

The gameplay and combat are slow for the first few hours as the game builds up the story and takes its sweet time introducing you to its many systems so that you don't get confused. I followed along with its tutorials really well, but some things take a little bit of practice to get used to. I wish that they would have added an option to review past tutorials in case you forget or missed important details.

As you grow in level and actually start earning interesting combat abilities, the game slowly ramps up in difficulty. It wasn't long before I started to hit a wall with boss fights and couldn't rely on my knowledge of the combat system to win. I had to actually think about fights and use clever tactics in order to survive. Some bosses wiped my over-leveled party more than a dozen times before I finally managed to clear them.

There's plenty more to do than just beat up enemies, though. There are a bunch of pretty interesting sidequests, even if the tasks are generally similar to ones you'd expect from previous installments. I never felt like I was drowning in too many sidequests, either, and the ones that appeared in each area all seemed to take me to unique places. In a way, it felt like they aided in my exploration of the world rather than wasted my time with menial tasks. The improved Quest Log definitely helps with that.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Sidequests and Towns

Of course, there are still collection quests, but at least trying to track down the items you need isn't anywhere near as annoying as in past installments. Those crystals are now Collection Points that drop multiple items when you interact with them, and they respawn whenever you make a lap around the map or Skip Travel. Each Collection Point drops specific types of items, and some of your Blades may have skills that allow you to collect more of them, so all in all, it's just plain better.

Speaking of quests, though, there's this compass thing on the top of the screen now that will track quests for you, but I have such a confusing love-hate relationship with it. It does help give me an idea of where I need to go, especially if the objective is far away, but it's extremely inaccurate at indicating just how far to the left or right the objective is from your position. I found it more or less mandatory to open the full-screen map to track objectives down once I got close enough. I appreciate that the compass is good about indicating distance and verticality, but I do find myself wishing it was just a bit more accurate.

On that note, some quests -- even some main story quests -- are bad about telling you how to get to where you need to go. It's led me to a few moments of wandering around without making much progress (but looking back on it, I'm proud of myself for figuring out where to go on my own). If that's not your thing, you may want to look at a walkthrough for those bits because I can definitely see some people being quite frustrated by them.

As you travel from Titan to Titan, you'll discover settlements and towns. These places are full of shops where you can upgrade your equipment and purchase temporary buffs. If you raise the Development Level of a Titan by talking to the citizens, doing side quests, buying stuff from the shops, and completing merc missions, then the shops found on that Titan will expand their inventory and lower their prices. The development of Titans is further incentivized by allowing you to buy Shop Deeds -- special key items that offer passive buffs and bonuses to your entire party -- once you've bought everything from a shop.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Gameplay Town Management and Menus

Then there's the aforementioned Merc Missions, which are essentially expeditions that you can send Blades you're not using out on to earn special items, extra funds, and additional experience for your party to redeem at the Inn. It can be a bit of a pain to dive into the menu and micromanage them every 40 minutes or so, but the rewards were definitely worth the break from the gameplay.

Speaking of the menus, although they're still a hassle to navigate, they somehow managed to make them less intimidating. I found myself diving into and utilizing every menu quite frequently, which is a huge step up from how often I dove in on XCX, and my party was definitely in a better spot for it.

However, the frequency of my menu dives may be due to Blade Affinity Charts, which wouldn't update the skills or Trust levels earned through gameplay until viewed. I loved the way Blade Affinity Charts worked, but I wish they didn't make me open a menu every time I earned a new skill. Admittedly, though, this annoyance is far more pronounced in the beginning and becomes a less frequent problem the further you progress in the game.

Overall, the gameplay has a lot of nuances, and the game does a good job of spreading out the introduction of its mechanics in a digestible fashion. I found the gameplay far easier to get invested in than in previous entries, making XC2 the title that I would wholeheartedly recommend to series newcomers.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Graphics, Audio, and Performance

So we're not going to delve too much into the technical aspect of the game, but I do wanna touch on things like the aesthetics, music, voice acting, and performance.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Graphics Art Style and Music


The art style has seen an interesting shift. While the series had previously teetered on the edge between anime and realism, the latest installment has doubled down on the former style. As such, some of the character designs have gotten a little wild.

A wide array of artists worked on character designs for this title, and it shows. While some of the character designs are cool and sleek, others are janky and flat-out embarrassing to witness when others are in the room. The word "fanservice" comes to mind, again. Heck, one of the Blades I got had weirdly engorged body proportions and was wearing basically nothing but fishnet made from snowflakes. I mean, I can choose not to use her in my party, sure, but should I really have to hide characters just to save myself from the embarrassment of onlookers catching a glimpse? I'd like to think not, but this is where the sticky topic of censorship comes in, and I'd rather not get into that conversation.

Characters aside, the rest of the game is stunning. The vistas I saw on the back of Titans took my breath away. Staring up at a hill and seeing it sway back and forth as the Titan wanders around the Cloud Sea is absolutely surreal. The design of many of the cities and towns is wonderful to behold. Even the clouds look gorgeous. It's overall a beautiful title if you can work past the misgivings of the character design.


I'm not going to be nitpicking over sound effects here so much as I want to point out the music and voice acting. Xenoblade is known for its amazing music, and XC2 is no different. Almost every track I heard was delightful and had me whistling and humming along. Ever since the game came out, I've had various tracks from its OST stuck in my head, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. There have only been a few tracks I've heard so far that I was even neutral about, let alone didn't care for. This is easily some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game, and I'm reveling in every second of it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Voice Acting and Gameplay Performance FPS

As for the voice acting, I think it's phenomenal. Both the English and Japanese casts are excellent. I personally prefer the English voices because I think they fit the characters a heck of a lot better, but I can't deny that the Japanese voice cast is strong and recognizable. The lipsync is pretty bad at times, but it never bothered me.


XC2 runs at 30 fps a majority of the time. General combat is pretty smooth for the most part, and traveling around the world is, too. However, there are some spots where the game tanks down to about 22 fps, and it can be pretty disorienting, especially when you're trying to keep the rhythm of combat going. It's kind of what you'd expect from an open-world game, so it doesn't really detract from the experience, but it's something to note nonetheless.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Replay Value

Is this the kind of game you'd want to replay after finishing it? Or better yet, is this the kind of game you'd continue playing after the credits roll? Well, yeah, probably. And it's in large part due to one specific system.

You acquire new Blades by resonating with Core Crystals. It's fashioned much like loot boxes are in other games, in the sense that which Blade you get is completely random, but thankfully there are no microtransactions involved with them.

There are well over 30 unique Rare Blades to collect, and aside from the 8 or so you find through the main story, the rest are all earned in this fashion. When you open a Core Crystal, you have a chance to get a Rare Blade. On Common Cores, that chance is rather low, but it's still possible. On Rare Cores, you're more likely to get a Rare Blade, but it's far from guaranteed.

What's more is that each of these Rare Blades has a unique personality, and some of them even have skills that are exclusive to them. While it's not required for the story to seek out all of the Rare Blades, they certainly make it worth your while.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Replay Value Core Crystals and Blades

Aside from the Blade gachapon, though, each Blade also has its own Affinity Chart to max out for better combat and overworld abilities, and every Driver can upgrade Arts connected to any weapon type, leaving plenty of ways to further strengthen your party after the story has finished.

The rest of the post-game in XC2 is a rather standard affair for the series. There are extra side quests that open up and super-bosses available for you to fight, but there's not any more story to experience past the credits. At least not yet.

The Season Pass does plan on adding a few extra things to keep the adventure going well into the new year. Still to come are new quests in January, a new Rare Blade in spring, a new Challenge Mode over the summer, and finally, new story content arriving in autumn. We'll see how all that pans out when it comes out, though.

Verdict: A Deep RPG That Sets Itself Apart from Its Predecessor

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a fantastic RPG and a welcome addition to the Nintendo Switch library. You'll spend several dozen if not hundreds of hours exploring Alrest and all it has to offer, and it only gets better the more time you sink into it. It's shaping up to be my favorite game of the year, which is a tall feat considering how many great games got released this year.

So why only an 8 when I gave other games higher scores this year? Well, simply put, I don't think everyone's going to be okay with the so-called "fanservice" that they sprinkled into the game. It's far from overbearing, and it doesn't really get too in-your-face, but it's still present, and returning fans may be put off by the sudden direction.

Personally, I'm used to putting up with a little bit of fanservice if it means I get to experience an incredible game -- and some of you aren't going to mind at all. However, I felt like the English localization crew did a pretty good job of minimizing the negative impact that these fanservice-y moments could have on players without going so far as to censor it. I suspect that if I had even just played most of the game with the Japanese voices, this issue would have felt more pronounced.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review XC2 Verdict Deep Unique RPG

Fanservice aside, I really can't think of anything else totally wrong with the game. It's greatly improved upon the gameplay of the original all while managing a story worthy of the Xenoblade title. This game captivates me like no other has in a long time, and I'm still reeling from the wonder of it all.

If you're an RPG enthusiast, an anime connoisseur, or a fan of the series, and you own a Nintendo Switch, you need this game in your library. There's a ton of value to be found here, both in the number of hours you'll get out of this title and in the deep RPG mechanics buried within. You won't regret picking up this gem of a game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is available now on the Nintendo Switch for $60 with a Season Pass that will set you back an extra $30.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to playing Xenoblade. Ciao!

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris Review Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:35:11 -0500 Joe Garcia

Destiny 2's first DLC, Curse of Osiris, has finally launched, and it's a breath of fresh air. New story missions, new Strikes, new adventures, and -- most importantly -- new loot await. Let's jump right in!


Curse of Osiris has added new story to deepen the lore behind the legend himself as well as introducing new characters and reintroducing old characters. One old face coming back is Brother Vance. He plays a meaningful role in the story as he tries to help your Guardian out by giving you a way to revive Sagira (Osiris' ghost). Ikora is the one who backs you all throughout the story, which is a nice change, as we get to see a side of her that wasn't shown before in any expansion. 

Not only do we battle the Vex from the past, present, and future, we also fight simulated versions of all of the previous enemies minus the Taken. These simulated versions are a bit stronger, but that's to make up for the increased level cap and Power level. The story is actually one of, if not the, coolest stories we have gotten in Destiny since The Taken King

The only gripe about the story is that it is very short. There are only a handful of story missions, and two of those missions are repurposed very slightly into the two new Strikes. The story really should have been twice as long, and the new Strike should have been brand-new yet still tied into the story. Hopefully Bungie can deliver a heftier story in the second DLC.

New Loot

With any expansion, we always get new amazing loot to chase after. With Curse of Osiris, we get seven returning exotics as well as eight new ones. We see the return of Helm of Saint-14, The Stag, Jade Rabbit, and Telesto to name a few. One exotic that had everyone going nuts was the new hand cannon version of Red Death from D1 called The Crimson. This hand cannon shoots in three-round bursts and has the same perk as its older brother (kills grant health regen), which is an awesome call back to D1

Eververse has a new, updated inventory with new ghost shells that look awesome; new armor that is Vex inspired and badass; and new exotic emotes, ships, and sparrows. The new stock is pretty awesome, and it shows that season two will not disappoint in the loot drops when it comes to the expansion. Did I mention that ornaments have made a return? Yeah, the ornament system is back, and to get them for your armor sets, you have to grind in either the Crucible or whatever activity is listed on the ornament. Nice touch.

Exclusive to the DLC, weapon forging has been added to give Guardians another incentive to grind in the endgame in order to create new weapons that are fused with Vex tech. This is brand-new and a slightly missed opportunity to not have weapons have random rolls that you can grind out to get god-rolls.


The endgame has been tweaked with the additions of the Heroic Strike playlist and Heroic adventures, but it's a bit disappointing that there are only three on Mercury. The new Raid content that has been added is the new Raid Lair in the Leviathan ship. The Lair is the first of two (that we know of) and will have new mechanics, puzzles, boss encounters, and its only specific loot table. So that is a much-needed addition to make the raid feel brand-new again. 

The Strikes haven't changed besides having a higher power level recommendation. As mentioned earlier, the two new strikes are story missions that have been slightly tweaked. That is just lazy and downright insulting. Being a video game programmer is not something that is easy at all, but making two Strikes that are tied to the story without being copied and pasted from the story is something that was 100% needed.

The Crucible has gotten two new maps on Titan that are a blast to play. This is basically the extent of what has been added to the Crucible outside of the new maps and armor ornaments. 


Overall, Curse of Osiris has added amazing moments, character development, and memorable characters to the ever-expanding universe of Destiny. The new loot table is impressive and satisfying as usual, and the longevity of the endgame was extended -- but not by enough to keep us all happy. There is still the Raid Lair set to be released at a later date, and that should keep the hardcore players going after they burn through all the content in a few days. 

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris gets a solid 7/10. Good yet short story and amazing loot to earn. 

For more game reviews and news, stay tuned to GameSkinny!

Mass Effect: Andromeda . . . Now that the Dust Has Settled Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:44:01 -0500 Richard Watson

Mass Effect: Andromeda is a divisive game to say the least. Many fans hate this latest addition to the franchise, citing it as "the death of Mass Effect," while others genuinely adore it, going as far as saying that it is their favorite entry so far. For me, the game is a mixed bag, with some bad and honestly plenty of good, so now that the community has died down a bit, I figured it was time for me to throw my opinions out there.

OK, let's start off with the bad:

The animations in this game are rough, and I definitely think more time should have gone into testing before release. This can also be seen in the amount of bugs and glitches the game has (we're talking Skyrim level here). 

As for other negative aspects: The story isn't spectacular, the lighthearted options for dialogue aren't that well written (but well delivered, to be fair to the voice actors), and the user interface has no logical design to it. It's honestly just an endless sea of menus and folders, and having to check your email on the Tempest is a pain (I know it was like this in the trilogy too, but now you have the forward stations on each map -- no reason we can't check there). 

Now that that's out of the way, on to what I like about Andromeda -- and there is a lot to like: 

The combat is easily the best the series has had so far. The jump jet adds so much here, allowing the combat to be faster and smoother than in previous installments. Also, the profiles system is fantastic, allowing you to switch out your powers/abilities on the fly, which adds much more variety to the combat than that of previous games. 

The vehicle sections are also the best the series has had so far (which admittedly isn't hard after the Mako & Hammerhead). Exploring these vast, open worlds is actually enjoyable thanks to the Nomad, and while I wouldn't mind having a weapon mounted, vehicle combat isn't really missed. The Nomad handles beautifully, and being able to mod it and customize the paint job was also a nice touch. 

Exploration in this game is great. The worlds of Andromeda are interesting and diverse, each with its own personality, story, and dangers. It's the first time in a Mass Effect game I've landed on a planet and thought, "Let's just pick a direction and see what's out there" and ended up in an unexpected situation. This kept me engaged enough to keep coming back. 

The crafting system here is fantastic, aside from the awful UI I mentioned earlier. With enough resources and research, you can build any weapon you want (I'm personally loving my sticky grenade-firing machine gun with infinite ammo), and it's the same with armor too -- augmentations can grant you a variety of perks to use in the field to boost shields, power cool downs, etc. 

As for characters, now, I know that Mass Effect has a huge roster of brilliant, irreplaceable characters from the first three games, and to some, no newcomer can ever live up to them. I understand this, but at the same time, I found myself getting attached to this new crew. Liam and Cora aren't that great, but Drack, Vetra, Jaal, and Peebee are all brilliant additions to the Mass Effect universe, and I had a blast exploring alongside them. This is helped by the welcome return of Mass Effect 2-style loyalty missions. 

The enemies in this game are also good. Whilst not as bone-chillingly ominous as the Reapers, the Kett serve as decent villains here; their story is interesting, and discovering their connection to the other Andromeda residents gives you plenty of reasons to want to shoot them some more. 

Finally, the ending (no spoilers) was one of the main things I was worried about going into this game. After Mass Effect 3, we needed to end this game on a high note, and it does deliver. The final mission is so satisfying, and whilst the final boss battle is fairly uninspired, the ending as a whole is a positive and a great foundation for future installments. 


So is this the best game ever? No. Does it have problems? Yes. But is it a good game? Definitely.

Whilst not quite living up to the hype following the original trilogy, Mass Effect Andromeda provides us with a solid foundation to relaunch the series away from Shepard and the Reapers. It feels very much like a spiritual successor to Mass Effect 1 rather than a sequel to Mass Effect 3, and I can understand why this isn't what some people were looking for. Personally, I think it's what the series needs to keep going.

I'm giving Mass Effect: Andromeda a 7/10.

Inmates Review: Horror That Doesn't Go the Distance Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:54:58 -0500 Sarah Elliman

Horror has been an uncharacteristically popular genre in recent years because of massive hits like Five Night’s at Freddy’s. Gamers are constantly waiting for a new horror experience that sends shivers down their spine while innovating the genre. Sadly, Inmates is not that horror experience.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Inmates' music and ambiance were completely nailed. The music and the timing of sound effects create connections in your mind between the horror and your actions. Inmates'  opening sequence is a perfect example of this correlation. As you are climbing the spiral staircase up towards the hanging bell there is an eerie and unnerving atmosphere. Every time the bell tolls the world shakes and debris comes crashing down. It makes you feel as though you’re waiting for something bad to happen and fear envelops you with an iron grip.

Inmates also has silent, tense moments as well. For example, when you first talk to Ben the sound effects are toned down. Contrast this to the overwhelming whispering and clattering that you experience beforehand and it sets you on edge.

The timing and the use of the sound effects and music were what originally set me on edge and made me believe Inmates was going to be an effective horror experience.

More Than Just Dark Environments

Inmates' graphics and set pieces are other aspects that set it apart from its competition while being enjoyable. The environment of the prison was incredibly well done without being over the top. The environments were beautiful in a horrific way and honestly stunned me on multiple occasions.

Considering I was playing on the medium graphical settings for this game, it was stunning and awe-inspiring when looking at some of their set-pieces. The aforementioned belltower scene bell had some of the best lighting effects I have ever seen in an indie title. The god-rays that filtered in from the grates above and the illumination of the bell created a wonderful centerpiece.

In fact, the set pieces were the real stars in Inmates. There was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. At one point, you must walk across a plank of wood with several bodies hanging down. The lighting is dim, but what light does illuminate the scene is tinged red. Nothing moved for quite some time and there was no jump scares, but my heart was pounding and that should be the goal of psychological horror games.

In addition, many parts of the game just looked aesthetically pleasing. At one point you see a crash that is frozen in time. Whether it be the rain on the ground or the headlights produced by the car, everything looked phenomenal. 

A Rushed Story-Line

The story-line and progression of fear that should emanate from the player throughout this genre are what makes a frightening experience truly memorable. You want to believe there is an underlying sense of tension and complete isolation. Inmates doesn’t offer this.

Inmates biggest issue is that the story doesn’t kick in until the very end of the game. The fact that the game is so short (you can beat it in a couple hours time) means it's even more pressing that the story is present throughout. The first three-quarters of the game has you running around from one objective to another with the stakes never truly increasing. At times, it feels less like a psychological horror game and more like a tour around a prison.

Throughout this first portion, the only intel you receive is via notes or books left around the prison. This is a tried and true method that works well when done right, but sadly a lot of the notes added nothing to the narrative's progression. There were lots of bible quotes and philosophical debate, wherein Machiavelli and Descartes were mentioned, but the prominence of their works didn’t feed into the story. Inmates appears to have tried to set the stage but failed to follow through with the rest of the game.

The twist towards the end -- which I won't spoil-- was intriguing and it is a topic not many horror mediums have explored. It’s very Stephen King-esque, but without the flair and excellence of his writings. If Inmates had integrated this in the earlier portion of the game, they could have explored a topic that has been neglected by many other creators in this genre. Inmates had the idea and the tools to forge a fantastic tale, however, the nuances and the ability to carry the story consistently were not present. 

Never Fear! The Walking Mechanic is Here!

Inmates' mechanics and pacing were other frustrating aspects. You wander aimlessly from one area to the next with virtually no interruptions; even when there are you don’t feel any sense of danger to your life. One run-in with Roy was enough to show me that for all the ambiance the game tried to set, there was no danger here. You could say that a psychological horror game should thrive off of the atmosphere it creates to instill you with fear. But since the game doesn’t follow through, in this case, you learn to ignore the atmosphere.

Originally, I believed that the lack of the running mechanic meant I was going to have to be careful about what I did, to not get caught. A quarter of the way through and I realized you can't run because there is no threat present. At this point, the atmosphere was destroyed and I began meandering through areas as if I were at a family picnic. 

Inmates had potential. Psychological horror is a great genre to ensure scares without berating players with cheap jump scares, but only if the devs first create a believable atmosphere. Thankfully, Inmates created a wonderfully intriguing environment with ambient sound that projected the horror vibe, but these aspects were not realized to their full potential. The devs merely set the pins up and then utterly failed to ever knock them down.

Ultimately, the lack of a cohesive story throughout the game and the lack of danger (aka actual horror) let it down. Add in mechanics that were neither innovative nor well executed and you have a game that is destined to be lost in obscurity with oh so many other horror titles. 

Have you played Inmates? What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments below.

Game Review: Light Apprentice Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:09:29 -0500 Brandon Janeway

I have had the pleasure of diving in to the captivating world of the Light Apprentice, and after hours of game time, I'm left craving more. What initially seemed like a child-like RPG quickly turned into a memorable and captivating experience that many big games can only hope to offer.

The story begins in the depths of a catacombs, where the mysterious Tlob wakes up Nate, the game's protagonist. Together, they must make their way out of the catacombs, where the player has the option of either fighting or escaping the monsters you encounter. 

As a fan of the genre, I was a little skeptical of the game at first, but this game offers more than a typical RPG experience -- and Light Apprentice even manages to outdo many similar games. 

A Living Comic Book

The entirety of the game is presented as a dynamic comic book, giving the world a light-hearted, stylish, and beautiful atmosphere. With every cinematic, you'll see the pages of the comic book turn, which instills a sense of excitement and fluidity in Light Apprentice's approach to storytelling.

The game switches from its 2D style to some slightly more traditional 3D visuals during combat and exploration -- however, even still the game manages to maintain its beautiful aesthetic. The colors and action give Light Apprentice the classic feel of a comic and brings characters to life in a way that many games don't. 

The story is not the most unique in the genre, but the characters and the setting are more than enough to keep you interested. A lot of the fun of the game comes from its story, so all I'll say is that Nate's role is more than meets the eye. The rest of the cast sport a variety of personalities, and their team dynamic is is reminiscent of some of the squads from you favorite childhood game.

The soundtrack does a good job of bringing the interactive comic book to life, with hints of mystery and intrigue that help solidify Light Apprentice's atmosphere. However, if you are expecting a groundbreaking soundtrack, you won't find one here -- this is very much your typical fantasy RPG music. 

Light Apprentice is only the first volume of what is planned to be a four-volume game, so there are still many questions to be answered and lots mysteries to be solved. The first volume only feels like a prologue to what is to come, but I am looking forward to what the sequels have to offer.

Thrust in to the Fight

At its core, Light Apprentice's combat follows fairly standard turn-based JRPG conventions, but it expands on it quite a bit. The game puts you into a pretty simply fights early on, but as the game progresses combat will change a lot -- and for the better. Each of the characters in your party has their own set of abilities that can be invested in, giving them their own unique flair in combat.

One unique combat feature is that you don't necessarily need to defeat enemies in order to win combat. In fact, you can play the game without having to defeat any enemies, instead stunning them and fleeing combat. The decision to destroy enemies or flee is up to you, but each will offer their own rewards and affect character interactions. 

You Get to Choose... Kinda

The biggest decision you will make while playing Light Apprentice will be if you choose to eliminate enemies or if you are going to go the pacifist route. This choice isn't important because of its narrative consequences, but because it will shape the way you conduct battle, forcing you to invest in certain abilities.

You can evolve your characters and invest in the characters you want to see grow. Part of the choice involved is how you want to evolve your characters and which abilities you invest in -- each run through can be different if you change the way you advance your characters.

Light Apprentice also allows you to make some narrative decisions over the course of the story, such as if you want to approach a creature or to attack it. It may allow you to find an item or skip a battle, but there isn't much payoff regardless of which you choose. In the long run, the consequences for your choices are minimal and does not have any effect on the events of the game.

The idea of choice in the game essentially allows the player to play how they want to and attempt to make each playthrough different -- however, no matter how you choose to play, you will still to get the same story out of it.

The Verdict

If you are looking for a brand new type of RPG, then this is not the game for you. If you are looking for a good RPG with a fun and unique setting that will keep you entertained for hours, then Light Apprentice is your game. It will provide a sense of adventure and excitement that many games miss.

My only complaint with the game is that it is too short. However, being the first of a four-part adventure means that more is to come and I look forward to playing the next few volumes.

Light Apprentice is available on Steam, in the Google Play Store, and in the iOS App Store.

SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth Headset Review: Versatility in a Reliable Product Line Mon, 04 Dec 2017 16:10:00 -0500 Jonathan Moore

As anyone who follows the gaming peripherals space knows, SteelSeries has a knack for iteration. Their catalog of quality gaming mice is evidence of that, with their Rival and Sensei lines being home to many popular -- and highly reliable -- products. And with the Arctis 3 Bluetooth, a lateral iteration on the original Arctis 3 gaming headset, they've mostly struck gold yet again -- this time on the audio front. 

The new headset doesn't address some of the key issues we had with its predecessor; it still doesn't provide the most robust sound when compared to its headset competitors, and it's still not as plug and play on the PC when compared to the Arctis 5 and Arctis 7. But it's got a neat trick up its sleeves that helps it stand out from the pack.


Simultaneous Bluetooth and Wired Audio

One of the things I absolutely love about the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset is how utterly ubiquitous it is. Instead of strictly being a gaming headset, the Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 works on myriad devices: your PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, mobile phone, and more. Unassuming and comfortable as always, this set of cans drops the pomp and circumstance of RGB and slick logos to focus on form and functionality. 

Having the option to seamlessly switch between wired audio and Bluetooth audio is something I didn't know I wanted until I tried it. Being a huge music fan, having the ability to sync the Arctis 3 Bluetooth to my iPhone 6S Plus meant I rarely had to take the headset off. Essentially, I could game for a few hours, unplug the headset from my console or PC, and walk out the door jamming some Intervals or Architects without skipping a single beat. 

It's all because the Arctis 3 Bluetooth not only has quality wireless functionality but also the functionality to listen to both wired audio and Bluetooth audio simultaneously -- if that's your thing. 

Doing so can be a bit overwhelming at times and takes some getting used to, but being able to hear in-game announcements and audio while taking a phone call without removing the Arctis 3 is an amazing experience. Couple that with the ability to listen to podcasts or music while playing Paladins, DOTA, or even Assassin's Creed Origins, and you can create your own unique soundscape for any gaming experience. 

Out of the box, you'll get all the cables you need to make it happen: a dual 3.5mm cable for wired PC audio, a standard 3.5mm attachment for connecting the headset to your mobile device or controller, and another hookup that acts as a middleman between those cables and the headset. You'll also get a USB charging cable to charge the headset's Bluetooth battery via a PC or console. 

It's a lot of cables, I know. Keeping up with them all is something I'm not terribly fond of and didn't necessarily like in the original Arctis 3. Although it's a small gripe, I wish SteelSeries had taken the opportunity with this iteration of the headset to consolidate some of the wires (at least into three instead of four). But as it stands, having specific cables for specific uses is something that increases the veracity of the headset in the long run. 

Platform 3.5mm Analog Wireless Bluetooth Surround Sound Engine 3 Support
Xbox One      
Nintendo Switch ✓ (w/ChatApp)    
Virtual Reality    
Mobile Devices    

Still Comfortable, Still Sleek

As intimated above, the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset is stupid comfortable. Like its predecessor, this set of cans sports SteelSeries' wonderfully pleasant (and easily adjustable) ski goggle headband design. Weighing in at around 10 ounces, the Arctis 3 Bluetooth won't cause any discomfort across the top of the head and doesn't feel heavy in the slightest. 

Its earcups are once again snug and cozy. And the breathable fabric surrounding the 40mm Neodymium drivers doesn't get hot or sweaty across long gaming sessions. In a nutshell, it's still the most comfortable gaming headset I've ever worn. 

As for looks, the Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 carries over the sleek, understated aesthetic of its predecessor, sporting an unassuming look that won't stand out in a crowd if you decide to wear it in public while listening to a few tunes. And even though its jet black finish is refined, it's a shame that other color options aren't available to complement modern gaming setups and their typical RGB flourish. 

As you move around the headset, the understated design continues on the left ear cup, where users will find the volume wheel and mute toggle, as well as the main cable jack and headphone share jack. It's interesting none of these controls and/or inputs were moved to the right ear cup. But nonetheless, the buttons never feel cramped, and the jacks are easy to locate without ever taking the headset off. 

Lastly, just like the original Arctis 3, the Bluetooth model is highly portable. Being able to rotate each of the headset's earcups and lay them flat means you'll be able to easily drop them into a backpack or overnight bag, which can be especially useful for competitive and eSports players. 

Same Clear Communication

Another area where SteelSeries doesn't iterate on the original Arctis 3 -- but most certainly doesn't have to -- is the Bluetooth's retractable microphone. Whether you're using the headset on your PC, console, or mobile device, communication is clear as a bell with this bidirectional, noise-canceling mic. 

And just like its progenitor, the mic in the Arctis 3 Bluetooth never once cracked or dipped in my time with it, providing crystal clear communication in both gaming and business scenarios. 


The Bluetooth version of the Arctis 3 headset is comfortable, functional, and reliable. It provides fantastic clarity via its microphone, offers insane versatility via its added wireless technology, and sports a 28-hour battery life that only improves its ubiquity.  

However, like the original, I can't recommend it without a few caveats, even if it does do what a lot of other headsets don't. Overall, it's still less plug and play out of the box than advertised, and if it's your first SteelSeries peripheral, downloading and setting up the Engine 3 software can be a pain in the proverbial butt. 

On the sound front, it doesn't provide the robust quality of its cousin, the Arctis 7 -- or of other similarly priced headsets such as the Logitech G533. Sometimes the sound was rich and full of vigor, while other times I could barely hear in-game dialogue or sound effects without pumping the volume to maximum. On top of that, there are no in-line controls for volume or chat, meaning you have to use the controls located on the left earpiece, which may be more or less convenient depending on your style. 

But my biggest concern about the headset is its $129.99 price tag. If you're a strict PC gamer, it's a hard price to justify -- especially with other, more audio-rich headsets in the HyperX Cloud Alpha and the Logitech G433 both coming in under $100 (and the G533 is only $30 more than the Arctis 3 Bluetooth but offers better all-around sound). If you're a console or hybrid gamer, even the other headsets in the Arctis line are more attractive, more affordable options. 

However, if you want the ability to multitask with your audio -- to listen to music and in-game audio at the same time, or to take a phone call while playing without having to take your headset off -- the Bluetooth model of the Arctis 3 is well worth checking out. 

You can buy the Arctis 3 Bluetooth on Amazon

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset used for this review.]

Game Review: Ayo: A Rain Tale Sun, 03 Dec 2017 12:15:25 -0500 Lauren Harris

I enjoy a good indie game every now and again. It's probably because I always seem to have a personal connection with the characters. They tend to feel more emotionally involved with their environment, which really resonates with me. Firewatch and Life Is Strange are but two examples of indie games that drag players through an emotional experience like the one I'm about to talk about. Ayo: A Rain Tale is a very interesting adventure-platformer developed by indie studio, Inkline Ltd.

Tragically True-To-Life

Ayo is about a young girl named, you guessed it -- Ayo. She has to fetch water for her family each and every day for them to survive. In order to achieve this, she has to endure dangerous creatures and the harsh sands of Sub-Saharan Africa. The story, although a tragic one, is very uplifting and makes the player understand the hardships that girls and women of Sub-Saharan Africa have to go through for water -- a precious resource that we often take for granted.

The inspirational words that keep Ayo going throughout her journey are one of my favorite aspects of this game. The faith she has in those words keep her going and kept me rooting for her. Using these messages to push Ayo forward really brings the story together in a strong way and goes perfectly with the struggles she has to endure through her long journey.

Visuals That Grab Your Attention

The art-style is bright and radiant, reflecting the warm climate of the African desert. The graphics also look great for a game developed by a small independent studio like Inkline. 

The color pallet has been beautifully chosen, expanding upon the surreal feeling of being alone in the harsh desert that Ayo herself feels. The graphics also work well with this game's atmosphere and gameplay. The game's music is also very impressive. There's an amazing melody that flows with you navigate the landscapes and the beautifully drawn desert. It sets a really nice tone for the story.

The hand-drawn art-style reminds me of Never Alone, which was also inspired by the struggles of a community of people. Never Alone followed the young girl, Nuna, who had to travel a great distance through the never-ending blizzard that threatened the lives of everyone in her village. This is a very similar theme to that of Ayo.

That's where the comparisons end however, as Never Alone taught me a lot about the Alaskan Native people. This is in stark contrast to Ayo, which never sheds any light on the history of Africa or the eternal struggles of her people. Because of this, I never really got the same emotional connection with Ayo that I had with Never Alone, which is a real shame.

I didn't encounter any bugs during my time with Ayo, which was a smooth experience from beginning to end. The gameplay was intuitive and straight-forward, with very few keys to remember.


Ayo: A Rain Tale has a strong story and even though it's a short one, I got a lot out of the hard journey that the titular character undertakes. A history of her people would have greatly benefited Ayo and would have lent weight to the struggles of the people depicted in the game. It's not the greatest game of all time, but it's a revealing look into the real lives of many women and children, who take that long, perilous journey for water every day of their lives.

You can find more information about the country's struggle with this basic human necessity on the UNICEF website.

Tanked: The Red Front Review Fri, 01 Dec 2017 15:43:35 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Indie developer 10ft's The Red Front seeks to combine WWII enthusiasm with classic arcade shooter action to create something interesting and fun. The main draw here is the fact that you play as the Russian Army on the front often overlooked in popular histories and depictions of the war. The game itself provides a good amount of challenge, though focusing on either the war theme or arcade style would likely have resulted in a better game, as there are some difficult-to-ignore problems that keep it from standing out and succeeding in its mission.

The Basics

The Red Front is set in World War II-era Europe, in what the developers call an alternate timeline of events. You pilot a new, experimental Russian tank in a bid to push back the Nazi threat. The campaign is made up of eight missions, taking you from Moscow through Poland and eventually to Berlin itself. There's also a short training mission that acquaints you with basic controls, weapon upgrades, targeting, and other foundational concepts.

As you'd expect in a game styling itself as a classic arcade shooter, The Red Front emphasizes action and reflex over other mechanics. If you're thinking the campaign sounds awfully short, there's more to it than you might think. The training mission is deceptively simple, true, and takes less than five minutes to complete. However, the difficulty rapidly escalates. The goal in each campaign mission is to survive a set number of enemy waves, with each wave consisting of more enemies and enemy types than the previous, and each lasting about a minute and a half before the next wave arrives.

Your tank has an armor gauge and a health gauge, both of which begin at 100. As you take hits, the armor gauge depletes, and once it's down to 0, the health gauge begins to deplete. If you go without taking damage for a few seconds, though, both meters start to slowly refill. You get three chances to succeed, and there are no in-mission checkpoints. Once you lose (which you likely will at first) you must start the mission from the very beginning.


Most maps are fairly basic, with some burnt or bombed-out buildings and trees that get in the way more than anything else, and that's most of what you'll see over and over again. There are random weather effects, such as rain and snow, and you also get the choice to replay missions at night, which significantly increases the difficulty. At times, it's a chore picking out enemies on the screen, especially if it happens to be raining (dreary-grey and Nazi-grey tend to blend). But there's a useful radar in the lower-left corner of the screen that you'll probably rely on a good deal.

The first waves start out relatively easy, with decent-sized Nazi hordes assaulting your tank. You can choose to shoot them with your standard gun, obviously, or you can run them over, which can be a useful tactic when surrounded. Gradually, some soldiers wielding rocket launchers show up, and eventually, there are enemy vehicles of various types that speedily locate your position and attack relentlessly. You do get some support in the form of a handful of Russian soldiers. The AI is decent, and the support is very helpful, but in most cases, it's short-lived, since your comrades just can't compete in number and quickly get overwhelmed.

Throughout the course of each mission, enemies drop various upgrades and bonuses. These range from refilling your armor gauge or rockets to upgrading your standard gun. Most are useful, though the benefits of weapon upgrades are slightly dubious in form and function. For example, the first set of upgrades has you shoot out what looks to be chunks of ice, and after that, you shoot out beams of electricity.

There's no real reason for the changed appearance, since the weapon itself has no special effect on enemies—only some increased firepower. Moreover, some of the upgraded levels, like the electric beam, actually require you to pause for a moment before shooting again, offsetting the marginal increase in firepower and making one wonder whether upgrading from the snow-cone shooter is really worthwhile.

You'll earn rubles for completed missions and based on your score, which you can use to purchase permanent upgrades, like the tank's armor and so on, and these upgrades do make surviving missions a bit easier. Yet getting to the point where your tank can survive enemy onslaughts is a bit more frustrating than it should be. The first mission itself is quite difficult. I'm not one to complain at high difficulty levels in video games, but this is close to being imbalanced. It's satisfying to finally complete a level, but given the lack of checkpoints, if you don't have, say, 20 minutes to replay a mission until you win, it quickly becomes frustrating, an artificial way of providing length and something akin to greater substance.

The Technical Stuff

The Red Front supports keyboard-and-mouse control schemes and a gamepad, so there's a scheme to fit everyone. Keyboard controls are passable, though moving the tank can feel clunky, and it's easy to get the tank and turret positions mixed to where you find you're moving in the direction opposite the one you really want to go in. Gamepad controls would probably be the easiest for movement, though the precision of the mouse can't be beat. However, I never lost a mission because of moving the wrong way, so it's really a minor annoyance at most, and whatever control style you're most comfortable with should suit you just fine.

The music is non-intrusive but unremarkable, and the graphics are the same, relying on muddy textures and muted tones to set a mood. But neither is the game's main focus, so it doesn't necessarily take away from the experience.

Dodgy Decisions

What's more of a problem is the game's premise. 10ft Games bills this as taking place in an alternate timeline, where the Red Army takes the fight to Hitler himself. The concepts of the super tank, weapon upgrades, and enemy manipulation are based on occult research the Nazis undertook during the war as well. Now, there's not much reason to put story into an arcade shooter. But if a developer does, then it should at least make sense. The Red Army did, in fact, invade Berlin (before the other Allies); it was their presence in the city that prompted Hitler to commit suicide. And the Russian offensive did begin with efforts to expel the Nazis from Russia, before pushing onward to Germany. Other than the fact that Moscow is only optionally snowy in the period when it should have been snowbound, there's not much of an alternative timeline going on here and even less reason to try and include it to begin with.

"But," I hear you say, "what about the occult research? That's interesting, true, and really does play a role in the game!" Until you realize that the subjects the Nazis used for this research were the thousands upon thousands of victims at Auschwitz, Dachau, and the other killing centers in Eastern Europe, which means 10ft chose to try and capitalize (and badly, at that) on those experiences to promote their product. It's one of the major points they use to try and set this apart from other arcade shooters and probably the only historical element that actually makes a difference in gameplay, given how it underpins the concept of weapon upgrades and the ability to mutate enemy soldiers to increase difficulty. Text may not always be the easiest medium for interpreting tone or intent, but it certainly seems the developers treat the subject insensitively and irresponsibly, tossing this out glibly as a selling point without bothering to consider the reality behind the material.

The Verdict

Some are just looking for a good arcade shooter, though, and if that's the case, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. It has solid mechanics and offers good challenge, and for roughly seven bucks, it certainly looks appealing. In the end, though, there's nothing overwhelmingly unique or special about The Red Front, and the balance issues and pointless attempts at creating an atmosphere keep this from being an easy one to recommend, unless you're just using it as a filler.

Black Mirror 2017 Review: A Remake Worth Revisiting Fri, 01 Dec 2017 12:44:58 -0500 QuintLyn

For fans of point and click adventure games, KING Art's Black Mirror may seem like a familiar title. You'd be right. The game is both a retelling of the original Black Mirror Trilogy and a new game in its own right. While there are similarities -- such as the death of one William Gordon, there are plenty of differences. Yes, you go to the manor known as Black Mirror House to  investigate William's death. However, while in the first game you play as his grandson Samuel, in this remake you take on the role of a much closer relative -- his son David.

In both versions, the overlaying theme is the same. Something unknown killed William Gordon and that something appears to be tied to the occult; possibly a family curse. Either way, you're there to find answers but you won't find them easily. You won't be getting much help from the house's inhabitants either.

The Good

Story and Atmosphere

When it comes to world building, KING has done a great job. Particularly when you consider the fact that an adept player will be able to make it through the game in about four hours. During that time you'll meet few characters, but the ones you do are well written and fairly well developed -- considering they don't really want to share many of their secrets with you. That doesn't stop you, however. Before even arriving at the house, you have plenty of clues to get you started. 

The atmosphere is particularly great for a horror game. Admittedly, when I first booted Black Mirror up, I had some doubts. Considering that most "horror" games over the last few  years have been filled with jump scares, I was prepared for more of the same, expected to hate time spent playing the game.  Luckily, I was wrong. There is a bit of that element, but it's so deftly handled. On the few occasions one of them did pop up, it was in a way that left you more curious about what happened rather than wanting to throw your mouse at your computer screen and run out of the room.

The Puzzles

Being a shorter game, there aren't too many puzzles to tangle with. However, the ones that are there are fantastic. You will need to engage in things like mathematical problem solving, but for the most part, they rely on logic and the ability to be extremely observant. The first puzzle I came across stumped me for a few hours. I ended up writing it all down and carrying it into the living room with me to stare at it and wait for an ah-hah moment. It was both gratifying and infuriating to realize I'd simply missed the obvious.

The really interesting thing is that somehow the developers manage to reuse puzzle ideas and build upon them in a way that still makes them challenging to solve -- even though you've "been there before." But again, it's all about being observant and not thinking you already know just because you already did that one thing that one time.

The Not So Good

Challenging Pacing 

Because of the nature of the game -- and the need to at least do some things in a certain order -- you may find yourself wandering around in circles wondering what on earth you missed. At this point, the game can seem to drag out. This is compounded by the fact that you're walking in those circles in a fairly limited space. That said, this is often the nature of point and click adventure games. Sometimes it's just a pain figuring out what in the world you're missing.



Being a point and click adventure game, Black Mirror doesn't have a complex set of mechanics. It does however have a bit of a port problem.  When you first boot up the game on PC, head into the settings and look at the controls menu. You'll note that what you're shown is an Xbox control scheme. Not to worry, the controls are pretty basic: WASD to move, click to look at things, hit a few buttons for menu items such as "I" for the inventory. As new menu items are added, the game tells you what the commands are.

Movement in the game can be a bit iffy. The game's camera rotates on it's own, so you'll find you need to change the direction you're trying to move in order to continue along the same line when this happens. You'll also find it takes a little work to move around things or lining up with clickable points so that they're usable, and you'll often end up going out a door you didn't intend to. It can be a bit frustrating. But, as you get the layout of the rooms down, you'll learn how to work around it.

The effects of control issues aren't just felt in movement, however. As the game goes on, you will find yourself needing to manipulate items in your inventory. This can also be a bit frustrating as you fight to get things to line up in ways that make them usable.

The Loading Wait

The most vexing thing about this game is the loading times. Whether it's entering rooms, or inspecting items in those rooms you will be waiting. And you will be doing both of these things... a lot. When loading in and out of the rooms, you'll primarily be met with a black screen until the room loads. However, inspecting things or using your inventory will result into your character just having to stand there for a bit while the game decides it's ready to let you get going again.

Final Verdict

The above issues aside, Black Mirror is still a really solid game. If you're a fan of mysteries and puzzle solving, it's one you'll definitely want to give a go. 

As far as the value on this game, you'll have to be  the judge. Some people might find the short playtime reason enough to walk away. However, I'll personally note that I've spent a good deal more time playing than four hours. Sure, some of you will make it through in that time, but I'm going to guess most will get more than their money's worth out of it hour-wise.

Fun-wise, there's not question. The game is indeed a good bit of fun -- even if it can be frustrating.

Black Mirror is available on Steam and will generally run you $29.99 -- although at the moment there's a 10% discount available. 

Editor's Note: The game's developer provided GameSkinny with a review copy for this piece.

Enhance LED Mouse Pad Review: Colorful, Functional, Affordable Thu, 30 Nov 2017 11:34:19 -0500 Jonathan Moore

There's a lot that goes into choosing a good gaming mouse pad. From soft cloth to rigid plastic, surface area, and RGB lighting, there's no one-size-fits-all solution -- whether you're focused on performance, look, or both. And when buying a mousepad on a budget, there are tons of options to choose from. Some are better for sniping in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1, while others are better for granular unit movements in games like Endless Space 2 and Total War, providing more or less friction based on materials and in-game need 

Accessory Power's Enhance branded mouse pad falls strictly on the side of rigid plastic; it's a model designed for increased speed and low resistance. Like many pads out there, it doesn't reinvent the wheel. And while it may stumble in places, at $30, it does provide the functionality expected of a budget offering while still providing a few bells and whistles that other pads in its price range don't necessarily afford. 


Out of the box, the Enhance mouse pad measures a moderate 14x10 inches, making it a mid-range offering that eschews the typical square design of many other pads for a more rectangular one that promotes extended side-to-side movement. Its size means that it won't take up too much room on your desktop but will provide a relatively sizeable area for sweeping mouse movements when necessary.

Sporting a futuristic design, the slab's matte black surface is emblazoned with cyberpunk-inspired translucent decals on the right and left sides, as well as the transparent Enhance logo at the pad's bottom center. At the top, you'll find the USB socket for the pad's braided power cable and cycle switches for lighting options and presets, the latter of which are neatly tucked into the pad's ASB plastic body to avoid any bulges on the surface. 

Finally, the back of the pad sports a textured, rubberized surface that does a fantastic job of keeping it in place. When compared to my other go-to gaming pad, the SteelSeries Qck Prism, the Enhance takes the (slight) nod here. Not once did I experience any slippage or base movement in my time with it, which is perfect for long gaming sessions or intense competitive bouts. 

RGB Lighting

With RGB lighting all the rage these days, it's little surprise that the Enhance LED gaming mouse pad provides backlighting functionality (it's in the name, after all). Using the power and cycle switches at the top of the pad, you'll be able to choose between seven different static colors (Red, Blue, Purple, Green, Yellow, Teal, and White), as well as two lighting effects, Fade and Rainbow, which cycle through all of the pad's available color options. On top of that, you'll be able to cycle between three brightness options to help you better tune the pad to your liking -- or to match it to your other RGB peripherals. 

In a dark room, the light emanating from the Enhance's diaphanous edges and the translucent designs on its surface were vibrant, yet not too distracting even at the brightest setting. The fade and rainbow effects add a nice contrast to the pad's static offerings but aren't as smooth between transitions as other backlighting presets found in peripherals made by companies such as SteelSeries and Corsair (although at the price, that's somewhat expected). 

When put into a brightly lit room, the RGB lighting falters a bit more. Depending upon the angle at which you're sitting (or have the pad situated), the lighting can appear splotchy, with some sections along the edges producing vibrant light and others emitting no perceivable light at all. On top of that, some colors appear washed out along the sides and on the top of the pad depending on the lighting of the room. For example, the purple can sometimes appear white in areas, white can occasionally appear as a washed out cyan, and yellow can periodically appear the hue of lemon-lime Gatorade. 


As you'd expect, the rigid plastic surface of the Enhance lends itself to speed, agility, and low resistance. That means it's not entirely ideal for first-person and third-person shooters like Call of Duty, Paladins, or Battlefront 2 -- especially when using a gaming mouse at higher DPI settings. Instead, the Enhance is more suited to subtle mouse movements that might require rapidity to execute, such as flicking between units in StarCraft 2.

During my time with the pad, I tested it with the SteelSeries Rival 310 gaming mouse, as well as the Logitech G703. Playing BF2, Paladins, and Fallout 4, I didn't notice any perceivable mouse float at lower DPI settings, but at higher settings, the slickness of the pad's surface definitely impeded my accuracy, causing quite a few errant shots. In essence, I was able to move the reticule quickly toward a designated target, but it was difficult to stop the reticule precisely and deliver a killing blow. 

Using AimBooster and comparing the Enhance to another rigid-top pad in the Qck Prism -- which provides a bit more friction than the Enhance -- I was able to confirm my observations. Through more than 80 individual tests, I found that my average accuracy with each mouse was greater with the Qck, while my speed was increased with the Enhance. 

Note: In the table below, Avg. Speed denotes the average speed at which I was able to hit targets within a 60-second window using AimBooster. 

Mouse Mouse Pad DPI Avg. Speed Avg. Accuracy
Rival 310 Enhance LED 800 2.93s 91.70%
Rival 310 Enhance LED 1600 2.98s 92.71%
Rival 310 Qck Prism 800 2.84s 94.71%
Rival 310 Qck Prism 1600 2.91s 94.70%
Logitech G703 Enhance LED 800 2.93s  92.20% 
Logitech G703 Enhance LED 1600 2.96s  90.01%  
Logitech G703 Qck Prism 800 2.82s 95.12%
Logitech G703 Qck Prism 1600 2.86s 93.93%

As you can see, the Enhance surface allows for higher speeds in both the Rival 310 and the G703, but sacrifices accuracy to do so. The Qck's slightly "rougher" surface decreases average speeds but increases average accuracy across both mice. 


Overall, the Enhance LED mouse pad is a decent mid-range option, even if it stumbles in the RGB spectrum, but it isn't the most comfortable slab on the market, and it is easily dinged up.

However, if you're on a budget and looking for a slick, hump-free surface that promotes speed, the Enhance is an option to consider. Its surface performs as you'd expect from a rigid-top pad, and at the end of the day, that's what matters for hard-surface fans that need something better than their pockmarked desktop. 

[Note: Accessory Power provided the Enhance LED mouse pad used for this review.] 

Battle Chef Brigade Review: Seconds, Please Wed, 29 Nov 2017 15:02:29 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Battle Chef Brigade is a game that I have been following for years now. Ever since it first showed up playable at PAX three years ago, it has been casually sitting on the back burner in my head as one of the games I was looking forward to the most. Since my early days of trying out items as ingredients in Paper Mario and serving grilled orange and hamburger mush to Minnie in My Disney Kitchen, I've yearned for just this kind of experimental fantasy cooking game. 

Well, that wait is finally over, as Battle Chef Brigade has finally been released on both PC and Nintendo Switch as of last week. Battle Chef Brigade is the kind of cooking game I've always really wanted but wasn't sure I'd ever get. It's a game where cooking is central and has rules, but it encourages creativity and changing things up rather than forcing the player to stick to a strictly laid-out recipe.

But is Battle Chef Brigade as good as I hoped it would be? Have the four years that Trinket Studios spent on this title shown in the final product? Do we finally have that fantasy cooking game that people like me have always wanted?

Let's take it out of the oven and see if it's done.

Now We're Cooking with Thrash 

Battle Chef Brigade has a bit of a slow start. Nothing too major, but it takes a little while for the mechanics, characters, and setting to be established before you get to your first real Brigade Tournament cook-off. But after that, the story and gameplay move along at an equally competent pace, intermittently spicing things up with new twists and turns as well as new gameplay mechanics and a steadily increasing challenge, which I found to be very enjoyable. 

What this game really nails -- and it better have -- is the cooking. Trinket Studios has successfully combined action-RPG combat and customization with match-three puzzle games and pulled it off wonderfully. The cooking was something I found to be fun and engaging the entire time I was playing.

Trinket Studios set out to make a cooking game where the player is given more freedom to experiment and get creative than in other conventional cooking games, and they really succeeded. There are dozens of different ingredients to be collected from your fallen foes, and they can all be mixed together into dozens and dozens of different, delicious-looking foods. 

You purchase and equip your own selection of cookware and trinkets to customize your play style, drop yourself into the match of the day, and have to please the judges using your combat and puzzling skills. First you receive the theme ingredient from the head judge, learn the flavor preferences of the judges (don't worry, there's only three flavors), and go out into the field to reap your harvest. Then, while under the same time limit, you must play a match-three color-coordinated puzzle game in order to strengthen your dish and defeat your opponent.   

There are a lot of different tasks you have to manage at once, but the more you stay on top of things, the tastier the reward!

The combat feels simple to understand and satisfying, the time limit is just enough to make you feel like you're in a hurry but not too rushed, and over time, you really become familiar with the layout and unique mechanics associated with each arena. There are only three arenas, and towards the end of the game you can tell they're really squeezing all they can out of them, but at least that means they're not under-utilized or poorly thought out.

The various equipable items you garner throughout the course of the story slowly build you a bigger and bigger arsenal of cooking tools to work with, and many of them you receive by defeating certain chefs, some of whom can be taken on in different orders or missed entirely on certain playthroughs. This adds a great deal of strategy as well as replayability to the game as a whole, as there's always another way to approach pretty much any situation.

The gameplay is tons of fun -- engaging without being too challenging -- and it's backed up by strong presentation. Unfortunately, the presentation and story structure of Battle Chef Brigade are where a few cracks start to show, even if they aren't deal breakers. 

Waiter, There's a Fly in My Game Design

Honestly, most of my issues with this game are pretty minor, all things considered, but I still feel like they brought down my overall experience somewhat. Very few of my complaints have to do with the actual gameplay but rather with how the game was presented and laid out.

The first thing that bothered me -- oddly enough -- had to do with the game's graphics. Don't get me wrong, this game looks wonderful most of the time, with its lovingly drawn backgrounds, beautiful color choices, and top-tier character and monster design. The people at Trinket Studios were inspired by the games of Vanillaware, namely Odin Sphere, and it's not just the gameplay that reflects that. The art design is extremely stylized, detailed, warm, and just pleasant to soak in; it gives me vibes of a Winnie the Pooh cartoon co-animated by the crews of Kill La Kill and Steven Universe. 

At times when the various design elements of the game's art style come together, the results are stunning.

But all of these quality elements still didn't distract me from the animation. I'm not saying the game is poorly or lazily animated -- it's just not all that animated period. The game is surprisingly still at times, with most frames in dialogue-heavy cutscenes looking like screenshots, barring the occasional flickering torch in the background or falling rose petals layered over the screen. 

Without trying all that hard, I was able to count the number of frames of animation that most characters had when in motion, and some characters never even move at all. The dialogue in cutscenes being carried out with still-frame, visual novel-style conversations is fine, as there are many different and very expressive frames, and most of the voice acting is very solid and impressively natural sounding. But even in that case, some characters just flat out never move. More than one frequently appearing and plot-important character literally never budged at all, only ever speaking in one locked position without exception, which after not-too-long became very distracting.

I'd like to reiterate that these animation elements by no means make the game unappealing to look at, as the graphics are still very pretty, and I'm sure the devs worked hard on them. But the lack of movement often keeps the game from fully coming to life. Even just a few more details, like blades of grass blowing in the wind, and a a few more frames here and there would have made a big difference in the game's overall look and feel.


Take this cutscene for example. Every blue character is important and has a name. Wouldn't it make sense to color them in to make them pop out more? 

My second issue is with the writing and story. Again, it's not bad, really. In fact, it's usually quite good, with some plot surprises, distinct and likable characters, and solid world building to back it all up. But again, I'd love to have more of it.

I feel as though the character stories that we were exposed to here have only given us a glimpse of the scale and story of the world in which this all takes place, and I don't feel like I got enough of a chance to really get to know a lot of the really interesting characters in the cast.

Delicious Flavors, Small Portions

I suppose my biggest overall problem with Battle Chef Brigade is that in certain regards, I just don't think there's enough of it. The game isn't short by any means -- clocking in at around 13 or so hours for me, not including the time I spent on the challenges and daily cook-offs -- but for how solid the core gameplay is and how interesting the world is, I think there's a lot more that could be done.

That same sentiment can apply to my comments on the writing and animation as well; I'd just like more please. More areas to fully utilize the very fun and thought-out mechanics, more animation to make the world feel alive and show off the quality of the art, and more story so I can spend more time with the great characters and learn more about the interesting world they've created. 

Thankfully, Trinket Studios seems to be planning to expand the game in the future by adding in new playable characters with their own campaigns. At time of writing, I am unsure if these will be paid DLC or free content updates, how long they may take to make, or how many they may have planned (though if the Kickstarter goals are to be trusted, we've been promised at least two), but I am happy to hear it and excited regardless. 

To be fair, most of my concerns can be fixed with future updates, and the core of the game is still solid and pretty well-presented despite its flaws. I would be lying if I said I wasn't having fun the whole time that I was playing Battle Chef Brigade.

I may have spent a lot of time discussing its issues, but there's still a lot to like. It's fun, very technically balanced, creative, charming, and pretty. It's probably one of the most original games I've ever played, which gives it the benefit of no competition in its field. To quote Yahtzee Croshaw: "Despite its flaws, get it anyway, because you will never experience anything else like it." 

It's a flawed game, and its general scale may be smaller than some people hoped for, but it nonetheless delivers on its intentions of creating a fun and unique cooking game that encourages creativity. It's a game that I can absolutely recommend to anybody who wants something fun or truly unique, and it's a great game for short portable sessions on the Switch. At $20, it's a feast of an experience at a value meal price. 

Battle Chef Brigade is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game down below: 

[Note: Adult Swim Games provided a copy of Battle Chef Brigade for this review.]

Where the Money Is Review Wed, 29 Nov 2017 13:40:22 -0500 Allison M Reilly

Where the Money Is is an action-strategy game developed by both Flaming Bat Studios and Bareware Studios. The project is the first from each and a fine start for both developers. Although I wouldn't normally choose to play Where the Money Is, the title was compelling enough to get me to complete it.

The Basic Concept

In Where the Money Is, players are bank robbers trying to get away with the money. To pass each puzzle, players must get all the bank robbers out of the building without getting caught by the guards. The robbers must escape with a minimum amount of money and within a certain number of moves. If a player exceeds the allotted number of moves, then the puzzle isn't over, but additional guards appear to make escaping that much harder. Players lose the puzzle when the robber is caught by a guard.

Challenging, Intriguing Puzzles

The puzzles in Where the Money Is are well designed, and the solutions are exact. There's little room for wasted steps, but some puzzles do have multiple solutions. The puzzles are batched in sets of eight, with a new type of robber introduced with each set of puzzles. Types of robbers vary from those who can blow open vaults to locksmiths who can open locked doors and allow the robber(s) to access other parts of the bank. These new robbers keep the game from getting repetitive.

The introduction of each set also comes with the the wonderful sound of dial-up Internet (if you know what I mean), announcing an incoming mechanics explanation in the bottom right-hand corner. The explanations are helpful, but the game controls are pretty simple: arrow keys to move, SPACE to use the robber's special power, and ENTER to exit the bank.

I'm not sure how much replay value Where the Money Is has. Players do get a high score at the end of the puzzle, but as far as I could find, the high scores aren't shown or stored anywhere. I know there are a few puzzles where I could score higher because I wasted steps figuring out what I needed to do. I wouldn't mind going back and doing those puzzles again, but I can't without trial and error and recording all the scores myself.

It Was the Little Things

Although I enjoyed the puzzles, I didn't enjoy the graphics and the sound effects as much. The choice to use 2D pixel graphics is a good one; the game itself doesn't need 3D or anything too fancy. However, there were some text and color choices that hindered the playing experience.

First of all, I thought the robbers could've been a brighter color so they were easier to spot on the map. There were a few puzzles where I didn't realize there was another robber I needed to control because they blended in a little too well with the rest of the game's color scheme. A bright green or yellow would've been a better choice while also keeping the game accessible to color blind players.

Second of all, the guards were sometimes hard to track. The guards always move one step and always move after the robber(s) move. If the guard is facing a wall or is impeded by a flower pot, then they spend the next move turning around. However, it was difficult to tell at times which way the guard was facing. Making that clearer would've prevented a lot of headaches. I'm not asking the game to be easier; however, the hard part should be in solving the puzzle, not in spending time deciphering what every person on the map is doing.

Third of all, I wasn't fond of the "Game Over" sound, which plays when you're captured by a guard. It could've either been softer or a different sound effect entirely. The loud clap of capture would make me jump out of my chair, especially if I unknowingly walked into a loss. The other sounds in the game are fine. The game's soundtrack was perfect, in fact. It was so much fun to move the robbers to the beat. But that "Game Over" sound was just too much.

Overall, Where the Money Is is a fine game. The puzzles are challenging enough to push most gamers to find the solution. It's great to play when you have 10 or 20 minutes to spare or in longer spurts, even if there were some aesthetic choices that did take away from the playing experience. Where the Money Is is available now on Steam for $3.99. 

Cat Quest Review: A Furry Good Time Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:15:25 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

RPGs have become progressively more expansive over the years, with bigger maps, intricate subsystems, plots with more loose ends to tie up than a scarf your cat shredded, and enough quests to push the playtime well over 100 hours. That's great, but sometimes, it's a bit overwhelming, to say nothing of the entry barrier for RPG newcomers. That's where Cat Quest comes in. The furry indie brainchild of The Gentlebros is a return to what first drew many of us to RPGs in the first place, but with some modern touches thrown in. It's not purr-fect, but it is a well-crafted and solid adventure worth your time.

What's It All About?

Cat Quest centers around the nameless hero and his spunky spirit guide Spirry on their quest to rescue the hero's catnapped sister from the evil Drakoth, a cat who brings the power of dragons back to the world Felingard. You soon discover you're one of the Dragonblood, a cat with the ability to fight dragons and keep the world safe. The story contains some interesting twists and turns, but it remains a lighthearted tail—er, tale—throughout. It's not afraid to poke fun at genre tropes, either. For example, when Drakoth first reveals his motives for reviving the dragons, Spirry remarks how bland and generic he is for a villain. Along with that come several fourth-wall-breaking moments, including a Star Wars Episode III reference when venturing into one of the game's mini-dungeons. What are you supposed to do with the monsters in there? "Wipe them out…all of them."

If the basic setup sounds a lot like The Elder Scrolls, it's supposed to. The Gentlebros drew inspiration from a variety of open-world RPGs to craft their new outing, combining overworld map exploration with open-world adventuring, with a dose of Zelda-esque combat and, of course, plenty of cat charm. The idea was to create a streamlined RPG that offered the best of the genre without all the extra trappings to bog players down. And it succeeds remarkably well.


After the game's quick opening sequences, you can almost immediately wander the entire world, although it's a good idea to follow Spirry's advice and head to your next objective point. For most quests, an elaborate medieval-style white arrow serves as your map marker, pointing you in the right direction; some tracking-style missions have you following a red dotted line laid out for you thanks to Spirry's advanced sensory capabilities. In keeping with the developers' design philosophy, it doesn't ever take long to travel across large portions of the map either, making it fast and simple to arrive at your next objective.

Side Quests: Front and Center

But there's plenty to distract you from that objective. Like any good, modern RPG, Cat Quest features a bevy of side missions, although they aren't as peripheral as you might first think (more about that later). Most of these are exclusive to a certain village or city as well, which helps provide character to the otherwise very similar village designs, so it's worth a return visit or five to see what else might be available on the message board.

Side quests range from traveling to a certain point to find a lost item or clearing out monsters from a cave, to multiple-part quests covering a specific NPC story, such as one notable, four-part quest early in the game that sees you put the spirit of an ancient cat necromancer to rest. Like main story missions, you get map guidance to point you in the right direction, but it does replace the main story marker until you complete the quest. Completing quests nets you heaps of experience points, gold, or both, along with weapons and gear to help you on your journey.

Cat Fight

You'll need all the help you can get, too. Don't be fooled by the game's cutesy look: there's some challenge to be had here. The combat mechanics are fairly simple in and of themselves: one attack button, a roll action to help escape from impending enemy attacks, and then you eventually learn spells that can be assigned to the four shoulder buttons. The magic system is quite good, and it doesn't allow you to simply steamroll foes. Each spell uses mana points, some—like Healpaw—more than others, and you can only recover mana by using physical attacks against your opponents, similar to the TP system in Tales of games.

Each spell has its own unique range of effect, and some spells inflict various status ailments on opponents. For instance, Flamepurr burns enemies and steadily causes damage, while Freezepaw slows enemies down. Of course, your enemies use these attacks too. Fortunately, there are plenty of warnings to indicate what sort of attack they might use and where it will land, giving you time to roll out of harm's way. Every enemy has a different weakness, with some weak against physical attacks, some against lighting, and so on. Determining weaknesses is a case of trial and error, but once you attack with an enemy's weakness, the damage numbers show up in red.

Despite being easy to master, combat never becomes dull, and the main reason for that is the game's difficulty. Don't let the cutesy aesthetic fool you: this game gets pretty challenging not long after it starts. Enemies are always just a bit stronger than you are, and their level scales as you progress further in the story. So even if you encounter an enemy near Lake Felingard that looks the same as one from around, say, East Pawt, chances are, if you aren't leveled enough, it will kill you in one hit. There are also a few areas around the map set off with "do not enter" markers where the enemies are even stronger. This is why Cat Quest's side missions are more integral to completing the game than most side missions.

Not only do you need the experience points so you have half a chance against your opponents, but gold is scarce outside of side missions, and the best equipment from Kit the blacksmith can be pricey (think Dragon Quest). It's never frustrating, though. For example, if you happen to obtain a weapon or piece of armor that you already own, its level and stat bonuses increase; plus, it's just a matter of minutes to complete some side quests and level up where you need to be.


The game's art draws on the classic medieval themes of yesteryear's RPGs (and maps), imbuing them with a soft, cartoon-y charm in the process. It's a pleasant mix of 2D and 3D models, adding to the retro feel without sacrificing  the more polished, modern look. Most NPCs have no distinguishing features, but your hero's appearance changes with each piece of equipment chosen, which adds a nice element of customization (and it's just cute).

Many of the environments in the earlier portions of the game look fairly similar to each other, though that soon changes. The sprawling map encompasses frozen wastelands and spooky marshes in addition to various villages, caves, and ruins. So even though the game world is relatively small by some standards, you still get your usual cornucopia of locales to explore.


There are some drawbacks that keep Cat Quest from being all sunshine and catnip, though they aren't too damaging. As delightful as the art style is, the caves and dungeons all look pretty much the same, with very little difference in layout and appearance from the first you crawl through to the level 60 ones encountered later. The music doesn't change too often, either. More tunes, especially during major fights, would have been nice. But, in all fairness, it's difficult to cite this as a problem when it is so similar to the games it draws from, like Zelda, where you get one theme and that's about it.

Then there's the dialogue. For the most part, it's a substantial strength, with clever puns and general wittiness. But there are a couple of nagging issues. Almost every other cat is just "peasant," which seems like a wasted opportunity to carry the cat language further by means of naming. Some of the puns are slightly out of place too. Now, I'm not against a bit of judicious swearing when the situation calls for it, but things like "godcattit" (two guesses what that's supposed to mean) in a game like this just don't fit.

The Verdict

All in all, though, Cat Quest is a loveable romp, engaging—and challenging—enough to overshadow minor complaints. The mechanics make it suitable for both short bursts and long play sessions, which fits the Switch's functionality quite well. If you're looking for a lighthearted RPG you can pick up at any time that's deeper than it looks, look no further than Cat Quest.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar -- Post Modern RPG Sun, 26 Nov 2017 13:15:31 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

Published by THQ NordicBattle Chasers: Nightwar (BC:N) is based on the 1990's comic book series of the same name, created by Joe Madureira and Munier Sharrieff. BC:N is set in a fantasy world featuring your run of the mill monsters, magic, and some good old fashioned mayhem. The game stars the rag-tag team of Garrison -- the veteran, Gully -- the team's young hero, Calibretto -- a robotic monk, Knolan -- the group's resident wizard, Red Monika -- a bounty hunter, and Alumon -- a demon hunter.

As a fan of RPGs, I have to confess -- I find it hard to get excited for them any more. The more familiar they happen to be, the more been there, done that they're likely to feel.

So when I had the opportunity to play the Airship Syndicate developed Battle Chasers: Nightwar, I actually got really excited. But does this modern RPG do enough for the genre to warrant a playthrough? Read on to find out.

Flavor Text

Unlike many other RPGs, BC:N has the added benefit of drawing from its comic book origins, and serves as a continuation of the original run. It also helps that one of the comic book's creators penned the game. Even though the game treads familiar ground in it's fantasy setting, the plot feels very tight and focused, which can most likely be attributed to Maduriera's involvement as creative director. And whilst the story doesn't necessarily break any new ground, what does make it stand out is it's amazing cast of characters.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is very much the tale of our heroes keeping the peace in a not so peaceful land. The narrative also delves into the heroes' motivations and weaves stories pertaining to each character throughout the game. One of the most important characters is Gully. She isn't even 10 years old, yet she's out bashing demons in the face. The characters often attempt to protect her, but due to her connection with her father's magical gauntlets, she sometimes comes across as a possible threat to them and even herself. So the discourse comes thick and fast as the group attempts to deal with this.

Of course, the rest of the gang have their own interesting stories as well. Garrison is attempting to follow a path towards redemption, Calibretto has to balance the fact he's a pacifist and a former death machine, and so on.

Rather than subject you to all of this in long winded cut-scenes, the game presents them in bite-sized intervals. This happens in the world map, dungeons, and at inns when you rest. This is a refreshing way to experience a story in contrast to the way most other games present theirs -- in a movie-like approach which gets old fast if not done well. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I feel that Battle Chasers strikes a great balance between telling a story and letting a player experience it themselves.

Reclaiming My Time

From a gameplay perspective, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is built with the player's time in mind. In comparison to a lot of RPGs that tend to fall flat in this regard, BC:N allows you to play at a pace all your own. You can save anywhere and then continue whenever you want. They've effectively erased the biggest problem I have with RPGs -- having to set aside a lot of time. You can play this game for just 30 minutes or for hours if you'd like.

The game takes places in a seamless overworld. Here you can see enemies to fight, towns that you can head to, and dungeons you can traverse. Dungeons are fully 3D areas that provide players with a challenge. Before entering a dungeon, the game will ask you to choose between normal, hard, and very hard and you will be shown the prize for clearing each respective difficulty. This side steps the need to replay the game on a tougher settings later on. Just make sure you can handle the tougher difficulties.

Although you can go pretty much anywhere you want, you are provided with some basic direction in the form of map markers and quest objectives. You can take detours, sure, but thanks to the map markers and so on, you will never feel lost.

A Call To Arms

Combat is turn based but not in the traditional sense -- it's much more fast paced. There are plenty of strategies you can use with your party, which consists of three from a possible six heroes, so you can account for a range of situations. Although you could just ignore those more tactical decisions and stick with your favorites, that could make getting through the game a little harder than you'd like. You can also use character specific skills. For example, Calibretto can heal the group using some Mana and Garrison can dash for a short amount of time.

If you maximize your resources and plan accordingly, battles can be over pretty quickly. But's that's a two way street. If you find yourself fighting a much tougher foe and don't stay on your toes, you're dead.

Character customization gets rather deep, featuring a variety of armor, skills, and weapons. I won't bog you down with the finer details, but rest assured -- there's a lot to do. 

The Sounds of Battle and Maddening Art

The game looks and sounds excellent and the art design really stands out. Madureira and the development team were really able to make characters pop in and out of battle. The battle animations are also both lively and expressive.

The sounds accompanying the game are intricate and visceral. From the foot steps of your heroes to the clashing of steel, the sound design is implemented flawlessly. The soundtrack of the game is more than just a standard fantasy score -- it has subtle themes that play in different environments during your travels. This includes grandiose battle themes and exciting sequential themes. Lastly, the the voice work in the game is actually quite good too.

The Bad

My only complaint revolves around it's difficulty. You'll definitely need some familiarity with this type of turn-based RPG to do well. There are times where battles will be tough as nails and you need to keep your wits about you. It's far from impossible to beat, but if you don't pay attention you'll be regularly treated to a trip to the gameover screen.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a special game. It's built from the ground up with modern sensibilities and has as much charm and personality as a traditional RPG. Battle Chasers is a turn based RPG in itself but forgoes a lot of what they're known for to offer an exciting new experience. 


Fans of RPGs can find Battle Chasers: Nightwar on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and MAC. So you really don't have any excuse not to play this game as it's on every modern console and PC.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review: It's Actually Challenging Again! Tue, 21 Nov 2017 13:02:57 -0500 Autumn Fish

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the first proper mid-generation remakes to release since Platinum arrived in 2008. It may be a matter of contention whether mid-generation remakes devalue their originals or not, but we're here to look at the new installments without all that extra fuss.

These titles are remakes of Sun and Moon -- which released just last year -- and as such, the games are largely similar. We're not going to rehash everything that was amazing about the originals; for that, you can read our Pokemon Sun and Moon Review. Instead, we shall be reviewing what's changed and what was added in these games to see if they manage to surpass their predecessors.

Are the remakes actually good enough to warrant double-dipping, or should you stick with the original version you picked up last year? Let's dive in!

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here. Rather, they amplify everything that's great about this generation and culminate in what may well be the most engaging Pokemon games I've ever had the privilege to experience.

There are a few contributing factors at play, the biggest of all being the subtle changes made to the main game and the new features that breathe renewed life into the experience.

What Changed?

A lot of things were tweaked since Sun and Moon, and even the most minute changes go a long way towards improving the games. For instance, the pacing has shifted, especially in the beginning. Not only do you receive your Starter Pokemon far earlier, but many story segments have also been given a new coat of paint.

The story itself is familiar, but ultimately not the same. There's a new organization of sorts in the mix called the Ultra Recon Squad, and a new threat to go with them. As such, there are a lot of changes to how things play out in the end. To keep this review spoiler-free, however, we won't get into them here.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review Changes

In addition to the story changes, the overarching tone has visibly shifted. While kids will see a friendly adventure on an admittedly epic scale, those of us with a better understanding of language will notice some surprisingly dark undertones sprinkled everywhere. For the first time in several years, I feel like Pokemon is actually taking itself seriously again.

Remember how creepy Lavender Town in Kanto was? It flew over my head when I was younger, but looking back on it now gives me the chills. The same feeling has overcome me on multiple occasions in my playthrough, filling me with a sense of emotion that Pokemon hasn't evoked in me in a long time.

On top of that, the different teams and organizations found in Alola often come across as morally ambiguous. Your perception of the "clear bad guy" shifts a few times as the story progresses towards its climax. All in all, it has the effect of making it feel like the plot unfolds strangely realistically, given the setting.

Don't go thinking that's all that has changed, though. The island challenge, while similar, has seen several tweaks. For instance, there were seven proper Trials before, but now there are eight to overcome. On top of that, half of the trials have completely different Totem Pokemon than before, which really threw me off guard and offered a surprising challenge.

Speaking of challenge, I found the entire adventure to be rather trying. I didn't have any troubles on the first island, but the moment I stepped onto the second island, many of the Trials and strong trainers gave me and my team a run for our money. I never bothered to turn the EXP share off, and I found that my Pokemon consistently fell within three levels or so of each Totem Pokemon I encountered.

My team hasn't wiped as of yet, but we've come close several times, saved only by buffed stat-boosting items like X Defense or even RotoBoost, which I'll expand upon below. A lot of people I've talked to online, however, have reported wiping around the time they stepped on the second island, so it's clear that the game's difficulty has been revamped to offer players a rewarding experience. I'll never forget the moment I triumphed over the second Trial by the skin of my teeth after watching the Totem Pokemon one-shot nearly every member of my team.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review Challenging Battles Better Pacing

A few other things have changed too, such as new Legendary and Ultra Beast locations, a revamped Rotom Dex, and the removal of Zygarde Cells. However, these changes are better explained by detailing the new features that affect them.

New Features

Alongside the expected handful of new Ultra Beasts and Pokemon Forms, there are a plethora of great new features absolutely packed into Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.

Totem Stickers replace the Zygarde Cells that plague the original games. Collecting the Totem Stickers offers, in my opinion, a far better reward than the Zygard Cells do. Instead of gradually building up only one Pokemon to full power with Zygarde Cells, you earn up to six Totem Pokemon by reaching certain milestones in your Sticker collection.

Mantine Surf is a new minigame that allows you to surf between Alola's islands on the back of a Mantine. It's a neat new way to travel from island to island and even nets you BP for scoring well on tricks. For the uninitiated, BP is a currency normally only available from competing in endgame battle organizations that can be spent on things like Mega Stones or teaching your Pokemon new tricks with the help of various new Move Tutors. In other words, BP is super valuable, and it's nice to see that Game Freak added a way to earn it out of battle.

The Rotom Dex has also received a sizable upgrade. In the originals, Rotom Dex was nothing but a navigational tool for me that occasionally commented on events. Now, Rotom Dex is your friend -- no, literally! Throughout your adventure, Rotom Dex will ask you questions and break the ice so you get to know each other. If you show them attention back, they become friendlier and friendlier with you until you eventually unlock the RotoLoto.

The RotoLoto is a lottery that rewards you with various buffs for being friendly with your Rotom Dex. You could get a buff that boosts all of your Pokemon's stats or something that helps you gain experience faster from battles. You could even get buffs that increase the encounter rate of rare Pokemon and improve the capture rate. Some buffs will even help you hatch eggs or befriend Pokemon quicker. There are a ton of RotoLoto powers, and every single one of them is worth the effort.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Review New Features Rotom Dex RotoLoto

Ultra Wormholes are a great new way to encounter and capture Legendaries and Ultra Beasts. Riding into Ultra Space will take you into many new dimensions, and a few of them even have interesting environments that add just a little more depth to the lore of the games. Even if you don't encounter Legendaries and Ultra Beasts beyond the Ultra Wormholes, you are bound to find something special out there.

The new installments are host to even more post-game content than the originals had. Appearing alongside the Battle Tree is the new Battle Agency -- a place where you fight trainers with rental Pokemon for BP. There's even a post-game segment where you fight off a new evil team threatening Alola. There's just so much to do before and after the credits roll that it honestly blows my mind.

Verdict: Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Are Absolutely Worth Double-Dipping

As a fan who's played every main series installment to date, I can safely say that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the best Pokemon games I've ever experienced. The polished gameplay, exciting new story, darker tone, and challenging battles truly make this entry a must-play for all Pokemon fans.

If you've never played a Pokemon game before, this is a great place to start. If you're an old player thinking about returning for this generation, you won't regret making this mid-generation remake the first title you pick up. If you're a long-time fan on the fence about it since the originals came out only a year ago, trust me when I say that this installment is worth double-dipping for.

No matter which version you get, you're in for a seriously magical experience. Never has a Pokemon game sucked me in as hard or as quickly as these ones have.

Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are available now on the Nintendo 3DS family of systems for $40 each.

Punch, Punch, Smash! A LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 Review Sun, 19 Nov 2017 00:04:14 -0500 Stephanie Tang

To say that the original LEGO Marvel Super Heroes game was a success is like describing the sinking of the Titanic as "hitting a rough patch." And to say that fans have been looking forward to a second game would be operating at a similar degree of understatement. 

The first LMSH game came out at a time when the movieverse was really beginning to pick up speed. Phase One was just wrapping up, Joss Whedon's The Avengers had just come out the year before to rave reviews, and people were high on the idea of getting more. General Marvel goodwill aside, the movies gave game makers an unbelievably rich vein of character and storyline material from which to draw. As another upside, they created an entirely new audience upon which to unleash all the charm and whimsy of LEGO

It's not a coincidence that every time you have a success, something of equal caliber is slated to follow it every few years later -- in games as in Hollywood and popular fiction. The idea is that if it works, why break it? 

And that kind of philosophy does hold true ... for a while.

LEGO games have had a fairly similar format for more than 10 years (if you go by the release of smash-hit LEGO Star Wars back in 2005 for reference), with a charming mix of boldly colored worlds, fun characters, simple puzzles, and the gleeful destruction of everything in sight. 

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 may be finally stretching that formula almost to the point of mediocrity. 

The Characters: Who Am I? Why Am I here?

It's a bit of a double-edged sword to push out a game with an enormous cast -- which LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 does, boasting over 200 characters in the base game alone, with more promised to follow in upcoming expansion packs.

At once, it's a selling point stuffing as many characters as you can think of into this game, and at the same time, something of a responsibility. 

People have favorites. Bringing them into the party is an unbelievably cool draw, especially if they're not exactly the canonical headliners in their particular universes. But if their entire purpose for being there is simply to be there, then it begins to feel they're there just to fill in space in the box.

Take Gamora for an early-game example: she's as feisty as a LEGO as she is in Guardians, her skillset feels fresh and a little different from her appearance in the first game, and she's still just as unlikely to put up with any of Drax's ridiculousness. But as far as the gameplay and the puzzling goes, she could honestly have been missing entirely and you would have never noticed.

Admittedly, she's a little more fun when you throw her into close-action combat and pit her against your friends in Multiplayer Battle Arena, but for the most part, you'd really only pull her out during questing or wandering around the open world if you really like her and/or you've got a little one playing co-op with you who just wants to someone to smash up boxes with while you're busy completing puzzles. 

(Little LEGO Thor waving around his little Mjolnir to fly is terribly precious -- and he's got some pretty techy skills to boot!)

Thankfully, you still have lots of characters who transcend general cookie-cutterness. These get at least a few catchy one-liners, have loads of personality, and/or are the ones with the special skills uniquely fitted to puzzle-solving (or just running and flying really fast).

The Gameplay: Ain't Afraid to Die

LMSH2 brings a few new updates to the table -- namely, an overhauled character customizer that allows you to pick and choose essentially every part of the minifig and also the abilities it can use (provided you unlock each of the customizations available during gameplay). But the meat and potatoes of the gameplay remains the same -- punch, punch, smash.

You need to solve little puzzles to progress the story, usually by punch, punch, smashing something enough for you to build back up in a new and different way. But you will also need to swap around between characters in order to use different special abilities to progress. 

It can be a little awkward to swap to the character that you want. You're quite likely at some point to swap between two characters a few times before finally moving over to the one you really want, plus you've got more than one button that can initiate a swap. This isn't exactly a new problem, but it can be an annoyance while you're swapping between characters and the one you've lost control of happens to have wandered off the objective in the meantime. 

Controls for the characters themselves are pretty intuitive and straightforward. All of the characters that can fly (or swing around on webs) can be controlled vertically using the right joystick, whereas movement and actions require the left joystick and the right button pad. On-screen directions advise you quite admirably if you need to initiate a puzzle sequence step; however, you'll have to remember that a long press of the same button will just make your character do something else (e.g. throw a bomb, boogy down to some cassette tape music, etc.).

(Note: While these on-screen instructions are self-explanatory on console, the port to PC on Steam appears to have a few instances where the instructions weren't translated perfectly. For example, in cases where a character might have to swivel the joystick in a certain direction, the Steam game wants you to duplicate with your control keys in the same manner, or it will ask you to "press the X button." This has no bearing on the rating for this review, but it's definitely something to remember for players looking to play on PC.)

It can, however, be a little difficult to aim your attacks -- you will definitely find yourself punching and kicking your fellow teammates (occasionally to pieces!) by accident when you're aiming to lay the smackdown on a boss or a breakable. 

Not that there are any consequences for doing this. Your friends will come back. And if you die, so will you. 

In the grand tradition of LEGO game gameplay, dying doesn't have consequences. Sure, you might drop a few studs, but you respawn almost immediately after, poised to pick them all back up again (and how difficult are studs to find in this game, anyhow?). 

And that's okay! It's an integral, frustration-free part of playing a game that is as ideal for kids as it is for adults -- particularly if you're playing as a parent-child tag team.

It certainly helps to mitigate some of the other frustrations of figuring out the puzzles -- not so much because the puzzles are so difficult to complete ... they're not. There is almost always a clear-cut solution as to what will unlock this door or that device ... it's just not always clear right away when all the pieces are already in place. 

(For example, this looks like it should ricochet Cap's shield in exactly the right place, but it refuses to complete the bounce even though it looks like the path is clear. You have to go poking around at the blocks on the right to make sure that it really is.)

You're aware it's probably an incredibly simple answer to the problem -- you're just not seeing it. (I admit the above caused me quite a bit of grumbly button-mashing myself to see if I was just pressing the square button the wrong way.)


Still loads of fun and well worth playing! If you're a completionist at heart and looking to 100% this game, you'll find a good 200 hours or more of playtime buried in all the side quests, replays with various characters, and hunts for red bricks. If you're playing with a friend, even better! Many of the chase scenes and co-op fight scenes were designed with similar power sets in mind so that no one's left sitting around watching if you can help it. 

This game draws from hundreds of different stories and makes cheerful, light-hearted fun of them all. It's taken a newer, non-linear approach to questing (appropriate for a time-traveling, time-twisting game), and the charm of LEGO-ness hasn't quite worn off ... but the gameplay, after so many iterations without a great deal of variation, is beginning to wear. 

(Note: For transparency, a review copy of this game was provided on PS4 from WB.)

South Park: The Stick of Truth Review Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:00:18 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

If you're a fan of South Park, you've most likely played 2014's The Stick of Truth. After years of mediocre South Park video game adaptations, this RPG was a breath of fresh air, with series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone having been heavily involved in its creation. Furthermore, Obsidian, the team behind the critically-acclaimed Fallout: New Vegas and Knights of the Old Republic 2 RPGs, was the lead developer for the title.

However, The Stick of Truth was released during the end of the 7th console generation lifespan, so some gamers may have missed out on it. Luckily, series fans who pick up the newest South Park RPG, The Fractured But Whole, will have a chance to play its prequel, as a free copy of The Stick of Truth is bundled with the new game.

The Stick of Truth: Then vs. Now

If you're expecting anything new from this version, you'll be disappointed -- outside of the DLC content and a few tweaks here and there, there's nothing really new in this version of The Stick of Truth. It's free game, though, so it's a little more excusable than most remasters that do just the bare minimum.

This version of the game is a little cleaner, now running in 1080p and with PS4 Pro support, but don't expect that much of an improvement. A lot of the frame rate drops that plagued the original have been ironed out, though you will still notice a couple hitches when there are a lot of enemies in battle.

Some minor changes have also been made to address some of the game's more difficult sections. One of the biggest changes includes a fix for the infamous anal probe scene.

It's nowhere near as difficult and frustrating to get past this section now, making the pacing of the game much smoother. That said, the other annoying section, a boss battle with Cartman, still requires too much button mashing. Yeah, I know it's part of the joke, but the joke loses steam when you're forced to partake in it, and it can last for what feels like forever.

Outside of these changes, The Stick of Truth still remains largely the same. 

However, if this will be your first foray into the game, you've got a lot to look forward to either as a fan of the series, as an RPG aficionado, or both.

What to Expect from The Stick of Truth

In The Stick of Truth, you control your own custom-created character and explore the town of South Park, interacting with the various characters from the show. Exploring the town is still a blast, as you watch the various NPCs go about their day, and you even get to befriend some of South Park's most iconic characters.

While a good amount of time is dedicated to exploring the world and solving simple puzzles, most of your time will be dedicated to combat, which takes a few inspirations from the Paper Mario series. Like in Paper Mario, you have the ability to block enemy attack and press buttons in conjunction to perform various special attacks. These mechanics keeps combat exciting, and you won't just be watching your characters standing around and waiting for their turns.

Each of the four class have there own unique skills, ranging from mage and Jew "magic", to special archer and warrior abilities. The only downside is that every weapon and piece of armor you gain isn't specific for each class, which does take away from each of the individuality of the classes. Why try a different class when you can still use a sword or staff?

Despite this, combat is still satisfying and fun. Each of the various villains you face have their own weaknesses, which will have you wanting to change out your party members to alter your tactics. The downside to this is that you can only have one other person in your party -- that's not say there aren't that a lot of them, with each having their own special abilities, but it would have been nice to have at least three characters rather than just two.


So, does The Stick of Truth hold up? Yeah, it's still a good game. The combat is funny, if on the easy side, it's funny as hell, and manages to tastefully recapture the look and feel of the show.

It's age will show, especially with the vastly superior Fractured But Whole having been released, and it still could've done with a few more fixes with some of the mechanics, but if I'm going down to South Park, I wanna have myself a time.

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action Review -- A Hip Flask of the Human Condition Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:55:14 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

DISCLAIMER: This review will be SPOILER-FREE. Enter with confidence.

I'm so glad that I finally get a chance to talk about VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender ActionDeveloped by Venezuelan developer Sukeban Games and recently brought to PlayStation Vita thanks to publisher Wolfgame, VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/bartending simulator set in a fascinating Cyberpunk future world. 

VA-11 HALL-A is a narrative-driven game loaded with compelling human themes as well as radical cyberpunk storytelling. It's a game that prioritizes narrative and characters over gameplay, letting the writing take up most of the screentime, and allowing the minimal gameplay to simply function well and exist mainly to serve the story it's telling.

Originally released in 2016, the game was only recently ported to the PlayStation Vita, introducing  some slight differences, which gives people like me an excuse to talk about it again. So, is VA-11 HALL-A so good of a narrative game that it's worth playing again on a handheld? Is it a game that's worth your time at all if you aren't into this kind of "interactive story" sort of game?

Pull up a seat and we'll discuss it. There's a three-drink minimum.

What's in a game?

I'd like to start off this review by addressing the talking point people have brought up regarding whether or not VA-11 HALL-A is really a game or not. This sort of debate tends to come up with games like this (or Gone Home or The Stanley Parable), which emphasize storytelling over gameplay.

To me, in order to be a game, something must have a win condition and a lose condition, the exact definitions of which are up to interpretation. In the case of VA-11 HALL-A, while it's very hard to truly "lose" the game, it is possible to get what the creators call a "good ending" and a "bad ending," which, to me, constitutes both success and failure. So in my mind, VA-11 HALL-A is definitely a game.

Sex, Dogs, and Rock and Roll

VA-11 HALL-A is loaded with intriguing dialogues about a variety of topics, ranging from sensationalist media, racism, mental illness, human augmentation, drugs, family, love, fear of the future, sex (there's quite a lot about sex), and so on. 

If this dialogue makes you uncomfortable, then this might not be the game for you. This stuff isn't constant, but it's very prevalent.

You play as Jill, the bartender working at the BTC-certified chain bar VA-11 in Hall-A, commonly referred to as Valhalla, which is tucked away in a corner in one of the seedier parts of the dystopian cyberpunk setting of Glitch City. The game's story isn't about the city or the world but rather our main character Jill and the many clients she encounters over the course of most of a month during the Mega-Christmas season.

The writing is the most prominent and noteworthy aspect of this game -- which should be expected from a visual novel -- but the gameplay isn't bad either. Your main goal -- as well as the core gameplay -- is to mix drinks in accordance with orders you receive from customers, making sure to carefully read the instructions and get it right. Depending on the situation, you can decide to make a drink bigger or stronger, which can lead to different dialogues and even different story arcs, making every drink in some way matter in terms of overall plot progression.

Some people don't seem to like this game's writing, and a lot of those people say it's because they don't think the characters speak very realistically. To some extent, I can see the validity of their argument. While the characters in VA-11 HALL-A are definitely unique and well fleshed-out, most of the dialogue that comes out of them doesn't exactly sound like average, everyday conversation but rather more like well-composed arguments and anecdotes a lot of the time.

But for me, this isn't a big issue. While it's true that a great deal of VA-11 HALL-A's dialogue doesn't sound all that natural, a fair bit of it still does, and it's always cleverly written, cleverly delivered, and -- perhaps most importantly -- consistent in its quality. Every character in VA-11 HALL-A -- whether you like them or not -- is consistently written whenever they're on screen. You never see a writing discrepancy that makes you think, "That character wouldn't do that," which makes the cast feel alive and often sympathetic, even if they don't always talk like real people. 

What really helps the cast come to life is the wonderful presentation. VA-11 HALL-A is a game meant to visually emulate old PC-98 games, and it does so very well, using gorgeously drawn and emotive character sprites in addition to a color palette that's equal parts bright and colorful and cool and muted. The music is just as diverse, with a variety of original tracks (including a few remixes) that range in mood from calm to frantic, all of which the player can pick out and make a playlist of on the bar's jukebox before the start of every in-game shift. All of these elements help to make the whole experience feel more immersive, and it draws you in quickly and keeps a tight hold on you. 

It also helps that this game can be flat-out hilarious. I laughed constantly while playing through the game, even when doing it for a second time for this review, and I was smiling throughout most of my time with it. It covers all the comedy bases from sight-gags, to puns, to serious jokes and childish jokes, as well as a number of truly dark or perverted jokes (sometimes both) that will leave your mouth hanging open -- all done with expert timing and just the right amount of seriousness for each situation.

Rad Shiba is the best dog. I will fight you on this.

While it excels at comedy, VA-11 HALL-A as a whole isn't afraid to paint with the whole palette of the human experience. The game isn't afraid to be dark or serious when it needs to be, and it pulls this off really well, often creating a great deal of anxiety or tension as you worry for a character you haven't heard from for a while being alone out there in the big, cold world. 

Whether it's Dorothy pushing the boundaries of comfort and making you laugh with stories of her life as a robot sex-worker, hearing more rumors about the origin of your boss Dana Zane's robot arm, or speculating where your co-worker Gillian goes most nights, there's always something interesting going on and some story arc developing. The bartender angle is seriously a perfect approach to organic storytelling, as you're always hearing different news and opinions from regulars as well as one-timers, and you're slowly piecing together the world's story and your own.

The game does an amazing job of using little more than its writing and a variety of unique characters to paint a picture of a truly fleshed-out fictional world that feels alive, all with maybe a dozen different screens and less than half as many locations. VA-11 HALL-A's excellent writing allows it to create a world more real and expansive than the biggest outer space skyboxes that AAA money can buy.

Differences With The Vita Version

This is a review of the recently released PlayStation Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A, which is mostly the same as the PC original but with a few noteworthy differences that might be worth knowing about if you're unsure about which version you'd like you pick up. 

For the most part, Wolfgame has made what I consider to be an excellent port. The smaller screen on the Vita compared to an average PC monitor has been compensated for by cleaning up the user interface and reworking it slightly so that it fits in its new home, which I think was done neatly and efficiently.  

The touchscreen controls working in tandem with the buttons and sticks works very well, and in many ways feels smoother than the original ever did. The visuals also haven't suffered either, as despite being on a much smaller screen, the backgrounds and sprites are all still wonderfully drawn and lively. In all honesty, I would have basically no reservations about calling the Vita version of VA-11 HALL-A the definitive version were it not for just one small difference between it and the PC version.

In both versions of the game you can select your playlist for the jukebox both at the start of your shift and after your break, so that's all the same, but one thing I was actually a bit saddened to see absent from the Vita version was the ability to shuffle through your selected songs during regular gameplay. In the PC version, you could skip between your selected songs, put one specific song on repeat, or even put your whole playlist on shuffle, which was a really cool feature that is unfortunately absent from the Vita version. 

I reached out to the publisher of the Vita version, Wolfgame, in order to ask them about it. I asked if the live jukebox feature was present in the Vita version, and Wolfgame replied with "Not at this time." Their wording makes me think that maybe they're still trying to incorporate the feature into the Vita version (but that could also just be speculation), and if not, I won't hold them to it. It would nice to see it come in at a later date if possible, because with it included, the Vita version really might just be the definitive edition.

Taking a Break From All Your Worries Sure Would Help a Lot

At the end of the day, VA-11 HALL-A isn't a perfect game on either PC or the Vita. The writing has its occasional bumps, the basic gameplay may flat-out bore some people, and it could have done a better job in certain places of conveying information relevant to progression to the player. But despite all that, I'm willing to forgive most its flaws, simply by its virtue of being one of the best narrative-driven games I've ever played.

While I don't want to spoil anything too specific, I will say that after a brief adjustment period to get used to the game's unique style and pacing, I was in love with VA-11 HALL-A. Its diverse cast of characters is one of my favorite that I've seen in video games, the graphics and stylistic presentation are phenomenal at evoking the tone and setting, the music is jammin', and even at its slowest, its story is more engaging than most I've played. 

The gameplay may be basic, but it's just complex and variable enough to be engaging, opening up subtle options for the player in how they want the story to progress and how they want to interact with the fascinating world. I could go on about the game for a good while longer, but it really is just something you need to experience for yourself.

VA-11 HALL-A is a beautifully written, beautiful-looking, beautiful-sounding glimpse into an amazing world full of wonderful characters, and one that I can recommend to absolutely anyone who wants a game with a truly great story -- and even to people who aren't sure if it's for them. It's a world I'd love to live in, and one I know I'll be visiting again very soon. 

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is available now on Steam and PlayStation Vita. You can watch a trailer for the Vita version of the game below:


Note: [Review copy for PlayStation Vita provided by Wolfgame.]



Outcast - Second Contact Review: Familiar Story but With a New Look Thu, 16 Nov 2017 12:16:18 -0500 ESpalding

If you have been interested in gaming for as long as I have, you might be familiar with a game called Outcast. It was originally released in 1999 by Belgian developers Appeal. It was hugely popular and has since become a bit of a cult classic. The newly released Outcast - Second Contact is a remastered version of the game with updated graphics and gameplay to make it suitable for today's gaming tastes and console suitability.

The original game was a groundbreaker! It was innovative and was the first 3D open-world exploration game to be released. Upon release, it won hundreds of awards, including Adventure Game of the Year 1999 from GameSpot. There are a couple of sequels, but none lived up to the popularity of the first.

Anyway, you aren't here for a history lesson about the original game. You want to know what I think about the remake, right? Instead of playing it again on PC, I played it on the PS4 so that I could see how different it felt playing it on a modern console.

The Story Stays True

If you are already familiar with the game, then you're going to be familiar with the storyline. It hasn't changed (it is a remake, after all). If you're new to the game, however, you're going to find the storyline quite interesting.

Outcast - Second Contact is set in the near future and explores the possibilities of alternate universes. You play as a Navy SEAL called Cutter Slade, and along with a team of scientists, you are sent through a portal into a new world, Adelpha, to recover a probe previously sent through by the US government. As you explore your new surroundings, you come across the world's inhabitants and all manner of new flora and fauna.

You are the Ulukai, the foretold Messiah who the inhabitants think is going to save their world from war and persecution. In order to complete your own mission, you have to help the inhabitants of Adelpha with their problems. If they think you are helping them, they are more likely to help you.

A Total Facelift

It's clear that the main draw of this remaster is the work that has been done to improve the graphics. Everything now has so much more texture and depth than the original had. One of the main points of the game is to explore, and you really want to explore this new land. Close attention has been paid to giving everything a new life.

My only negative comments on the game's graphics are to do with the intro. While I can see that they're going for something a bit artistic -- and that is quite good -- I don't think it paid off. The characters are very still and very much like cardboard cutouts. It doesn't really gel with the original. I wanted to watch the whole introduction to get reacquainted with the story, but I wanted it to be over quite early on. Of course, this is personal taste, but given the rest of the game's graphics upgrades and the actual storyline, I think the introduction to it could have been a bit more ... substantial.

Playing on a Console Works

I didn't have any problems playing the game with a controller. The controls are crisp, and I had no problems moving around. There have been some movement features added to this new version, including the ability to sprint and crouch, which definitely make gameplay better. It's simple things like that which make the game more relevant to today's open-world fans, as they are features that one would expect from a game of this genre.

A Familiar Score

One of the more appealing features of the game is that the developers have used the same score as the original game. And when I say the "same score," I really mean it! It sounds like nothing has been done to it at all apart from making it a bit cleaner. But, you know what, that is OK. If it was reworked and new voices added, it wouldn't be the remaster fans would want.

Overall Verdict

I would say that this is what happens when remakes go right. For what the developers were hoping to do, it has been done extremely well. Sure, there are some things that are a bit rough around the edges or a couple of things which could have been done better, but it is a huge step up graphically from the original.

Will it please the die-hard fans of Outcast? Yes, I think it will. In this day and age, where the word "remake" has bad connotations, it is natural to have some reservations. But the developers have kept true to their previous work and have simply launched the franchise into modern gaming for an all-new generation of fans.

Outcast - Second Contact is out now on PS4, XBox One, and PC via Steam.

(A copy of Outcast - Second Contact was supplied for review purposes.)

L.A. Noire Remastered: Truth, Doubt, or Lie Thu, 16 Nov 2017 11:50:21 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

When L.A. Noire was first released, it was a breath of fresh air. The open-world genre wasn’t as saturated as it is today, so it was still unique to see such a story-heavy open-world game that was less about action and more about dialogue and choices. Despite the studio, Team Bondi, shutting down the year it was released, it seems that Rockstar Games still has some interest in the title and has decided to remaster the six-year-old game. Despite some minor hang ups, L.A. Noire still manages to capture the feeling of the classic 1940s detective films that inspired it.

You are Cole Phelps, a returning WW2 veteran who starts off as a standard cop and quickly moves up the ladder to a detective. There's a lot of corruption and murder happening in LA, and it's up to Cole to put a stop to it. Cole is a good cop; he's always trying to do the best to serve the law, has a strong sense of justice, and works to avoid becoming a crooked cop like some of his fellow LAPD coworkers. However, as the game progresses, Cole slowly learn that not everything is as black and white as he thinks it is. 

The writing in L.A. Noire is easily some of the best seen in any video game. Sure, you might see a character archetype or familiar plot line like something from an episode of Law and Order, but it's all told so well that they come off fresh. It's also an incredibly mature game, as it's not afraid to tackle themes of racism, sex, and morality that haven't been touched on in many games. It also does't back away from showing things such as frontal nudity of its dead victims. The game is bolstered by an impeccable cast of actors who can easily hold their own against any Emmy-nominated big-name players. Adding to the performances is the then-new facial-capture technology that was boasted of in numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. It's still as impressive as it was then, even if some games have by this point surpassed it.

The gameplay of L.A. Noire is a mixture of action and mystery solving, with emphasis on the latter. 75% of your time will be spent looking for clues and interrogating witnesses and suspects, while the remaining 25% is spent partaking in gun fights and chases. The game is much more linear than other open-world games. You'll head to a crime scene, look around for any sort of evidence, and talk with primary sources. While the map is large, there's little to do aside from some random events that occur. The structure feels like something from a point-and-click adventure game, but the big thing that separates L.A. Noire from games of those cloth is its dialogue system.

During conversations, you'll have to see if someone is telling the truth or not. It's here where L.A. Noire is at its best. Thanks to the great facial-capture technology, it can be hard to really see if someone is telling the truth or lying. The better you are at judging them, the more likely the case will expand and become clearer. While you're never punished for guessing someone's motives incorrectly, you won't get to experience certain parts of the game. But even so, the game never feels like it's hiding away its tricks, and each case ends with a sense of accomplishment, which helps encourage you to go back and try it again on repeat playthroughs. 

Controlling Cole still feels a little sticky, and it would have been nice to play with a control scheme similar to that of GTA 5, but it still gets the job done. And while the gunplay isn't as frequent as in some of Rockstar's other games, it's still entertaining. Gun feedback is great, though you'll only get a standard pistol, and the only way to get new weapons is from off the ground, after you've downed an enemy. That being said, if combat is a bit cumbersome for you, there is an option that allows you to skip these sequences if you die enough times. Driving is also mixed bag. L.A. Noire has a more arcade-like feel than something like GTA 4 or 5, but the turning can feel too sluggish, especially in the high-action chase sequences. 

In terms of extras, L.A. Noire comes with the standard content expected from other remasters. You get all the game's DLC, including the various outfits and extra episodes, as well as a visual update. For the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the visuals have seen a substantial update. From improved texture details, new lighting, and support for 4K and HDR, LA Noire's updates are immediately noticeable. Colors have a much more vibrant look to them, and character models and animations have been slightly improved. While it's not the same level of GTA 5's update, it's still a great-looking game.

L.A. Noire is also available on the Nintendo Switch, though it's not as big of an update as compared to Sony's and Microsoft's outings. It's more of a cleaner version of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, running at 1080p docked and 720p in portable mode. While L.A. Noire isn't the type of game to play on the go, with its focus more on story, it's still a nice option to play anywhere you go. The touchscreen controls are also a nice inclusion, as you can twist and turn each of the various clues and objects on the touch screen (this can also be done with the PS4 touch pad), and choosing your dialogue options via the touchscreen is also a nice option.

The motion controls ... are there, but you're better off just sticking with a controller. The Joy Cons or Pro Controller aren't quite as responsive as the PS4 or Xbox One controllers, with the ZL and ZR buttons not functioning as well as the triggers found on the the other two, which can make driving more of a pain on the Switch. Finally, there are far more sections in the Switch version that suffer from frame rate drops than in the other versions. They're incredibly noticeable and seem to happen randomly.

That being said, there are still some minor blushes regardless of which version you decide to get. Despite improvements to textures, you'll still get some blurry images when looking at things close up. You'll also notice short draw distances, with the game world constantly loading buildings as you get closer up on them, especially on the Switch version. And there are some anti-aliasing issues throughout.

The audio is especiallty pleasing, with music that constantly evokes feelings of nostalgia if you've listened to the film noir soundtracks of the 40's and 50's. The score, by composers Andrew and Simon Hales, is top-notch and is some of the more underrated music you'll hear in gaming. Along with this is the inclusion of dozens of licensed songs from the era that helps lend some more authenticity to the world. Bottom line, L.A. Noire may be old, but there's been enough TLC put into the remasters of the game to help make it feel more like a living place than it was on last-gen hardware.

L.A. Noire is still a one-of-a-kind experience that's still worth playing even six years on. While some more additions and changes would have been nice, there's still nothing quite like living out the dream of being a detective in the late 40s. For only $40 on PS4 and Xbox One ($10 extra on Switch), it's a nice deal. Hopefully some day (after Red Dead Redemption 2), we'll get to return to Rockstar's version of 1940's Los Angeles with a sequel for current-gen systems.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 Review: A Maligned Shooter Hiding Its Potential Wed, 15 Nov 2017 15:34:42 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Like the prequel trilogy before it, Battlefront 2 is already a divisive piece of Star Wars lore. There's no doubt it's a flawed experience, carrying with it glaring inadequacies and, at times, ham-fisted storytelling and convoluted mechanics. But despite its blemishes, Battlefront 2 is also a game that showcases the things that make Star Wars the epic space opera it is: wonder, redemption, and most of all, whimsical fun. 

As any Star Wars fan can attest, there's something magical about that galaxy far, far away. Whether you're visiting vibrant planets in the galaxy's remote reaches, piloting a Tie Fighter through the stunning vacuum of space, or sneaking around the white halls of a Rebel cruiser, Battlefront 2 drops you into the middle of George Lucas' meticulous vision like no other game in the Star Wars franchise. It makes that distant fantasy tangible, for better or worse. 

With all the controversy surrounding the game, Battlefront 2 nearly collapses under its own weight and several dubious design decisions. The places that do shine keep it afloat and worthy of notice by any die-hard Star Wars fan, but ultimately, it's a game that falls short of a brilliant concept and can't be recommended without serious considerations. 

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

Battlefront 2's biggest draw is its expansive multiplayer experience. Participating in large-scale battles on planets like Endor, Naboo, and Takodana is the primary focus here. Whether you're playing the 40-player Galactic Assault, the smaller 16-player Strike, or the intense 24-player Starfighter Assault, going toe to toe with real-life opponents against the backdrop of Star Wars history is uniquely engrossing. 

And on the surface, it works. BF2's mechanics are solid. Piloting a Tie Fighter or X-Wing has never felt so good; firing an E-11 or an A280 blaster has never felt so natural; and swinging a lightsaber, double-bladed or not, has never felt so fluid. It's in these moments that Battlefront 2's multiplayer shines brightest -- when it lets you sink into the battles at hand and blast your opponents into stardust. 

But all of that starts to crumble the moment you begin to level and find yourself face to face with BF2's unrelenting bogeyman: its progression system. 

A Remnant of an Uncivilized Age

In theory, Battlefront 2's progression system works, I'll give it that. Like other games in the genre, you're able to increase your overall rank by performing well in combat. You're also able to increase the ferocity and effectiveness of your troopers, starfighters, and heroes through Star Card upgrades. These "perks" increase stats, provide buffs and debuffs, and augment class loadouts. Arguably, it's all stuff we've seen before in shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield 1.

The problem lies in this specific system's unnecessary complexity and imbalanced execution. 

At the end of each match, you're rewarded with experience points and credits. The former increases your overall player and class rankings, while the latter provides you with in-game currency with which to buy loot crates. Inside loot crates, you'll find new Star Cards that make your characters, vehicles, and classes stronger, give them new attacks, or upgrade their weaponry. 

It all sounds well and good, but this is where problems start to arise. First, multiplayer achievements, in-game challenges, and other milestones mostly award you with small amounts of credits. This means that it will take most players upwards of several hours just to open one of BF2's loot crates through natural progression. And when you consider the 2,200-credit Heroes and Villains loot crate is the cheapest, and the Trooper loot crate, which most players will need to open on a regular basis, costs 4,000 credits to open, you start to see why this system is less than ideal.  

The second issue is a more nefarious one: microtransactions. Because it takes so incredibly long to naturally procure credits for loot crates and hero and villain purchases, Battlefront 2 inherently incentivizes microtransactions. By purchasing Crystal, BF2's premium currency, players willing to shell out IRL money can open loot crates more quickly, get credits faster, and effectively increase their chances of getting high-level Star Cards at a faster rate than casual players.  

Sure, those paying players still have to tussle with Battlefront 2's stingy RNG system and aren't guaranteed to get rare Star Cards with every draw -- but they are more likely to get those Star Cards before any player progressing naturally. At the time of this writing, I've already run into a bevy of OP players in each of the game's multiplayer modes -- and I have a feeling not all of them got so powerful naturally.  

To make things more confusing -- and arguably more lopsided -- BF2's crafting system is gated, too. Completing challenges, finishing milestones, and opening loot crates also (sometimes, maybe) awards you with crafting parts. These can be used to upgrade Star Cards from tier to tier.

Certain enhancements require that specific class and player levels are met before those options are unlocked. That's expected. But what isn't expected is that if you don't already own particular Star Cards that keep you competitive in multiplayer battles, you'll have a hard time increasing those levels to get those unlocks.

This means you'll need to grind matches and challenges to get credits to open loot crates to get Star Cards to become more powerful to grind more matches to get more credits to open more loot crates to get more crafting parts to become more powerful to ... I think you get the point. 

Ultimately, the skinny is this: the entire system is an RNG revenant from the free-to-play world forced onto a $60, AAA release. And while the minutiae of that encroachment is beyond this review, it's disheartening to see it diluting a game it has no business haunting. 

There is Another

While Battlefront 2's foundational multiplayer principles make it a relatively fun mode overshadowed by an overly complex progression system, the game's campaign mode is a whimsical romp through the Star Wars universe that keeps enjoyment and entertainment front and center. 

You play as Iden Versio, commander of Inferno Squad, an Imperial special forces contingent that only takes on the most dangerous of missions. During the Galactic Civil War, Iden's spent most of her time sabotaging Rebel installations and assassinating high-level operatives. When the second Death Star explodes in the skies above Endor during the events of Return of the Jedi, Iden finds herself in a desperate situation -- and questioning her loyalties to the Empire. 

Spanning 12 missions, BF2's five- to seven-hour campaign showcases the narrative power of Star Wars storytelling. From joy and pain to redemption and corruption, all of the staples of a good Star Wars story are found here. Strong writing and even stronger performances from the game's cast (specifically Janina Gavankar as Iden) keep the story from too many pratfalls along the way -- and keep the more ham-fisted moments bearable.  

Strangely enough, there are times when the reference-heavy narrative wheels away from Iden's core story, bringing in classic franchise characters we know and love -- ones that sometimes wield lightsabers or have penchants for gambling. And as a Star Wars fan, these moments keep me engrossed by expanding the universe's current canon.

But objectively, these asides often feel forced into the narrative for fan service. Does Inferno Squad really need to go to an undeveloped, backwater planet just so that one character can make an appearance and find that special trinket? Do they really need that one swashbuckler to find that info? Sure, they're fun, but they're entirely unnecessary. 

The campaign is at its most fun in its early stages, when the stakes for Iden and her covert squad are the greatest. It's a pity that the story couldn't shake all of its tropes and stay more focused on the missions at hand, but at the end of the day, Battlefront 2's narrative is one of the best the series has seen in a long, long time -- perhaps since Tie Fighter.

That epic story is bolstered even further by the game's absolutely gorgeous backdrops and preternatural character models. Light gleams off Inferno Squad's helmets as they trudge through the dense forests of Endor; the skies over Pillio stretch into the distance behind regal (and uncannily realistic) waterfalls; and the wreckage of Star Destroyers burns brightly against hot desert sands of Jakku. Iden and her compatriots, Gideon Hask and Del Meeko, look as real as you and I -- down to every pore. 

To top things off, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Battlefront 2's soaring score and impeccable sound design, both of which make the campaign even that much more pronounced. Just as with its predecessor, every blaster bolt, lightsaber swing, and starship flyby is full of pitch-perfect nuance and gravitas. Iconic sonic landscapes from the films, ranging from The Phantom Menace to The Force Awakens, make appearances throughout BF2, further bolstering the feeling that you're not just playing a game -- you're playing a movie. 

It's somewhat perplexing that the fidelity of sound intrinsic to the campaign isn't as strong in the multiplayer sections, where clearly hearing enemy boot steps and commands is arguably more imperative. In my experience, I often found it difficult to determine where enemies were coming from, and the more granular pieces of audio design from the campaign were lost in the utter cacophony of combat. 

The Verdict

For all the things Battlefront 2 does wrong on the multiplayer front, there's a plethora of things it does right everywhere else. It may seem overly dramatic, but Battlefront 2's single-player experience, terribly fun Arcade mode, and couch co-op features save the game from itself. It's in these modes and moments that we see under the hood, past the obtrusive microtransactions and needlessly complex progression systems, and discover a wildly fun and mechanically sound experience. 

Visiting that galaxy far, far away has never been more beautiful; battling on planets such as Takodana and flying in the skies above Kamino has never been more exhilarating; and blasting Rebels and Imperials alike has never felt so satisfying. To put the icing on the cake, you won't find better in-game cinematography in any of BF2's franchise cousins. 

It will be interesting to watch Battlefront 2's journey and see how long players will stick with the game. Playing more than 15 hours of BF2 so far, I get the feeling that some players will stay around for the upcoming canonical story DLCs that will expand the narrative into the moments before (and perhaps during) The Force Awakens. Others will stick around for the game's tight controls, well-rounded mechanics, and exciting gameplay. But others (and I'd argue more than you think) will find the game's frustratingly convoluted systems too vexing to get over. 

And that's unfortunate because Star Wars Battlefront 2 really is a fun game to play. You just have to search for it.

Sonic Forces: Speeding Things Too Thin Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:58:18 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Excluding his recent TV spin-off games, Sonic the Hedgehog's track record has been pretty decent for the past several years. Sonic Colors was a great step in the right direction, with Sonic Generations perfectly capitalizing on the foundation and recapturing the Blue Blur's glory days. And while Sonic: Lost World had its detractors, it was still a well-made product. Sadly, Sonic Forces never manages to capture what made those games good. 

While Sonic games have never been known for having strong plots, the last few entries at least knew how outlandish and convoluted the stories for these games could get and poked fun at the ridiculousness of it all. Sonic Forces mistakenly goes back to the earlier plots by actually trying to take itself seriously. This time, Dr. Eggman has recruited a powerful new ally called Infinite to defeat Sonic. They succeed, and Eggman manages to take over most of the world. Sonic and his remaining friends--including a new "create-your-own" character--form a resistance to stop Eggman and his new pal.

Like Generations before it, Sonic Forces splits its time between old and new. Modern Sonic will boost, speed, and homing attack his way through levels, while Classic Sonic jumps and spin-dashes through his portions. New to Forces is its character creation feature. There are tons of items you get to customize with once you beat a stage. Your character's gimmick is that it can use Wisps-based weapons that allow it to whip, burn, or otherwise destroy foes, as well as use each weapon's secondary ability.

It's the length of Sonic Forces where everything starts to fall apart. It'll take you about three to five hours to get through the game. It's not that Sonic Forces is a short game, it's that each of its 30 levels is over far too quickly; most can be completed in around a few minutes. That's it. Just when you're starting to get really into a level, it ends, and you never feel wholly satisfied. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were relatively short experiences, but they made up for it with levels that went on just long enough to not overstay their welcomes. Outside of the main story, there are some side missions that do little to change up the main structure. You can replay levels in order to up your score, but it's still not a good incentive to replay.

Despite a few instances, later on, of annoying trial and error that the series is known for, most levels in Sonic Forces are decently designed and feature an abundance of robots to destroy and loops to run around in. While Modern Sonic spends a bit too much time constantly bursting through levels, with little to do, it's still mostly enjoyable. You just wish you had more control in these sequences. The created character plays mostly like this, and though it's more combat-oriented, it still plays like Sonic. The abilities it uses are fun and do a decent job of mixing thing up. Outside of a few instances of top-down areas that suffer from bad controls, using this character is still a fun experience. There are even a few levels where you and Sonic get to team up.

Classic Sonic levels, meanwhile, are just okay. Nothing about them is bad, but they're just average. You jump, platform, and spin-dash, but nothing is really memorable about them, seeing how short they can be and especially coming off of Sonic Mania's excellent level design. It almost feels like these levels were made by an amateur using a Sonic version of Super Mario Maker. It's still 2D Sonic, meaning it's still enjoyable, but it's kind of just there.

In terms of presentation, Sonic Forces looks and sounds solid. From Green Hill and Chemical Plant to Metropolis, Sonic Forces does have decent visual variety to its levels. That being said, the worlds you inhabit start to blur together. Dark factories, evil bases, and ruined cities begin to stand out in the worst way when mixed with the colorful cities and worlds Sonic is known for. While the version I played was on the Switch, it should be noted that Sonic Forces does run at 1080p/60fps on PS4 and 720p/60fps on Xbox One. The Switch runs at 720p/30fps regardless of whether you play it docked or handheld. It's not as responsive and does look rougher, but it still gets the job done. The music is a pretty good mixture of Genesis-style music and the rock that Sonic is known for, and the voice acting is fine.

The bottom line is that Sonic Forces looks, sounds, and plays well enough, but its levels feel too automatic and short to feel satisfying like past games. Even at the price of $40, it's still asking too much for what's offered. After the excellent Sonic Mania, you'd think SEGA and Sonic Team would have stepped it up. While there was love and care put into Sonic Forces, and it doesn't feel like a rushed, broken cash-in like the worst Sonic games, it never manages to reach the quality of the franchise's heights. Sonic fans should at least give it a rental or wait for it to go on sale, but everyone else will be left in the dust. It feels like it's been said for a while, but maybe next time, Sonic Team will get it right. 

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review: What Could Have Possibly Gone Wrong? Mon, 13 Nov 2017 14:38:40 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Life is strange, isn't it? It seems like only yesterday we were all gaping in absolute, dumbfounded shock at the announcement of a new Bubsy game in the form of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, and now the actual game is right here in reality for all of us to boo off stage and chuck tomatoes at. 

Most veteran gamers likely know the gist of Bubsy's history by now. The first game is largely remembered as a failed attempt to make a mascot platformer meant to rival the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, with pretty average results and some mechanics that were at odds with each other. The sequels were essentially more of the same, with the exception of Bubsy 3D, an early 3D platformer famously awful for its limited controls, self-congratulatory comedy, awful camera, and overall cheap-feeling quality. 

Not many people wanted a new Bubsy game, and I think even fewer expected one, but here it is anyway. The question is: has developer Black Forest Games learned anything from the years of criticism and infamous reputation left behind by developer Accolade? Have they made a truly good game out of Bubsy?

The answer is no. No, they really haven't learned that much. 

The visuals, at least, aren't half bad.

Let's Start With the Positives

I think it's fair that when critiquing any game -- no matter how much you may hate it or think it doesn't need to exist -- to point out what it did well before you rip into it. I'd like to start off by saying that there are actually a few small things about The Woolies Strike Back that I liked and didn't just tolerate or flat out despise. 

For starters, in the options menu, you have the option of adjusting Bubsy's level of verbosity, meaning how often he'll make one of his characteristic one-liners. You can go from a minimum setting of "Silent Bobcat" all the way up to the maximum setting, which is just called "Bubsy." This addresses the most common complaint people had about Bubsy games in the past, how Bubsy constantly spouted inane quips and references. This option shows a certain degree of self-awareness and learning from the series' past failures.

The graphics can actually look kind of nice (at times), some of the music is chipper and fun (if not all that memorable), and to be completely honest, my first impressions weren't that bad. For the first two levels, I was actually having fun, taking in the decent scenery and collecting lots of colorful yarn with its satisfying little pop noises.

Very early on, I found myself having a little fun here and there.

The controls also aren't too bad. Bubsy can still jump and glide, as well as pounce, and aside from an annoyingly fiddly sense of movement when trying to move just slightly, the controls are fine. The glide provides a slight upward boost in midair, which can help you correct a jump, and you can even jump in midair when walking straight off of a ledge. These movement options open up some small opportunities in terms of platforming.

It wasn't much, but at the start, I could at least say the game was, at worst, below-average. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to notice the cracks in the game's structure, and it didn't take long after that for me to really see how frankly lazy and awful the whole thing was.

What Went Wrong

This game has some of the most basic and boring design for a platformer I've seen in quite a while. The level design is downright insipid. 

The biggest offense in the level design -- and possibly the game's entire design -- is the pointlessness of the collectibles. The main collectibles come in the form of balls of yarn, hundreds of which are scattered across each stage, which seem only to be relevant in increasing your score at the end of each level.

There are also five keys in most levels, all of which you need in order to unlock the level's Wooly Vault, which always houses a large amount of yarn. Lastly, there are T-shirts, which either give you an extra hit point or grant you an extra life if you grab one while already powered up.

But here's the big issue -- about 90% of the collectibles are pointless, and by extension, 90% of each level. Like I said before, the yarn only adds to your score, which is unconnected to anything else in the gameplay, meaning there isn't any reason to explore the levels. Every diversion from the main path is in service to pointless collecting, even when it's a shirt to get health or lives, because some of the shirts are on the main path anyway.

The level design can just be plain confusing sometimes.

While there are rare bits here and there where the platforming feels decently structured, they really are few and far between. The placement of everything from checkpoints to collectibles to walls and platforms feels borderline random. The level design doesn't have its own special Bubsy "feel" or anything; it just seems like they did the minimum that they had to in order to keep the game from feeling like an annoying walk down a long corridor. 

Everything in every level is at its best amateurish, and at its worst, useless or awful. Enemies have bizarre placements, the background shadows pop in at random times, the enemy and environment variety is laughably low, and the hitboxes are just cheap. Bubsy sometimes has trouble landing on a basic enemy due to his slender size, and all hazards and some basic objects have inaccurate and illogically large hitboxes and poor collision detection. 

The cherry on top is that the few boss fights in the game are all terrible. First off, all three of them are against the same UFO but with different attacks, which is more than just a little disappointing. Second, the difficulty curve for these fights is totally screwed up. The first fight is extremely easy -- possibly easier than an encounter with a normal enemy due to the enormous, obvious weak point -- the second one is harder than the final one, and the final one is underwhelming as a finale. And they all just take too long.

The first boss fight. The other two are a lot like this but with way more obnoxious screen-filling attacks. 

Lack of Purrsonality

In regards to Bubsy's one-liners -- as well as the writing in general -- they aren't that great. The jokes in this game range from either not that funny to not making any sense at all. To illustrate my point, I will quote Bubsy when he sings, "MC Bubster, the Pouncemaster, in the game, yeah!" Now I will quote my brother, who in response to this quip, said, "That sounds like the kind of joke you make on accident and then wish you could take back." 

There is a story, but it feels like nothing, even moreso than a lot of other retro or retro-inspired platformers. Bubsy's longtime enemies the Woolies (the enemies from the first Bubsy game) have come back to steal all of Earth's yarn, as well as Bubsy's prized possesion, the Golden Fleece, which is important or special for reasons we are never told. The Woolies aren't a threatening or cool enemy force, and their goal isn't even clear. Plus, Bubsy is so smug and nonchalant that it doesn't ever feel like there's any stakes or a real reason to care.

Maybe the story and writing could be forgiven for being so underwhelming if the game wasn't also so short. My playthrough of the game was just under two hours total, which to my understanding is longer than most people's, and that was only because I was stopping to collect things early on before I realized they were pointless. I've seen and heard about some people beating the game in just under ONE hour blind.

Look What the Out-of-Work Bobcat Dragged In 

This game is less than two hours long and costs $30. Even if this game were great, that price would still be too much considering how short is. Another recent indie platformer, A Hat in Timeis also $30, but that game is much longer, better designed, and more charming and original. To quote my brother again: "This game would be a ripoff at 99 cents."

I just can't wrap my head around this. What was the point of bringing back a character like Bubsy -- a character that most people didn't miss or really care about -- just to make such a basic and painfully mediocre game? Why invest time and money into a game that ultimately ends up feeling like a slightly longer HD version of the original SNES game?

I cannot recommend Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back to anyone, ironically or otherwise, and I don't think there is any reason to buy it, even if it were to get some sort of massive discount. There are hundreds of much better games, many of which cost less than half this game's price and have design that actually improved and changed with the times. The best thing I can say about it is that it's short enough that I was able to finish it and still get a refund on Steam.

Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back is available now on Steam and PS4 (but you really shouldn't buy it). You can watch a trailer for the game below: 

Last Stitch Goodnight Review -- A Game in Need of Stitching Fri, 10 Nov 2017 10:11:51 -0500 Erroll Maas

In Last Stitch Goodnight, a 2D action-adventure game developed and published by Well Bred Rhino, you play as an unnamed character who has been kidnapped by a mysterious doctor after he revives you from being nearly killed in an accident. This doctor has been performing unethical experiments on his unwilling test subjects for an unknown reason, and your goal is to escape the doctor's mansion by acquiring new weapons and abilities.

The first thing players may notice about Last Stitch Goodnight is its graphical style. Last Stitch Goodnight takes an animated approach toward its graphics similar to plenty of other low-budget indie titles, but it looks much too similar to a free game you would have played on your web browser back in 2004. Of course, just because the graphics of a game are sub par doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the game is. Last Stitch Goodnight is not one of those games.

After its visual style, the dialogue between characters as well as the game's quirky sense of humor will be what most players observe. While these elements are by far the best part of the entire experience, even then they feel more contrived when compared to other humor-filled indie titles. When each character talks via a speech bubble, they speak mumbled gibberish, which is silly at first but quickly becomes annoying.

The general gameplay of Last Stitch Goodnight is passable but has some notable flaws. There are several abilities you can gain from meeting certain characters trying to help you escape, including the ability to climb, dash, and freeze water. Aside from freezing water, climbing and dashing should be actions available either from the start or much earlier than they're obtained.

When running, the player's speed automatically slows down while going upstairs, which is rather unnecessary. The decrease in speed also makes it more difficult to gain momentum for longer jumps, making jumping from one platform to a higher one or to a climbable surface a harrowing and frustrating task. Dodging and climbing are both strange in that each action uses two buttons at once; as a result, the climbing is inaccurate, and you may find yourself dodging when the action isn't needed -- and most of the time, it doesn't feel needed at all. 

The weapons and tools players use range from a screwdriver to a lead pipe to other common and not-so-common objects. The weapons provide some variation in range but do nothing to make themselves feel unique. The process of hitting enemies one to three times in order to defeat them becomes tedious and boring by the time you get to the first save point, which is only around 10 to 15 minutes in.

While battling enemies can become tedious, some of the boss fights, while simple, are well designed and do require some thought about which tool is best to use in each situation. However, this feature isn't quite as consistent as it should be. If all bosses were designed well, it would help give players motivation to progress further through the game despite the frustrating and finicky platforming,

The story, while offering some thought-provoking concepts, becomes less engaging as the game goes on, making finishing the game and getting it over with feel like a much more important task than paying attention to the story or dialogue in any capacity. The story isn't terrible, especially when compared to some higher-budget titles, but the lackluster gameplay, annoying dialogue audio, and forced humor completely overshadow what could have been the game's key refining quality.

The music of Last Stitch Goodnight is appropriately eerie, although it's nothing special. The music is yet another similarity it has to the free, browser-based Flash games of the past, and you likely won't be remembering any of the tracks due to just how uninspired they are.

Last Stitch Goodnight is a typical indie Metroidvania-inspired platformer, but it doesn't do much to make itself stand out among the competition. It feels closer to a game in early access than a full release. Due to its severe mediocrity and lack of inspiration, it might be an acceptable recommendation for the most dedicated fans of indie Metroidvania-like games or for those who yearn for the browser-based Flash games of yesteryear, but otherwise, it's a game that might as well be skipped entirely. 

Last Stitch Goodnight is available on PC through Steam and PlayStation 4 through the PlayStation Store.

A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

Overgrowth Review: A Somber Tale About Ninja Bunnies Thu, 09 Nov 2017 11:59:01 -0500 LuckyJorael

When I was asked to review Overgrowth, it was pitched to me as a platformer and fighting game, with ninja bunnies. Awesome, I thought, a fun indie game where I can run around as a bunny and do ninja stuff. And while yes, I did run around as an awesome ninja bunny and do ninja stuff -- climbing all over the place, kicking other bunnies in the face, throwing daggers, and swinging swords -- what I didn't expect out of Wolfire Games' action-adventure was a heartfelt story about loss, revenge, and what a soldier comes home to after a horrendous war.

Before I begin in earnest, I highly recommend 1) you get this game, and 2) you play its predecessor, Lugaru's, campaign before the longer Overgrowth campaign. The Lugaru campaign is shorter, and admittedly slightly less polished, but it gives some great story beats and background on Turner, the main rabbit for both campaigns. I made the mistake of playing Lugaru second, and I feel the Overgrowth campaign would have been that much better with some background.

Overgrowth's story focuses on Turner, a rabbit who just wants to live his life after coming home from a terrible bunny war (don't laugh!) and losing his family. Being a fighter and one of the strongest rabbits in the world means that Turner will never find the peace he says he wants. One of the central questions in Overgrowth's campaign is whether or not Turner actually wants peace or if he's actually enjoying all the ninja ass-kicking he's doing throughout the story. Turner makes attempts to reason with people other animals, but talking never seems to work, and he has to resort to fists, weapons, and super-strong bunny legs to defeat his enemies.

The story is compelling enough that I kept playing through the missions despite myself, and the missions themselves are short enough that you don't notice the time slipping away. They're also short enough that even a gamer dad like me can slip in some ass-kicking before having to rush off to put out a fire (usually not literally). The downside to these small, bite-size missions is that they tend to become formulaic: go here, fight some rabbits or rats or dogs, and once you kill or knock out the last one, music plays, and the mission ends. You get a cutscene with dialogue, and the next mission loads. The fight sequences are broken up by fun, tough platforming missions, but even those get repetitive after a while.

Turner consistently feels like he's floating when trying to jump around, and while it feels pretty amazing to be able to jump as high as he does, the hang time he has while he's up there becomes a little ponderous when you're trying to reach a certain ledge for the fifth time. Collision detection is sometimes off, and I kept slipping off ledges I should have been able to stand on or mantle up to. Other than those two gripes, though, platforming was really fun -- moreso than in some other games in recent memory.

Combat in Overgrowth is pretty interesting. I can see where a more patient and adept player would excel at using the knives, swords, rapiers, and spears that Overgrowth has to offer, but I always seemed to lean back on Turner's jump + kick move that knocked enemies senseless and threw me out and away, ready to reset for another jump + kick until my opponent was down for good. This combo was so good, in fact, that I only had to switch up my tactics once, against a cat with a rapier who killed me a couple dozen times in a row. The only frustration (aside from that damn cat) that I had was that getting knocked down is very nearly a restart-worthy offense. If there was more than one opponent in the fight, getting knocked down in Overgrowth was like getting stunlocked in a fighting game.

Overgrowth also has a thriving Steam Workshop community, with players making all sorts of fun maps to play around in, from giant arenas to Mirror's Edge-style parkour cityscapes. If the story content doesn't sell you on the game, the Workshop content might.

Overall, Overgrowth was a fun experience, with fun platforming, dizzyingly high jumps, and pretty good combat. The story hooked me from the start, and the gameplay sold me the rest of the way.

Ghostory Review Wed, 08 Nov 2017 17:23:02 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Ghostory, indie studio Rigid Core's first game, recently released on Steam, promising 29 levels of platformer puzzling and a retro, 2D pixel aesthetic. The game gets the core concept right for the most part, with a very well done central gimmick and some clever designs. Overall, though, it's not enough to make it easy to recommend the game, as there are some substantial flaws in pacing and delivery that make it more of a chore than it should be to play.


Ghostory doesn't take itself seriously, which is a good and bad thing (more about the bad later). It starts with you as a young man, with a considerable helping of 5 o'clock pixel shadow, running desperately through the woods as you try and outrace a pack of wolves. Eventually you get away and take a refreshing drink at a nearby lake, only to find that you've turned transparent upon drinking. Fortunately, there is a witch's home nearby, and she knows the cure. Unfortunately, she just used the last of her ingredients on a traveler who passed by a few minutes before. So, you're tasked with heading into the nearby cave to recover them for her, for without the potion, you'll die soon. (There's no time limit, though, so no worries there). Meanwhile, you can shift between human and ghost form at will, and you head off into the cave to try and save your life.


The core gameplay in Ghostory revolves around that ability to change form. By pressing Shift, you transform into a transparent form of yourself and can pass through obstacles, scope out a level, or get to a certain platform a lot faster than normal. If that sounds like it would make the game far too easy, it doesn't. You see, you have to make it to the end of each room with your backpack—else you can't pick up the required ingredients for the restorative potion, keys you need to unlock doors and cages, and so on. That's where the challenge comes in. In essence, the game is more about getting your backpack to the end of each room than it is moving the character around.

Switch It Up

The puzzles you encounter in the process are varying takes on a process sequence, where you complete certain actions first in order to proceed to the next step. All take the same basic form: flip switches, move boxes, hop on moving platforms, pick up a key, unlock a cage so you can flip another switch, find another key, open a door, repeat until you get to the end of the room. If it sounds repetitive, that's because it is after a while.

Don't get me wrong. Some of the puzzles are quite challenging, if not as cerebral as I would have liked, and most of them are well designed. It doesn't take long for the puzzles to become more difficult either. When you do get stuck, though, you can select the hints option from the menu, which takes you to an unlisted YouTube video posted by Rigid Core, showing you how to complete the level. However, in most cases, I sincerely wish the solutions had been a bit more involved, rather than "oh, I just move a bit faster to get to that platform" or "move this box first before I go to that switch."

Given the nature of the puzzles, the game is best played in short bursts. But it's not really designed for that. You only encounter save points after clearing every five rooms or so, and it's a bit of a chore to go back through and complete puzzles you've already finished just because you didn't reach the save point before life called. A related problem is  the length of some puzzles.

Even early on, there are those that take a good while to complete, requiring multiple steps to get to the end and, depending on the puzzle, going old-school and punishing you by making you start over if you happen to fall at the wrong time. The challenge would be appreciated if it didn't mean going through tedious steps just to get back to where you were and perform more tedious steps. Here is where variety would have helped make the game more enjoyable.

Some of the problems you'll encounter aren't really puzzle related either. For example, there are several timed switches, where you are given only so much time to get to a platform before it stops moving or disappears. The timing is a tad too short on some of these. I suspect that with a proper controller, it wouldn't be a big deal, but playing with the keyboard makes for clunky and imprecise controls, which runs counter to the sort of precision required in jumping and general movement.

What's In My Pocket?

There is one other problem connected to the puzzles themselves: the core concept. When your character is standing there with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets and is wearing jeans to boot, there seems little reason to place such heavy importance on moving a backpack around so you can pick up items. Hoping for logic in video games is an exercise in futility—as it should be—but a glaring flaw in the main mechanic like that is difficult to ignore.

Story Problems

What the game really needs is something to pull the player forward, providing a reason to look past these faults and push through the puzzles. The story remains pretty much the same as it starts—lighthearted, maybe a bit too flippant. It's not bad, but there isn't enough to give the player a reason to keep going, especially as the only story snippets you get are at the save points, when you communicate with the Witch or others via a rift in space.

The dialogue is competent, though not outstanding, with nothing to separate each character from the other. For example, the Witch, who's supposed to be an old lady, sounds like she just finished her sophomore year in high school (which is "uhm…like" a bit off-putting). There are Steam achievements, but they seem gratuitous—getting an achievement for improvising a puzzle solution when it was the only one, for instance.


In terms of sound and visuals, the game performs much better. The 2D pixel art is lovely to look at, and despite the fact that the backgrounds get a bit old before finally changing as you progress further, the color scheme is deep and rich. There isn't much in the way of sound, though the atmospheric undertones of the music add a nice feel to the game overall.

The Verdict

Ghostory has a very solid concept, and the developers clearly put a good amount of thought into the puzzles themselves. Some players may find the puzzles as reason enough to continue, and it might be just the thing to scratch that puzzler itch. However, the overall piece is bogged down by repetition and no real incentive to keep going. Hopefully, Rigid Core's next outing will provide players with a more well-rounded experience.

Swim Out Review: Attack of the Synchronized Swimmers Wed, 08 Nov 2017 16:07:07 -0500 Greyson Ditzler (PurplePocketPirate)

Swim Out is a tile-based puzzle game where you play as a woman attempting to navigate her way around the other occupants of a pool in order to get out at the ladder. The game is about as simple as the premise makes it sound, though it does manage to wring a lot of ideas out of this seemingly simple premise -- and execute them decently at that.

It's a Small Pool, but It Isn't Shallow

Swim Out has no story or anything like that, as it's all about the gameplay here, and such a thing is unimportant in a basic puzzle game like this. Despite this, there are occasional visuals when you beat a level that show you making your way back to a lounge chair, sometimes with a cup of coffee or a croissant. So I choose to believe that this is the story of a lady who was nagged into signing up for a synchronized swimming class by some pushy friends but isn't all that interested, and who is just trying to escape from the class in the middle of a routine so she can relax and take a nap in the sun. 

It may seem like an odd observation to make, coming up with my own story for something so simple, but that right there is the point. Swim Out really is a very simple game, and while there is some quality gameplay and puzzle design here, there isn't all that much I can say about the game's story. 

What I can say is that it's a rather well-made puzzle game. It has you occupying a single square as a swimmer, and every time you move to a new spot on the grid, everything else moves as well, in a sort of turn-based format. You have to plan your moves ahead of time in order to account for when and where certain objects or people will move, keep track of timing and numbers, and ensure that you aren't setting yourself up for failure, sometimes five moves in advance.

 This is a small level early on, but nonetheless, timing is still key here.

The gameplay is easy enough to grasp -- though it does get much harder as you progress -- and does a good job of pacing out its new mechanics piecemeal in order to keep the game fresh without overwhelming the player with new rules to learn too quickly.

Something I thought was especially neat about Swim Out was its complete lack of dialogue. All instructions are given to the player using imagery such as arrows and numbers rather than overt instructions, allowing the player to slowly come to grips with the mechanics themselves, which I feel suits the simple premise well. Plus, iconography-based interface design is just interesting. 

While I'm talking about the presentation, it would be remiss of me to not mention the aesthetics. The game has a very simple art style, with a cartoonish style and bright, beach resort colors splashed on top of realistic-looking locations and characters resembling those from a safety sign you'd see telling you not to run or dive off the shallow end.

The music is very tranquil and relaxing, sounding something like Japanese meditation music you might hear at a spa, with very soft and mellow tones. The mumbled background chatter reminiscent of an actual crowded pool playing in the background is a nice touch as well.

From Kiddie Pool to Adult Swim

My biggest issues with Swim Out have to do with its learning curve and some of the mechanics that it slowly introduces. Swim Out is a game that starts out easy and gains momentum with its difficulty rather quickly. It does take some time for the game to get really challenging, but after only a few introductory levels, the game really ups the ante.

While the addition of usable items and the ability to keep track of water currents that slow you add additional layers of strategy, other elements seem only to exist to hinder you for the sake of difficulty. Something like the kickboard, for example, doubles your size and frankly makes turning a drawn-out pain in the ass, and oftentimes levels are designed in ways that force you to use it.

This is only the first level of the second chapter, and it took me much longer than anything from the first chapter. Difficulty ramps up smoothly but quickly.

The overall problem with the difficulty is that it tends to drag levels out at times. Coming to grips with new mechanics and having to try levels over is par for the course, but given the relatively small size of the game, the jump from, say, one-star difficulty to two-star difficulty is a sudden and noticeable leap.The difficulty curve is, like I said, curved reasonably, but the small scale of the experience means these difficulty jumps occasionally hamper the pacing and, by extension, the overall experience. Going from something you're used to or find easy to something much more daunting can lead to frustration at times.

Due to this, the relaxed atmosphere and mellow visuals don't really fit with the amount of stress and critical thinking that go into some of the later, more difficult levels. I will admit that the strategic approach to the gameplay is a core strength of the game, and a consistent difficulty curve is something that all developers should strive for, but this game can get pretty challenging pretty quickly. 

In Conclusion

Swim Out is a surprisingly decent puzzle game with some neat ideas and an overall relaxed feeling. While it is well made and fun enough, it's held back by how simple it is at its core as well as a few frustrating moments brought on by the game's unique yet unfamiliar mechanics. I want to clarify that when I call this game a "basic puzzle game" or a "simple puzzle game," by no means is that meant to be an insult. It is a pretty basic and simple game, but it still does what it sets out to do fairly well, with enough unique ideas for it to feel like its own thing, even if it doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well.

Swim Out is available now on Steam and mobile devices. You can watch a trailer for the game below:


 Note: {Review copy provided by Lozange Lab}

Bomber Crew Review Wed, 08 Nov 2017 13:55:42 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Runner Duck's World War II-era strategy game Bomber Crew offers a unique chance to take almost complete control of some fictitious British bombing operations, as you manage your crew and outfit your plane to ensure your success. The game provides a good challenge on its own, and the way the mechanics work overall mean you'll always want to try the next mission, no matter how badly the last one turned out. Yet it's not perfect, and the flaws in the game's individual components mean that you won't finish your campaign without a great deal of unnecessary frustration.


As you might have gathered from the title, Bomber Crew puts you in control of a Lancaster Bomber and its crew as you carry out various missions for the RAF during World War II. The missions vary from simple bombing runs, to rescuing stranded soldiers, and everything in between. On top of that, there are multiple side quests and the opportunity to take on bounty requests and destroy certain enemy Aces. You'll receive cash and intel points for successfully completing your missions and an additional reward for returning back to base in one piece (which is more of a challenge than it may sound), and you'll use those rewards to purchase upgrades for your crew and plane.

Getting to Know Your Crew and Plane

However, the heart of the game is in actually managing the crew and the plane. You'll start out by recruiting new members from a procedurally generated pool of rookies, male and female in all colors. It completely flies in the face of historical accuracy, but in doing so, it also is a subtle way to make the player think, "why shouldn't it have been like this anyway?" Each potential recruit has their own stat sets. In the beginning, you'll probably ignore everything except speed and armor, though survival capabilities and oxygen boosts become more important as the game progresses.

Each crew members starts at level 1, and they unlock important skills as they progress--things like using less fuel or pulling off more accurate attacks. You don't actually get to see what the skills are until they unlock, though. There are also fun little biographical details about each recruit's former occupation. They don't have any effect on the crew member's abilities, but it's a cute way to make for a more immersive experience by reminding you of the nature of Britain's military forces at the start of the war.

You can't do much at first as far as outfitting your crew or upgrading your plane, but after a few successful missions, the upgrades start pouring in. Some are purely aesthetic, like different colored jackets, but others—especially with the plane—significantly boost your chances for success and survival. You'll want to survive, too, since failure is brutal. Replacing dead crew members means starting back at level 1—until later in the game, at least—with no skills, and if your plane gets destroyed, you'll have to re-purchase your upgrades too. Everything is pretty expensive, but between rewards and side missions, money never ends up being a problem.

Mission (Almost) Impossible

During the mission you are responsible for almost every action the crew must take, including simple things like raising landing gear and opening bay doors, as well as outfitting everyone with parachutes and providing extra stores of ammo for your gunners. This is where the game is at its most enjoyable and most frustrating.

If crew are in their proper positions, they perform their duties as they should. If not, then they just stand around waiting to be told what to do, even if it means no one is at the wheel or the oxygen system malfunctioned and needs repairing. It's not always easy to select the right member and send them to the right place either. Given the closeness of everything inside the plane, you're as likely to send your engineer to one of the gun turrets as you are to have him or her fix the hydraulics system.

The other problem is with movement speed. Everything else, including your enemies, moves at a fairly reasonable pace. Yet your crew members take a good 40 seconds to pick up some ammo and take it to the tail gun. Equipment can negatively affect movement speed too, which is a bit silly. I don't know about you, but I can't recall the last time it took me an extra five seconds to get across the room just because I was wearing leather boots. No one expects video games to be entirely realistic, but the gap between the rest of the game's pace and your crew's slothful speed is jarring. It makes for a greater challenge, certainly, but it's an artificial challenge.

Fortunately, your reputation won't affect the abilities or willingness of your new recruits.

One of the most awkward mechanics, however, is the tagging system. You enter a first-person mode by pressing the spacebar and search for navigation points, mission targets, and enemy fighters. If the first two aren't tagged, you just keep flying towards the horizon. If you don't tag a fighter, your gunners just sit there and watch as your plane gets shot to bits. In some of the less hectic missions, it's fairly easy to keep up with tagging, although the cursor movement is far too sensitive to make it a smooth process. In missions where you must balance a variety of objectives at once, it becomes a bit too difficult to keep up with tagging enemies while still managing everything else.

That's part of the challenge, of course, and it gets easier as you get used to things, but the over-sensitivity of the cursor and the fact that it takes a good five seconds to tag an enemy fighter makes it more difficult than it needs to be. Then there is target tagging. I never quite figured out whether it was my own fault for re-tagging a target too soon after missing it or if the plane's unalterable automatic course is just wonky sometimes, but there are occasions when, despite having everything lined up the best you can, the bombing sites just don't line up with your target, especially if the target happens to be small.

And Yet...

This all likely makes the game sound dreadful. When it works, though, it works very well. And regardless of how tempted you are to quit after informing your computer in no uncertain terms that it wasn't your fault the plane crashed, there's always the drive to do better next time, to outfit your plane this way instead, or to make sure to take out all the fighters before going anywhere near those ground instalments (which you can't target). The game's individual parts might be lacking in several respects, but the whole is, overall, worth the trouble, not least due to the satisfaction received from successfully completing a mission and leveling up your crew. What it really needs is a training mode, where you can practice maneuvers and get used to the way things work before destroying your entire crew during a mission.

Audio and Visuals

Visually, the game is charming, if sometimes a bit too uniform. The graphics take a minimalist approach, overlooking textures and details and relying on smooth, somewhat blocky designs with bright colors to give it a unique and appealing aesthetic. The visuals aren't really the main focus, though, so even though one ammunition dump or recon spot looks exactly the same as every other one you'll see throughout the game, it doesn't take away too much from the enjoyment. An added bonus is the fact that you can set the graphics to the lowest setting possible if you need a smoother gameplay experience, and there aren't any drastically negative effects.

The sound does its job well. Your missions begin accompanied by a military drum beat, though in the heat of things, you'll only be hearing gunfire and the unintelligible chattering noise of your crew when they have to pass a message on. At base, it's a different story, where you're treated to some muffled and vague 1940s music as your background, except in the briefing room.

The Verdict

Bomber Crew is an interesting game. Its core mechanics mesh well together, but they can be incredibly frustrating to work with. The learning curve is very steep, making the absence of a training mode painfully noticeable. At the end of the day, though, the charming presentation and the desire to give it just one more go are enough to recommend the game, with the qualifier that you will get annoyed with it often at first.

If you do pick the game up, be sure to check out our guide to getting started in Bomber Crew as well!

Hand of Fate 2 Review -- A Tale of Revenge and Dark Fantasy Mon, 06 Nov 2017 10:57:14 -0500 Justin Michael

Two of the things I enjoyed the most about Hand of Fate was the game's story and its deck-building. Even though the combat was rather lackluster, those two things stood out like beacons in the night, reminders of those "make your own adventure" books I spent much of my youth playing. 

Crafting my own adventures and challenges was engrossing and satisfying, like I had a hand in my own fate. So when I had the chance to try Hand of Fate 2, the direct successor to that wonderful RPG card game, I couldn't help but dive back into that world. 

And so far, I have not been disappointed.

Hand of Fate 2 starts the player against a familiar antagonist -- The Dealer. Even though we've seen this enemy before, the game has changed, evolved into something different. One of the major evolutions from Hand of Fate to Hand of Fate 2 is the introduction of the map -- a playing field with 22 different and challenging meta-games. These tell the stories of what’s going on in the world and contain stories within themselves.

Combat has also somewhat evolved with a number of new weapons and combat styles. From wielding a mighty warhammer to a roguish set of dual-wielded daggers, there are new layers to combat other than the God of War-like single-button spamming of the original. A personal favorite of mine? The additions of critical strikes, artifacts, and companion characters, all things that really tease out some of the best aspects of Hand of Fate into something more tangible.

Every weapon has a something unique about it -- whether it has a particular enemy it’s more effective against or if it's imbued with special powers like The Cardinal Blade. Additionally, more powerful pieces of equipment have “fame” level requirements, such as certain legendary weapons that can’t be used unless you meet certain requirements by progressing through the challenges. This keeps players from “stacking the deck” so-to-speak and giving themselves access to overpowered weapons at the beginning of the mission.

Speaking of power, the addition of artifacts is something that is quite welcome to combat. I was playing the “The Lovers” challenge where I received a powerful artifact to help me combat the hordes of undead I was faced with -- and it was a boon for my strategy. Artifacts can be immensely powerful but come with drawbacks, too. In my case, I found that I only had three bombs total where I thought I’d have three per encounter. 

Another welcome addition is the companion characters -- quirky partners with their own fighting styles and abilities. Malaclypse -- the first companion you meet during the tutorial challenge -- is a roguish character that can help you negate damage and occasionally dole out splash damage to grouped enemies. There are a number of companions that you’ll come across during your challenges, some of them even tying into the story in their own interesting ways -- like the comedic relief/annoyance of Oswin, the potato farmer.

Other great additions to the meta-game include dice challenges, card roulettes, and even a pendulum timing challenge -- adding a bit more skill and luck to your adventures. It feels so satisfying to thin the tide of foes with a lucky dice roll or a perfectly timed pendulum game -- especially when you’re low on health and resources.

Visually, Hand of Fate 2 has been overhauled from the original. Gone are the lack-luster, but passable graphics from the first game. The characters look good, if still slightly cartoonish. The Dealer’s new den looks great with a number of subtle supporting environmental quirks that really bring it to life, and the battlegrounds are well styled and really feel whimsically fantastical. I personally really like the encounters from the High Priestess challenges -- snow-covered mountain passes and roided-out Viking-like Northmen.

The music is also very fitting, as are the sound effects. A lot of the time they're blended into the background so well that I hardly noticed them, and I like that -- they don’t overplay in the collective whole of the game. And once again the voice acting of Anthony Skordi -- the voice of The Dealer -- evokes a range of emotions.

The Skinny

If you liked the concept of the first Hand of Fate, then this is a game you should pick up. The new additions to “the game” are well integrated and feel fairly balanced. Combat has a few additions that add some more options and makes it slightly less “spam the attack button.” And the stories from the challenges have been fun and engaging.

If Hand of Fate 2  sounds like a game you'd enjoy playing, you can find it on Steam for the PC -- as well as the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One -- on November 7. No retail price has been announced at the time of this review.

[Note: A copy of the game was provided by the developer for this review].


Call Of Duty: WW2 Brings The Franchise Full Circle With A Classic Shooter Experience Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:32:27 -0400 Ty Arthur

Another year, another Call Of Duty. But things are different this time around. Things are more familiar, yet things are altogether new again. This time, it's safe to say long-time fans are a bit more excited for a return to form for the franchise, to boots on the ground, to a band of soldiers trudging through war-torn Europe on the way to Germany. 

And in essence, that's what they'll get. 

Overall, this Call of Duty experience is quite similar to what you've come to expect from Call Of Duty year after year. But surprisingly, CoD: WW2 manages to distinguish itself from the series even more than Infinite Warfare did -- and without resorting to any spaceship dog fights!

There were plenty of assumptions about the game made by the keyboard warriors of the world ahead of time, with some that were right on the money... and some that were very, very wrong.

 The angry YouTube hordes insisted there would be no Swastikas in this game, and yet this is literally the first second of the campaign...

Call of Duty, Old And New

While movement and level design will feel familiar to anyone who has played the last six or seven CoD entries, there are some solid differences in how the guns handle this time around. The old-timey feel comes across really well in this iteration's arsenal -- especially in the single player campaign -- with far fewer of the crazy scopes and gadgets more recent iterations have seen.

Although you won't fly around in power armor or have grenades that scuttle off toward heat signatures, there's still plenty of weaponry to keep the FPS fan happy. And in particular, there's a meatiness to the weaponry that brings the world of CoD: WW2 to life. 

For example, there's a really satisfying sound and feel to the spray of bullets when you pull the trigger on the PPSh-41. And there's an extremely heavy, clunky feeling (and exceedingly long duration) while reloading the Iron Sights, one that's radically different from the high-tech weapons of recent games.

 Hitting an unsuspecting nest of Nazis from the side with this thing is glorious!

But not everything feels great, with a few gunplay hiccups here and there. While dismounting an MG15 and using it with the sight is a totally different experience and one of the best gun options in the campaign -- even if it takes up a huge portion of the screen -- the standard machine gun dismounted from a nest is wildly inaccurate and difficult to use, making it more useful if left stationary.

The divergent familiarity doesn't end there. 

Plenty of tried and true Call Of Duty tropes are on display throughout the campaign, but several of them are presented a bit differently. The close combat mini-games for instance get an overhaul in how you line up and press buttons to avoid getting shanked.

Instead of the snowmobile chase from Modern Warfare 2 or any of those "back of the vehicle" segments from other CoD games, this time around, there's a frantic sequence where two squads on unarmored Jeeps have to make it through enemy lines when tank support isn't available.

It's clear we're still in Call Of Duty territory, it's just been transported to an earlier stage in history.

And as an aside, sitting on the hand crank-operated, '40s style anti-aircraft gun is a real time trip and one of the more fun parts of the game. That behemoth of a gun is a beast to aim and hit, but when you take down those Stukas ripping into the Allied armor, there is an undeniable sense of satisfaction.

 Oh my god, I hit him!

Returning To War-Torn Europe

The game's environments match the feel of the setting really well, although they don't (in general) go too far outside preset Call Of Duty standards. Graphically, each area looks about as good as can be expected from this aging engine, with some nice little touches that draw you into the world.

I was surprised to realize the farm tools hanging up on a barnyard wall weren't just set pieces, but actual rendered objects, when they suddenly clattered to the ground as a grenade went off nearby.

It's not just the environments that create that '40s feel, though: it's also in how some of the gameplay has been tweaked. WW2 sees the return of health packs (called med kits this time around) and that was clearly done on purpose to further reinforce the classic, old-time feel.

While I'm not usually a fan of health packs in shooters, they are integrated into this system well, and are a critical part of the new squad abilities.

 Better patch yourself up and get back in the fight!

Band Of Brothers

Working alongside your squad is critical this time around -- especially since you aren't a super-powered robot god that can hack turrets or germinate evil digital bees like in the last few games.

The more kills you get and heroic actions you perform, the more you can utilize squad abilities, like having a comrade pass you some ammo or toss you a health pack.

The storyline does occasionally switch between different characters -- including a European resistance member fighting behind enemy lines -- but the focus is on one American squad doing their tour of duty. They start all doe eyed and lovable, but don't stay that way for long as the reality of the Allied invasion sets in.

WW2's campaign features a harrowing opening on D-Day, and it's as deadly as you'd think storming the beaches of Normandy would be. I can pretty much guarantee you're going to die a couple of times before crossing the beach and hitting the bunkers in the trenches.

 Well, that didn't go as planned

Overall, the storyline and character interactions are significantly more personal and close knit than is usual for a Call Of Duty game, and it's interesting to see the focus shift from "action-movie heroics" to "basically just trying not to die while following orders." 

Bring On The Zombies!

The single-player campaign is just one element of the game, though, with the real life of the party on the multiplayer side of things. Of course, Zombie Mode returns, with Ving Rhames and David Tennant on board this time, and as expected, it's an absolute blast.

If you loved the intricate maps and secrets to be found from Zombies In Spaceland, Attack Of The Radioactive Thing, or Shadows Of Evil, you will be right at home in the Final Reich map.

There are some cool new abilities to play with, like camouflaging yourself from zombies so they ignore you for a short time, but otherwise, everything you know and love from the Pack-A-Punch to the Easter Egg hunt returns in stellar form.

 Who's ready for the Easter Egg hunt?

The Bottom Line

So here's the thing you need to know -- Sledgehammer didn't totally reinvent the wheel here, but there's a solid mix of what you've come to expect with a few twists along the way to keep players happy.

The WWII setting is a welcome return to course, and clearly there a ton of similarities and parallels with epic movies like Saving Private Ryan, so if you are into that sort of flick, do yourself a favor and play the campaign.

I don't know if Red and Zussman are necessarily going to replace Soap and Price in our hearts, but they make a valiant effort and at least give us something a little different than what's been on display for characters in recent Call Of Duty entries.

While it won't be long before we're really going to need the CoD developers to do a full ground-up overhaul of the engine to keep the series alive, for now, this return to a classic style is pretty much anything you could ask for in the series. Boot up and get ready for war, soldier!

HyperX Alloy FPS Pro Review: A Bare-Bones Tenkeyless Tour de Force Thu, 02 Nov 2017 09:15:02 -0400 Jonathan Moore

For many gamers, HyperX is a name synonymous with quality. For a while now, the company has made some of the very best gaming headsets around, from the Cloud Stinger to the Cloud Revolver S. And around the GameSkinny office, HyperX is a big favorite.

But for all the innovation the company has brought to the headset space, HyperX has just relatively recently brought that ingenuity to the mechanical keyboard market. It shone brightly with the Alloy Elite, a gaming board we named one of the most well-rounded keyboards currently available. And it shines just as bright with the Alloy FPS Pro.

After spending some 20 hours with the board, the Alloy FPS Pro is a mechanical keyboard we can’t help but recommend. Priced at $79.99, it’s undeniably a steal if you’re in the market for a reliable and durable tenkeyless option that boasts an elegant design and fluid functionality.


One of the things I like most about HyperX is that they’re no-frills when it comes to their products. They don’t get caught up in RGB lighting or macro programming, and instead focus on functionality and design. And that’s reflected in what you get in the box.

Packaged in a red and black cardboard box that’s as sturdy as the keyboard itself, the FPS Pro comes with the keyboard, a detachable 6-foot braided cable, a keycap switcher, a set of textured W/A/S/D and Q/E/R/F keys, and a handy quick-start guide.

Since a lot of other keyboard manufacturers don’t seem to be including extra keycaps and switchers these days, I really appreciate that HyperX goes the extra mile to add a different type of customizability to their products -- especially since changing keycaps can be a royal pain in the keester without a switcher.

I also appreciate that there’s no fancy software to fumble with and install. And while that means you can’t reprogram the board or set a plethora of macros, it also means that you can get to gaming faster, using the keyboard in its optimal capacity right from the start. There’s nothing more frustrating than plugging in a keyboard and not being immediately sure if you like it -- that's unless you spend an hour reprogramming it only to find you still hate it. That’s a huge bummer you won’t find here.

With the FPS Pro, what you see is what you get.


The Alloy FPS Pro sports a black finish on a solid steel frame (which I’ll talk more about shortly), and the 87 smooth keycaps sit on either Cherry MX red, blue, or brown switches. If you choose to swap out the Pro’s factory keycaps with the red textured keycaps that come packaged with the board, you’ll find your primary gaming keys will have a bumpier feel to them, helping you better find them in a firefight or intense melee.

Across the top of the board you’ll also find your standard media keys (skip backward, skip forward, play, and pause), volume controls (volume up, volume down, and mute), and a Game Mode key that disables the Windows key to avoid accidental disruption during gaming.

Like other HyperX products, the lighting features on the FPS Pro are pretty slim. Instead of giving you control over 16 million colors, you’ll have the choice between red, red, and more red. But like its cousin in the Alloy Elite, the backlighting is crisp and vibrant and fully controllable via the board’s arrow keys, which allow you to cycle through six backlighting modes.

However, the biggest draw for the gamer on the go is the FPS Pro’s size and durability. Weighing just 1.8 pounds, the FPS Pro is nearly half the weight of Corsair's K63, making it even easier to stuff in a backpack or carry from home to office. To make matters even simpler, the FPS Pro’s braided cable is easily detachable and doesn’t tangle easily. The only thing that could have been better here is if HyperX provided a cord routing area on the board’s underside as an extra option, much like SteelSeries provides in some of its mechanicals.

But what really impressed me the most about the Alloy FPS Pro was its strength. It's durable as hell, something I found that out when I dropped it on solid concrete while transporting it from home to the office. After falling about three feet, there wasn’t a single scratch on the steel chassis -- it looked as good as the day I took it out of the box. Two of the keys popped off, but they were beyond easy to pop back on (and I haven’t had any problem with them since).


As you’ve probably already figured out, there isn’t a ton of secondary functionality in the FPS Pro -- but that doesn’t mean the functionality that is there isn’t worth spending a few paragraphs on.

You might remember that I mentioned there’s no software with the FPS Pro. For those that prefer a varied palette, that might be a hurdle. But for those that don’t mind so much, controlling the board’s backlighting is a sinch. You won’t have to sift through millions of color options or agonize over getting a pattern just right. Finding what you’re looking for is as simple as plugging the keyboard in and cycling through the options on the board itself. That means you won’t have to leave your SMITE match or the last round of Iron Banner to tweak your settings if room conditions change.

Unlike the Alloy Elite, there’s no sleek volume wheel for increasing or decreasing volume on the fly. Instead, you’re stuck using your headset’s volume controls or incrementally raising or lowering the volume one key-click at a time. It wasn’t a monumental issue for me while using the board, but then again, I don’t often use keyboard volume functions and instead rely on my headset volume controls to do the work they were meant to do.


The Alloy FPS Pro doesn’t skip a beat. In all my hours with it, each key and every switch responded with near lightning feedback. Of course, it’s a cardinal sin for modern mechanical keyboards if the switches and keys don’t respond or aren’t comfortable. But the FPS Pro does an exceedingly good job at what other boards do casually.

The Pro's Cherry switches perform as you’d expect them, rapidly registering each and every keystroke without losing input. But they do so underneath perfectly contoured and textured full-size keycaps. With a gradual dip, the keycaps provide the perfect resting places for your fingers -- whether you’re frantically inputting commands in games like Destiny 2  and Grim Dawn, or holding them down for hours on end in games like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and SOMA.

In a gaming capacity, I actually preferred that the Alloy FPS doesn’t have a numpad, leaving a comfortable amount of room between the keycaps. Sure, I missed the numpad and its ease of use for everyday editorial tasks, but for the games I frequently haunt, I never once felt empty handed without it.

My only true gripe is with the placement of the board’s F12 key. Both my colleague and I had issues with the key’s proximity to both the FPS Pro’s and the Alloy Elite’s backspace keys. In-game, the problem was negligible at best, but in everyday typing situations, it was a constant hobgoblin.


When compared to other boards in its price range, it’s hard to beat the HyperX Alloy FPS Pro tenkeyless. It’s responsive. It’s reliable. And it’s resilient.

With complete n-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting, you’ll find that all of your inputs register exactly when you need them to and that everyday tasks are a breeze. And aside from a few very (very) minor hiccups, it’s extremely simple to use.

If you’re looking for fully programmable macros, full lighting customization, and dedicated keys, you might want to look at other boards, such as Corsair’s K63 tenkeyless. But if you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard you can count on, is highly portable, and doesn’t eschew functionality for cosmetics, then the FPS Pro is the keyboard for you.

You can purchase the Alloy FPS Pro on Amazon for $79.99. 

[Note: HyperX provided the Alloy FPS Pro used for this review.]

SteelSeries Arctis 5 Headset Review: Comfortability Sounds So Good Wed, 01 Nov 2017 09:44:09 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

Steel Series' peripherals are known for being pretty great, and the Arctis 5 is a solid example of the company's consistency and emphasis on excellence. Part of the Arctis headset line, it's hardly surprising to learn that the Arctis 5 is designed to remain comfortable for hours on end while providing quality sound.   

The Arctis 5 sits comfortably as a mid-tier option between the other headsets in the Arctis line. And while it lacks some of the more impressive features of the Arctis 7, it still ends up being a decent upgrade from the Arctis 3. Coming in at $100, it provides most of the bells and whistles you'd expect of a headset in its range, but most importantly, it provides the comfort and sound to back it all up.


Similar to other Arctis headsets, the Arctis 5 uses an adjustable ski band that helps distribute its weight across the top of the head, helping you wear these cans for hours on end without any discomfort. Easily one of the most comfortable headsets I've ever worn, the Arctis 5 was able to stand up to all of the gaming marathons I've been running recently. 

The padded ear cups sit cozily without pinching my glasses, which is an impressive feat for a headset of any make or caliber. Even if you do run into problems with glasses, it's a simple matter to loosen the ski band a bit, readjusting to get things just right. In fact, the Arctis 5 is arguably one of the most easily adjustable headsets on the market. 


For the most part, I've never been one to get hung up on sound performance. I had a set of speakers that worked well for the longest times, even if other people said that it wasn't the best quality of sound. Knowing that I say this: the Arctis 5 might not be the best in the Arctis headset line when it comes to sound quality, but when I first put the headset on, it was like stepping into a new world of gaming. The fidelity of sound was infinitely better than what I was used to, and I will never again accept anything of lower quality. 

The upgrade in sound provided a new experience for some of my more-often played games. While playing League of Legends and SMITE, I found that I was able to hear certain champion abilities and ults being used nearby. But by and large, my favorite game to play with the Arctis 5 was Warframe. I was visited by the Shadow Stalker in a solo run and clearly hearing the unsettling whispers announcing his approach was a terrifying experience.

Like the other models in the SteelSeries' Arctis line, the Arctis 5 works pretty well if you decide to just go old-fashioned plug and play, but it really shines when equalized via the SteelSeries Engine 3 program. Through the software, you can change up myriad options to get the sound exactly where you want it. You can adjust treble, bass, mid. You can use either stereo or Dolby 7.1 surround sound. And you can use the headset's many presets for movies, games, and music if you don't want to get your hands dirty, making things a tad bit simpler. 

On top of that, you can make sound settings for almost every game in your library. Boasting 150 individual configurations, you won't find a setting you don't like, even if some sound a bit similar to each other. 



The Arctis 5's microphone was surprisingly effective and its bidirectional design actually comes with some pretty awesome capabilities. I tend to run into problems with microphones because I have a fan pointed right at me during almost all of my gaming sessions and consequently, mics always pick up that low drone. However, the Arctis 5 is different; impressively, it avoids those problems by using a microphone that ignores a lot of ambience coming in from the sides -- and I had a ton of people telling me that I wasn't allowed to use a different mic ever again. 

Easily my favorite thing about the Arctis 5's microphone was the ability to slide it back into the left earpiece. This feature isn't new to the Arctis line, but it's fantastically useful and always worth noting. It was nice not having to move the mic around to keep it out of my face whenever I wasn't using it. Plus, if you ever decide to use the headset to listen to music on the bus ride to work or on an afternoon walk, you won't look like you're wearing a gaming headset -- which is pretty neat. 

The Verdict

There aren't a lot of serious hang-ups for the Arctis 5. The sound quality is great and it's as comfortable as you could hope a headset would be. Honestly, the only problem I had was with the various cords getting tangled, which is just as much my fault for not doing a better job at keeping them tidy.

All in all, the Arctis 5 is a wonderful headset, especially at its price of $100. It's obviously outclassed by the Arctis 7, but if you can't shell out the $150 dollars for the top-tier model, then the Arctis 5 is a solid second option. 

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Arctis 5 headset used for this review.]

Review: Super Mario Odyssey is a Mind-Blowing Revival of the 3D Platformer Tue, 31 Oct 2017 13:46:54 -0400 Autumn Fish

Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D platformer in the same vein as the classic and genre-defining Super Mario 64. In this game, you travel the world in an airship with your partner, Cappy, in order to save Princess Peach and Cappy's sister, Tiara, from the notorious Koopa King, Bowser.

The gameplay is fairly reminiscent of 3D platformers of yore. There's a main collectible, called Power Moons, that serves to gradually unlock more and more of the game as you collect them by completing puzzles or challenges. Then, there are other types of collectibles to find, such as the regional purple coins used to buy outfits for Mario and decorations for your ship, the Odyssey.

Many longtime fans of 3D platformers are bound to recognize this basic yet satisfying gameplay loop. You play a level, explore around for a bit, collect a bunch of shiny things, and just when you're getting bored, a brand new level opens up for you to explore.

A couple of console generations ago, there were a ton of games like this. 3D platformers where all the rage back then, and so many amazing adaptations and projects emerged from it that you almost have to wonder where it all disappeared to so quickly. 

Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Platformer We've Been Waiting Years For

I don't think anyone will deny that the 3D Platforming market became rather oversaturated a number of years ago. Like any trend that gets too popular for its own good, people slowly started getting bored of it and moved onto newer and better things. Because of that, developers moved on as well, and we started to see dramatically less 3D Platformers coming out each year.

In fact, we've been in a drought for so long that the industry at large more-or-less ignores the modern existence of the 3D Platformer, simply relegating it away as nostalgic memories of yesteryear that we only bring up to reminisce about the "good ol' days" of gaming. It got so freaking bad that the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy broke some serious sales records when it released earlier this year.

Super Mario Odyssey Review The 3D Platformer We've Been Waiting Years For

Enter Super Mario Odyssey. It goes without saying that the Mario games are renowned as some of the best, most solid 3D Platforming experiences available, but the latest entry in the series goes above and beyond expectations thanks to its innovations in level design and gameplay.

Not only does it fill the precarious void 3D Platformers have left in the gaming space, it's also an incredibly engaging and strangely immersive experience. Immersive is not a term you'd expect to see associated with a Mario game, but this one gripped my attention so intensely that I lost literal hours of time. It's been years since I've played a game that I actually had trouble putting down, and I definitely wasn't expecting it with this installment.

What Makes Super Mario Odyssey Special

When it comes down to it, Odyssey is an entirely different experience compared to the 3D Marios we're used to. Sure, there are definitely enough similarities. The levels are open and lend to exploration, much like Super Mario 64. The precision jumping is certainly familiar, and fit with sharper controls than ever. There are even homages to nearly any Mario game you could think of sprinkled all over the place. There's absolutely no question that you're playing a Mario game.

It's just hard to point a finger and compare it to any game that came before it. This is simultaneously a celebration of Mario's history and a brand new experience all on its own. There are a few things in particular that make it stand out, such as the new Cappy mechanics, striking level design, plentiful Power Moons, and much more.

Mario's new companion, Cappy, is, essentially, your hat. You can throw it and bounce off of it using a new mid-air move called the Dive. It can even home in on targets or be thrown up, down, and all around with the help of motion controls, and while they aren't strictly necessary, these moves are infinitely useful.

If you throw Cappy on a hat-less enemy, person, or object, he'll land on their head and capture them. When Cappy captures something, Mario takes control of it and can use it in a unique way to solve puzzles and complete challenges. This opens up a slew of possibilities for level design and it really shows.

Super Mario Odyssey Review What Makes it Special Capture Mechanic and Cappy

The various Kingdoms found here are breathtaking to behold. A lot of them are rather open and invite the player to explore at their leisure. The new fast travel system makes it easy to return to central areas to scrub it for any Moons you may have missed.

Each world has unique capturable enemies and objects which makes the simple act of getting around a true joy. Not only does each world have a fairly distinguishable theme, but they also have distinct level designs that really gives each Kingdom its own identity. For example, the Sand Kingdom is an expansive desert that hides many secrets in its sands, while the Wooded Kingdom is a forest that reaches into the sky with an insane sense of verticality.

Despite all this, Mario's new abilities and the brilliant level design would be little more than an amusing sandbox if it weren't for the careful and well thought-out placement of collectibles. Power Moons are hiding everywhere, and you can get them for doing all sorts of things. They are certainly more prevalent than Stars ever were, and while it may sometimes seem like it detracts from the sense of achievement, I found the opposite was true.

The frequency of Power Moons just made me want to keep searching for more. I got into a "just one more Moon" mentality and found it hard to talk myself into setting the game down, sometimes, because I knew there was always another important collectible waiting for me just around the corner, no matter where I decided to explore next.

And those collectibles aren't always Power Moons, of course. Sometimes they're purple coins, which are unique to each region, and allow you to buy special outfits for Mario to wear and souvenirs and stickers to liven up the Odyssey