Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn Review: Patchwork Brilliance Sat, 16 Mar 2019 12:04:41 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Almost 10 years ago, near the tail-end of the Wii's life-cycle, developer Good-Feel games released an unlikely game starring one of Nintendo's legendary mascots. That game was Kirby's Epic Yarn, a unique experience that stripped away everything that made a Kirby game, well, a Kirby game.

Players were treated to worlds themed around crafts, with felt, stitches, and yarn as far as the eye could see. It was an example of successful experimentation with a franchise, and it spawned additional, equally solid releases from Good-Feel later down the line.

Now, at the tail-end of the 3DS' life-cycle, Feel-Good brought Epic Yarn back for the 3DS family of systems in the form of Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn. The "Extra" in the title refers to some new mini-games and modes, but the core of the game remains largely the same.

That certainly isn't a bad thing, though. Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn is a high-quality port of an already great game, bringing Kirby and platformer fans the ability to play one of the pink puff's most unique games on the go.

New Worlds

Most Kirby games don’t revolve around deep plots with twists and turns, and Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn continues in that tradition, which is to its benefit.

One day while trying to grab a luscious Metamato he spied in the distance, Kirby falls foul of the evil yarn magician, Yin-Yarn. The wizard sucks Kirby into his magic sock (it’s true), which transports the pink powerhouse to a new world: Patch Land.

As befits a world by that name, Patch Land is made entirely out of crafty-type things. Yarn, naturally, comprises a good deal of the material, but felt, needles, bobbins, and other sewing and knitting equipment make their appearance quite regularly as well.

What could possibly go wrong in such an adorable land? Yin-Yarn broke it into pieces, and the magic yarn that ties everything together is guarded by a variety of terrifying yarn monsters. What’s more, the dastardly sorcerer created yarn copies of traditional Kirby enemies that are now running about, wreaking havoc in Patch Land, and even making their way back to Dream Land.

Now, Kirby must travel through Patch Land’s six fragmented regions and help Prince Fluff, his blue counterpart, restore order to the world.

The story is as utterly adorable and charming as you’d expect from a Kirby game and a Good-Feel game. That it has no great depth doesn’t matter, especially when it provides the backdrop for such creative graphics and gameplay mechanics.

The only detraction here is some slightly sketchy narration in each major story sequence. It isn’t terrible by any means, but the voice doesn’t quite match the content.

Held Together with Pins (In a Good Way)

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn doesn’t play like your usual Kirby game. For one thing, there are no copy abilities (since Kirby doesn’t have a stomach anymore). Instead, he uses a bit of yarn to pull things around, unraveling enemies and opening hidden passages in the process.

Our hero also loses the ability to inflate, since he loses, well, an actual body to inflate. Instead, when he jumps, Kirby turns into a cute little yarn parachute if you hold "A," which slows his descent some and requires a better sense of timing and landing judgement than most Kirby games.

These two factors also completely necessary for the game’s platforming, which relies entirely on the yarn mechanic in one form or another.

To get to high or distant platforms, Kirby can sometimes take advantage of a nearby pull-string with a strand of yarn to bunch up the environment and pull platforms closer. Or he can use a nodule on a dandelion puff to swing over to where he needs to go. There might also be times when Kirby has to unravel himself to squeeze through a small gap, outrunning yarn snakes at the same time.

The possibilities are almost endless, and Good-Feel created levels in such a way that these basic, core mechanics never get boring.

For example, obstacles like erupting volcanoes would normally be impassible or require a precise feat of platforming. But when they’re made out of felt and resemble drawstring bags, all Kirby has to do is pull the string tight and (quickly) pass over unhindered.

Ravel Abilities

In place of Kirby’s copy abilities, he gets ravel abilities, such as Wire (sword), Marking Pins, Nylon, and Knitting Needles.

Each ability has its own strengths, and some are used to solve simple puzzles. Nylon (aka the whirlwind), for instance, is useful for helping Kirby go just a little farther and higher, making it easier to reach certain platforms.

The Marking Pins let Kirby chuck three sharp pins (with cute star-shaped heads) in a chosen direction, which is useful for taking on incoming enemies before they get too close.

For the most part, though, they act the same as copy abilities — helping Kirby clear through a horde of enemies or overcome a particularly tough spot without being absolutely necessary to finish levels. They do sometimes help reach secret areas or hidden collectibles, though, and are just plain fun to play around with.


If you’ve played Yoshi’s Woolly World or its 3DS version Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, you’ll know Good-Feel makes collectibles an integral part of its games. Extra Epic Yarn is no different.

Each stage has three different collectible items to gather as you progress — two pieces of furniture (more on that later) and that stage’s soundtrack you can play back in the hub area. There are also secret Stars you can gather.

The primary collectible to gather, though, is beads. Beads are the currency of Patch Land and also act like Rings in Sonic games — get hit, and they all go flying. Kirby has no health meter in Extra Epic Yarn’s primary gameplay mode, so he can’t really die.

However, beads are necessary for purchasing goods from vendors in the hub town, plus gathering enough in each stage to earn a gold medal means you unlock extra stages after clearing that region’s boss battles.

Keeping hold of the beads you find becomes more challenging later in the game. Beneath Patch Land’s cuddly looks and deceptively calm first world lies a cleverly designed platformer with hard-to-find secrets, devious enemies, and areas that force you to think on your toes or risk losing everything you collected in that level.


Extra Epic Yarn (and the original Wii version) borrows the vehicle mechanic from Yoshi’s Island from time to time as well, varying the gameplay and offering some additional challenge. It’s actually incorporated more often and more smoothly than in many Yoshi games, as you tend to find at least a short vehicle segment in every or every other level.

The vehicles range from a massive Kirby tank complete with yarn missiles to a UFO that sends out an electric shock after absorbing objects, and even a fire engine. You’ll transform into some more than others, though, especially the mole digger, which is delightfully reminiscent of Drill Dozer’s mechanics.

Many of these segments are more challenging than the regular gameplay. One example involves the UFO, where you must maneuver it around bumpers to avoid hitting enemies or obstacles, yet move quickly enough to avoid getting squashed by the moving screen.

Fortunately, the challenge is purely in the gameplay and not in the controls. Each vehicle controls smoothly and easily. That’s a good thing, since completing most of these segments is required to finish the level.


The difficulty in the base game varies. With Kirby being essentially immortal, you’d think the game would be a complete cakewalk. However, if you go into it expecting a game where you can surf the ‘net or watch something while you play, you’ll be surprised the further you get into Patch Land.

The drive to preserve your bead collection will vary from person to person, but this writer found trying to keep every bead Kirby picked up more compelling than keeping a health meter full.

Stop, Look, and Listen

Epic Yarn was a lovely looking game when it debuted on the Wii, and Extra Epic Yarn is no different on the 3DS family. In fact, Extra Epic Yarn looks markedly better than its forebear. Colors are brighter and more vibrant, which goes a long way in making Patch Land stand out.

Extra Epic Yarn's soundtrack is quite a feat in itself, and like the game, it hides depth beneath simplicity. The soundtrack utilizes the piano almost exclusively and manages to create a unique and fitting atmosphere for every stage.

There will be a sort of overall theme in whatever world Kirby is in at the time, with each stage taking it and turning variations of all or parts of it into something completely new. If you're the type of gamer who does go back and re-listen to a game's tracks, then it's definitely worth the effort to find each stage's track.

Basically, it's a Good-Feel game. The studio isn't named Good-Feel for nothing. Like its older Yoshi siblings, Extra Epic Yarn has the power to make you smile or give the warm fuzzies just by powering it on.

When Woolly World first came out, some looked back at Epic Yarn and criticized its less dynamic designs and visuals. With Yoshi's Crafted World coming out later this month, similar comparisons will doubtlessly be made.

However, it's not a fair comparison. Apart from being based on an older game on less powerful hardware, Extra Epic Yarn's charms are more visual than tactile. True, you can't just about feel the feltiness of the felt like you can with Woolly World, but it's a delight to witness anyway.

So What's New?

If you've played Epic Yarn, then you likely know almost all of this already. But Extra Epic Yarn does include a few new gameplay features to set itself apart. Chief among those is Devilish Mode. This challenge mode adds a 5-hit health meter (shaped like a felt star) to include an element of risk, and there will also be a yarn devil pop out from behind the scenes periodically to chuck things at Kirby.

The thing is, it's not a necessary addition. As mentioned already, the base game presents its own take on challenging gameplay, and the same spots that would cause you to lose your beads are the ones that'll most likely take a chunk out of your star meter too, so it doesn't really add anything. The devils don't do much either and are easily dispatched.

More importantly, the soundtrack change when the devils appear is incredibly abrupt and jarring. Since it happens regularly, it ends up just making each stage annoying.

There's a time attack mode included as well, where you can try to beat your fastest times in each stage. On top of that are two rather fun new mini-games: Dedede Gogogo and Meta Knight's Slash and Bead.

The former is an endless runner in the vein of the Poochy stages in Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World, while the latter is akin to an arcade game, where Meta Knight must destroy as many enemies as possible in each stage.

Both are nice ways to take a break from the main game, and performing well earns you mats and beads you can use to make decorative items just for fun.

Then there's Kirby's new pad. Remember those collectible items you gather from each stage? They serve as furniture for Kirby's apartment in the hub area. There's a wide variety of furniture to find, with each piece being themed around the world it's hidden in. The apartment is admittedly small, but like pretty much everything else in Extra Epic Yarn, it and the furnishings you can fill it with are absolutely adorable.

You get three different layouts you can decorate to your liking as well, which is good since the apartment's size means you have to choose carefully what you want to place in it.

Two vendors set up shop in Quilty Square shortly after the game begins as well, and you can buy new furniture and fabrics (used for creating wallpapers and the like) with your beads. They change their stock each time you unlock a new world, so it's worth checking back if you really want to dive into the crafting and furnishing side of the game.

One thing Extra Epic Yarn didn't keep is multiplayer. Unlike the Wii version, it's single-player only; Prince Fluff just offers moral support and some items in each stage.



  • Clever level design and gameplay mechanics
  • Exemplary soundtrack
  • Plenty of content beyond the main story


  • Not much new content in the main game itself
  • The primary new mode is more annoying than anything

The lack of new content makes Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn difficult to recommend to those well acquainted with the Wii original. However, newcomers, hardccore Kirby fans, and fans of clever level design and visuals could do far worse than spend their time with the pink puffball in Patch Land.

[Note: A copy of Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn was provided by Nintendo of America for the purpose of this review.]

One Piece World Seeker Review: Monkey D. Sappointing Fri, 15 Mar 2019 10:44:38 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

I hate writing reviews like this, I really do.

When a new, ambitious anime game like One Piece: World Seeker makes its way to the West, it's really exciting. It shows that studios like Bandai Namco see the benefit in localizing more and more games that were originally made for a Japanese audience.

And besides, the idea behind World Seeker is a solid one. The adventure-filled universe of One Piece screams "epic, open-world video game." But after playing it, this title is best left disappointingly dry docked.

Setting Sail

One Piece: World Seeker starts with an opening cinematic that, to be fair, is pretty spot-on. The animations are true to the series, the show's Japanese voice actors all appear in the opening credits, and, thanks to a big title card, it's clear that series creator Eiichiro Oda wrote the story.

But as soon as you touch down on Prison Island, the place you'll be spending the 15-or-so hours it takes to complete the game, things will start to go wrong. Quickly.

You can likely tell from the screenshots here that One Piece: World Seeker's visual style has the classic Bandai Namco cel-shaded look, which helps the game really retain the feel of the show throughout its length.

The problem is that nothing else works the way it should, at least not completely. 

The first thing you'll notice is that Luffy handles more or less like a car. On-the-spot turns are impossible even when you're not running, so collecting items and opening treasure chests is often a chore marked by skidding around in circles trying to get Luffy to both face the right direction and be close to the target item. 

In general, movement in the game is sloppy. Luffy has two unlockable abilities that help him traverse the map: a tedious Spiderman-like grapple-and-launch move, and a hover move. Nine out of 10 times, the grapple and launch will send you flying into a wall or corner, causing Luffy to bounce off the surface to the ground or water, unable to recover.

The one time the movement options do work, and you do find yourself skimming across buildings, you'll be shot down by a sniper who hadn't even shown up on your radar yet. You'll spend the majority of the game fast traveling around the map to get from point A to point B.

Open World Woes

This reliance on fast travel would be a shame for most games. In titles like Breath of the Wild and 2018's Spider-Man, half of the fun is in seeing what happens as you're getting from place to place, taking in the world and making your own fun.

There is none of that to be had in One Piece: World Seeker.

The map is small for an open world game; I explored the whole thing in my first three hours. But beyond that, it's not alive. The only thing you'll find between points A and B are goons to beat up. 

The only place that doesn't feel completely lifeless is Steel City, but there's really not much of a reason to go there outside of missions. You'll craft all your materials on the Thousand Sunny, which is also where you'll send your crew out exploring for crafting items. 

There are no shops, no minigames, no diversions to be found apart from a few side missions. The map just feels empty, even for how small it is.

Sure, there are collectibles, but they're all clearly marked on the map and pretty easily accessible. Plus, with the exception of a few outfits, they're all materials to be used in crafting equipment, a system that is completely ignorable in this game.


If you watch one of the game's trailers, or you watch your friends play One Piece: World Seeker, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the combat was passable. The developers, to their credit, did a good job giving Luffy a variety of his signature attacks, and the animations are smooth and crisp. 

Actually taking part in the combat is another story.

The camera lock system is archaic, so flying enemies are a huge headache. In addition, the stealth mechanic (that some missions require you to use, natch) is completely busted, with enemies spotting you from behind cover, or while hanging from a ledge, or from a billion miles away.

Once you're in combat proper, however, it boils down to mashing the attack button, then running away until your health regenerates. There's no seamless way to transition from attacking to dodging or blocking, so every fight is a war of attrition.

Hilariously, the game offers a Bayonetta-esque bullet time mechanic if you're able to precisely time the laggy dodges and blocks. At the end of the day, you'll probably do what I did: spam Gum Gum Bazooka and the Buster Shot in order to one-hit KO most enemies.

This culminates in a final battle that is equally brainless, with the player running away until a meter fills up, then using the same move over and over to destroy a giant robot.

You don't feel skilled when you take an enemy or boss out, it's a chore more than anything else. And it's a shame because Bandai Namco has released a pretty great One Piece 3D fighting game! I reviewed it! Why didn't they learn any lessons from that game?

An Ensemble Failure

The new story for this game is mediocre-to-passable, a tale of two siblings struggling with new leadership roles after their mother, the island's previous leader, was killed. The Navy shows up and takes the island hostage for its resources, and the island is divided based on who supports the Navy and who doesn't. 

It's not a great story, but it's not bad either. The one unforgivable aspect of the story, however, is how it deals with the rich cast of characters in the One Piece universe: it just, kind of, doesn't.

If you don't do any side quests, you'll see Zoro maybe twice or so over the course of the whole game. Ditto for Robin and Chopper. Luffy's rivals show up one after the other, make cameos in the forms of boss battles, and then immediately disappear as if they never came.

The characters are all watered-down versions of themselves, distilled to their most recognizable personality traits: Brook makes bone puns and wants to see panties. Zoro gets lost a lot. Sanji has a crush on every girl. There's no nuance, no subtlety, and no respect for what drew fans to the characters in the first place.

One would think that the game's Karma System, by which the player can level up their relationship with characters, would remedy this somewhat, but it doesn't. All of Luffy's crew is collected under one heading in the system, meaning you get closer to the group as a whole, not the characters individually.

And despite the game's insistence that leveling up a character's karma to 100% would unlock a special scene, I completed two karma meters (one for Jeanne, one for the Anti-Navy faction) and nothing happened.

It almost feels like this was a different game at some point, that it was reworked to be a One Piece game three-quarters of the way through development.


And that might be the biggest problem here. Despite all of the flash, and the fact that the game does look pretty good, the game really isn't a One Piece game. Or at the very least, it isn't the One Piece open-world game anybody wanted.

It's called World Seeker, yet you spend the entire game on one island. There's no sense of adventure, no feeling of exploration because the map is so small and so dead. 

And worst of all? You never sail anywhere in this game. I'm not an expert on One Piece by a long shot, but it seems kind of wrong to have a game about a group of pirates where you can't sail the open seas. Luffy can't even swim! If you drop into the water, you'll be plopped back where you jumped from!

How hard would it have been for the developers to base the game on The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? 

Most, if not all, of the game's shortcomings  the small map, the laggy combat, the paint-by-numbers story  could have been forgiven if the game could capture some of the spirit of adventure that has made (and continues to make) the One Piece series so successful. 

As it stands now, the sad truth is that I am going to forget this game exists about two days after I finish writing this review. Though there are some fun moments to be had, there was nothing memorable about the time I spent with the game, and I'd bet that even if you're a One Piece hyperfan, the same will be true for you too. 

  • The visuals really do look pretty great, at least in terms of the character models for the main characters of the game.
  • Sometimes you'll be zipping around the map with Gum Gum Rocket and you'll realize that you're actually having fun, right before you're sniped out of the sky from across the map.
  • The open world is lifeless.
  • Beloved characters don't have anything to do.
  • The combat alternates between brainless and frustrating.

The question is: who is this game for? It's obviously not for fans of the series. It's not for fans of open-world titles. And it's a horrific introduction for new One Piece fans as characters will flippantly make references to events from the series without ever going into further detail.

So who's left? Is the game for relatives or friends of One Piece fans who are looking to get a thoughtful gift but are sadly ill-informed on how to research the quality of a video game? Is it for uber-rich, uber-bored people who simply want to creep 18 hours closer to death with no memory of how they have done it? Is it for game developers, so that they can have a case study in how not to lay out a map?

The prevailing emotion that anybody who plays this game through to the end, as I did, will have is a dejected sort of disappointment. It's the disappointment of a sports fan who knew their team was going to lose before the game started but dared to hope anyway. It's a disappointment that's edge been dulled away by hours of tiny disappointments until it becomes heavy, blunt, and expected.

Hey, folks: Don't play this game.

[Note: A copy of One Piece World Seeker was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

Devil May Cry 5 Review: One Hell of a Good Time Wed, 13 Mar 2019 15:14:56 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

It's been over six years since we last saw Devil May Cry, or 11 years if you don't count Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry. After the latter's commercial failure, Capcom decided it was out with the new and in with the old.

Devil May Cry 5 returns to the series more playful roots, bringing with it the same hack-and-slash action that made the series so successful. It may not change the series' formula, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That's not to say there isn't anything new in Devil May Cry 5, but the core mechanics are just as sharp as they've always been.

The game's story takes place over a few months and is partly told out of order. Without spoilers, the gist of it all is this: Dante is back, brought on by newcomer, V. Nero enters the picture, and it's the job of all three to take down a brand-new enemy, Urizen. 

The story is easy to follow despite the fragmented story structure. And as with past games, Devil May Cry 5 may not have a deep or emotional narrative, but you should expect a heavy dose of action, sarcasm, and corny one-liners.

While the story remains as over-the-top as always, the characters have undergone a bit of maturity. Nero isn't as angsty as he once was; he's much cockier and more confident than we remember him in Devil May Cry 4.

Dante, meanwhile, is a much wiser and older man than he was in past games. He hasn't quite reached the, "I'm too old for this" schtick, as he's still just as insanely over-the-top as always, but it's clear he's learned a few tricks along the way.

New characters, like the gun-loving Nico and the gothic V, are instantly likable and make their marks on the series. Meanwhile, returning characters like Lady and Trish make for welcome returns.

There are even some nice bits of fanservice and callbacks for longtime fans.

Unlike other games with open, expansive worlds that encourage you to explore every inch of terrain, Devil May Cry 5 is 100% linear. You're always being pushed forward, with the only alternate paths leading to hidden collectibles and secret missions.

Even most of the backtracking from past games has been removed. Should you get lost, you can now hold down the left analog stick to get back on track, similar to Dead Space. After playing so many open-world games, it's quite refreshing to keep things narrow and focused.

As with past games, you'll spend your time hacking and slashing your way through 20 levels. Each character has a distinct combat style, but control in the same way.

Nero plays just as he did in DMC 4, but now he can use multiple prosthetic arms. There's a wide assortment to choose from, with each bringing different abilities and special attacks. One shocks enemies, another acts like a rocket and punch enemies, another slows down time around a foe, and much more.

Mixing and matching each arm is fun and brings new strategies to how you approach each combat encounter. The one thing to keep in mind is that if an enemy attacks you, you'll lose that arm. Luckily, you can hold multiple limbs at once, though you can't switch between them on the fly. You can also collect different arms during gameplay or buy them in the shop. 

Dante returns and will feel comforting to play for fans who've been sticking around since the series began. He controls just as he did before, with his trademark sword and dual pistols. Along with them, he has access to metal gauntlets, twin buzzsaws that can become a motorcycle, and much more that won't be spoiled. 

Dante can also change his fighting style on the fly by using the D-pad, with the same styles returning from DMC 3 and DMC 4.

Trickster is about dodging and teleporting around enemies; Gunslinger specializes in projectiles; Swordmaster is all about Melee strikes; and Royal Guard is about absorbing damage and sending it right back to your foes.

Each style changes how you approach enemies, allowing players to choose one that matches they're playstyle and experiment with ones they might not usually use. Like his weapons, you can upgrade them to access new moves.

Finally, there's V. Unlike Dante and Nero, V doesn't rely on weapons to fight. Instead, he relies on summoning a Demonic Bird named Griffin and a Panther-like demon called Shadow. However, V must be the one to deliver the finishing blow to enemies, so he can't just stand around and let his pals do all the work.

This approach to combat brings a much more methodical, much slower pace to battles, making V the least fun to play.

That's not to say there isn't any satisfaction to playing as V. There are enough flashing moves from his demon pals to keep things interesting. He just isn't as fast or exciting of a character to play as Dante or Nero. Luckily, V's missions aren't as frequent as Nero's or Dante's.

The various enemies the trio faces also help spice things up. Each creature feels distinct and has its own attacks to watch out for. They may all go down the same way, but they do enough to keep you on your toes. One downside is that the game is pretty easy, on the base difficulty.

Even when you're out of health, you'll be able to sacrifice some of the red orbs you collect to refill your health bar or use a Gold Orb.

You get plenty of the latter by exploring levels, and the game will give you one each day. Using these does take a few points off of your final score, so it does make for a good incentive to avoid using them unless it's necessary.

The only way to increase the difficulty is to beat the game. It makes sense so that you can get used to the various combat styles, but it would have been nice to allow veterans to kick it up to a higher difficulty right out of the gate.

It should also be mentioned that Devil May Cry 5 has microtransactions. You can spend real money to get red orbs that you can use to gain abilities. Save for one pricy special ability that's useless, though, the game always gives you plenty of red orbs to use, making them a pointless addition.

  • Excellent combat
  • Varied playstyles
  • Delightfully over-the-top
  • Welcome return to form
  • Repetitive environments
  • Easy difficulty

The combat in Devil May Cry 5 is easily the best in the series. The different playstyles are easy to grasp, and no one character plays precisely the same. Breaking up the combat for the three heroes are some light platforming sections. They're not as taxing as other games, but they do a great job of mixing things up.

Running on the RE engine, Devil May Cry 5 is one good-looking game. Creature designs are distinctly out of this world, and the bleak color pallets help sell the end-of-the-world vibe that it's presenting.

Character animation is top notch, with excellent stunt and motion capture bringing to life the insane action that's on display. If there's one major complaint, it's that the environments start to blend into one another after awhile. 

On a base PS4, the game generally runs great, with only a few sections that suffer from notable slow down. The cutscenes tend to run unlocked, but mostly it's nothing too noticeable that'll ruin your immersion.

The music features the same great punk-rock that the series is known for and the voice actors do a great job in fleshing out their characters.

The bottom line is that Devil May Cry 5 is a great action game that does the series justice. It's been a long time coming, but it's great to have Dante and the gang back. Grab your gun and pull the devil trigger: DMC is back. 

The Wizards Enhanced Edition Review — Spell Flinging Combat Refined For The PSVR Tue, 12 Mar 2019 05:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

The catalog of worthwhile PSVR games just keeps expanding, this time with a new and improved edition of fantasy spell-slinger The Wizards.

Somewhere between the slew of stationary bullet hell VR games and free-range combat titles, The Wizards fills an important niche for fantasy fans who have taken the plunge and invested in virtual reality equipment.

I distinctly recall loading up the warp-speed wizard arena battler Ziggurat a year or so back and thinking, "I absolutely MUST have this in VR!"And now we kind of do.

While The Wizards isn't nearly as fast paced as Ziggurat (which is probably for the best, considering how often PSVR games can still cause nausea), you get everything else. In terms of taking up the role of a spell-slinging mage while burning hordes of enemies in virtual reality dungeon environments, it's hard to beat The Wizards.

Magic Come To Life

With a first-person dungeon crawler like The Wizards, we finally get to see some of the promises of VR come to fruition, especially when using hand motions to conjure different spells, having to physically crank a turn wheel to open gates, and so on.

Each spell is conjured with a different motion from the Move controllers, which often requires holding them in a specific position (like a magic shield to block projectiles) or even pulling the string on a bow made of ice.

It's difficult to have imagined something like this just a decade ago, and the prevalence of VR games in this style can be absolutely wild for older gamers to experience. Younger gamers may not appreciate The Wizards as much as kids who grew up with parents influenced by the Satanic Panic.

From the moment the tutorial started, I was struck by how a large majority of '90s-era parents would have despised this whole setup. There absolutely would have been a daytime talk show segment about the dangers of role-playing a spellcasting mage had VR existed at the time. 

I'm certain if my D&D-averse mother had seen me playing this as a teen she'd have had a heart attack on the spot while trying to ward off the demons such a game was sure to summon.

Nobody Said Spellcrafting Was Easy

While hurling fireballs at orcs and teleporting away from pit traps is as fun as you'd expect, there is one big potential hurdle to enjoyment in The Wizards: aiming.

Magical apprenticeships in fantasy settings always seem to take decades to complete, as conjuring magic and properly channeling it into destructive spells is tough work. 

It's even harder if you don't have great aim.

The Enhanced Edition of The Wizards allows players to tweak the auto assist aim settings, which I heartily recommend you do immediately until you find the aim level that makes the game the least frustrating for you. Even at 100% sensitivity, I still found times where my fireballs did not even remotely go where I was flinging my hand.

It can be quite easy for the camera to lose track of your Move controllers while standing, which makes this one of those rare games that can actually be better to play seated, all so you don't move around the play area inadvertently.

While the fireball can be mastered with practice, I found I very rarely used the ice bow because of how touchy the drawstring mechanic can become. When a horde of enemies is bearing down on you, there's just no time for wonky mechanics to get in the way of survival.

That led to me relying heavily on the lightning bolt spell during the campaign, especially with the chain lightning upgrade since it fires continuously wherever you point.

There's a downside though: movement is slowed while channeling lightning bolts, and you can't teleport, so a smart wizard will have moved to a defensible position before unleashing that spell.

Learning how to use each spell effectively is a big part of the overall experience, although you may eventually feel some spells aren't worth the trouble if you can't quite master the proper motions during difficult battles.

What's New In The Wizards Enhanced Edition

Aside from the game's aim assist settings, there's plenty of new material in the Enhanced Edition to lure in old players, too.

Most notably, there's an entirely new level with the Enhanced Edition, along with several quality of life upgrades like the ability to customize your glove color scheme after defeating the second level.  

One change that is relatively minor but carries a lot of weight is that your health is now displayed as a glyph on your gloves. That's much more immersive than having a health bar and scorecard float in front of you during levels like in the original version.

Other changes are bigger and more frequently requested by fans of the original version, like the option to choose between free-range movement or teleportation at any time, all without switching settings back and forth. Instead of a menu toggle, you control free movement with the left controller and teleportation with the right controller.

More VR games need to come standard with such a choice available, rather than forcing players into one mode or the other.

I found myself using free movement extensively while exploring areas to find hidden chests or fairy crystals, and then mostly using teleportation during combat.

It's an incredibly useful skill to suddenly wink out of existence and appear behind an onrushing goblin horde, although there's a mechanic wisely built in to prevent players from abusing this power.

During combat, the distance of each successive teleport is shortened if you repeatedly teleport in a short amount of time, so it can't be used indefinitely to always avoid enemies.

 It really seems like I should be able to hang out on that ledge...

While giving players the option to choose is a huge leap forward in playability, unfortunately, the areas you can teleport onto in each level are fairly limited. There are several narrow ledges it seems like you should be able to reach but actually can't, which limits your tactical options.

I understand that the developers want the player engaged in frantic ground-based combat with specific obstacles, but coming off a long stretch playing Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider, I really missed the ability to teleport to elevated areas for assessing situations before raining down death from an unexpected location. 

That limitation aside, one of the game's main strengths is that it gives you the freedom to tackle combat in whatever way best suits your play style.

As you collect hidden fairy crystals across the campaign, your wizard gets to upgrade spells with new abilities. This is where playstyle heavily factors into The Wizards gameplay, with options for reflecting enemy projectiles with the magic shield, charging up the fireball for extra damage, arcing lightning bolts to multiple enemies, and so on.

The Bottom Line

  • First-person spellcrafting is awesome in VR
  • Fun (and challenging) trap encounters
  • Lots of replay with the arena mode
  • Spell control can be difficult with the Move controllers
  • There's not a ton of story, and what'st there is more silly than serious
  • Not enough open areas with additional ledges for traversal

Although you'll be flinging lightning bolts at giants and goblins while trying to avoid flaming traps, its worth noting that The Wizards isn't a particularly serious fantasy adventure. It carries with it a much lighter, funnier tone than some other games in the fantasy genre, bringing the 2004 remake of The Bard's Tale to mind. 

There also isn't a huge emphasis on story despite being a single-player game. The campaign is moved forward more by learning the spell mechanics than by getting to know specific NPCs or watching a sprawling story unfold.

The game's campaign mode will last around five to seven hours depending on how frequently you die, which is actually pretty decent for a PSVR game. While you can replay campaign levels with different fate cards to make them easier or harder in various ways, that's not really where you'll find the most replay.

Instead, arena mode is probably where you'll spend the most of your time, especially if you bought The Wizards as a VR party game to show off to your friends. The replay value skyrockets here as you choose different battlegrounds with varying challenges while you try to survive as long as possible against waves of enemies.

But whether in campaign or the arena, The Wizards provides an overall satisfying, if sometimes frustratingly limited, take on the first-person fantasy genre.

It seems clear that VR developers are still figuring out how to make everything work smoothly, and they are hampered in some ways by the single camera setup of the PSVR, which makes tracking the controller and headset more of a challenge.

That leads to the same criticism I have at the end of nearly any PSVR game these days: if this was all just a little bit smoother and more intuitive, it would absolutely explode in popularity and overcome standard gaming entirely.

While that's not the case with The Wizards, it is a fun time for fantasy RPG fans who have wanted to take up the role of a fireball-flinging wizard.

[Note: A copy of The Wizards Enhanced Edition was provided by Carbon Studio Games for the purpose of this review.]

Truberbrook Review: A Vacation to Remember Mon, 11 Mar 2019 15:15:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

HeadUp Games is probably best known for its work on recent hits like Dead Cells and Double Cross, along with sleeper hits such as Slime San.

Truberbrook, the studio’s most recent title, continues the developer’s tradition of variety in output. It’s a point-and-click style adventure game set in 1960s Cold War Germany, in the eponymous village of Truberbrook.

The premise is this: Hans Tannhauser, a quantum physicist from Washington state, wins a trip to the village of Truberbrook in a lottery he didn’t even know about. After arriving in the village and setting his room up for the night, he’s startled to find someone rummaging through his suitcase and discovers the thief pilfered some physics papers.

Since it’s a point-and-click game, you guide Hans around the village and some surprising surroundings to uncover the truth behind the theft, some odd disappearances, and Hans himself.

Truberbrook suffers from a few setbacks in the tech department and one or two slightly "off" design choices, but it’s an engaging and charming adventure on the whole, one that’s easy to recommend.

It's Got the Looks

The first thing that stands out about the game is its visuals. Truberbrook absolutely oozes atmosphere. The village itself is a quaint, scenic hamlet nestled between scenic mountains that don’t look ominous at all and a lake that’s probably never seen anything terrible happen in it.

From the moment Hans steps off the bus, the game world immediately immerses the player in its gorgeous, handcrafted aesthetic, realistic lighting, and use of natural background sounds.

It’s difficult to imagine how much work HeadUp put into building every scene by hand, but their efforts most definitely pay off.

Hans visits a number of locations in the immediate area, all of which have their own atmosphere and leave a lasting impression on players.

By following the story, players eventually venture around the region in the late evening for one particular event, and the change in both Truberbrook itself and the surrounding area adds a tangible element of tension and creepiness at just the right moment, aided in no small part by the use of natural evening light.

Plenty of Personality

Truberbrook and the surrounding locales are populated by the sort of eccentric personalities you’d expect from a game in this genre, but they stand out immediately.

Part of their charm comes from their design, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Tim Burton film, especially Trude, the Guesthouse owner, along with another important character Hans encounters after the first main puzzle.

The characters were added into the built scenes via CGI, which gives the entire game a look and feel very much like something between an old Claymation film and those sci-fi TV shows from the ‘60s where the action played out with puppets in front of hand-built sets.

The other part comes from the writing and voice acting.

Each character has a unique personality that shines through within the first couple of lines you hear, and it goes a long way in making Truberbrook both feel like a real village with a history and like a place that’s completely foreign to Hans (which is good, because, well, it is completely foreign to him).

A Tale to Tell

Naturally, story is another thing a point-and-click has to nail. Truberbrook does that too, though not much can be said in detail without venturing into spoiler territory. It hits the right notes for sci-fi and mystery without tipping the balance too much in either way.

The mysteries are enigmatic enough to keep you wanting to find out what happens next. There is some more obvious foreshadowing and some obscure things here and there you know are significant, but can’t put your finger on why.

All in all, though, the player is rather like Hans — completing tasks and trying to move forward, all without a clue about where the various threads will meet and what will happen when they do.

The sci-fi elements are what you’d expect from a sci-fi narrative, all without venturing into hammy territory, and the story’s period setting is one aspect that helps keep it balanced.

As with any well-told story, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged along the way as well. The story's overall length is similar to other games in the genre and should take between five and eight hours total, depending on how quickly you move through things.

Kickstarter backers get an extra prologue scene to play through as well, starring a character Hans meets later on. Although the scene doesn't add too much to the narrative, it serves as a fun introduction to the game’s broader tone, mechanics, and world.

Truberbrook’s pacing is brisk, and the story’s natural peaks and troughs do an excellent job segmenting everything. Still, the developers decided to break things up into chapters, with some chapters having random sub-headings pop up for major events.

It’s a bit jarring, especially since the story does a good job of that on its own, and it actually makes the game seem shorter than it is. That, and the fact that the fourth chapter is the longest of the bunch, harms the game’s organic pacing and seems completely unnecessary because of it.

Getting from A to B

You likely already know what to expect from Truberbrook's basic gameplay if you're a fan of the genre. Being a point-and-click, you find areas of interest, click or select them, figure out what to do next from the context given, and determine which items from your inventory are most likely to solve whatever puzzle you’re dealing with.

Truberbrook doesn’t do anything astoundingly new to shake up the formula.

However, it doesn’t have to, because the gameplay uses it so well. There are many, many different items to interact with scattered all over the region. Not all of them are necessary to the story, but if you want to take part in the full experience, you’ll take the time to explore and read/hear Hans’ always interesting or amusing commentary on whatever he sees.

Inventory management is simple, too — so simple, in fact, that you don’t actually manage it. Hans automatically acquires a new item by interacting with it. If there’s an object or person that that item can be used with, it shows up under the gear option when you select the item to interact with.

However, some items can’t be used; only showing up as an option; thanks to some snappy dialog, though, it’s worth selecting them anyway, just to hear what Hans has to say.

Items that need to be combined in order to work show up as highlighted together, so you really never have to bother with figuring out the connections between seemingly random and useless items Hans picks up along his journey.

In other cases, you'll interact with everything you can in order to progress the story or find just the right item to solve a puzzle. If you get stuck and can’t figure out what to do next, you have the option to automatically highlight everything Hans can interact with.

It’s a highly useful mechanic because some items are easy to overlook, especially in areas where there’s a lot to interact with anyway.


Most of the puzzles in Truberbrook aren’t horribly difficult and involve observation and paying attention more than logic. There are a few moments where the design is slightly more obtuse than necessary, though.

For example, one puzzle in Chapter 2 uses a sequence based on context, but one thing in that sequence needs just a bit more description to give you an idea of where it fits.

Another point in the story requires you to venture to a new area outside the village. You can’t access it prior to that point, and there’s nothing indicating things have changed between beginning the game and that particular point.

Overall, though, puzzles and progression have a natural, seamless feel to them and flow at a good pace. Despite not being very difficult, there’s still a noticeable measure of satisfaction as everything falls neatly into place — when that can of tuna comes in handy or when the can opener has an unexpected (and hilarious) use.

Dialogue in Abundance

Humor is something you’ll encounter a lot in Truberbrook, and it works far more often than it doesn’t. A good bit of it is visual in nature, like when you first enter the guesthouse and try to get service at the front desk.

Hans always has a dry or witty comment to make, and some of the dialogue options are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly if you’re a fan of quirky or dry humor. The juxtaposition of the incredibly odd with the seemingly mundane, as if it’s just another part of daily life, works in that same way.

There is a wide range of dialogue options to choose from as well. As you’d expect, most of them relate to getting more information out of the people you’re talking with to help move things forward. Not all of the information is necessary, but, just like with the game's items, it provides a good amount of backstory to help flesh out the game world nicely.

Sometimes in a chapter or scene, new dialogue options become available after finding an item or speaking to someone new, so it’s worth checking back now and again or if you get stuck.

Most dialogue options have branching paths as well. HeadUp advertises the game as having multiple scenarios where persuasive dialog reigns, but during my playthrough, there was only a handful of such moments.

Some of these “there-is-a-right-answer” moments have fairly obvious answers — or, at least, answers that are clearly wrong — though some might take some guesswork. It’s fun to pick the ludicrous ones sometimes, just to see other characters' reactions, even if it does mean replaying a short segment to get back to where you need to be.

For the options that are definitely wrong, Hans doesn’t even speak the option when it’s chosen. It’s as if there’s an invisible filter silently rebuking you for your bad decision. Whether that’s intentional or a bug, it’s endearing nonetheless.

Falling Short

As enjoyable as it is, Truberbrook does have some shortcomings.

It’s a polished experience overall, but there are some glitches that need ironing out, such as the non-game-breaking but annoying lag in misty areas. 

Outside of that, the mouse cursor on PC also disappears randomly from time to time, or the game won’t register that you’re moving the mouse for a second or two. When it does register, it shows up on the other side of the screen from where it was. 

A few more noticeable problems popped up less often but stood out due to their seriousness. Hans will clip through objects from time to time, including people. One instance involved him putting his hand through a door to open it, rather than pushing on the door itself.

There is also a scene where Hans climbs up to and down from a treehouse. Going up is fine, but coming down is another matter. Rather than descending the ladder, Hans just walks off-screen, with the game transitioning to Hans back on the ground. He then proceeds to walk in a circle for a minute before the game realizes he should be coming down the tree. Hans' “climbing down a ladder” motions begin, which, since he is on the ground, means he disappears through the earth, and it repeats for the rope ladder portion.

The other egregious "walking in a circle" problem occurs near the end of the game when Hans must interact with an object. If he's not positioned carefully, Hans books it back toward the area's entrance. 

And while the writing in Truberbrook is excellent for the most part, there are some typos and grammar issues. Strangely, these become much more prominent in the last third of the game, so it’s unclear whether it was just an accident or if perhaps the end was a bit rushed. The same applies to times when the written and voiced scripts don’t match each other.

Lastly, HeadUp included a Kids Mode, which censors parts of Truberbrook, particularly where Hans smokes and encounters a sex toy. These funny moments aren't integral to the plot, although they are referenced in the game's joke dialog options. 

The main issue is "why include these instances at all, though?" We can all probably count on one hand the number of kids who would willingly choose Kids Mode. What's more, the goal was to create a family-friendly game, and the game is up for a Best Youth Game in the German Game Developers’ Awards.

Maybe the goal should have been not including those instances to begin with, if a younger audience was intended all along.

  • Fantastic handcrafted world
  • Dripping with atmosphere
  • Engaging story and characters with fun puzzles
  • Slightly uneven pacing
  • Some technical and writing issues
  • A few obtuse design choices

Overall, Truberbrook is a delightful experience. Bugs and glitches aside, it’s an engrossing game bound to capture your imagination with its fantastic visuals and atmosphere, loveably bizarre characters, and engaging plot.

It’s the first game of its kind from HeadUp, and I can honestly say I hope we see more like it in the future.

[Note: A copy of Truberbrook was provided by HeadUp Games for the purpose of this review.]

Late to the Game: Just Ski Finds the Groove Between Satisfying and Frustrating Thu, 07 Mar 2019 09:15:01 -0500 Taylor Clemons-Ogan

Editor's Note: This review is part of our "Late to the Game" series, which highlights and examines games we initially missed.

Just Ski is a physics game reminiscent of Line Runner, and it's deceptive in its simplicity.

You control a cross-country skier on their mission to reach their cabin by pulling down on the mouse to make them crouch and go faster, and by pushing up to make them jump. Once in the air, rotation speed is determined by adjusting the mouse up or down to stick the landing.

It's difficult to get a handle on at first, but once you find that groove, it's an incredibly satisfying game to play. There is a certain silly feeling of reward and accomplishment that comes with sticking the perfect landing on a particularly difficult jump or stretch of terrain.

With the only input being the mouse, Just Ski would be ideal for those with limited mobility or fine motor skill issues. However, the game's physics can make it very frustrating for anyone with delayed reaction times or problems processing visual input.

Although the landscape in Just Ski stays the same with each run, and the game feels very much like a puzzle that becomes easier to put together the longer it is played, it also relies heavily on trial and error.

Each new section and hill can trip you up as you try to get a feel for perfectly-timed jumps and aerial rotations. As a game that utilizes building and maintaining rhythm and momentum as part of the experience, there's a certain amount of frustration that comes with breaking that.

While playing, I was briefly reminded of the rage game craze, circa 2010 or so, but only briefly. JS' learning curve is steep, yes, but not so much so that it renders the game nearly unplayable or at all not enjoyable.

Yes, you will die a lot learning to navigate the landscape, but deaths never feel cheap or as if the game is purposely hindering progress. Every mistake is set up as an opportunity to learn and improve technique, allowing players to progress just a little bit more with each run-through.

To help track progress, the sky changes color: starting out black and moving through the color spectrum from warm reds and oranges to cool greens and familiar sky blues.

It's an interesting mechanic that gives a greater feeling of satisfaction when death inevitably comes. However, I wish that there were actual checkpoints to help mark progress, or even a practice mode to help you master difficult sections. It's exceptionally tedious to reach a new color, only to have to start from the very beginning when you make a mistake and die.

All in all, Just Ski is a fairly solid physics game. It's great for training reaction times, it presents just-challenging-enough game play, and it's a fun way to spend an hour or so.

Though I wish it had something like the yeti from Ski Free to lend a little humor, up the stakes, and to break the monotony.


Simple, one-button input

Interesting progression visuals

Great mechanics


Steep learning curve

No checkpoints

[Note: A copy of Just Ski was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.]

Late to the Game: Way of the Passive Fist, a New Dawn for Beat 'Em Ups Wed, 06 Mar 2019 13:56:05 -0500 Allison M Reilly

Editor's Note: This review is part of our "Late to the Game" series, which highlights and examines games we initially missed.

Way of the Passive Fist from Household Games is a side-scroller beat 'em up, but, as "passive fist" suggests, the main character doesn't fight. Instead, the mysterious Wanderer uses parries, dodges, and deflections to clear through each wave of enemies.

The only "attacks" the Wanderer does are counters or shoves to remove a tuckered out bad guy. The parries and dodges give Way of the Passive Fist a rhythm game vibe, where it's all about timing versus button mashing or outsmarting the enemy.

It seems like an obvious take on a well-worn concept: the player dodges and deflects everything instead of throwing punches. Yet, Way of the Passive Fist delivers a new-school indie experience that feels straight out of the '90s arcade at the same time.

A Well Executed Twist On A Timeless Concept

The defensive posture of the game's mechanics is a subtle, but refreshing, take on a normally offensive video game genre. Unlike most brawlers, there's also no co-op mode, so Way of the Passive Fist is more story-driven, focusing on the Wanderer's journey across planet Zircon 5 to save what's left of humanity. The game's emphasis is still on the action and clearing enemies, but the story creates a compelling investment in the Wanderer for the player.

Although a beat 'em up, Way of the Passive Fist plays like a rhythm game where the core mechanics are timing and pattern recognition. The Wanderer can counter several enemies at once, but the enemies attack one at a time.

Each enemy has it's own pattern, or rhythm, and each enemy's pattern type gets incrementally harder (both in speed and pattern) as the player progresses through the chapters. The enemies also alternate among themselves when attacking.

Overall, the game has great pacing. Most of the time, each scene feels doable with an appropriate level of mastery.

The graphics and soundtrack are also top-notch, fitting the game's sci-fi tale and ambiance. The 16-bit pixelated visuals is a nice old-school throwback that adds variety to the atmosphere.

Backdrops can be an afterthought in beat 'em up games, since they're not typically about the environment. However, Household Games' attention to detail in the backgrounds, enemy designs, music, and effects augments what could otherwise easily be a boring and repetitive experience.

Small Flaws That Can Ruin The Experience

The critiques I have for Way of the Passive Fist are tiny, but they can ruin the gaming experience if players don't have perseverance or fortitude. For example, the first chapter of the story mode may put some players off.

While it begins as a tutorial, introducing the player to some of the game's basic elements, all of the explanation disappears when the boss, Breen, shows up. Simply, it's not obvious how the player is supposed to defeat Breen, and there is nothing to indicate whether attempts are wrong because of poor timing or because they are the incorrect thing to do.

Although the adjustable difficulty is a positive for Way of the Passive Fist, I didn't appreciate needing to adjust the difficulty just to get through the first boss. It's brutal for new players when late parries don't count toward a combo, especially when they're still learning the game's controls and enemy patterns, and Breen requires combos to be defeated.


  • Awesome graphics
  • Even better soundtrack
  • Original concept


  • Bosses have steep learning curve
  • Not great if you're no good at timing or rhythm
  • No co-op mode

In conclusion, Way of the Passive Fist is a slick, well-executed concept with incredible fun to be had. It's a title that's original yet familiar at the same time.

It's not perfect, but the quirks almost make perfecting every parry and pattern a rewarding goal — it certainly hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves for revitalizing experience it provides. If this is the first you're hearing of Way of the Passive Fist, the way of the passive fist is worth knowing and trying out for yourself.

Corsair M65 RGB Elite Review: A Worthy Successor to the M65 Pro Mon, 04 Mar 2019 17:25:12 -0500 Jonathan Moore

When it comes to peripherals, innovation and customizability rule the day. Technology might move at the speed of light, but peripheral manufacturers endeavor to move faster. Look at any product lineup, and it's easy to see that companies live and die by innovation, even on the smallest of scales. 

In that vein, technological modifications needn't be earth-shattering to make an impact on a user base; even small innovations and adjustments can fundamentally impact how we interact with a product. 

So is the case with Corsair's new M65 RGB Elite gaming mouse. Essentially the third step in a series of increasingly effective iterations, the elite moniker accurately describes this ultimate version of the mouse. While it might look almost identical to the M65 Pro, the Elite makes important changes where it counts. 

At $59.99, this wired mouse is nearly impossible to deny.  


The M65 is a slick looking mouse. Sporting what Corsair calls an "industrial design," the mouse looks right at home with the modern PC gaming aesthetic; no matter the setup, the RGB Elite won't look out of place.

The mouse comes in either white or black; I tested the black version, which features a smooth palm rest that gradually transitions into a matte finish on the primary mouse buttons and the sides. 

Underneath the shell, the aluminum chassis peeks out in the front, accentuating the M65's angular design and completing the "industrial" look. This is a change from the M65 Pro, which hid its entire chassis under the shell. 

There are eight Omron buttons on the Elite. Aside from the necessary and expected left-mouse button, right-mouse button, wheel button, and DPI up/down buttons, there are three triggers on the side, including the mouse's forward button, back button, and sniper button, bringing the total number of programmable triggers to eight. 

Underneath those, the shell of the M65 Elite scoops outward, creating a nice, comfortable resting spot for the thumb. On the opposing side, the mouse has a small, shallow channel for the ring and pinky fingers, a space that helps with increased grip. Unlike the smooth top of the mouse, each side has a rougher matte finish to ease slippage. 

Moving to the front of the mouse, an almost 6-foot-long braided cable exits the chassis on the left side. A gap separates the LMB and RMB, creating a pronged look when viewed from the front; in the middle of that gap sits the thick rubber mouse wheel.

Switching around to the back of the mouse, the Corsair logo sits in the middle of the shell and adds a nice flourish whether lit or unlit. Below, another portion of the aluminum chassis just out from underneath the shell.

Finally, flipping the mouse on its back reveals three relatively large removable weights; one is near the back of the mouse while the other two are at the front of the mouse, one on the left and one right. With the weights, the mouse weighs 115g, without them, 97g. 


What really sets the M65 line of mice apart from the many others we've reviewed at GameSkinny is that each mouse is not only fashioned for FPS players, but that each also includes a sniper button.

Essentially the mechanical version of "holding your breath to fire," this button allows players to drastically decrease or increase the M65's DPI while it is depressed; once released, the DPI returns to the initial profile setting. 

Obviously, this functionality is probably of most importance to FPS players, and even more so to those whose method of digital murder is sniping. However, the button also has its uses in strategy games, MOBAs, and third-person shooters.  

But what makes the Elite's version so beneficial is that it fixes problems found in previous versions. Other models in the M65 line placed the sniper button near the middle of the mouse, but underneath the side buttons. The design worked, but it was cramped; with so many buttons in the same area, quickly finding the sniper button could be problematic. 

While the sniper button is still along the left side in the Elite, it's now closer to a user's natural thumb-rest position; closer to the front of the mouse, the button is now just under the "forward" side button, making it extremely easy to find and press. 

The RGB Elite also features a better sensor than previous models. The new PixArt PMW3391 boasts a mind-boggling 18,000 DPI range, which is adjustable at 1 DPI increments. That insane level of customization might overwhelm most average users, but professional FPS and MOBA players will delight in the plethora of customization options at their fingertips. 

On top of that, The M65 has a maximum polling rate of 1000Hz, meaning the PMW3391 is communicating with your CPU 1,000 every second. That makes pulling off headshots and granular movements even more of a cinch, putting the M65 in line with other high-end gaming mice that provide similar functionality. 

While the PMW3391 is certainly a fine, accurate sensor, Corsair claims its inclusion in the RGB Elite is "the first time ever that such an advanced optical sensor is being used in a gaming mouse."

Despite my feelings about the efficacy of the sensor itself, to say this sensor is a monumental departure from those already on the market is a bit misleading. 

Whereas the PMW3391 tracks at "up to 400 inches per second," Logitech's HERO sensor tracks at around the same speed. And 2017's MSI Clutch GM70 was able to reach 18,000 DPI with the PMW3360.



Lastly, the RGB Elite, of course, has myriad lighting options. Admittedly, I don't have a vast knowledge of the M65 Pro's lighting options; from what I've researched, the RGB Elite just takes what Corsair already does best with lighting and makes it better. From my experience, the Elite's colors are crisp and vibrant, and the dynamic color effects are just as good as ever. 

Of course, Corsair's iCUE software plays a large role here. As expected, users can change everything from lighting zones and colors to lighting patterns and brightness. iCUE is also where users are able to change the mouse's DPI settings, create profiles, set macros, and reassign button functions.  

My only complaint is that iCUE can still be a tad buggy.

Although the software has received a few updates since I last used it, and it now provides robust data about attached peripherals and even computer diagnostics such as CPU temp and RAM usage, it still feels a bit fickle.

Both before and after updating iCUE while using the RGB Elite, I ran into a persistent issue where the mouse began locking up on the highest DPI setting. I could cycle through DPI settings at anything and everything below the maximum setting, but once I reached the maximum setting, I could not return to previous, lower settings. 

Restarting the computer only "fixed" the issue until iCUE restarted, but then the problem persisted. Shutting iCUE down completely "fixed" the problem, but not having access to iCUE also means I don't have access to all of the program's granular lighting options, and I'm locked to the DPI settings programmed to the currently loaded mouse profile. 

While I can start iCUE, tweak my profile, then completely shut iCUE down, it's worth acknowledging that something funky is going on with the software. 



For the most part, the RGB Elite performed very well in-game. I tested the mouse for about a month on Killing Floor 2, Apex Legends, Metro Exodus, Far Cry New Dawn, Subnautica, and They Are Billions.  

In particular, I found that getting headshots in Far Cry New Dawn and Killing Floor 2 was much easier with the RGB Elite than, say, my every-day Rival 600, if only because of the sniper button.

Going from general body shots to quick, precise headshots without having to strafe or deal with float made each game fundamentally more enjoyable. The mouse even (seemingly) made me "decent" at Apex Legends, although I'm historically horrible at competitive shooters. 

I also tested the mouse out for daily use, such as browsing the web, editing, and designing documents in InDesign. As expected, the mouse worked swimmingly, and I found the sniper button to be especially useful when needing to cut out an object in InDesign for example. 

Throughout my time, I did notice a few phantom clicks on the LMB. Though the button is clickable from the mouse wheel to the left side of the mouse, and from the front to the DPI-down button, not every click along the mousewheel registered. I experienced this both in-game and during every-day use. 

  • Sniper button is a game-changer, and the redesign makes for easy recall
  • New Pixart sensor increases overall accuracy and precision of movement
  • DPI can be adjusted in one-step intervals for increased customization
  • iCUE seems to be as fickle as ever
  • Experienced ghost clicks on review unit LMB
  • Flatter shape won't be initially comfortable in all hands
  • Weights can be difficult to remove and require screwdriver or coin

Despite the issues with iCUE and the few ghost clicks I experienced, the M65 RGB Elite is a worthy successor to the M65 Pro. For FPS players, the sniper button is invaluable, providing increased precision in high-stress situations. 

While it's not perfect and some of its features, such as 18,000 DPI, are seemingly overkill, the feature set the M65 provides at $59.99 essentially makes its predecessors obsolete. It makes a hell of a good argument when compared to other mice in the same price bracket, too. 

The M65 RGB Elite is available now on Amazon and the Corsair website for $59.99. 

[Note: Corsair provided the M65 RGB Elite unit used in this review]

Anthem Review: A Rocky Start That Shows Potential Sat, 02 Mar 2019 10:00:02 -0500 Synzer

Anthem, BioWare's latest live service game, allows players to pilot large mech suits, called Javelins, through a beautiful and vibrant world. If this idea is exciting to you, it is worth knowing that it gets even better when it is brought to life and you are actively progressing through the new title.

Indeed there are several things that Anthem really does right, but there are also a number of undeniable issues with the game. While some of these problems may be addressed by the very promising post-launch content that has been revealed, they have also caused the title to have a rough start ever since it launched in early access.

In this review, I will lay out both of these sides of Anthem: its great aspects as well as its core issues. Ultimately, this should help you decide if Anthem is a game worth getting now, waiting on, or passing on altogether.

What I Liked

Exploration And Combat

anthem storm combat

Exploration and combat are, by far, the best parts of Anthem.

Exploring the game's world is accomplished by flying through it in a Javelin, and the flight mechanic is extremely well done. Going airborne still feels great every time I launch a mission, which, I think, says a lot after over 130 hours of game time. It is even fun to just roam around and see the world in Freeplay, due to Anthem's excellent flying.

I also love the game's combat — so much so that I sometimes just wander around in Freeplay looking for people to fight. The Javelin's overheat mechanic also contributes to the excitement of combat, as it prevents you from being able to fly endlessly. Instead, you have to actively plan how you will fight in, or flee from, every hostile encounter.

Overall, you simply have to pilot a Javelin to really grasp how great it feels to fight and fly in one. If I was rating Anthem solely on these aspects, it would be a 9 or 10.

Javelin Play Style Customization

Another thing Anthem really nails is how different each of the Javelins feel. They function as their own unique classes and offer players a range of gameplay experiences.

Players that want to hover above the battlefield and rain down elemental destruction can do so with the Storm Javelin, and the Interceptor covers those that want to use swift attacks and agile movements to get up close and personal with the enemy. If you'd prefer to tank, protect your team, and cause nothing but destruction, the Colossus is the pick, and the Ranger gives you the classic soldier experience and makes you feel like you are playing as Iron Man.

That's just the beginning though, because each Javelin also has a myriad of skills that can be combined to create many different builds. As you progress through Anthem, it becomes very satisfying to find different abilities and passive effects to make unique builds around. In fact, most of why I enjoy the game, and have played it so much, is for this reason.


anthem masterwork and legendary guns

The weapons in Anthem deserve their own section, as I was absolutely blown away after hitting level 30 and begging to receive masterwork weapons. These high rarity items grant special, unique bonuses for each weapon, component, or gear ability. For guns, this changes them from being average to amazing, and I started using weapons a lot once I began getting masterworks.

Furthermore, there are plenty of cool effects that can be applied by weapon. This includes elemental statuses, combo detonations, lightning strikes, and more.

I also think most of the guns actually do feel great to to shoot. I know some people may disagree, but it is all personal preference.

What I Didn't Like

There are some things in Anthem that should absolutely not have made it into the release version of the game. I'm going to go over those here as well as a few smaller annoyances.

No Stat Screen Or Ability To Look At Gear In Combat

Anthem is a loot game where the primary source of fun is getting cool item drops, checking what bonuses are on them, and seeing how they alter your stats overall. However, this is somewhat difficult to do, as there is no screen that details a player's stats after all bonus effects are applied.

There is also no explanation for what any of the stats mean. While some are easy to determine, others are not, and the game really needs to explain each one of them in detail.

Additionally, players can only look at their gear at the forge, where loadouts are selected and Javelins are customized, which is a real shame. I'm fine with not being able to freely change gear, but I should not have to make a spreadsheet and Word document when testing out new masterwork items.

Broken Contracts

Contracts are a way to earn loot in Anthem, and, sometimes, these missions break. This gets a bit of a pass because they are a random assortment of locations and events, and you might simply get a configuration that does not work.

The good news is that, after recent changes, I have not run into nearly as many broken Contracts, but there are still some. This gives some hope to the idea that BioWare will eventually fix most, if not all, of the broken ones.

Light On Content And Loot

anthem strongholds

Personally, I'm still having fun with Anthem, and there's plenty of gear that I can still get. However, the content and loot that is available at the time of writing is somewhat low.

For example, completing Strongholds, multiplayer missions, is a great way to farm for loot, but there are currently only three. There is also no benefit for running one Stronghold over another, so most people simply farm Tyrant Mine, which is the fastest and easiest. As a result, many player will get tired of Strongholds fairly quickly. 

With respect to loot, the amount of items currently available is fine with me, and there will be more added in the future. However, the drop rate for high rarity items, like legendaries and masterworks, is pretty low. 

Simply, masterworks don't drop enough. This is especially true since the bonuses on these items are completely random, meaning that there is a significant gap in their quality. If legendaries are the true end-game grind anyway (I've only gotten one in all my time playing), Anthem should be more generous with masterwork drops.

Final Verdict

  • Fantastic combat system
  • Fun abilities and guns
  • Beautiful world
  • Light on content
  • No stat screen or description
  • Not enough loot drops

There have already been changes to Anthem that improve some of the issues listed above, such as loot drops and the tethering system that is responsible for broken Contracts. This is comforting, as it shows that BioWare is listening and will get around to the serious problems that currently plague the game.

The overall game is fun, even with the issues, and I think that people should not dismiss it just yet. As to whether or not you should buy the game right now, I would say it depends on how often you plan on playing.

If you play casually, spending a limited amount of time with the game each week, you will probably enjoy what it currently has to offer, and there will be more added over time. However, if you want to dive deeper, it would be better to wait a month or two for content updates, and then jump into the game for a much better experience.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Wrathstone DLC Review Fri, 01 Mar 2019 10:47:05 -0500 David Jagneaux

This is the Season of the Dragon in Elder Scrolls Online. What that means is that all of the DLC, the upcoming Elsweyr expansion, and all of the other new content will feed back into the same overarching storyline all year-long. This is the first time ESO has attempted a multi-part story of this magnitude. 

While the Wrathstone DLC delivers two excellent, new four-person dungeons and I really do mean excellent that's just about all it has to offer. If you're happy with the existing (massive) rotation of dungeons, public dungeons, and trials or prefer PvP content like Cyrodiil or Battlegrounds, then Wrathstone quite literally has nothing to offer you.

This is similar in concept to Wolfhunter, which was another dungeons-focused DLC that released last year.

Coming in at 1,500 crowns (or around $15) this is a much more reserved release than the previous Murkmire DLC, which cost 2,000 crowns (around $20) and introduced an entirely new zone.

All of the other great features released alongside the Wrathstone DLC in Update 21 are included entirely for free for all players. 

The Depths of Malatar

For Wrathstone, you're tasked with finding and mending the two halves of the titular Wrathstone tablet, an important artifact. You don't find out much else about it at this time, but it's being positioned as an important prelude to the Season of the Dragon and the upcoming June 2019 release for the Elsweyr expansion.

Of the two new dungeons in Wrathstone, The Depths of Malatar is the easiest. Both feature five bosses and require all four players be at least Level 45. The first time I did this one was with a completely random group of people, and we didn't have much trouble at all finishing it in just about a half hour on Normal. Obviously, it would be much harder on Veteran, but it felt pretty balanced on Normal.

The Wrathstone DLC delivers two excellent new four-person dungeons

What really makes Malatar such a great addition is just how creative the boss designs are. The first boss you come across is The Scavenging Maw, which looks like a beast ripped straight out of a survival horror game. At a few different points in the fight, it will retract upwards and vanish, forcing the party to search for its hiding spot. Whoever finds it first is stunned and slowly damaged over time unless the baddie gets interrupted quickly.

Pictured above is the Symphony of Blades, a giant mechanical monstrosity with multiple blade arms, General Grievous style. He's got a huge variety of attacks, including a cyclone spin with such a wide reach it nearly covers his entire chamber. The nastiest bit of his fight, though, involves walls of light that bathe the arena and can one-shot you on impact unless you slay his minions and dodge the luminescence. It sounds easier than it is, trust me.

These bosses are designed so creatively they're quite honestly in stark contrast to the vast majority of bosses in not only ESO but most MMOs in general. They require real thinking and problem solving, almost like mini puzzles contained within the fights themselves.

Also introduced with Malatar are three new gear sets (for Light, Medium, and Heavy respectively) plus a Symphony of Blades monster mask. 


By comparison, Frostvault is a much harder dungeon. From start to finish with a group of mostly strangers on Normal it took us almost a full hour. Granted, I don't consider myself an amazing player, but neither are most people, so it's a good barometer. Ironically enough, the first boss, the Icestalker shown above, is who gave us the most trouble.

His lethality is two-fold: not only can he launch you into the air and stun lock you  even if you're blocking  and then follow that up with a relentless AoE ground slam until you're dead, but he summons a ridiculous amount of adds to join in the fight. After getting wiped several times, we eventually devised a plan to deal with the adds while maintaining at least two or three party members on the boss at all times to help interrupt his stuns and big attacks.

It was tough but in a fun and challenging way. Forcing a team to communicate and work together is what every dungeon in an MMO should strive to do.

A few of the other bosses gave us a bit of trouble here and there, but my favorite overall was definitely the Vault Protector, a Dwemer-style construct that looks like a large animated set of armor. He hits like a truck and has no issues pounding his target to a pulp; he can also cave up inside a crystal dome as lasers passed over the arena from time to time that can burn your health down extremely fast.

Similar to the Symphony of Blades boss from Malatar, it was like a mini puzzle inside a boss fight and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

There are three new gear sets for Frostvault as well, plus a monster mask. Additionally, both dungeons include new collectibles, furnishings, achievements, and titles. Everything is tied to completing the dungeons and fulfilling different criteria, similar to past dungeon DLC releases. In short, it's got everything you'd expect.

Update 21's Free Features

With Update 21, ESO is finally getting a much-needed quality of life enhancement in the form of the Zone Guide, shown above. At a high-level,  the Zone Guide is clearly here display how much of each type of content you've done in a particular zone. For example, it shows how many delves you've completed, how many world bosses you've beaten, story quests finished, etc. However, it goes a step further as well. When you access the Zone Guide, you can also use it to literally "guide" you to the content you're missing.

The Zone Guide is a great quality of life improvement

If you want to play some delves in quick succession, just click on the delve icon and it will ping one on your map. When you finish it, then it will automatically ping another one you haven't done. You can even begin or continue a zone's story just by pulling up the Zone Guide. It's incredibly useful, to say the least, and it is one of the most polished new features ESO has received in some time.

Also included in Update 21, free to all players, is the brand-new Battleground map that takes place in an Ayleid dimension called Eld Angvar, new PvP rewards, and a Guild Trader UI update with things like the much-request search bar. There are a bunch of balance changes and racial tweaks as well.

  • Both new dungeons are excellent
  • The new bosses are extremely creative and fun to fight
  • All of the new item sets and rewards are worth earning
  • There isn't really anything new other than the two dungeons
  • Slightly overshadowed by Update 21's improvements

If you're a primarily PvE player in ESO, then purchasing Wrathstone is a no-brainer. Both new dungeons are fantastic; both have some great gear sets to earn and both are definitely fun to replay over and over to really nail the nuances.

It's too bad there isn't much else on offer here, so if you are mostly focused on PvP, then you can probably pass on this one. The story elements are very light and you should be able to jump into Elsweyr when it releases without needing to have seen either dungeon's story here.

The Wrathstone DLC is available now on PC/Mac for 1,500 crowns and will release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on March 12. If you have an active ESO Plus subscription, you get access to the DLC for free as a membership perk.

There is also a 4,000-crown Wrathstone Collector's Bundle which includes the DLC plus a new Treasure Hunter's Horse mount, the Carnelian Theodolite pet, and five Crown Experience Scrolls to help with leveling.

You can see the fully detailed patch notes for Update 21 and Wrathstone right here.

[Note: The Wrathstone DLC was accessed at no charge as part of the reviewer's own optional and personal ESO Plus subscription.]

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review — Exactly What It Should Be Thu, 28 Feb 2019 15:36:00 -0500 Ashley Shankle

The effects of the original 1991 ToeJam & Earl have rippled through my tastes in video games and overall media through the past 28 years. TJ&E was the hottest thing on the Sega Genesis outside of Sonic the Hedgehog in my eyes, so the release of Back in the Groove has me more than a little excited.

I may have been playing the original game on and off until about 2006, but ToeJam and Big Earl haven't seen the light of a new release since their Mission to Earth excursion on the Xbox in 2002. Before Back in the Groove's Kickstarter launch in 2015, I was convinced both aliens were dead and buried back on Funkotron, commemorative boomboxes shaking the planet to its core.

This all in mind, I'm a little biased. TJ&E started me on the gaming path I'm on today, so unless ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove really just flubbed things up, I was always destined to have a great time with it.

Luckily, Back in the Groove does not flub things up. Oh no, dear reader, it does not flub it up at all.

Instead of attempting to bring two of the Sega Genesis' best-known characters back in a more modern sort of game as they did with Mission to Earth all those years ago, the team over at HumaNature Studios have embraced the original game as the blueprint for this new 2019 offering. It is so similar, I'd be inclined to just refer to it as ToeJam & Earl 2 if Panic on Funkotron wasn't a decent, albeit different, game in its own right.

Bigger and Better

The best mindset to have when starting with Back in the Groove is that you're just playing the first Genesis game with some extra bells and whistles. Almost every notable gameplay aspect of the first ToeJam & Earl has been carefully hoisted from the 16-bit era and supplemented with modern features.

The core gameplay of the of Back in the Groove consists of strolling through levels, collecting and using presents, searching for pieces of the Rapmaster ship, and dodging or interacting with an array of Earthlings. When I say "strolling," I do mean it. Dudes and dudettes with this much funk don't have to get anywhere quick.

The series has always been a little slower and that trend continues here. You make your way through a level, searching for useful items, ship pieces, or Earthlings with some good will. Since you're not the fastest dudes on the block, much of your time is spent trying to get around harmful Earthlings.

Much like we actually have here on Earth, Earthlings come in all shapes, sizes, and specialties. One second, you're joining a bunch of nerds playing a tabletop game to win some money; and the next, you're running from an especially vicious mailbox monster, who just happens to chase you into another vicious mailbox monster. And man, those things really do hurt.

Harmful Earthlings can either knock one or many presents off you, steal your money, stun you for another Earthling to take advantage, or straight up deal damage to you. There's a whole laundry list of reasons to avoid the bad ones, and as you progress you spend more time defending yourself than exploring.

There aren't a whole lot of ways to defend yourself, much like the 1991 original. As you explore, you'll pick up presents that the game clearly wants you to use as soon as possible (your inventory fills pretty quickly), but there's a catch.

Presents can and often are picked up either unidentified or broken. Usually, they're unidentified -- and you have to spend money at an Earthling like the Wiseman to identify. There are presents that can identify other presents, but more often than not you end up having to cough up cash. You seriously get a ton of presents.

The game encourages you to almost constantly use presents, whether you have identified them or not. Many have beneficial effects, like Spring Shoes or Hi Tops that change how you move or Tomatoes or Slingshots to deal damage; but many are also able to outright harm you or the presents in your inventory.

Accepting the fact you'll have to use unidentified presents is part of the random nature of the game. Each level is random, the stats you gain on promotion are random, and the items you scavenge from Earth's bushes or other doo-dads are (you guessed it) random.

The game attempts to acclimate you to that fact through its Tutorial and Fixed modes, the first with a bushel of tips to teach you to play and the second being static each time. Though these modes are available, anyone who truly enjoys either mode will find themselves at the meat of the game: Random mode. Where little TJs become Big Earls.

We refer to non-typical roguelikes as roguelites these days, which is essentially what ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is. It is completely and utterly random and, once you get above the 10th level on Random, it is also fully prepared to kill you time and time again to force a game over. Once you run out of lives, that's it. The end. You've got to start over.

Radical Nostalgia

Almost all of this sounds like it could be yanked out of a review of ToeJam & Earl on the Sega Genesis because Back in the Groove is astoundingly similar to the original game. If you played it back when it was relevant, I guarantee you that you will quickly fall back into your old habits within the game and somehow just remember what to do. It just happens, like it opens up some magical portal to 1991 and lets you relive those days without any effort on your part but playing the game.

This is where the conundrum comes in, as someone reviewing this rather than someone just buying it for personal use. I can't help but wonder if people who didn't play games or weren't even alive in the '90s could relate to or enjoy the overall aesthetic of the game, or whether they can even get into the gameplay.

I'm not one of those that says gameplay never ages, there are a ton of examples of games that were fun 20 or 30 years ago that just are not fun today, and really, it took a certain type of person to really attach to the original ToeJam & Earl. This wasn't meant for everyone in the first place.

With this all in mind, I do not believe the gameplay formula found in ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove to be stale. It's not a Pop-Tart straight out of the toaster, but it's not one that's been sitting in an open package and gotten a bit soggy, either. The base gameplay of the first ToeJam & Earl has always been easy to wrap your head around, and it's even more so here thanks to the game's extensive built-in manual. 

In every thematic aspect, Back in the Groove is stuck in the 1990s. The funk talk, the music, the visual style, the dinkiness of the few cutscenes are all very much planted in 1991. That in itself is novel in its own way, while the '80s aesthetic trend is still going strong and is slowly shifting into the decade after. You're probably never going to see a game that embraces that point in time like this one.

The issue for some may be that Back in the Groove is not a particularly action-packed game. Players looking for something to get their adrenaline up will, without fail, be disappointed here. If you're looking for a bit of a wacky game you can just chill out with, though, you should be right at home with Back in the Groove.

  • Loads of unlockables, from presents and game-changing hats to new characters
  • The same funkadelic feel and gameplay of the original 1991 ToeJam & Earl
  • Very easy to sink a couple of hours into without realizing it
  • Accessible and no-fuss local and online co-op
  • Rough around the edges, some graphical chugging or input delays at times
  • In local and online co-op on the Switch (I'm not sure about other versions), there is frequent heavy chugging, particularly when one player uses an elevator

HumaNature's dedication to the vision of the original game shines in just about every corner, which is a huge part of what endears me to this new entry. The other part is just how fun it is once you get into the groove of it.

Once you become familiar with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove and how it all works, you just slip into auto-pilot survival mode, and that is what has made me keep coming back despite the many many losses from being knocked down to lower levels and having to struggle to make my way back up.

I don't think everyone will enjoy this game, but I do think those that do enjoy it will be able to find dozens of hours of entertainment playing solo, in couch co-op, or playing co-op online, probably the best modern feature found in Back in the Groove. The expansive encyclopedia on basically everything you find in the game is great, but the benefit of always having to someone to play with far outweighs all the other additions. This is a game far best played with friends, just as it was on the Sega Genesis.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is essentially the exact sequel fans of the 1991 original have wanted all these years, and it does not skimp on new content over the first game. Despite its small issues, Back in the Groove is probably the best entry to this classic series we have gotten or will ever get. It is by no means perfect, but that's totally cool with me.

You can snatch up ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove on PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch tomorrow, March 1st. If you were a Sega kid like me and grew up with TJ and Big E, there aren't a lot of reasons to skip it.

[Note: A copy of ToeJame & Earl: Back in the Groove was provided by HumaNature Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Dick Wilde 2 Review: Longer, Harder, But Not Quite Wilder Tue, 26 Feb 2019 14:11:39 -0500 Ty Arthur

At the start of a level in Dick Wilde 2, the titular protagonist proclaims, "Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!" This should tell you just about everything you need to know about this wild river rafting ride of a sequel.

Dick Wilde 2 knows exactly what it is, and it never tries to be anything else. That's actually a good thing because, right now, these kinds of games simply play better when working within the confines of VR's limitations. With a solid combo of southern fried humor and fun shooting mechanics, there's really not much to lose by trying out this budget PSVR title.

River Rafting Rampage

The setup to Dick Wilde 2 is incredibly simple: you move down an on-rails track while dodging projectiles, blowing up obstacles, and firing like mad at everything from angry birds to killer rat men. I'm not quite clear on exactly what happened to turn all of these animals both sentient and homicidal, but I'm glad that it did.

A wide range of enemy types and the cartoonish color scheme are some of the game's highlights. You'll fire wildly at deadly mollusks, kamikaze moles riding drills straight at your raft, poison-shooting snakes, jellyfish who generate an impervious electrical barrier, projectile-flinging beavers, and even fireball-spitting frogs.

There are quite a few similarities between the gameplay in Dick Wilde 2 and Blasters Of The Universe, and if you like that style, you'll probably love this game. The games do differ though, in that Dick Wilde 2 has significantly more levels than Blasters, although only a handful of scenery types (wilderness, subterranean, and concrete) are reused across these levels.

Despite these repurposed settings, Dick Wilde 2 still ends up with far more variety than Blasters, as there are multiple routes to take through each level. That means you can replay them in different ways, using different guns, and you will have to if you want to gather all the gold keys and unlock everything.

Unfortunately, Dick Wilde 2 features significantly fewer weapon types than Blasters, one of the bigger strikes against the game. However, you can change your loadout at different check points in a level, which is a nice feature not included in Blasters.

Additionally, you'll quickly notice there's no reloading and you have infinite ammo in this shooter. This could be good or bad depending on your preferences, but these small elements can make all of the difference in a VR title.

For example, in Blasters Of The Universe you have to physically grab a pack of ammo and jam it into the side of your gun. While this is a little detail, the mechanic vastly increases immersion when playing the title. This element is completely gone in Dick Wilde 2, and instead you'll focus on mastering each of the game's weapons.

Fortunately, the guns are all distinct enough from one another to require different strategies in each level. Uzis, for instance, are less likely to make your finger tired than a revolver or shotgun, since you can just spray 'n pray. However, they do less damage and are less accurate the longer you hold down the trigger.

Plamsa guns, which appear to be made from magic 8 balls and a paint sprayer, are probably the best weapon overall. However, they are harder to use since the plasma projectiles move slower than traditional bullets.

It is also worth nothing that the on-rails movement means there's no chance of getting nauseated while playing Dick Wilde 2. This is a problem with quite a few VR games right now, and players that have issues with it will be happy to play this title.

The Difficulty Spike

 This corridor will become the bane of your existence

Your wilderness vacation starts out fairly simple: just a fun float down a river where you occasionally fend off man-eating piranhas. No big deal, right? However, once you've mastered the basics, Dick Wilde 2 gets incredibly hard, especially in the later levels.

This isn't a level of difficulty that will make you scream and throw your Move controllers while cursing the developer's name for all time, but you can expect to die quite frequently in many of the harder areas. This difficulty jump leads me to the two main gripes I have about Dick Wilde 2.

First off, if you want to survive, you basically have to play co-op for some of these levels. At the moment, that can only be done online, and that really left me longing for the days of local co-op.

Of course, I realize that even if you could hook up two VR headsets to the same PS4, having two blind people flailing wildly in the same room may be a recipe for disaster. That said, Dick Wilde 2 feels like it could be one of those insanely fun two player experiences we've been missing from movement-based games since the Kinect.

Second, there's a noticeable lack of a screen clearing bomb option. When dealing with bullet hell games, that's a major issue. Even if the weapon had a ludicrous cost, and you could only buy one per level, that would still be a very welcome addition to dealing with the difficulty in single player mode.

The Bottom Line

  • Hilariously fun gameplay
  • Simple but solid mechanics
  • Plenty of levels and a satisfying level of difficulty
  • Limited weapon types
  • Fairly short
  • You'll end up having to play online co-op to beat the hardest levels

Let's make this clear: you aren't going to sink 100 hours into this game, but it's a hell of a fun time for 10 hours or so. If you're looking to expand your VR collection with a fun diversion, or just want something to show off when people come over, Dick Wilde 2 will be a solid addition to your game catalog.

Looking for more VR titles to check out? Here's a roundup of some of most recently reviewed PSVR games as well as the VR entries we are most looking forward to playing this year:

[Note: A copy of Dick Wilde 2 was provided by PlayStack for the purpose of this review.]

Intruders Hide And Seek Review: It Was A Dark And Stormy Night (In VR!) Wed, 20 Feb 2019 13:58:43 -0500 Ty Arthur

Although it actually released in late 2016 (wow, that long already?), in many ways, the Playstation VR experience feels like it's just getting started. As the selection of PSVR titles starts to expand, and the platform becomes worth the investment, we're seeing more quality as developers figure out what works, and what doesn't, in this fledgling medium.

New horror entry Intruders: Hide And Seek is one of these little quality gems. It's a shame that this game didn't get a huge ad blitz, as it is a PSVR title that's actually worth buying and playing if you dig stealth horror. 

Home Invasion: The Game

The setup of Intruders is incredibly simple. You are a little kid spending the weekend at the family vacation home. After learning the layout of the mansion by helping mom and dad around the house, you stumble upon a secret panic room you weren't aware of, and then all hell breaks loose as a group of criminals breaks in and ties up your parents.

Essentially, what you get here is a more horror-themed version of the home invasion segment of the 2006 movie Firewall (or, perhaps, a slightly less horror-themed version of the first The Purge movie). Your sister hides in the panic room, and you try to get help while your parents are held captive in the basement. This gives you plenty of opportunity to roam across a big, beautiful mansion out in the wilderness.

Rather than being old, creepy, and dilapidated, the setting is a sleek, bright, high end home with tons of rooms. The creep factor instead comes from the dark and stormy night environment, and the leader of the kidnapping crew insisting on wearing a very wendigo-style mask.

Despite the simple setup, and easy to learn stealth mechanics, Intruders feels more open, and plays significantly more like a full game, than The Inpatient, a stylistically similar title available on PSVR. While The Inpatient often felt like a sitting and standing simulator, Intruders gives you the freedom to roam across the setting without restrictions.

Surviving The Night In VR Mode

The bulk of the game consists of figuring out different routes through this opulent home in order to avoid kidnappers, all the while completing objectives like trying to email the police or find medicine for your kid sister. For the most part, this works out very well in the virtual reality medium.

My one big complaint is a frequent problem with PSVR games in general: there's no Move controller support. My soul turns a little blacker every time a PSVR game comes out that only uses the Dualshock, as I wonder for the fiftieth time or so why the hell I spent $100 on those damn Move controllers.

This is a game that would be greatly improved, on the immersion front, if you could use your hands to actually interact with key objects. Even just being able to grab the edge of a couch, before peeking out to see if anyone is nearby, would be welcome.

That issue aside, Intruders has one big leg up over the competition: an option to choose between frame based turning, like we saw in The Inpatient, and full normal smooth turning. If you haven't played VR games before, it's hard to overstate the importance of the feature. Most games right now force you into one or the other, with no option to switch between the two styles.

Frame based turning is stilted and reduces immersion, but it is a necessary evil right now, as it has less chance of making you feel nauseated. For those lucky people who don't get sick playing VR games with free movement, smooth turning is a significantly better option, making the chase sequences more fluid.

While free turning movement is a smoother experience, if it doesn't make you sick, it's another instance that shows the current limitations of PSVR games. Unfortunately, it's hard to implement both proper forward movement and interactive hand controls with the Move controllers, which is probably why the developers ditched that option and just went with the standard Dualshock setup.

Umm...shouldn't I have a lap here somewhere?

 Despite taking a big step forward by offering free movement, the game does move backwards in other areas. The most noticeable one is that there's no physical depiction of your body in the game.

Instead, you are just a disembodied force that strides around while making shoe clacking sounds. When you look down, there's no torso and legs below your view, and there are no hands found at the sides.  

Additionally, the death and capture sequences aren't particularly grisly or memorable, which may be due to the fact that you're playing as a child. While I get that having a kid horribly mutilated might be a taboo that the developers didn't want to cross, it does result in less motivation to be stealthy. 

It also seems clear that there could have been ways around that issue. Why not implement a sequence where the kidnapper drags you into the basement and makes you watch while one of your parents is executed? Same effect, but no kid death.

In other horror reviews, I frequently mention how the first Outlast game made me play more cautiously, to the point of paranoia, because I didn't want to see my head get ripped off again. A visceral reaction on that level is really needed to make these first-person hide and seek horror games work as intended, and we're sadly missing that here.

That being said, there is one major way in which Intruders is actually superior to games like Outlast. Specifically, getting to learn the map layout before the home invasion begins means that there aren't any of those super frustrating moments where you are running full speed down a corridor and miss the vent, doorway, hatch, etc. and have no idea where you are supposed to go.

Additionally, Intruders adds in an interesting heartbeat mechanic when you are hiding and a pursuer gets close. If you don't shake the controller to a nice steady beat to calm yourself, you'll inadvertently breathe too loudly, or make a noise, and attract attention. This is a nice touch added to the standard hiding mechanics.

The Bottom Line

  •  Much more open and unrestrained than most PSVR horror games
  • Ability to choose between frame movement and full turn controls
  • Excellent overall level design
  • Lacking key immersive details like Move controller support
  • Very short overall experience
  • Dialog isn't the best

If you've felt the PSVR horror selection is lacking, and that the handful of titles that are available are too limited in scope (aside from Resident Evil 7, obviously), Intruders is easily worth your time. With more gameplay mechanics, a map to fully explore without restrictions, and even collectibles to find on multiple playthroughs, this is one of the most fully realized Playstation VR horror experiences so far.

The dialog probably won't win any awards, but the plot will keep you engaged as you try to figure out the personal stake the intruders have in your family and how it connects to your little sister's illness. Unfortunately, it isn't a particularly long game. You are likely finish it in four hours, and maybe less if you are particular adept at this kind of stealth gameplay and don't ever have to re-play a segment after getting caught.

While short and lacking in key immersion features, Intruders is still one of the better horror entries for PSVR so far. That said, it is also a reminder of just how much farther VR needs to go before it really hits its stride.

[Note: A copy of Intruders: Hide and Seek was provided by Tessera Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Fear the Wolves Review: A Half-Baked Battle Royale Mon, 18 Feb 2019 13:59:46 -0500 Sergey_3847

Fear the Wolves, a new battle royale game from Vostok Games, has just left Early Access on Steam. Those of you who have had the chance to play Survarium, another game by Vostok, will have a clear idea of what to expect from this one. Unfortunately, that is not much.

Fear the Wolves follows the traditional battle royale formula, with a few extra concepts on top to make it standout from the rest of the games in the genre. But ultimately, it's a half-baked attempt at an increasingly hyped idea.


Fear the Wolves is set in the Chernobyl zone, which is under constant threat of a radioactive cloud. Everything looks old, rusty, and practically ready to collapse at any second.

For a moment, you might think that this would make for an interesting and original setting for a battle royale game. However, Fear of the Wolves' world looks almost exactly like PlayerUnkown's Battlegrounds' first map, Erangel.

While other new battle royale titles have tried to find their own distinct look when it comes to world-building, in this game, there is nothing but the same old buildings and barns PUBG players will have seen many times before. That said, there are a few original things in Fear the Wolves map, but the execution is questionable.

For example, the game has a dynamic weather system, which seems great on paper but doesn't work here. While changing weather could add to a sense of immersion, sound plays such an important role in any battle royale game, and when weather gets stormy in Fear the Wolves, you get completely distracted by the noise of the rain instead of hearing your enemies approaching.

Gameplay Mechanics

One of the biggest innovations that has been implemented in Fear the Wolves is the game's take on the so-called "ring of death." Here, actually, it's not a ring, but more like squares, which fill out the territory and narrow down the safe zone of the map. These squares are the aforementioned radioactive cloud, and it damages players who get within its borders. 

Notably, this cloud doesn't move in a linear fashion. This makes things a bit annoying, as you often can't figure out where to move next because the cloud can simply get there first and destroy your plans. That's not even the worst part though, as there are also anomalies that manifest out of nowhere that can kill you instantly.

All of these "innovative" mechanics don't make the game more exciting. On the contrary, they make it terribly frustrating, and it completely kills the experience.

There is one thing that the developers did get right though: a change to the way matches begin. When the game was first released through Early Access in 2018, matches started as they do in many other battle royale game, with players dropping from the sky.

This landing mechanic was executed horribly in Fear the Wolves, as there was no possibility to control the speed of the landing or manually release a parachute. This led to matches starting slowly, which, obviously, many players did not like.

Now, you simply spawn in a random location on the map, and you are immediately ready to go. No more waiting to land, and that is a good thing here.

Another feature that sets Fear the Wolves apart from the rest of the pack is the end-game. Instead of needing to kill all of the opponents on the map, players just need to be able to survive until a helicopter arrives. The player that gets to the helicopter first wins the match.

Additionally, the final stages of a match introduce violent wolves to the map. These beasts appear from the woods, and they're quite terrifying. However, the AI is pretty bad, so there is no problem killing them or getting away as needed.

Graphics and Optimization

With the release of Fear the Wolves, the visual have improved slightly from the game's Early Access days. However, the FPS drops remain untouched, and it looks like it's going to take a lot more effort to fix that issue than many players thought.

Another problem is the network problems and unreliable servers that regularly blackout in the middle of a match. This occurs despite the fact that there aren't even that many players on the servers.

This is the main issue that have to be fixed as soon as possible. A game that requires quick reactions is simply not playable with constant lag, and this problem is likely to suck all of the joy out of the experience for much of the game's playerbase.


  • Wolves, as the PvE element


  • Unoriginal setting
  • Unnecessary dynamic weather system
  • Frustrating "ring of death" mechanic
  • Lack of weapons and attachments
  • Lag and glitches

If you look really hard, you can find a few redeeming qualities in Fear the Wolves. If the developers had one more year to polish the game, then it could even be a decent alternative to PUBG. But the fact is that the game is currently in worse shape than many other battle roayle games that are free-to-play.

Of course, if the game gets better with bug-fixing patches and more good content, then it does have a chance to survive. However, that ship may have sailed, and Vostok may simply not be able to salvage Fear the Wolves.

[Note: A copy of Fear the Wolves was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Far Cry New Dawn Review: Finding Beauty In The Apocalypse Thu, 14 Feb 2019 08:17:35 -0500 David Jagneaux

Describing Far Cry New Dawn as just more of the same wouldn't be inaccurate, but it doesn't give the full picture. While technically this new entry in the long-running series does take place in the same Hope County as Far Cry 5 and feature a handful of returning characters, it's much more than just an expansion.

This is a full-fledged sequel that totally transforms the region, expands on what you can do, and introduces a fresh new perspective that doesn't take itself anywhere near as seriously as its predecessor.

Basically, Far Cry New Dawn is a combination of the best parts from Far Cry 5 with just enough bright, new, colorful ideas to shake things up a bit.

Welcome Back To Hope County

When Far Cry New Dawn was first announced at the Game Awards late last year, a lot of people were understandably confused. Since it featured the same Hope County from the last game, as well as recurring environments, assets, and even characters, the big question in everyone's mind was whether this was an expansion or a new game. The answer is sort of both.

Far Cry New Dawn is a standalone direct sequel to Far Cry 5 and Ubisoft is only charging $39.99 since it's not a totally new game. But what you get for that price is something that has almost as much content as a full Far Cry release.

Far Cry New Dawn is a combination of the best parts from Far Cry 5 with just enough bright, new, colorful ideas to shake things up a bit

In New Dawn, you take on the role of either a man or woman that's the head of a security detail for some shipment that gets attacked. You're in the process of leading a caravan of survivors to Prosperity, the home of the Good Guys in the post-nuclear wasteland. The caravan gets intercepted by The Twins and their army, everyone is killed except for you and a young woman named Carmina, and you're tasked with helping her get back home and regroup.

What follows are three Acts, approximately two dozen main missions in total, and a pretty by-the-numbers story about the struggle for survival and fighting off attackers.

If you played Far Cry 5, there are plenty of references and returning characters that connect the two stories, which is nice, but on its own, New Dawn didn't impress me much from a narrative perspective. I also felt a bit uncomfortable with the fact that The Twins were some of the only minority characters in the entire game and they're cast as the deranged, psychotic villains hell-bent on murdering your entire village of people for no real reason.

The main story can be completed in about 10-15 hours, depending on how distracted you get by the slew of other activities. If you want to go all-out and do every challenge, outpost, expedition, side mission, and more on all the difficulty levels, then you could easily double your time investment, or more. Throw in a buddy for some co-op mayhem and things can get out of hand extremely quickly.

And that's a big part of what makes Far Cry so much fun still. The framework from past games (especially Far Cry 5) is all intact for New Dawn, but by giving Hope County an irradiated coat of new paint, then blossoming a beautifully colorful new landscape over the top, it all feels pretty fresh.

The new cast of companions are all great additions (especially Timber, the best video game dog of all-time, obviously) and I always found myself eager to hunt them down and unlock them to come along on missions. Since they all have their own specialty, it's beneficial to have a large roster to pick from so you can bring the right one for the given situation. 

The End Of The World As We Know It

In Far Cry New Dawn, you'll mostly be doing lots of the traditional Far Cry things. That means liberating outposts, completing side missions, uncovering hidden stashes, upgrading your base, and slowly unlocking new weapons, vehicles, perks, and more. This is still very much a Far Cry game clearly built atop the structure of Far Cry 5.

If you liked Far Cry 5, you'll probably like Far Cry New Dawn.

And honestly? It totally works. If you liked Far Cry 5, you'll probably like Far Cry New Dawn. If you thought Far Cry 5 was a bit melodramatic and serious for its own good (I kind of felt that way), then you'll probably really like the pink splashes of personality in New Dawn.

Typically speaking, I'm just not the type of person that's much of a completionist in these sorts of games, but I found it incredibly hard to resist the urge to do everything that popped up on my map in New Dawn.

The excellent thing here is that everything has a reward attached that makes it worth your while — even if it's just crafting materials.

For example, clearing Outposts often unlocks differently themed attire to put on your badass hero, which can lead to some ridiculously satisfying outfits (shown below).

Same Dog, New Tricks

Going beyond the surface level differences though, New Dawn lives up to its name in some ways by actually doing some new things for the series, primarily through the introduction of Expeditions. These are quick missions you that transport you to a totally new area outside of the game map.

Expeditions ended up being so fun I wished there had been more of them to do.

For example, there are Expeditions that take place at a run down amusement park, an aircraft carrier, and even on Alcatraz island. The locations are all super creative and each time you finish one, you unlock a harder difficulty version with new enemies and obstacles. With seven to pick from, there is some good variety, but the Expeditions ended up being so fun I wished there had been more of them to do.

The Expeditions play out a bit like heist operations in that you need to get in, secure a package, get out, and meet the chopper at the extraction point. Obviously, stealth is very viable for these missions, but running in guns blazing is a ton of fun as well. 

Co-op works just as well as you'd expect with elegant drop-in, drop-out features. I'm guessing there is voice chat, but when we tried it, we just used Discord on PC. When you're in co-op you can't use any of your other companions, unfortunately, so I had to leave Timber behind. He's really just such a good boy.

PC Performance

Far Cry New Dawn ran wonderfully. I never had a single crash, UPlay was a breeze, and I was even able to redeem some of my accrued UPlay credits for in-game skins on vehicles and weapons without any problems.

Usually none of that is really worth mentioning, but Ubisoft deserves some credit here for delivering a rock-solid game that's packed with things to do.

The only bug I ever ran into (Timber, the dog companion mentioned earlier, got stuck under a flight of stairs during the mission to rescue him) was quickly resolved by just reloading my save and trying again.

For this review I played on a PC with a GTX980Ti, 32GB RAM, and an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU. Not bleeding-edge, but more than capable, and I never had issues playing at the highest settings with a steady framerate that hovered right around 60fps on a 1440p monitor. A GameSkinny colleague that I tried co-op with, Jonathan Moore, was running his game in 4K on high settings with a framerate right around 52fps without issues. He's got a slightly more powerful setup, but not by much. 


  • Beautiful environments
  • Expeditions are fun and varied
  • New companions are great additions
  • Tons of things to do solo or in co-op


  • Forgettable story
  • Ultimately this is still Hope County again

If you were expecting Far Cry New Dawn to reinvent what it means to explore an open world sandbox, then you're looking at the wrong game franchise. As far as iterative sequels go that simply expand on their predecessor to offer something nuanced and new in just the right ways, it doesn't get much better than Far Cry New Dawn.

Ubisoft's bright, bombastic, and beautiful brand of the apocalypse is one that I couldn't help but want to keep exploring beyond the lackluster main story even if I do get a minor sense of déjà vu when looking at the map.

[Note: A copy of Far Cry New Dawn on PC was provided digitally via UPlay by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review.]

Metro Exodus Review: The Great Survival Continues Wed, 13 Feb 2019 10:15:02 -0500 Sergey_3847

Over the years, the Metro series has proven to be one of the most successful mainstays in the first-person shooter genre, and it's now on its third installment, Metro Exodus. In this new title, players return to post-apocalyptic Russia and continue a journey that began almost ten years ago with Metro 2033.

The main protagonist, Artyom, returns in the game as well, but, this time, he will not lurk inside the vast Moscow underground. Instead, Metro Exodus takes players to the surface to explore the Russian capital and beyond.

For fans of the franchise, this new and intriguing development will definitely make you want to return to the series that has gained such a good reputation after its first two entries. However, even if you haven't played any of the previous Metro games, you will have no trouble getting into this one.


Note: Light spoilers follow.

The events of Metro Exodus take place three years after the second installment in the series, Metro: Last Light, and Artyom continues to try to give hope to the Spartans, a major faction that he belongs to. He wants to show the rest of his brothers and sisters that there are other survivors left on the surface — people who lived through the nuclear blast that is believed to have destroyed and contaminated everything.

This takes him out of the underground and into the daylight, and his journeys to the surface become increasingly dangerous, as he begins to face new mutants that have no mercy for humans. On one of such trip out, Artyom and a companion see a city train running through the devastated streets of Moscow. They cannot believe their eyes, and they try to find out the origin of this unusual phenomenon.

Indeed it has been thought that there is no one left alive on the surface, but the truth is something different. Pursuing the mystery behind the city train, Artyom and his companion discover that another faction of survivors, and, along the way, they uncover a conspiracy that may have tremendous consequences unless it is revealed to the rest of the world.

This is only the beginning of what's going to be revealed in Metro Exodus, a game that takes story-telling to a whole new level compared to other entries in the series. Of all three games, this one probably has the best story.


With Metro Exodus, the tunnels of the previous games in the series have been abandoned, and a whole new semi-open world waits to be explored on top. This world features incredibly detailed environments and biomes, but players that are expecting complete freedom of movement across the map may be slightly disappointed, as the game is kind of limited in that regard. However, there is still plenty to explore in the sandbox levels.

Additionally, weather systems play a major role in the game. For example, as you move through the story, which spans an entire in-game year, you will witness the frozen landscapes of Moscow change to the springtime snowbreak of The Volga, a new region that was first revealed at E3 2018.

Later on, Artyom finds himself on the shores of the Caspian Sea, a dried-out biome set in the summertime, and eventually he arrives at the gorgeous environments of the Taiga. This is not all that Metro Exodus's setting has to offer, as there is a lot more to explore throughout the game.

Together, all these levels make Metro Exodus's environments the most versatile and exciting in the series. No more dark endless tunnels, just a new open world full of possibilities.

Gameplay Mechanics

Metro Exodus is, first and foremost, a survival game. That is, while the plot develops in a linear fashion, as is typical in the series, players will be able to explore the world around them while using a new crafting mechanic.

For veteran fans of the series, this new addition may feel like a distraction from the game's story. However, gathering resources and crafting items is actually really fun and easy in Metro Exodus.

Crafting is available as soon as Artyom gets his backpack on Aurora, but there are also workbenches scattered around the world to use. These benches offer some advanced crafting options, such as Molotov cocktails, but players will also need to constantly take care of their gear and weapons by crafting gas mask filters, medkits, patches, and other spare parts. 

With respect to combat, the AI of the enemies has improved significantly from previous entries in the series. For instance, opponents now react to the changes in light levels, something that will prompt players to do all the most dangerous missions at night. While it is harder to be noticed in the dark, don't think that it will be easy hiding in the shadows all the time — if the enemies hear even the slightest sound of you coming, they will shoot.

As such, the crouching mechanic becomes essential for silent takedowns, and you can also manually turn off light sources, such as lanterns and lamps, to keep yourself hidden. However, if this kind of stealthy approach doesn't work for you, then you can choose to go all in, using objects in the environment as cover during some intense shootouts. In this regard, Metro Exodus finds a proper balance with its different approaches to combat.

The game also offers flexibility in how you approach completing different tasks. While you will receive orders and hints on your radio, you can choose to pursue an encounter as you see fit. That said, your choices do have consequences in the end, and it would be wise to play the game as a real hero, never fleeing from a dangerous situations.

However, Metro Exodus doesn't always offer choice, and there are a hefty dose of QTEs where you simply need to follow the given cues. This is understandable though, as the game does feature a linear story, and it has to bring certain elements of it into play at the right time and right place.

In fact, moving between free roaming and linear gameplay actually works in favor of the overall pace of the gameplay, keeping it from ever getting boring. For example, if you get tired of scouting abandoned huts for crafting items, or you simply get lost, then you can just open your map, go to a scripted event, and find yourself right back on the edge of your seat.

Graphics, Sound, and Optimization

In short, the game looks fantastic. It was developed using the same A4 Engine as the previous two games in the series, but it has been significantly improved in both the graphics and gameplay departments.

The transitions between the gameplay sections, the QTEs, and the cutscenes are seamless, and the story flows naturally. There are no loading screens or timeouts throughout the main story missions, and you will see only one loading screen when you start or load the game.

As for the sound, the dialogue is carefully integrated into the gameplay. The enemies are constantly talking and sharing their thoughts whenever they sense you nearby. If you're playing in a stealth mode, this really helps, as you get to know how close you are to revealing yourself.

The gunshots and explosions don't drown out the rest of the environmental sounds, so you can still hear an approaching enemy. If you have a 5.1/7.1 sound system, you will have a clear idea where exactly enemies are at — above, below, or right behind you inside the buildings.

Concerning the optimization, Metro Exodus runs extremely well all the way through. No bugs or glitches were found, but be sure to update your graphics drivers to the latest version. Otherwise, the game may not even let you know if certain important libraries are not be found on your system.

The best part is that the game doesn't even require a super high-end system to work well. The minimum requirements include an Intel Core i5 4440, 8GB RAM, and a GTX 670 or Radeon HD 7870 with 2GB VRAM, and that's basically it. As a result, Metro Exodus will be available to many PC users, but, of course, if you're playing on a console, then you don't have to worry about this at all.


  • Versatile semi-open world
  • Immersive narrative
  • Gorgeous graphics and sound
  • New crafting system


  • Enemies can be too smart at times

Metro Exodus is almost a perfect game. The developer definitely tried to make this the best entry in the series, and I think they succeeded. All elements — story, combat, stealth, interaction with the world, explosive cutscenes — are very well balanced, and even the QTEs make sense and aren't overdone.

The only thing that keeps it from getting the highest rating is that, even on normal difficulty, enemies can be really tough to deal with. At times, their numbers are so overwhelming that you can't just take them out with pure offense. In these instances, you simply must resort to stealth, and that certainly isn't everybody's cup of tea.

Besides that one little issue, everything else in the title feels right. With the game's new crafting system, and its realistic survival elements, Metro Exodus can already be called a Game of the Year contender for 2019.

[Note: A copy of Metro Exodus was provided by Deep Silver for the purpose of this review.]

Spinnortality Review: A Lovingly Bleak Cyberpunk Megacorp Management Sim Wed, 06 Feb 2019 18:01:47 -0500 Vrothgarr

Simulators aim to encapsulate a profession, a time period, a mood, or otherwise gamify just about any experience, like Farming Simulator 19's official esports league. 

Each simulator tends to come with a particular ideology or perspective baked into its design. Spinnortality, styled to suggest media spin + immortality, is an exemplary example that assumes brutally cynical and darkly oppressive corporate cyberpunk futurism. 

Engaging Systems of Control

Thematically, think of Spinnortality as Monopoly for 2019 but with social commentary that doesn’t rely on the game being intentionally torturous to play.

Instead of a hypercapitalist race for hotels and railroads, we have a transhuman rush for immortality. There isn’t much focus on broader science-fiction elements like intergalactic war, giant death robots, space travel, pink-haired hackers, and the like. Instead, Spinnortality is tightly focused on the bleak but shiny transhumanist megacorp side of cyberpunk.

Spinnortality is firmly, lovingly rooted in the niche genre of 'turn-based global cyberpunk corporation simulator.'

As CEO, you allocate corporate resources, make compromising decisions, and strategically ensure the future of your Board of Directors.

The end result is a strategy sim that, given the context of its budget, dev team, and narrow narrative scope, still manages to rival the depth and engagement, if not the breadth of, experience found in games like the original XCOM, Civ, and Europa Universalis.

The Auteur Developer

Firmly, lovingly rooted in the niche genre of “turn-based global cyberpunk corporation simulator," Spinnortality is a Unity-built, one-dev project by James Patton.

As the name suggests, you spin your way to immortality in various literal, but usually sinister, ways. Similar to dynasty, business, or civilization management sims, your corporation, corrupt and inefficient as it may be, is your legacy that must endure the proverbial test of time.

Victory conditions include developing rigid imperialism, rampant consumerism, or a new world order. The Humane victory, alternatively, takes a thematic left, feeling almost out of place given the economic impacts of your otherwise amoral decisions.

Spinnortality's writing fits together well, from the decision and newspaper popups to the menus and tutorials. While I’d love for Spinnortality to feature so much more than one dev can do, I greatly prefer the way Patton unified his gameplay, strategy, aesthetics, and writing into a singular vision of a specific future.

While not everyone has Kojima-level star power, the success of “solo” developers like Lucas Pope (Papers, Please), Eric Barone (Stardew Valley), Dean Dodrill (Elysian Tail), and Jonathan Blow (Braid), just to name a few, shows that auteur games can be a major force in today’s market.

Money is Power, Inc.

While there are indeed flaws in Spinnortality, most are minor issues with the UI as well as some contextual vagueness in certain menus. But it is minimal, and the tutorial popups sufficiently lay out your objectives, and where and how most strategy comes into play.

In reality, my biggest disappointment is simply that one dev can’t do it all. Spinnortality has a quality at its core that, with additions such as more dialogue and voices, bold cutscenes, deeper research trees, more diverse victories, and greater complexity, would easily be on par with many AAA titles.

Within these constraints, the care given to and passion exuding from Spinnortality are much easier to see, giving both strategy sim and cyberpunk fans plenty to love.

The random chance that influences certain events, and the shifting priorities amongst countries, creates dynamic gameplay by giving you influence over different political parties and companies to challenge your strategic approach. Balancing your workforce across research and development efforts gives players flexibility to adapt to new challenges and changes.

Overall, replayability is hampered by these same constraints. The strategic events outside of your control are the biggest hurdle at first, but the engaging atmosphere and (most of the) ambient soundtrack keep the learning process exciting.

The Verdict

  • Satisfying turn-based strategic management sim
  • Compelling corporate cyberpunk worldbuilding and aesthetics 
  • High-value content and replayability for genre fans
  • Lacks bells and whistles, due to solo dev
  • Some randomness can feel unfair/arbitrary

Spinnortality’s price tag ($9.99 on Steam, $8.99 on wisely reflects its relative simplicity, as the game focuses on unique and highly specific subject matter.

There’s a fair amount of nuance and complexity the further you delve, with just enough replayability to match, exponentially so for big cyberpunk fans.

What Spinnortality lacks in a broader depth, it makes up for in exploring (or drilling down) its themes and ideologies.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review: Well Worth the Wait Tue, 05 Feb 2019 11:49:16 -0500 Synzer

Kingdom Hearts 3 finally released last week and many fans wondered how it would be to play this long awaited game. A game like this can be hard to review, many factors go into coming up with a score for a game that is a sequel to such a beloved game back on the PlayStation 2.

I can say that Kingdom Hearts 3 was well worth the wait. It is not a perfect game, but I believe it is the best in the series. 

What I Liked

There is a lot to like about Kingdom Hearts 3, but my favorite is the scale of each Disney world.

Expansive Worlds

Gone are the short, fragmented areas of the past games. Each Disney world, besides 100-Acre Wood, is much bigger than the ones in previous games. Previously players had to traverse smaller areas broken up into several load screens.

There are still load screens, but now each world is only separated into about three different "zones" with each zone having several areas to explore. You can actually get lost and miss a lot of things, which is great for a Kingdom Hearts game.

It's clear that a lot of time went into crafting each world. Not only are they large, but each one has its own game play style.

kh3 pirate ship battle

The Carribbean, my favorite world, lets you explore the open seas on a pirate ship, have ship battles, level up the ship to make it stronger, and dive underwater for even more exploration.

The Toybox, aka Toy Story, has toy robots you can defeat and control on your own. There are different types of robots you can use and each has a unique ability.

The visuals of these worlds are outstanding as well, especially if you have an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro to play in 4K. Since they switched to the Unreal Engine for this game, you can notice how clear and beautiful the effects are for KH3. Water in particular look absolutely gorgeous.

I won't spoil everything here, but there are plenty of mini-games or surprises awaiting in each world as well. The game keeps you busy.


Keyblades have always been a huge part of the game, especially seeing which new ones you can get throughout your playthrough.

In previous installments, Keyblades have always had set stats that could not be upgraded. They also had one special ability, but nothing else that made them special besides the way they looked.

KH3 takes it up a notch by letting you upgrade each one to become stronger throughout the game. Each one also has its own abilities and Formchanges that alter the combat. There may not be as many, but each Keyblade is so much more than they have been in the past. Quality over quantity, as they say.

Gummi Ship Exploration

This was one of the features that surprised me the most and become a big part of my enjoyment. Gummi Ships have always just been a way to get from one world to the next. The action was much better in Kingdom Hearts 2 than the first game, but it was still simply a rail shooter with no freedom.

Gummi Ship features have improved over the series, but Kingdom Hearts 3 takes it to an other level. You can now fully explore three space areas with complete freedom.

You can choose which direction to go, which planet to visit, unlock treasures, upgrades and new ships, complete space battles, and the list goes on.

The important thing to note is that there is a lot you can do with the Gummi Ship in this game and it is much more fun than it has ever been. It's far less static and there are plenty of surprises in store for aspiring pilots.

What I Didn't Like


One of my only complaints is the game was very easy compared to previous games. I played on Proud, the highest difficulty, and never died one time. Sure there were a few scary moments when I thought I might meet my first death, but I was easily able to overcome them.

In previous games I actually would have a challenge when going through the game on Proud Mode and had to carefully plan for some boss fights. There was also a harder difficulty, called Critical Mode, that KH3 does not have.

I won't spoil it, but there's a secret boss you can fight after finishing the game. It was definitely the hardest fight in the game, but even that wasn't too bad when compared to previous games.

My main issue is that it's not just easy, but you don't have to do much planning or strategy to win fights. Each fight is a spectacle for sure and it is still 10/10 fun, but I miss fights like Sephiroth from KH2. That fight was a real challenge that involved a lot of planning, timing, and execution to win. Most importantly, it was satisfying winning.

There weren't really any fights that gave me that level of satisfaction in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Lack of Important Original Worlds

kh3 Disney worlds

I stand by how amazing each Disney World is, but there was a surprising lack of the original worlds fans grew accustomed to seeing in each installment.

This game holds a lot of nostalgia and call backs to previous games, so it was a shame to not see worlds like Traverse Town and Radiant Garden. Newcomers to the series probably won't mind, but as a long-time fan I really wish I could have gone to Traverse Town or at least Radiant Garden.

Traverse Town was the first Town you visited in the original Kingdom Hearts and had multiple districts you could visit. It was also the temporary home of Final Fantasy characters that played a role in the story.

Radiant Garden/Hollow Bastion was a very important world in multiple games. There was a lot to discover when visiting this world, more Final Fantasy characters inhabited it, and it was a central part of the story. It was also the location of my favorite Sephiroth fight in the series.

The fact that you don't visit Radiant Garden, even briefly, is baffling. This is even more frustrating since Twilight Town is in the game, even if it is small compared to how it was in Kingdom Hearts 2.

More Unanswered Questions

Everyone knows Kingdom Hearts is a complex and often confusing story, but it doesn't end with this game. This one isn't so much a negative as it is an anticipation.

It was already said that KH3 would not be the final game and it would only be the end of the current saga.

The story itself was great and had many emotional moments. Most things were cleared up, but there are still some big questions left unanswered, particularity after viewing the epilogue and secret movie.

The Verdict

Kingdom Hearts 3 is an incredible experience that fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. Even if new players don't understand everything that is going on, they will enjoy the game.

The new Gummi Ship system, intense combat, and varied gameplay of each world makes this an instant classic.

  • Fantastic Battle System
  • Expansive and unique world game play
  • Amazing Gummi Ship revamp
  • A little too easy

Anyone who is even remotely interested in Kingdom Hearts 3 will not regret picking it up.

[Disclosure: Writer was granted a copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes.]

Etrian Odyssey Nexus Review: The Perfect Send-Off and Welcome Mon, 04 Feb 2019 09:30:02 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Etrian Odyssey, Atlus’ first-person dungeon crawler series, has been around for over a decade. The series itself hasn’t evolved too much over time, but each entry perfects what worked in the previous one and adds a number of improvements to boot.

Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the franchise’s last entry on the 3DS, and it’s meant to be a cross-over for all of the previous games, combining favorite classes, characters, and labyrinths around a new story in a new land.

The game’s core remains largely the same as previous entries in the series. There is some noticeable repetition that might stick out to some, but despite that, as well as including mostly recycled material, Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the perfect sendoff for longtime fans and an excellent entry point for newcomers as well.

Plot and Narrative

Like most EO games, Nexus’ story is somewhat sparse. The first thing you do in the game is meet Princess Persephone and learn about her goal of finding Lemuria, the lost civilization with a secret treasure everyone wants to nab. From there, you form your guild as usual, create some party members, and begin venturing into labyrinths.

The overarching story takes a backseat to the mini-stories found in the labyrinths themselves. For example, the tutorial labyrinth partners you with a young healer named Birgitta and tasks you with looking for her little sister. Later labyrinths pair you with other characters, some familiar — like Shilleka and Wiglaf — and some unfamiliar, but all are generally focused on either finding an exit, taking down giant Monster X, or both.

The narrative is never completely engrossing, but there are enough captivating events scattered throughout the labyrinths to keep things interesting and engaging. In fact, it’s arguable Nexus’ labyrinths include more story sequences than the story-focused Untold games.

Gone are the lonely excursions into dungeons with nary a soul for company, something that goes a long way in maintaining the general theme of various groups working together, and sometimes against each other, for the same goal.

Exploring the Depths

The gameplay consists of the same satisfying loop of exploring, mapping, gathering, fighting, selling, and venturing back in for more. Leveling up gives you skill points to flesh out your characters, while battles and exploring provide items you take back to town — Maginia, in Nexus  and sell, which results both in new items for sale and money you can buy them with.

Accurate mapping is as crucial as ever, particularly toward the end of a floor where you often find shortcuts that make backtracking a lot easier. If you don’t feel like drawing every single wall, though, there’s an Auto-Mapping feature you can activate in the options menu. This automatically draws walls in your character's immediate vicinity and fills in green and red color tiles. However, you'll still need to mark shortcuts, events, and the like if you want to be thorough.

Battles are turn-based and conducted in first-person. They’re also fast-paced and intense, forcing players to balance between offense, defense, and inflicting status at a moment’s notice. That's all while keeping an eye on the never-large-enough TP pool for each character’s special skills.

Exploiting elemental weaknesses is a must if you want to survive, but EO is different from many RPGs in that status ailments are equally important as general buffs and debuffs. Paralyzing an enemy or binding its arms can sometimes make the difference between winning a boss battle and being sent back to the Game Over screen yet again.

On top of each class’ numerous skills, Nexus brings the Force and Break systems back. Force grants your unit or party a specific boost for a set number of turns, while Break typically launches a supercharged attack or debuff at a group of enemies.

Combining the Classics

Nexus’ overall content is somewhat different from the typical EO experience, however. Most EO games introduce new classes and brand-new labyrinths, some with entirely new monsters. Not so with Nexus, which combines some new with a good bit of familiar.


If you’ve been with the series for any length of time, chances are, you’ll recognize at least some of the labyrinths: Primitive Jungle from the original and Untold; Waterfall Wood from Etrian Odyssey 3; Lush Woodlands from Etrian Odyssey 4, and so on. Nexus opts to do away with the strata system from previous games, making each environment a separate labyrinth blocking the explorers' path to Lemuria. Despite recycling names and appearances, though, the labyrinth layouts aren’t the same by any means.

Even if you’ve memorized puzzles and mazes from earlier games, Nexus still gives you something new to explore, even mixing up where – and which – FOEs you come across in each labyrinth. Those Cutters from Primitive Jungle in the original Etrian Odyssey instead greet you in Lush Woodland and comprise the majority of its puzzles.

However, Nexus does provide a few new devious side-labyrinths with FOE puzzles designed to keep you on your toes, like the Giant’s Ruins. The game also goes out of its way to tell you these recycled designs are intended, with characters remarking from time to time how odd it is to find a similar labyrinth to the ones back home.


The same isn’t quite true for classes, though. There are 19 classes to choose from in all, but Nexus only introduces one new job class: the hero, pictured in the box art (the Vampire is, sadly, only a data memory for now). It pulls other classes from the rest of the series, but the lack of new classes doesn’t harm the experience.

Part of the addictive element in EO games is creating unique (and sometimes broken) parties, and Nexus gives you plenty of material to work with in that regard. Arcanists from EOIV mix with Harbingers, Sovereigns and Shoguns come back from EOIII, and the Highlander finally makes an appearance in a mainline EO game, alongside standards like Protectors, Medics, and Pugilists.

The new Hero class itself is a well-balanced addition that nicely complements the grab bag of other classes, but learning to work with the Hero’s support skills and unique Afterimage gimmick more than makes up for missing out on other new classes, and it fits well with the game’s placement as the franchise’s 3DS swan song/ultimate compilation.

As with all EO games, Nexus gives players extensive character customization options. You can pick gender, skin tone, hair color, iris color (mix and match options exist here too), voice style, and name. It also lets you change these at any point in the Guild.However, Nexus doesn't include the race feature from Etrian Odyssey V; all your characters are human by default.

A Balanced Experience

Also per usual, Nexus continues the tradition of difficult, old-school gameplay. It gives players absolutely no guidance when it comes to creating parties, beyond skills lists and general class descriptions.

Boss fights are as difficult as ever, especially if you don’t exploit weaknesses or have a balanced party. Even random encounters can quickly turn nasty if you aren’t paying attention; FOEs shouldn’t be attempted until at least one labyrinth later than when you first encounter them.

You’ll often find you can’t buy the latest equipment as well since Nexus remains as stingy as ever in doling out En (EO currency). Outfitting your party becomes a strategy in itself, determining which stat boost is necessary and whether attribute-increasing accessories are worth taking up that extra armor slot.

Nexus offers four difficulty levels you can change during the game as well: Picnic, Basic, Expert, and Heroic. Basic offers a substantial challenge in itself, but veterans might want to go for Expert, while newcomers can safely jump in with Picnic and learn the various systems in a mostly stress-free fashion.

That said, the game does seem easier in a few areas. Transitioning a party to Veteran status can happen as early as the end of the second full labyrinth with minimal grinding. Experience from battles remains paltry, but some sidequests and main missions dish out tremendous amounts of experience.

If anything, though, it makes the game more enjoyable, because it means you can tinker with your classes to a greater extent earlier on. Sub-classing doesn’t come in until much later, so it’s a good trade-off that lets you build a decent party earlier on instead.

Several labyrinths only have three floors total, compared to the usual five. At first, this might seem a bit off-putting. But given how familiar some of the designs are, not to mention the wealth of content on offer, it keeps everything moving at a satisfying pace.

The Floor Jump feature from earlier games disappears as well. You can choose which floor to start on whenever you re-enter a labyrinth. It doesn't require you to completely chart a floor to count it as mapped either, which is a convenient touch, though perhaps not for the hardcore EO fan.

It is worth noting, too, the use of 3D is far superior to many other 3DS games, with a nice blend of foreground and background that doesn't strain the eyes with portraits and text that pops too much.

Some Drawbacks

The audio and visual departments are where Nexus suffers a bit. Etrian Odyssey games never made graphics a priority, and Nexus is no different. Bright colors, excellent character art, and dynamic monster models are all great, make no mistake. But it’s the same we’ve seen since EOIV, and at times, it seems a little tired.

The audio is a more noticeable issue for longtime fans. Recycled BGM and dungeon music won’t be an issue for newcomers, but the jazzy Lush Woodlands tune and muted sounds of Primitive Jungle are tracks series fans have heard repeated a lot in their respective games. A remix would have been nice and helped fit with the overall all-stars, old-meets-new theme.

The voiceovers are a bit hit-and-miss as well. Nexus offers Japanese-only voices, and in general, the work is high-quality. But its implementation is random. Some major scenes have voiceovers, while some don’t, and some scenes that start with voiceovers have them suddenly stop for no apparent reason. It’s a minor gripe, to be sure, though it does stand out as odd at first.

The Verdict

  • Plenty of classes to experiment with
  • Streamlined experience makes it more immersive than ever
  • Loads of content
  • Some recycled aspects are a bit ho-hum
  • Uneven voice acting implementation
  • Only one new job class

Etrian Odyssey Nexus does a fantastic job weaving stand-out elements from the series into a compelling package. There's enough difference to keep fans interested throughout the lengthy, 50-ish hour campaign, but it's balanced enough to make it welcoming for newcomers as well.

Nexus might stumble in a few places, but it's difficult to imagine a better send-off for the franchise on the 3DS.

[Note: Atlus U.S.A. provided a copy of the game for the purpose of this review.]

Resident Evil 2 Remake Review: Goodness is the Enemy of Greatness Tue, 29 Jan 2019 12:42:54 -0500 Tim White

I've dearly loved Resident Evil since its birth, which is why I'm sad to say that I don't think it will ever again be as special as it once was. Don't get me wrong, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a good game. At times, and in certain respects, it even borders on greatness. Alas, it's conformed to the modern era of gaming in one of the worst ways: by dumbing itself down in the name of accessibility.


Note: Minor spoilers ahead.

The basic plot of Resident Evil 2 needs no introduction, but I'll give you one anyway: rookie cop and tough-as-nails college girl stumble into the wrong town at the wrong time, rescue a kid, and escape with their lives, but they never date even though they seem to be perfect for each other.

Taking place roughly two months after Resident Evil and concurrently with Resident Evil 3, the second game in the series unfolds as Umbrella scientist William Birkin enters the final stages of his research on a newer, even deadlier form of the virus that decimated the S.T.A.R.S. team in July of 1998. By the time Leon and Claire arrive in town, the G-virus has already had days to spread through the local population.

The narrative is a simple one, which is fine. Horror stories often are. A tale doesn't need to twist and turn a dozen times to be compelling, but the simpler the story, the more it's up to the characters to move it along in an interesting way.

Leon and Claire aren't badly written or badly acted, they're just not superb either. Even Sherry Birkin is less interesting now than she was 20 years ago. Back then, she was a spunky, bull-headed kid that tried her best to be brave (and useful) even though she was scared.

Sherry 2.0 is timid and quiet, rarely makes eye contact, and never actually helps Claire — she's just a plain old NPC that needs protecting. That's okay in a sense — a real 12-year-old probably would be more terrified than heroic — but we don't come to Resident Evil 2 for realism. We need a reason to really root for the characters, and most of the cast just doesn't give us one this time around.

Ada Wong (who I've never liked) is worse than ever. The original Ada was mean and manipulative, but at least she kind of had a personality. Now, she's overwhelmingly critical and sarcastic to the point that I couldn't summon even a shred of understanding when Leon falls for her anyway.

You probably know at least one of these people in real life — the ones who are constantly aloof and make fun of everyone else in a pathetic attempt to cover up their own insecurities. Granted, she is a spy, and she's been using Leon from the beginning, but there was just no need to make her as abrasive as she is. She's pretty annoying.


The screenshot above is an apt metaphor for how I felt upon starting up Resident Evil 2 for the first time. Like Claire standing apprehensively before the gates of the Raccoon City Orphanage, I too was wary. The door in front of me promised happiness and wonder, but I suspected the reality would be less pleasant.

Atmospherically, the game starts strong. The city is dark, rain is coming down in buckets, and the zombies around you outnumber your bullets by about a thousand to one. The first hour is perfectly paced; it's a slow, butt-clenching trek through a devastated metropolis, punctuated with short, frantic fights.

The state of the city streets and the police station makes one thing perfectly clear: you have to run whenever possible. Ammo is wonderfully scarce (though healing items are far too common), and even regular zombies are not to be trifled with. Also, you will pee yourself the first time you have to sneak right past a licker with scant inches to spare.

But the meticulously crafted horror doesn't last. Resident Evil 6 starts the same way, luring (I might even say "tricking") you into thinking it will be an agonizingly slow, terror-ridden fight for survival from beginning to end. In reality, the back 20 hours of Resident Evil 6 are a pure action/shooting experience that bears little resemblance to its first two.

Resident Evil 2 doesn't pull this bait-and-switch to the same extent, but it does do it, and it's disappointing. Aside from a few decent boss fights and a handful of blessedly lamentably rare encounters with lickers, the scariness definitely drops off after you leave the police station. The environments get a little too clean and bright, enemies seem less threatening to characters that you like but don't love, and there are some balancing issues that gradually replace tension with frustration.

In short, normal mode is too easy, and hard mode is too hard. Normal mode auto-saves every ten seconds and practically drowns you in healing items, whereas hard mode doesn't give you enough supplies (this coming from someone who believes that the golden rule of survival horror is to starve the player of supplies).

I'm really quite good at horror games, and at managing scarce resources, but I had to restart the game on normal after trying to play it on hard. I simply didn't have enough ammo to defeat the first boss, even though I'd hoarded what I'd found and had barely used any of it.

The balance problems were a persistent source of mild sadness, but once I encountered the first puzzle, I knew I had to start lowering my expectations if I wanted to enjoy the rest of the game.

The first "puzzle" is a set of three 3-digit combination locks that you don't discover until after you're literally given the full and complete answers to all three of them in a cutscene. What's more, nearly all of the "puzzles" are 3-digit locks with only a few possibilities for each digit, meaning you can just sit there and brute force them within a few minutes.

The puzzle solutions do change on your second run (and in some cases, they even hit the difficulty sweet spot), but by then it doesn't matter. You've already seen most of what the game has to offer.

Horror games absolutely have to nail their first impressions by taking full advantage of the fact that everything is new and unfamiliar. I can't imagine a (good) reason for Capcom to lead with insultingly easy puzzle configurations and save the vastly more interesting ones for later.

This brings me to the crux of why I'm moderately disappointed by Resident Evil 2: it's made primarily for people with fantastically short attention spans who feel uncomfortable when they encounter adversity.

Die twice in a row (only twice!) and the game begins to constantly nag you about switching to easy mode, which features automatic headshots and passive health regeneration. Furthermore, only one puzzle in the entire game is even moderately challenging the first time through, and some of them don't make any sense even by Resident Evil standards (here referring to Sherry being "trapped" in a room by a literal sheet of cardboard held in place by a single piece of tape).

While I've trashed Resident Evil 2 a lot so far, I want to reiterate that it's not a bad game. It's just nowhere near as good as it should have been, and that bothers me.

It does have some real gameplay strengths, like snappy controls, immensely satisfying weapons, tough but fair close combat mechanics, and top-notch enemy design. Its better elements just don't shine quite brightly enough to completely make up for its failure to fully commit to being a horror game.

Resident Evil 2 hedges its bets for fear of turning off the instant gratification crowd, and the whole experience is cheapened as a result. Its normal mode is too forgiving to be consistently interesting, and its hard mode feels more like a half-assed appeasement offering to the hardcore demographic than a carefully balanced difficulty setting.


No matter how saddened I might be by Resident Evil 2's gameplay, I can't say it isn't gorgeous. It's the first game that my current PC (built in 2017) can't handle on maximum settings.

Even high-res screenshots don't do it justice; you really need to see the game in motion to appreciate how pretty it is. Indeed, its stunning visuals do a lot to maintain tension when the mechanics fail to do so.

All of the environments are beautiful, even if only half of them are interesting. Character models move fluidly and look great, although I can't tell if Leon and Claire both look really young or if I'm just getting old. Water and dirt are both used to great effect; both protagonists have several different models that get progressively filthier throughout the game, and by the end of Claire's campaign, I could practically smell her.

I normally don't care too much about video game graphics one way or the other, but Resident Evil 2 looks so good that it would be unfair not to give credit where it's due.

Sound & Music

Much like its gameplay, the audio in Resident Evil 2 is generally good, but it rarely took my breath away. Leon and Claire both talk like dorks at times, but that's not a bad thing — it's actually rather endearing. Nonetheless, neither of them ever sound scared or even particularly worried, which makes you feel less threatened (and that is a bad thing).

The soundtrack is pretty standard fare for a horror game. There's plenty of dissonance, and a lot of staccato strings and minor keys, which is well and good, it's just never all that striking or memorable.

The gunshots and monster sounds, though — those are fantastic. Nearly every weapon is loud, sharp, and deep, especially with surround sound or good headphones.

There isn't a great deal of shooting throughout each 4-hour campaign — Resident Evil 2 is much less of an action game than 5 and 6 were — so you don't get desensitized to your own gunfire. When Birkin lets loose a convincingly mighty roar, and you answer it with a flurry of Magnum rounds that you've been saving for exactly this kind of emergency, the deafening chaos of battle is, in a word, wonderful.


My current rig houses a GTX 1080, an i-7700 CPU, a solid-state drive, and 32GB of RAM. It was enough to comfortably run Resident Evil 2 on high settings, but there are two tiers of quality above that: "crazy high" and "ridiculously high." My framerate was always in the high 60s or low 70s, even with lots of stuff happening at once. I experienced no freezing, no crashing, and no bugs (unless giant mutant cockroaches count).

Resident Evil 2's graphics settings menu does something I hope to see more of in future games: it shows you the projected impact that tweaking each option will have on your VRAM. Knowing that I have 8GB to play with, I was able to crank up the effects that were most important to me while knowing exactly what my memory budget was.

The level of graphical fidelity that Resident Evil 2 is capable of attaining is frankly nuts. I imagine that you'd need the beefiest video card currently available to get there, or two flagship cards from the previous generation.


+ Absolutely, stunningly, phenomenally gorgeous graphics
+ Some enemies are deeply terrifying
+ Great weapons and satisfying combat


– Puzzles are insultingly easy
– Poorly balanced difficulty options
– Inconsistent atmosphere is scary at times but uninspired at others

I liked Resident Evil 2, I just didn't love it — and I really wanted to. Perhaps it's my own fault for setting my expectations so high, but I don't think so. Capcom could have, and should have, given us a more challenging, more consistently balanced and thoroughly frightening remake of a timeless classic.

The grandchild of one of the original zombie horror masterpieces is worth playing, it's just not worth dying for.


If you could use some help navigating Raccoon City, be sure to stop by our guides page.

Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition Review — The Best Tales Mon, 28 Jan 2019 13:49:42 -0500 Ashley Shankle

The Tales series has had a special place in my heart since I played Tales of Destiny on the PlayStation 20 years ago. I've been buying, playing, and even importing these games for two thirds of my life now.

Recent entries in the series, such as the Xillia titles, Zestria, Graces, and so on, haven't exactly done the best job of keeping me interested from start to finish, though. The casts from game to game start to blend together after a while, and the combat systems... Let's just say they're not to my tastes.

My lack of interest in modern Tales may be just because I'm getting older — when you say you played the series for the first time 20 years ago, you may be outside of its current demographic — but I just keep coming back and playing the new ones in search of something I couldn't quite put my finger on until I played Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition.

I've always considered the original Tales of Vesperia to be the culmination of the best aspects of the series, having taken the right cues from the previous and popular Tales of the Abyss and using them more effectively than its predecessor. Memorable characters, a unique an engaging story touching on relatable issues, a world familiar but still full of wonder, and last (but not least) a heap of side content to complete. The game is and was massive.

Today, the Definitive Edition release brings content that was previously only available in Japan, and on PlayStation 3, to the West for the first time, and it takes what was already one of, if not the best, games in the series and turns it into a behemoth of the genre.

From Original to Definitive

The original Tales of Vesperia came out at a time when one might consider traditional JRPGs to be dead unless they were still toiling through the PS2 library. Games such as NieR, The Lost Odyssey, and The Last Remnant turned the genre on its head on the Xbox 360, but the overall trend was more in the direction of "cute girls doing cute things" like Neptunia or Atelier.

Vesperia took a different approach and stuck to what worked in Tales of the Abyss, another renowned entry in the series. The Definitive Edition stands as a very good example of what the genre used to be like, and it includes elements from the original title along with more new content than you can shake a stick at.

For example, you don't just get the new Patty character, you also get to have Flynn as a permanent party member later in the game. Neither one of these characters were party members in the original release.

The best bits of this version don't lie in Patty and Flynn, though. It packs new music, new skits, full voice acting (as opposed to the original's partial), language selection, new side quests, expanded dungeons, new bosses, new costumes, new Artes, and more. Really, this is the true final form for Tales of Vesperia, which was already a great game when it first came out.

Vesperia? More like Bestperia

So, what's so special about this game? Why has the Tales community been clamoring for the PlayStation 3 version of Tales of Vesperia for a decade now, and why are they falling over themselves for the Definitive Edition?

The most glaring difference from its genre-brethren is that the characters are not cardboard anime tropes. The main character, Yuri, is a grown man who doesn't need to rely on the power of friendship to get things done, and the rest of the game's cast members are written to be similarly unique and are able to stand on their own as characters.

Each party member has their own goals and drastically different personalities. They dip their toes into the anime writing pool, but they don't take that oh-so-common dive into full-on anime stereotypes that so frequently chases people away from JRPGs for good reason.

I'm not saying none of it is corny — it often is — but there's something to be said for the characters being written like you'd expect someone in their position to be. As a result, they are significantly more bearable than you'd expect from a game with this style of visuals.

The battle system is one thing I want to touch on in particular because it's a bit of a step back. The modern Tales games seem bent on adding gimmicks to complicate the battle system, and while this may be fine in concept, the new bells and whistles just feel unintuitive in most of these games. It is sort of like adding honey to a PB&J sandwich — you already have a good sandwich between the peanut butter and the jelly, why put honey on there, too?

There is no weapon swapping here, and no stamina to keep you from spamming. Vesperia boasts the 3D action combat system the series has come to be known for, but its intricacies lie in the timing of your skills and positioning rather than simply using enemy weaknesses. Timing your approach and combos means everything here, lest you take a few hits and loads of damage.

I prefer this more straightforward battle approach because it doesn't overwhelm you with mechanics to start, but it does require that you get proficient with the combat to actually do well. Very rarely does the player feel like the game is handing them a win outside of field battles, and if you are unable to skillfully dodge attacks and dish them out in kind, you won't be able to thrive in Vesperia.

Side Dishes

Tales of Vesperia is packed with so much side content, you could easily spend just as much, if not more, time doing optional tasks as you will playing the story.

Side content in this game equates to a lot more than wandering around and talking to NPCs, though. You get to play a handful of minigames, hunt down secret items, and take on massive and grueling bosses as side dishes to the overall meal. That's not even all of it.

It's difficult to go into all the different side content there is available here, but one thing to keep in mind is that some side content is hard to find and totally missable. Yes, there are a lot of missables in Tales of Vesperia, and often they are so far away from where the story is taking place you'd never be able to guess.

Some people really hate missing content in a game and will skip it for this fact, but I'm not bothered considering the game is meant to be an adventure. The party isn't full of clairvoyants, and the sheer amount of content is enough to warrant a second playthrough. Any missed content is perfect excuse to play it again and get all the skits.

The Rub

Yeah, I know, I didn't touch on the graphics or the audio. The game looks and sounds great.

They had to get different English voice actors for the new voiced lines, so there are some big discrepancies in how the characters talk at times, though this is not an issue if you use the Japanese voice acting.

Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is a game I thought I'd never see, but here we are, in 2019, with it bursting through the door as the first big JRPG release of the year and kicking absolute butt.

Yes, this is an overworld map! Do they even make these anymore?

This is a game that makes you want more for the genre, to wish it had evolved in a different direction from the course most developers have taken it.

Maybe I'm just old and bitter. Maybe I just miss the quality of JRPG we got on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 and can't see modern entries in an unbiased light. Regardless, I place Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition in the top 5 JRPG releases this generation with no question because it is the whole package of writing, aesthetic, challenge, and fun that I once demanded of my console RPGs and have found so hard to get today.

  • Easily 50+ hours of engaging story content
  • Beautiful anime-style visuals and music
  • Another 40+ hours of side content to hunt down
  • The best characters in the entire Tales series
  • The changes in voice actors is noticeable and, at times, jarring

(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a copy of Tales of Vesperia from the publisher for review purposes.)

Rotor Riot Mobile Gaming and Drone Controller Review Wed, 23 Jan 2019 12:28:17 -0500 Ashley Shankle

I'm sure we can all agree that a touch screen is not the most ideal way to play most games, including a large portion of mobile games. However, even though an increasing amount of mobile games are controller compatible, there aren't a lot of controllers that work with mobile devices. 

Of the ones that do, which one should you choose? 

To help answer that question, I took a look at the wired Rotor Riot, a controller boasting compatibility with Android devices and drones. I don't dabble in drones, so I purely tested the controller with games on my phone just as you would probably do. 

To put things lightly, the results were a mixed bag.

The Rotor Riot connects to Android devices via USB-C, and it comes already attached to a mount for your phone. The mount is sturdy, much like the rest of the controller.

Once you get the controller in your hands, it's got the sort of weight and plasticy quality you'd expect from an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller, so you won't have to spend much time getting used to it.

Another plus is that the buttons aren't loose a woefully common issue with lower-quality controllers. The L2/LT and R2/RT triggers are tight and responsive, too. In other words, when you pick this thing up, it feels "right."

Unfortunately, the controller isn't compatible with a large number of games.

The Rotor Riot recommends downloading compatible games from the Ludu Mapp app, which attempts to compile a large portion of the controller-compatible games on Google Play into one place. Regrettably, it doesn't do it well  not all of the games on Ludu Mapp are compatible with the controller, which is head-scratching at best.

I downloaded games from both Ludu Mapp and Google Play itself to put the Rotor Riot through its paces, but came out disappointed in most tests. Either the controller didn't work at all, one stick would work, or only the face buttons would function.

A real frustration.

I tested a number of games with the controller, including PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, five of the Sega Classics titles, and some random downloads that stated they were compatible with controllers.

The only game in which I got the Rotor Riot to work close to perfectly was with Sonic the Hedgehog Classic, and I was disappointed to find that the right direction on the D-pad was broken. The other directions work fine, but I can't hold right on the D-pad to move it registers as a single press and nothing more.

This is very likely a manufacturing defect in this individual controller, but it was disheartening after struggling to find a game I could actually play in the first place.

Interestingly, this compatibility didn't carry over to some other Sega Classics titles despite them all running on a Sega Genesis emulator. For instance, Phantasy Star wouldn't accept any directional inputs.

The Rotor Riot impresses with its presentation but unfortunately, it can't stand the actual gameplay test due to so many games just not being compatible with it. If you could do more with it, I'd be much more positive. But as it is, the Rotor Riot isn't worth the price for playing games on your phone or tablet.

Perhaps this is better left as a drone controller.

  • Feels sturdy
  • Buttons don't feel loose or too firm
  • Mount is easy to use
  • Very few fully compatible games even on the controller's companion app, rendering it almost useless
  • D-pad feels very stiff, and the right direction on D-pad was broken on review unit

The Rotor Riot can be purchased on Amazon for $49.99.

Corsair Harpoon RGB Wireless Gaming Mouse Review Mon, 21 Jan 2019 16:47:24 -0500 ElConquistadork

A new year means a new slew of gaming mice and other assorted hardware vying for your collective attention. As expected, Corsair is right in the mix with the Corsair Harpoon RGB wireless gaming mouse.

Upon initial inspection, the Harpoon is nothing special, but with everything it delivers for $50, it might be one of the best budget gaming mice on the market today.

First thing's first, though: the Harpoon is incredibly adaptable. We're sort of past the argument on the superiority of wired mice over wireless ones when it comes to competitive gaming, but let's not pretend that old habits don't die hard. While the Harpoon offers smooth, lag-free movement when in wireless mode, the ability to go wired is a nice plus.

As I've mentioned before, the Harpoon isn't much to look at. There's a flat black, minimalist design at work with only the barest bit of flash (the RGB logo on the heel of the mouse).

The feel of the design, however, speaks for itself. While it isn't shaped specifically to cater to any particular style of game, there's a universal feel that is comforting. The rubber grips and textured mouse wheel feel terrific, and the buttons are responsive and solid.

The thumb buttons feel responsive as well, and also do a terrific job of being placed at just the right angle to avoid hitting them unnecessarily. The same could be said for the top middle button, which honestly feels the most solid of them all. It's got a nice, hearty clunk feel to it, which I personally enjoy using for heavier weapons or ultimates. 

The Corsair Harpoon Wireless is damn lightweight, coming in at just 99 grams, which makes it a good deal lighter than most gaming mice I run into. This isn't only good for the notion of strain and the often unconscious difference that a gaming mouse can make in movement, but it also helps when it comes to daily wear and tear: the Harpoon Wireless is small, unassuming, and lacks a lot of the extra plastic accouterments that can bang into speakers, keyboards, and any other assorted crap that those of us with smaller desks keep handy.

At up to 60 hours, the battery life on this guy is more than a little impressive. My instinct, like many of you, is to wonder why I'd need a mouse for 60 straight hours. But then flashbacks of power outages, terrible hotels, and late electricity bills comes floating back to me in a huge wave, and I remember that age-old adage: "you never know."

  • Wireless at an amazing price
  • Practical design with great button placement
  • Comfortable construction and rubberized plastic
  • The ability to go wireless or wired on a whim
  • Spartan design might put off flashier gamers
  • Not a lot of extras

Overall, this is a terrific mouse for general gaming. If you're looking for something with a ton of extras and showy lights, you're not going to find what you're looking for in this one. But if you want a versatile, sharp gaming mouse that works for a variety of games for less than $100, this is a great place to start in 2019.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review — VR is Lacking, But a Welcome Addition Anyway Thu, 17 Jan 2019 23:48:08 -0500 Ty Arthur

Somehow, it has been six years, and a whole console generation, since the previous Ace Combat game hit shelves. We were overdue for a new iteration, as plane technology and aerial warfare have undeniably advanced in the intervening years, and now we have it in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.

It isn't just new planes and enhanced weaponry that sets Ace Combat 7 apart from the previous games in the franchise though, as, this time, the series has a major ace up its sleeve: a VR mode.

VR Flight School Crash Course (With A Side Of Vomit)

Although not a VR-only game, the VR sections are a welcome addition to Ace Combat 7, and their inclusion put the game on our list of most anticipated PSVR titles due to launch in 2019.

These handful of virtual reality missions will be exclusive to the Playstation 4 until 2020, at which point they will presumably unlock for the Steam version as well.

Gotta Learn To Walk Before You Can Fly

While the ability to soar at supersonic speeds above the landscape in VR (while constantly looking around to admire your various panels and scan for bogeys) is a thing of beauty, there are some big limitations in Ace Combat 7.

To begin, there's oddly no tutorial for the VR missions. After a brief look around the cockpit and being towed through the bowels of an aircraft carrier, you are off on your first sortie against hostile planes.

If you aren't a flight simulator pro, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake: play some non-VR missions first to master the flight mechanics before jumping into VR missions. I didn't do that, and I greatly regret my poor decision.

These normal campaign missions will teach you how to utilize the radar and quickly lock onto different targets, but there's a much more important reason to play the non-VR mission's first.

That is, if there's sudden, constant changes in direction and speed, VR, in its current form, is very prone to causing nausea  If you don't know how to properly level off, move horizontally with the yaw, and perform a combination of wide passes and tighter, higher speed turns in Ace Combat 7, you will find yourself getting actively sick.

In my haste to get a proper VR cockpit experience, I was so nauseated by the end of the first mission that I had to throw the headset off and run to the bathroom to empty the contents of my stomach. No joke. I feel like I've been through real flight school now. 

Air Combat Gameplay Redefined

When you've got the movement mechanics down though, the VR missions in Ace Combat 7 are a ton of fun. Aerial dogfights are a totally different experience from playing them in first-person view, increasing the tension created by the beeping red lights and auditory warnings about missile locks.

The immersion created by VR also enhances the sense of accomplishment as you learn how to outmaneuver enemy aircraft and take them down with missiles or well placed bursts of machine gun fire, ultimately becoming the apex predator of the sky.

Unfortunately, there isn't a large amount of content to play through in VR mode. It isn't as limited as Gran Turismo Sport's sad VR element, which only lets you race against one single other car in VR mode, but it is noticeable within this full-scale game.

Specifically, you only get about three hours of playtime out of Ace Combat 7's VR campaign. It beats the Call Of Duty space jackal PSVR demo to be sure, but it still may leave PS4 players wanting a more sizable VR flight experience.

Thankfully, you can unlock a free-fly mode if you just want to experience the wide open sky and see the landscape passing by below after completing the missions.

Separately, I was left wondering why the developers didn't implement PS Move controller support. It may have been difficult to program proper tracking, since, obviously, they don't remain stationary like a traditional flight simulator controller, but using the Move controllers (as the control stick for movement and side stick for thrust) really would have increased the immersion factor.

The Non VR-Experience

For those who aren't buying Ace Combat 7 for the VR missions and just want a high-end flight combat simulator, you are in for a treat.

With an expert mode for more realistic flight and varied missions switching between air and ground targets, you won't be lacking for content or challenge like in the VR mode.

Re-Playability Through Unlockables

There's reason to re-play the campaign as well (or just skip over to multiplayer if you don't care about canned missions), and that's the equipment tree. 

With new aircraft, special weapons, and even individual parts to customize, you could be playing for weeks before running out of content. To move along that tree, you have to earn points by completing campaign missions or performing well during matches in multiplayer mode.

Unlocking new equipment on that tree is crucial in some missions, particularly when you need the ability to target multiple planes at once or have to destroy ground facilities and then quickly switch over to dealing with enemy air support.

Single-Player Focus

I've always been more of a single-player guy myself, preferring an unfolding story to an endless stream of pointless death matches, and I wasn't disappointed on that front.

For a game about aerial dog fights and customizing your ultimate fighter jet, there is a surprising amount of storyline in Ace Combat 7.  Some twists and turns pop-up as well, and they make you want to know what will happen next in this battle between two fictional warring nations and the pilots stuck in the middle.

While you don't got clobbered over the head with political commentary or anything, the game does manage to bring up some real world technological worries. In particular, the prevalence of unmanned drones, the need to develop space elevators, and a looming energy crisis are all central themes.

The Bottom Line

  • VR mode
  • Engaging story
  • Lots of replay from unlockables
  • Great plane movement mechanics
  • Multiplayer matches
  • VR mode is sadly very limited
  • No Move controller support
  • For the most authentic experience, you'll want to drop an extra $110 on the Thrustmaster T. Flight Hotas 4 flight stick controller released specifically for Ace Combat 7

Long story short, if you love flight combat simulators, you are going to love Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown regardless of if you prefer a single-player campaign or multiplayer dog fights.

The VR mode is a very welcome addition for PSVR owners, although, sadly, its much more limited than the main story campaign or the multiplayer combat.

If you don't already own the PSVR equipment, I can't say that Ace Combat 7 will be the deciding factor to make you drop the cash, but existing owners should definitely give it a shot.

Rather than the limited content being a huge downside though, it essentially just makes me want more VR flight games to arrive in the future. Hopefully, this is just a taste of things to come.

Death Mark Review: Just Scary Enough Mon, 14 Jan 2019 18:18:48 -0500 Ashley Shankle

Horror visual novels are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine I've played several over the years and enjoy the genre, but there are not many situations where I'll say I play these games.

Most people have no idea they're even a thing in the first place, and once you explain what they are, you often get some confused looks. Why not just read a book?

To be clear, Death Mark isn't quite a visual novel. While you do spend a large portion of your in-game time reading, you must also investigate environments manually as you would in a dungeon crawler. Instead of fighting, you're looking for clues about the origin of antagonistic spirits and how to defeat them.

Once you've gathered the tools or information you need, you can then face the spirits head-on. If anything, this is really a horror adventure game at heart.

This flow of gameplay is very different from genre staples Corpse Party or any of the others we've been lucky enough to see in English from the PSP to now. It's what makes Death Mark stand out as an introductory title to the horror VN/adventure genre since it does have actual gameplay, even if it is mostly shuffling from one screen to the next moving a flashlight around.

Removing the Mark

I'll be refraining from dropping any real spoilers here, so don't worry.

The main character of Death Mark must investigate the origins of a mysterious mark that's appeared on his arm; conveniently, there's a hefty dose of amnesia involved.

It's a simple premise that propels itself in predictable ways from the beginning to the end of the game, but that does not mean the player is left wanting. You'll be investigating a lot more than just your mark, that's for sure.

Each of the game's chapters tasks you with investigating and pacifying specific spirits, each with its own motivations for clinging to this life. The backstories of the spirits themselves are probably the most interesting part of the game for me. They have just enough detail to pull the reader in, but they leave out enough that the ol' noggin can fill in the blanks and craft something better than the game could.

I came to feel more for the spirits one way or the other far more than any of the other Marked Ones I came across, with one spirit I particularly detested.

Investigations themselves play out half like a dungeon crawler and half like an adventure game. You move from screen to screen looking for clues and items you can use to pacify the spirit once you find it. And don't worry, the game won't toss you into pacification before you're ready.

Looking for clues and items requires you to manually move your flashlight around the area looking for anything that catches your eye. Unlike classic adventure games, anything you can interact with sparkles. This means you don't have to swivel your flashlight around and mash the confirm button. It's a huge plus for this game since having to test things blindly would hold Death Mark back a bit too much to recommend.

Taking another cue from the dungeon crawler genre, pacification in Death Mark is more of an active affair than you might expect.

As you explore an area and investigate a spirit, you'll come across clues about how to fight it. This is the one part of the game that requires some logical thought though you do have to use some items to interact with the environment, those instances are generally easy enough to figure out.

Going up against and pacifying the game's angry spirits properly requires figuring out the order you need to use individual or combinations of items in turn-based "combat." You'll run into a ton of insta-deaths and do-overs if you don't heed the clues you find.

Pacifying spirits isn't the only thing that will lead you to a a quick death. Answer wrong during one of the game's many Live or Die sequences, and you'll have to start the sequence over from the beginning. For you as the player, these are simply multiple-choice questions.

The Live or Die sequences are easily my least favorite part of Death Mark. You use Spirit Power (HP) in these sequences, which is drained as you take the time to answer the questions.

Despite the fact that you can bolster your Spirit Power, most bad answers in Live or Die simply kill you outright, rather than drain your Spirit Power. Your Spirit Power isn't used for pacification, either. It's only used for Live or Die, and mostly just used as a timer, all of which is a little disappointing.

Each of the game's chapters also has a good or bad ending, depending on how you finished the spirit off. As for what that affects, that's up for you to figure out.


Presentation means even more in horror games and movies than with other genres (don't quote me on this), so how well does Death Mark present itself?

First is the game's art style; if you're like me, you were probably drawn in by the cover and further enticed by the overall art style. There are not a lot of CGs (still image) sequences, but those that are present are mostly very well drawn and detailed.

You get some good looks at the spirits in some CGs, and some are just fanservice. If you've played this genre before, you know the drill.

The game's graphical style is perfectly suitable and the environments are very well drawn, though I do wish there was a bit more variety within each area. Each time I noticed some screens within an area were basically the same, I felt a little pang of disappointment. The same picture with slight changes is a little too common of an occurrence for my tastes.

There isn't much memorable here music-wise, but the ambient or scary sounds featured in the game sound good and very much do the job. 

The translation is one thing I really want to go ham over, but I'll restrain myself a bit.

Death Mark's localization is sort of on par with what one would expect out of a PlayStation RPG game in the late '90s, which is to say it's riddled with typos and simplifications that don't do the script any favors.

I am not totally sure how many typos I came across while playing Death Mark, but it was enough that I actively noticed, and it really started to bother me about halfway through.

This is pretty disappointing for a game you primarily read. It's not just in dialogue that you find typos, you'll come across them in item descriptions, too.

Maybe it's because of the way the game was built, but the dialogue in Death Mark also defaults "him"/"her" to "they" and "his"/"hers" to "their" when referring to your partners or what they're doing. It's like the entire game reads incredibly unnaturally, no matter the partner.

The Japanese language doesn't use personal pronouns very often, so it's very possible the player's dialogue in the Japanese version is exactly the same for both partners in the vast majority of scenarios. This would explain why "they" and "their" are the only pronouns used when referring to partners, but I'm not even sure if that's the case or whether it's just a lazy localization. 

Despite its faults, Death Mark is still an engaging play if you're on the market for a little horror. Though its localization leaves something to be desired, it's one of the few games in the horror visual novel/adventure genre to be found on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

This is one of the few games I took a million screenshots of during play, just to add some cool images to my stockpile and remember the (spooky) good times.

There are plenty of surprises to be found I did not touch on here because it's just better to find them yourself. It's better to let the game feed you at its own pace, rather than having some review tell you what's on the menu.

I would recommend Death Mark to Japanese horror fans and curious parties alike, but at a lower price point. It just needs more content for me to recommend it at $50. Another chapter, better writing, more variety, anything. It needs a little something to make it memorable, something that it just doesn't currently have.

  • Great art
  • Interesting story you'll want to see the end of
  • Unique dungeon crawler-style adventure game
  • Figuring out the strategy for spirit pacification can be pretty satisfying
  • Not the best localization on the block
  • Immemorable locations and characters
  • A large portion of the text makes you wait for it to scroll rather than allowing you to press X (PS4) or A (Switch) to show it all at once, making the game longer than it needs to be

You can grab Death Mark on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, or the PlayStation Vita.

Corsair IronClaw RGB Gaming Mouse Review Mon, 14 Jan 2019 10:26:04 -0500 ElConquistadork

We wanted a bunch of new games and tech for 2019, and Corsair delivereth a mere week in. What a way to get started.

The first of their latest gaming mice that I reviewed was the Corsair Harpoon RGB Wireless: a plucky little wireless mouse that proves that greatness can be delivered in small packages.

Its cousin, the Corsair IronClaw RGB, on the other hand, is nowhere near as subtle, and I sort of love it for that.

Released on January 7th, 2019, the IronClaw is billed as a FPS/MOBA specific gaming mouse, but I don't think it would be controversial to suggest that this mouse is brilliant for any sort of gaming. 

Right off the bat, this mouse fit my hand perfectly. There's a smooth, rubberized feel to the thumb pad that's matched by the roller wheel. I think the wheel was my favorite part about the mouse: no joke. It's set into a nice, wide berth between the left and right mouse buttons, and that sense of space gives the wheel the feeling of a whole lot of freedom. That freedom might come with a price down the line, however, as I can imagine a gaping hole in the top of your mouse could slowly become a bottomless pit for crumbs, dust, and unlucky insects over time. You may want to clean this bad boy regularly.

While MOBAs might not be my thing, I can see how this mouse in particular might work brilliantly for FPS games and other timer-based combat experiences like those that you'd see in MMOs like World of Warcraft. The mouse has seven programmable buttons, which lends itself to a ton of flexibility for loadouts and spell-heavy games. And an on-board storage system for your layouts and customization means you won't have to worry about travel or swapping between computers with this one.

That size I mentioned before is also going to come into play here: already I'm a huge fan of how well the mouse fits into my hand in an unconscious sort of way. I would be willing to bet that this mouse would be popular among those who have larger hands and can't quite cope with some of the smaller gaming mice out there. Despite all of that clunk, it still only tops out the scales at a mere 105 grams: definitely not the heaviest I've ever seen.

For all of its comfort and features, the IronClaw RGB is a fairly Spartan-looking piece of hardware, which seems to be a common theme among other mice and keyboards that Corsair has designed in the past. The IronClaw has a RGB back lighting setup which is very nice, but limited to three key areas: the heel of the mouse, the wheel's fitting area, and a small spot near the thumb. Everything else is a standard issue black plastic that offers very little in the way of bells and whistles.

Honestly, I see the minimalist design as a feature. Look: we all want our gaming rig to look like it was jury-rigged from an Alpha-Centaurian pirate ship (or is that just me?), but you can't argue with quality. Give me subtle and effective over loud and half-assed any day of the week.

We asked for something fun to try out in the first week of 2019, and Corsair more than delivered. There's plenty of the year left, but I'd say that this is my favorite mouse so far. It's comfortable to use and more than able to handle fast-paced titles.

The Corsair IronClaw RGB Gaming Mouse is available on Amazon for $59.99.

HyperX Cloud Mix Headset Review: Putting a (Hefty) Price on Features Fri, 04 Jan 2019 16:14:14 -0500 Jonathan Moore

True to the pedigree HyperX has cultivated over the years, the brand's latest headset, the Bluetooth-capable Cloud Mix, is a well-made, high-quality set of gaming cans. It's comfortable, stylish, and exceptionally functional.

In my time with the headset, it quickly became my go-to for both gaming and listening to music. Rarely, if ever, did it leave my side. 

The only thing is that I received the Cloud Mix for free, courtesy of HyperX. While I could easily recommend the headset in a vacuum, it's a harder sell at the lofty price of $200. That's especially true if you consider HyperX is essentially asking you to pay $100 more than the $99 Cloud Alpha for what roughly amounts to "a Bluetooth chip, a built-in mic, and a battery". 

And while I do think the Cloud Mix is a little more than that, the long and short is that you really need to want Bluetooth functionality to pay the extra dough. Heck, the Cloud Flight offers fantastic wireless capabilities for $50 less, so finding where the Mix fits in isn't all that clear.  

But if you still want to know what the Cloud Mix does right, and what it does wrong, keep reading. 

Cloud Mix side view with boom mic


The Cloud Mix looks a lot like the Cloud, Cloud II, and Cloud Alpha. To help the headset fit more into the hybrid gaming/lifestyle category HyperX is shooting for, the headset eschews the brand's typical bright red flourishes for silver and matte black.

But unlike the Cloud Silver, everything from the headband to the aluminum frame and the plush earcups is black; the only silver to be found on the headset comes in the form of the larger-than-they-need-to-be HyperX logos emblazoned on the outside of each earcup. 

Since the Cloud Mix is meant to be the most ubiquitous and portable HyperX headset to date, the headset is small all around. That wasn't such a big deal for me, but for those with larger domes and/or ears, that may be an issue. 

While downsizing means the Mix weighs a featherlight 260 grams without its detachable mic and 275 grams with it, it also means that the frame isn't as wide as other headsets and the earcups only measure in at 40mm. The earcups are some of HyperX's smallest. Although they're adequately deep, even my smaller ears felt constricted on top and bottom from time to time. 

Despite that, I will say that this is one of the more comfortable headsets I've worn. While some have derided the headband as disagreeable over long periods, I never felt any discomfort across the top of my head. The plush single-band headband provides plenty of cushion and the pleatherette around the earcups keeps them from exerting too much pressure across the top of the jaw. 

Wearing cloud mic

Moving along to the headset's controls and ports, you'll find a 3.5mm jack, microphone port, built-in Bluetooth mic, and a Bluetooth multifunction button on the left earcup. On the right earcup, you'll find the Bluetooth power button, a micro-USB charge port, the Bluetooth volume buttons, and a battery status LED. 

Keeping in line with its lifestyle aesthetic, none of the buttons or ports are prominent; if you were to wear this on the subway or while listening to tunes around the house, no one would know this was a gaming-first set of cans. 

However, that design choice also means that some of the buttons can be difficult to find when in use. While the Bluetooth volume buttons on the right earcup are defined enough for easy recall, both the Bluetooth power button and the Bluetooth multifunction button are a bit too recessed and smooth for my liking. Eventually, you'll memorize their placement and it won't matter, but I can't help but feel it's a small oversight that could have been better designed. 

Thankfully, the in-line volume wheel and mic-mute button found on the headset's 3.5mm braided cable are easy to reach when using the headset in wired mode. Both function as you'd expect, and unlike other in-line controls I've used in the past, I didn't experience any crackling or sound loss when rotating the volume wheel — even after about two months of heavy use. 

Cloud Mix bottom view showing buttons and I/O ports


The Cloud Mix comes with a 4.2-foot detachable headset cable that's used for console gaming, and a 6.5-foot PC extension cable that connects everything to your desktop. With such cable lengths, it's possible that you might not even use the Mix's Bluetooth capabilities if you don't mind being wired to your phone or device. 

Of course, you'll get the best quality from the headset's 40mm drivers in wired mode. On PC, the headset was the loudest, providing the richest tones, as would be expected. Since console sound is still transmitted wirelessly from the console to the controller, then to the headphones via the attached cable, I had to crank the volume a bit higher than I would've liked on console, leading to just a tad bit of distortion in games like Doom

But when playing games like Battlefield 1 and 2016's Hitman on PC, I didn't notice a bit of distortion. Explosions thrummed and bullets cracked through the air; eurobeats thumped across dance floors and coins bounced off concrete with piercing metallic pings.  

For the most part, I didn't notice much loss of fidelity when gaming; most sounds remained separate across the low-high spectrum. However, music is where you'll discover the Cloud Mix is a bit bass heavy and highs sometimes bleed into each other depending on what you're listening to.

Cloud Mix earcups showing drivers and padding

Bluetooth works equally well. Although some fidelity is naturally lost across Bluetooth, there isn't a decided tonal difference between the two modes: bass tones are just as punchy and high tones still fall on the weaker side of things, much like the rest the Mix's Bluetooth has to offer.

While 32-feet of wireless range isn't shabby — I could walk around most of my 2,400-square-foot house without losing signal — it's head-scratching that the Cloud Flight provides more than twice that distance at 65 feet. 

On top of that, you'll have to have a Bluetooth-ready device to even use the functionality. On the surface, this is a rather "duh" statement, but chances are only your phone or laptop is Bluetooth ready. Seeing as the Mix doesn't come with a Bluetooth dongle, hooking it up to your computer or console right out of the box — without a secondary purchase — is a very real possibility. 

For a $200 headset, that's a pretty big disappointment. For the life of me, I can't feasibly understand why Hi-Res audio is a feature on this headset and a plug-n-play wireless dongle isn't. The latter is far more useful to HyperX's demographic and much more in line with the "lifestyle" ethos of the headset itself. 

Cloud Mix headset with cables and carry bag

  • Comfortable headband and earcups
  • Fantastic portability and overall design
  • Good audio quality in both wired and Bluetooth modes
  • Smaller design won't suit everyone
  • Bluetooth range is shorter than Cloud Flight
  • Hi-Res audio capability is nice, but not practical
  • No wireless dongle hampers Bluetooth use out of the box

 Driver Custom dynamic, 40mm w/ neodymium magnets
Type Circumaural, closed back
Frequency Response 10Hz—40,000Hz
Impedance 40 ohms
Sound Pressure Level 100dbBSPL/mW at 1kHz
Weight w/o mic 260g
Weight w/ mic 275g
Cable Length Detachable headset cable: 4.2 feet
PC extension cable: 6.5 feet
Micro USB charging cable: 1.6 feet
Connection Type Detachable headset cable: 3.5mm (4-pole)
PC extension cable: 3.5mm stereo/mic plugs
Battery Life 20 hours
Wireless Range ~32 feet

Info via HyperX's Cloud Mix product page.

Ultimately, the Cloud Mix is a great headset held back by its price: the sound is solid, the design is everything you've come to expect from HyperX, and the quality is top-notch. You could do much worse than the Cloud Mix, that's for sure.

But unless you must have Bluetooth and the ability to listen to Hi-Res audio, the Cloud Alpha is just as capable as the Mix and comes in at half the price. 

You can pick up the Cloud Mix at BestBuy at its normal price of $199.99.

[Note: HyperX provided the Cloud Mix used for this review.]

Toki Remaster Review: Frustratingly Great Wed, 02 Jan 2019 14:51:11 -0500 Joey Marrazzo

Some of our favorite video game franchises come from the arcade cabinets of yore: Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, and Michael Jackson's MoonWalk (look it up). Toki, while frustrating, is one of better platformers from that era and, luckily, a game that plays great on the Nintendo Switch.

Toki has all the platformer/shooter things that you love: six different levels, a hard-to-defeat boss at the end, enemies that can kill you in an instant, and a limited amount of credits. It's a game that tasks you with expertly going through each level with cat-like reflexes and focus. 

Danger and instant-death lurk around every corner. 

Toki starts as a human but is transformed into a slow-moving ape who must save the damsel in distress so he can return to his human form. To fend off the enemies keeping him from reaching his goal, Toki has one attack: spitting energy balls. Luckily, you can upgrade your attack for a short time with several power-ups scattered throughout the levels. You'll be able to spit two balls at once, three balls at once, shoot fire, and more. 

Just like the original arcade game Toki will die if he comes into contact with anything. If you lose all your lives, you have to restart the level and you get a credit taken away from you -- classic, but frustrating all the same. If you lose all your credits, you have to restart the entire game.

Since basically anything can kill you, you're going to die a lot. Dying over and over really isn't fun, per se, but after you die a couple dozen times (like I did), you start to pick up on where the enemies are and how you can complete each level rather quickly.

One way to not die is to get the helmet power-up (kind of like the armor power-up in Super Ghouls n' Ghosts). This allows you to take an extra hit from an enemy without you instantly dying. 

Throughout the game's six levels, you will find the usual water and fire levels found in platformers like these (which are always my favorite levels). Whether it’s swinging on a vine or jumping on a see-saw, each level has you face to face with the boss at the end. 

Each boss will have different things to throw at you while you try and shoot them. I tried just aiming for the boss and avoiding the obstacles but due to Toki's slowness, I often died while going side to side. Your best bet is to take out the obstacles, whether they are giant balls bouncing towards you or the B.U.R.P letters in the fire level, and then go on a full-blown attack of the boss. 

One of the downsides to having an arcade remaster on the Switch is that there is no save function in the game. Yeah, that's right. No matter how far you get, you can't exit the game and play a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Just like the old days, you have to play the whole game through in one sitting. You won't lose everything if you put your Switch to sleep after a level, but you'll lose everything if you close out of the game. 



  • Beautiful Remastered Graphics and Soundtrack
  • Lots of fun
  • Challenging
  • Not many levels
  • Challenging
  • No save support.

Toki is available now on the e-shop and a physical Retrocollectors Edition is available only at GameStop, which features a mini arcade cabinet that you can put your Switch into so you can play the game as if you are in an arcade.

The combination of a fail-and-try-again arcade game, hand-drawn characters, remastered graphics along with a re-orchestrated soundtrack makes Toki a true remaster. While the arcade die-and-lose-all-your-progress style isn't that popular in games nowadays, this game remains true to the original arcade cabinet, and I respect that choice.

Toki is a great way to introduce the new generation of gamers to the pain that many faced in those arcades with just a handful of quarters and a few hours until their parents came to pick them up. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Toki used for this review.]

Spider-Man: Silver Lining DLC Review -- A Fantastic Finish Wed, 02 Jan 2019 10:22:58 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

As the final chapter of The City that Never Sleeps storyline, Silver Lining makes for a compelling and engrossing coda to one of 2018's best games.

It manages to refine everything that made Spider-Man's main plot so great, bringing with it excellent combat and storytelling, while also managing to push out most of anything negative.

After Hammerhead's getaway in the previous chapter, Turf Wars, he's back at it -- and he's out to make New York his own. It's now up to Spider-Man to put a stop to nefarious plans before he causes any more trouble.

However, as it goes in the superhero world, things get complicated when Silver Sable decides to take things into her own hands. 

While the DLC's story is straightforward, it's the dialog and interactions between Spider-Man and Silver Sable that steal the show. Spider-Man's quippy banter is made even funnier when coupled with the no-nonsense Silver Sable. It's constantly entertaining and will have you laughing out loud more than once.

Silver Lining's plot also manages to rectify Hammerhead's lack of screen time in Turf Wars by showcasing him in a truly over-the-top way, something that's pulled off so well that you won't even mind how silly it actually is. 

Along with the great storytelling, this last bit of The City that Never Sleeps DLC keeps building on the combat encounters from the main game. While some of the later fights can be overwhelming, most fights do a good job of making you use everything that you've learned from the base game. 

The lone new enemy is a jetpack foe that can use shock grenades to keep you on the ground. Luckily, they never become too much of a problem and the DLC doesn't add too many of these types of guys to become an issue. 

Screwball makes one last appearance, bringing some new challenge missions to the table, but none of these are that memorable, falling to overly familiar mission design. However, they're worth doing to finally get that meme-spewing foe behind bars once and for all.

Gang Base missions also start to become a chore later in Silver Lining. They aren't boring, but the encounters do little to change things up.

  • Great dialog
  • Compelling narrative
  • Improved combat mechanics
  • Unremarkable screwball missions
  • Repetitive base challenges

Silver Lining isn't perfect, with some samey base combat challenges and unremarkable screwball missions, but it's a fitting end to Spider-Man's DLC storyline. Though the epilogue series has had its ups and downs, it's still a worthwhile investment. 

LOCALHOST Mini Review Sat, 29 Dec 2018 11:34:04 -0500 NeonStarchild

Yet another game that explores the concept of "humans ending the life of the machines they give life to". Available for all platforms, and in Spanish.

LOCALHOST is a short cyberpunk visual novel, in which you start your job as a computer technician and have to wipe four drives that don’t want to be wiped. They will talk to you as if they were human; but are they?

As every visual novel, the gameplay is as simple as it gets. Click to get through the text, pick what to say and pick which drive to talk to. The game opens up as a small window, which isn’t all that bad; there’s not much detail to see. But, this doesn’t mean the graphics are bad! The entire screen is composed of teals and purples, creating a rather sinister, yet harmonized, ambient. The robot’s eyes, however, change to the color of the drive you select, which makes it easier to determine who’s in the body.

The music of this game is definitely one to remember. It’s got six unique synth loops, each setting the perfect atmosphere for the situation. In the repair shop it plays a creepy basey loop. When you select a drive, it plays their own “theme song”, which can also tell you how the conversation will go.

This game costs only $4.99. In my personal opinion, it's totally worth that price. Even if it may not seem like much, being pretty short and simple, you can tell that a lot of effort went into making it. From the artwork, to the music and the dialogue, all together they form a unique experience that's worth exploring.

Bloody B975 Keyboard Review: On the Knife's Edge of Killer Wed, 26 Dec 2018 10:01:37 -0500 Jonathan Moore

When I first started reviewing Bloody's B975 mechanical keyboard, I absolutely hated it. Within minutes of taking it out of the finely made rigid book box it came in, I found every reason under the sun to banish it to the scrap heap. 

Its keys were too clacky. Its screw-in wrist rest design made zero logical sense. Its keycaps were etched in a smudgy, retro-futuristic font that best resembled a hastily-drawn alien dialect.  

My hangups seemed endless, so I sat down and wrote an 800-word review slamming the keyboard as inept and utterly flawed. Almost a month later, the B975 is still on my desk, having taken over as my primary board for both work and play. 

Why? Because it's reliable and speedy. That doesn't mean I've completely gotten over its perplexing foibles, but it does mean that I'm willing to recognize when performance outweighs other unfortunate factors. 


The B975 is made of tough anodized aluminum. While it's true the chassis can take a beating and it won't show a single fingerprint or smudge, Bloody's claim that the aluminum design makes the board more "lightweight" isn't exactly 100% accurate.

Weighing in at 3.1 pounds, the B975 is about the same weight as many of the keyboards we've ever reviewed at GameSkinny. What's more, it's about 10 ounces heavier than the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum and almost a full pound heavier than the aluminum-composite Logitech G513

Since this is a relatively average-sized board (it doesn't have extra "G" keys, dedicated keys, or volume wheels) that measures in at 444mm x 132mm x 37mm, that weight is also interesting when positioned in that framework, even if the whole chassis, including the back, is made of aluminum.  

Aside from droning on about the board's weight-to-size ratio and how it's presented in Bloody's marketing materials, the B975 sports the same matte black chassis you've seen in most other gaming keyboards made in the past year or so. It's accented by shiny silver lines that break up the major sections of the board (numpad and nav keys from typing keys, and typing keys from function keys). 

Above the arrow keys you'll find the Bloody logo, and above the "insert", "home", and "page up" keys you'll find the indicator lights for num lock, caps lock, screen lock, and the board's Game function underneath an elegant clear plastic coating. 

Flip the board over, and you'll find the B975's feet, which flip out to the right and left of the board instead of toward the top. Their wide, angled design keeps the board propped at a nice angle, while keeping it stable on every slick surface I was able to test it on. 

Finally, the x-foot long braided cable comes with a nice Velcro strap that lets you easily bundle it when traveling. While this is increasingly common for most wired keyboards, it's a nice quality of life feature that's worth mentioning.  


The B975 comes equipped with Light Strike optical switches, where you can either opt for the Orange tactile variety or the Brown linear variety. My review unit was equipped with Oranges, which are loud and clacky, something I don't typically prefer. 

However, once I sat down to write my original 800-word review, and then after I played a few rounds of Killing Floor 2 and Paladins, I found the clack didn't really matter anymore. 

While the overall efficacy of Light Strike switches has been debated, the Orange Light Strike tactiles of the B975 felt less bumpy than other tactile switches, such as those found in the Logitech G513. And while I didn't find the G513's keys to be considerably bumpy, the way Light Strikes are constructed has a lot to do with why they feel extremely smooth. 

Since Light Strike switches don't have metal contacts and instead use light to process commands, they intrinsically remove a friction point from the equation. When testing the Romer-G tacticles in the G513 alongside the LK Light Strike tactiles in the B975 side by side, the LK Light Strikes didn't feel as sticky as the Romer-Gs. 

Would you notice the difference without physically testing each switch side by side? That's debatable. However, coupled with a low 1.5mm actuation point, this specific construction means that the B975's keys are effortless and, in theory, cut down on fatigue. Not once during my time with the board did my fingers get tired; neither did I feel as if the keys resisted my presses, causing me to have an overall lighter keystroke style. 

With full N-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting (both things we've come to expect out of mechanicals as of late), the B975 effortlessly registered all of my keystrokes in game. I was easily able to strafe while also moving forward, and I was also able to easily switch between weapons on the move. 

While rollover and anti-ghosting can be problematic on some keyboards because of how the keycaps are spaced on the board, I didn't find that to be the case here. Except for some inaccurate typing on my part, I didn't find myself accidentally hitting unintended keys. 

Lastly, the B975 is water resistant. Like the Corsair K68, it repels water well, but instead of using channels like the K68, it uses a "water resistant noncoating" to keep water from infiltrating key areas. I tested if this was the case by dumping a whole 8 oz. glass of water on the board, and it worked perfectly even after letting the water sit for 10 minutes. 


Whereas the B975 performs well, it does present a few functionality concerns. The most glaring of these is the Netscape-era Key Dominator software. 

Here, you can change RGB lighting and presets along the full color spectrum, re-program keys, and set macros. While it has everything you'd expect in a fully-functional software companion, it's all presented in an outdated and unappealing way. 

For starters, you can't expand the window after opening it. This is especially frustrating when using the software on higher resolution monitors because it makes the already needlessly stylized fonts that much harder to read.

The baffling aesthetic choices continue with grey font on black, strangely watermarked backgrounds; about half a dozen different (and illogically placed) font types ranging from weirdly embossed gothic to laughably off-brand comic sans; icons that don't have any discernible function; and a scroll bar that don't function because there's not enough text for it actually to need to scroll. 

Aside from the copious issues I have the Key Dominator's presentation, it's equally as difficult to recommend the software from a functional perspective as well. If you have another Bloody product, such as the MP-60R mousepad or the SP80 mouse, you'll have to manually sync RGB schemes and illumination patterns as there is separate software for the keyboard and the mouse and mousepad.  

While you can change the function of any key, as well as assign macros such as emulate mouse button or open program "X", navigating and working within each of the program's sub-windows is overly complicated even if you've used software like this before. I feel for anyone whose first experience with keyboard software is this convoluted quagmire. 

Another qualm is that the software opens leaves a small, moveable overlay on the screen even when the main window is closed out. Logically, you would be able to click this overlay to bring the primary window back up, but from what I can tell, the overlay serves zero purpose. On top of that, you can't remove the overlay without fully closing out of the software entirely; it icon even stays visible while playing games in the Steam client (you can see what I'm talking about in the screenshot below). 

Despite it's problems, I will admit that the options available for both lighting and macros are rather extensive. In essence, you can do whatever you want with the B975, all the way down to programming your own macros from complete scratch. While it may be overwhelming for some, others will find that the Key Dominator provides a breadth of customization well worth the overall hassle of using the software. 

  • Durable chassis construction and waterproof
  • Switches are responsive and rated for 100 million clicks
  • Fully progammable with N-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting
  • Wrist rest is uncomfortable, and screwing it into the chassis to attach it makes little sense. 
  • Lack of dedicated game and media keys
  • Obtuse and poorly designed Key Dominator software

Throughout writing this review, I went back and forth on the score. Finally, I settled on a 7 because although I think there are keyboards with much better presentation and software on the market, the B975's performance puts it on the knife's edge of killer. If you're looking for a high-performance board with low latency and comfortable switches, you'll want to consider the B975.

However, at $150, you should consider wisely as there are equally as good, if not better, keyboards available that have more polished presentation and better accompanying software. At the end of the day, it's just hard to overlook the quality of the competition in the price bracket. 

You can pick up Bloody's B975 mechanical keyboard for $149.99 on Amazon

[Note: Bloody provided the B975 used for this review.]

Review: BenQ EL2870U 28 Inch 4K Monitor Mon, 24 Dec 2018 09:00:01 -0500 ElConquistadork

When it comes to the 28 inch BenQ EL2870U 4K gaming monitor, an expression I kept hearing over and over was a variation on "gamers on a budget." When you have a look at the price tag, the EL2870U certainly seems to fit the bill (it's currently just under $400 on Amazon).

This monitor's got power, a decent display, and a good size, but there are a few issues that keep it from being a must-have for budget gamers.

Straight out of the box, the BenQ EL2870U is an impressive piece of hardware. The flat gunmetal grey shell is a handsome addition to any gaming rig. That impression continues when you plug it in. The display has a softness that is very welcome to eyes that spend a lot of time in front of a monitor, which seems to be a benefit of BenQ's advertised Free-Sync Eye Care.

When the games get started, however, it gets hard to ignore several little issues.

That softness that I previously mentioned makes for a sometimes cloudy look, particularly in more colorful games. Perhaps it's a trade? Fewer late-night headaches in exchange for a little sharpness? Your age (and access to Gunnar shades) might make a difference in whether this matters or not.

It's true that the monitor's display can be adjusted easily enough, but I found it to consistently hold true to this gentle level of brightness. 

The UHD resolution on this sucker provides a colossal native resolution of 3840 by 2160, but all that resolution comes at a cost that gamers who are on a budget might not be quite ready to pay.

There's an irony of a monitor with a price-point for those unable to shell out grand for their display: The fact that the money you save might need to be spent on a new video card to full appreciate your monitor! You're going to need a good GPU to handle this resolution, especially if you play a lot of graphically intensive AAA titles.

With some fun extras like built in speakers, the BenQ EL2870U is indeed a terrific monitor for the money, but be ready to adjust your settings to make sure that you're getting the most out of this model.

The BenQ EL2870U is available on Amazon for $398.00.

Below Review: Stare into the Abyss Thu, 20 Dec 2018 14:48:11 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

You can tell almost immediately that Below is a different kind of game than what you are used to. The intro is dark and deliberately slow, zooming in on your tiny ship as it sails across a massive, black ocean. Multiple times, I found myself wondering if I was supposed to take up the controls yet.

Nope. Not yet.

Everything about Below is designed to make you feel uncomfortable - in a good way - the sound design is dark and foreboding, your character is tiny on the screen, and everything is dark and obscured. It doesn’t all work, but developer Capybara swung for the fences with this one, and it will definitely be the game for that audience. Let’s dig a little deeper and see what makes Below tick.

It Stares Back Into You

Below is sort of the “Doom Metal” of video games. It’s daunting, unapologetic, and dark as all hell. In an interview with Newsweek, developer Kris Piotrowski even recommended his ideal way to sit down to play: “It's certainly a game I would recommend playing in the middle of the night between 12 and 4 a.m., when you're feeling at your worst. That's what the game is for. Alone, lights off, headphones on, hit a huge bong rip and start the game.”

That’s the mindset the developers encourage you to have when tackling Below.

Below is a top-down survival roguelike, apparently drawing inspiration from titles like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. It deliberately keeps you in the dark about what is happening and what you can do, encouraging a level of experimentation and exploration. Sometimes, you will find new strategies, successes, and shortcuts through this experimentation.

Other times, it will start a downhill slide that gets you killed.

It doesn’t seem like it early on, but Below is going to kill you in some unfair ways. That’s the nature of the types of games that it emulates. Luckily, it does a pretty good job of feeling like something you can generally fix in a later run.

We Have to Go Deeper

Almost immediately, you will be able to pick up the mood and style that Below is shooting for. It looks and sounds great. Your character is dwarfed by the environment that surrounds them. Shadows loom and dance due to dancing firelight. An ominous soundtrack sits underneath everything. It’s a game that makes you feel like you’re all on your own against a massive enemy - without any hint that there is any such massive enemy.

I hate to continue comparing it to Dark Souls, but it does instill the same sense of both panic and accomplishment that From Software’s legendary series does. That last, desperate push when you’re out of resources, out of health, and out of light on a given floor. That moment when a seemingly unstoppable horde of enemies is perfectly dispatched. That absolute rush of relief when you find one of the checkpoint campfires for you to sit down at and take stock of things. Below makes you feel proud of your in game accomplishments, and encourages risks - even though sometimes those big risks will get you killed.

Designing a Better Mousetrap

Another side effect of Below choosing not to hold your hand comes will change your approaches to survival. Combat in Below is simplistic, but it works. You have a few different weapons you can choose from, as well as a dodge, shield, and a few traps at your disposal. You never know which method of combat will be most effective, but there are situations for them all. This means you need to learn all the tricks at your disposal in order to ensure your chances of survival.

There is also a crafting system in place, because of course there is. This is a 2018 game release, after all. It pretty much goes as you would expect, but this was one area of the game that I could have done without.

I appreciate the game encouraging you to try out combinations to see what they create, but I do wish there was an in game way to keep track of “this combination makes this item.” I don’t want to have to keep a journal on my desk to remember how to make bandages in a video game - or consult a wiki every time. In other news, check out our beginner’s guide to Below, which includes several crafting recipes!

Also, your inventory is too darn small. Knowing what you should carry with you and what you should leave in the Pocket - Below’s home base/storage shed - caused undue stress and a few more deaths than I would have liked.

Velvet Thorns

There’s a certain, intangible… something with Below that is tough to put into words. This is where, clearly, all the delays (of which there were a lot) were used effectively. There is a level of design at work here where it feels like nearly everything in the game serves some greater purpose. This is a gamer’s game - it is certainly not going to be for everyone.

For those who do want a hardcore challenge, Below is a great pick up. If you’re tired of tacked on tutorials or games that will beat the level for you if you fail too many times, Below is going to be right up your alley. It’s a strong realization of the developer’s intent, and it’s also a game that can entrance you and suck you in for hours on end. Ideally, the hours of midnight through 4 a.m. Headphones and bong not included.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Below for the purpose of this review]

Last Year: The Nightmare Review Thu, 20 Dec 2018 12:44:15 -0500 Ty Arthur

Halloween may be behind us, but that doesn't mean there's no room for more quality horror gaming! We've had our eye on Last Year: The Nightmare (formerly known simply as Last Year) for years and just finally got the chance to jump in now that the Discord-exclusive release has arrived.

This 5 vs 1 horror outing sits in a very interesting position among its competitors, as Last Year was actually one of the earliest asymmetric horror games to be announced -- with a crowd funding campaign way back in 2014 -- but its also the dead last to see official release.

What you get here is a very different take on the style than either Friday The 13th or Dead By Daylight, but you can see pretty clear influence from both of those titles.

'90s Slashers Re-Imagined

Last Year: The Nightmare tries very hard to evoke the feel of slasher movies from a bygone era, taking its cues from the films somewhere between Freddy's Dead and Scream.

The setting is overall more bright and colorful than the relentlessly dark Dead By Daylight, but it avoids the neon kaleidoscope of colors you'd expect from anything '80s themed.

The game sits in a place of nostalgia where nerds use 3.5 floppy disks to hack computers, and there are definitely no cell phones to call for help or tablets to live stream your demise.

There's a fun variety of teenage slasher fodder, like the jock, the nerd, the ditsy girl, the cool kid, and so on, but at the moment there's no customization between them such as different outfits.

The only thing that sets one Quarterback Chad apart from another is in the four classes available to choose: medic, assault, technician, and scout. Those are pretty self-explanatory, with assault getting a melee weapon to start, medic healing other players, technician crafting turrets, and scout using tech devices to locate the killer and specific objects.

To properly create the slasher movie feel, the killer gets to pop in and out of Predator mode to turn invisible and move at greater speed. In this mode the killer can't attack, but can lay traps or hide in vents or skylights and then pop out to grab unsuspecting teenagers.

Predator mode is almost a sort of "dungeon master" view, which lets you zip around the map to terrorize the survivors, but you can't pop out of Predator mode while in line of sight or in close proximity to a player, so there's limitations to your god-like killer powers.

While the strangler, slasher, and giant killers all play differently, I do have one big gripe here with all three: I'd honestly like to see some improvements on the execution animations, which are alright but nothing special. There were way crazier kills in Friday The 13th, and right now Last Year is definitely lagging in that area.

Last Year's Gameplay VS. DBD or Friday The 13th

This entry in the asymmetric horror arena is unquestionably more newbie friendly than Dead By Daylight, which can be a little incomprehensible to players just jumping in.

There's no tutorial, but within a few matches you should have all the elements down (or you can get a leg up over the competition with our beginner guide here).

The developers have clearly seen what worked and what didn't with the competition, and they have mostly (but not entirely) done away with annoying stuff like the window juking from Dead By Daylight, where savvy players could keep the killer in an obnoxious endless loop.

One key difference between Last Year and other games of the same style is that the survivors can all fight back in one way or another, whether that's directly with a lead pipe as the assault class or with distracting turrets as the technician.

Players can also craft items and weapons by finding scrap, and its not uncommon for a group working together to turn the tables and kill the killer, who then re-spawns in a minute as one of the other two classes.

There is a clear emphasis here on working together, rather than running off and trying to survive alone. If you can avoid the overwhelming urge to do the stupid horror movie thing and scatter when the axe-wielding maniac appears, your team will get much better results.

The slasher motif Elastic Games is going for here is the high school, so there are only three maps at the moment covering different areas of the campus: specifically the library, gym, and bell tower.

While that's a very limited number of maps for an online game with only one mode, the maps all have really polished layouts, with plenty of secret passages, gated areas, windows and grates to be barricaded, shelves to hide behind, and so on.

As with the other games in this genre, your goal as a survivor is to open the escape hatch, but the method varies between each of the three levels, so you aren't interacting with the exact same objects every time.

Beta Or Full Launch?

As might be expected from a new online-only game, I experienced a fair share of bugs and disconnects in the first few days of the servers going online.

Most notably, the crafting wheel overlay can get stuck on the screen, which is very bad news. Several players in my first few matches dropped out because all they saw was a black screen while the rest of us were playing.

In a way, the Discord-only 90 day exclusive release feels a bit like the Early Access version where we are all the beta testers, while the Steam buyers down the line will get the full launch.

There are also some key features noticeably missing here that are present in Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th. Critically, there's a complete lack of any sort of progression to keep players coming back after they've mastered all the maps. 

Sadly, there are no skills and abilities to earn, no new characters to unlock, no skins or outfits to buy, and so on. For the moment what you see is what you get, although there are planned free additions slated to arrive later on.

The Bottom Line

Last Year is a game that's kind of hard to give a final rating right now, because so much depends on future changes and additions that may or may not come.

There's plenty of room for the game to expand. With the high school setting you could really do anything from aliens a la The Faculty to any number of supernatural killers who want the teeny boppers dead (hopefully not It Follows though, as that might be awkward to implement).

Ultimately, I've got to review what is available today and not what might be available three or six months from now, however. While this is a solid base of a game, I can't imagine continuing to play this version of it for months to come. With no progression and nothing to unlock, after you've played 50 or so matches this just becomes repetitive.

With some polish and additions Last Year: The Nightmare could easily be a 7 or 8 out of 10 game with an addicted base of players to rival Dead By Daylight. Right now though, I'd say it's an adequate game that won't last long without some fairly hefty additions.

X4 Foundations Review: Great for Fans, Bland for Newcomers Wed, 19 Dec 2018 13:03:01 -0500 Sergey_3847

X4 Foundations, the new single-player space sim from Egosoft, is a game so grand and complex that it would take many hours to explain every single detail of its intricate gameplay mechanics. But let's try at least to cover some of its most distinctive features that set it apart from the rest of the games in the X series.

As before, the universe in X4 Foundations is divided between the main factions represented by various alien species. These can become very helpful when it comes to such activities like trading and mining, but of course, one can also go against these institutions. The choice is all yours and that is the beauty of the X series of video games.

Although factions do play an important role in the game, there is a lot more to discuss, so jump in if you want to know more about the fascinating universe of X4 Foundations.

X Universe Through the Looking Glass

German video game developer Egosoft is a well-established name in the world of space simulators. For the last 20 years it has been developing only one series of games -- the X series.

It has become a worldwide phenomenon due to its incredible attention to detail not only when it comes to piloting a spaceship, but also taking part in the galactic economy and building your own space stations.

X4 Foundations follows suit and incorporates the best elements of the last few games, especially X3. But if you never played the previous games, then it may take some time before you really get the grip of all its mechanics.

The story of the game also doesn't exist in a vacuum but continues after the events that took place in X-Rebirth and is affected by the events from the previous parts of the series as well. So it's really hard to put the story into a more or less clear perspective unless you want to read the extensive lore of the game in the official wiki.

The AI in X4 has also been improved and the factions act in a non-linear fashion, meaning that every time you start a new game, it will develop in its own unique way. This means that the replayabaility of X4 is really high.

Gameplay Mechanics

There are numerous gameplay mechanics in X4 Foundations, and it would be impossible to cover them all in one review. But here are a few of the main points that have been implemented in X4.


Of course, the main tool of any X player is their spaceship. Egosoft offers four types of ships in the game: small, medium, large, and extra large. The latter two serve as carriers and destroyers. But you can be efficient in combat using small or medium vessel just as well, if it's properly upgraded.

You can pilot a ship on your own or set it to one of the automatic travel modes. In any case, the best way is to hire a pilot and just do something else instead. This is really a neat feature, which makes you feel like a real boss giving orders left and right.

Ships can be upgraded with weapons of various types starting from simple lasers and finishing with heavy turrets. The upgrades and repairs are available at any Wharf or Shipyard. All you're left to do is get some money to be able to afford the payments.

In X4 it is now also possible to apply unique paint jobs to your ships, which is a brand new feature available to all Egosoft forum users.

Building Mechanics

One of the biggest differences players will see in X4 is the ability to build space stations using separate modules. Players can also choose which modules they want to use, and thus create completely unique stations in terms of design and infrastructure.

However, a few things must be done before the station comes into being. One must first buy a plot in space, acquire necessary blueprints, and even pay taxes to the faction-owner of that area of space. So it can get rather hectic out there, if you don't follow the rules of the galactic empire.


Trading is unsurprisingly one of the most important aspects of X4. Here you can trade wares at stations that produce and sell them. You can see the changes in pricing and other trading movements through the map menu, which can be viewed in both 2D and 3D perspectives.

It is also possible to influence the prices of certain wares by intercepting signals coming from trading ships and destroying them. The changes in pricing will be affected immediately, and by creating scarcity on the market your own trading missions will prosper.

Auto-trading is another option in the game, which allows players to send special trading ships to do the job for you. But usually, this kind of activity can go wrong in many different ways, so it is better to control everything manually, unless you don't care much about this aspect of the game.

You can also create a mining conglomerate, which is a new mechanic that allows players to diversify the economy of their empire. There is a special mining type of ships, which can be acquired, upgraded and repaired if needed be.

Expectations vs. Reality

X4 Foundations does look great on the surface, but right now it is still in a rather raw state. This is actually completely understandable, as the game of this scale is hard to complete in just a few years.

Look at the games like Star Citizen or any other ambitious space sim that is basically in a state of eternal development that never stops. X4 devs definitely created a good foundation for their new game, but it still needs a lot of work.


One of the biggest issues for any PC player is the ability to feel comfortable with the controls using just a keyboard and a mouse. But the game offers you to use gamepad from the very beginning, which is a bit suspicious.

It is just really uncomfortable to use the default tools to play X4 and you really need to purchase a gamepad, if you want to play without constantly looking at what keys you need to press.


X4 is more of a space sandbox at this point, which can appeal to a number of players and completely retract players who want a solid single-player campaign. There is main story in the game, but it's really short and just plain underwhelming.

In the end everything boils down to simple grinding and farming resources. Obviously, people who are used to this type of gameplay will find it engaging, but new players will see it as just plain boring.


Combat needs some serious re-balancing, as right now you can intercept and board the biggest ships in the game using the S-class combat ships, which are the smallest.

Of course, your vessel needs to be upgraded to be able to do this, but giant ships can't hit you with their turrets anyway, which makes them an easy target.

These are just a few issues that need to be addressed. Economics and NPCs also need to be improved. But the biggest obstacle for new players will be the game's menu, which is almost intimidating when you look at it for the first time.

Final Verdict: 6/10

If you treat it as a trading simulator, then it has a great potential, but the current system is unbalanced, especially when it comes to auto-trading. It needs better configuration, which should serve players' needs and not surprise them with a market crash in the middle of the game.

If you treat it as a combat simulator, then you're in a slightly better position. Combat can look really good, but there isn't much action happening in this single-player game. Lots of other online space sims offer a much better combat experience these days.

Lastly, X4 simply needs to be better, and fortunately there are plenty of mods already that fix a ton of issues. But we all know what the great number of mods means for any game -- that it is raw and unfinished.

X4 Foundations is undoubtedly a very interesting game. But it's 2018 and the competition is so huge that the long-running X series is not at the forefront of things anymore, but is barely catching up.


  • Huge new map
  • Hireable NPCs
  • Ability to build stations


  • Complicated menus and mechanics
  • Inconvenient controls and navigation
  • Empty world

[Note: A copy of X4 Foundations was provided by Egosoft for the purpose of this review.]

Spider-Man: Turf Wars DLC Review -- It's A Turf Life. Tue, 18 Dec 2018 15:49:14 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

In the second installment of The City Never Sleeps DLC, Turf Wars, Spider-Man sets his sights on another member of his colorful rogues' gallery: Hammerhead. After a strong first act in The Heist, you'd hope that the next chapter of Insomniac's web-slinging adventure would maintain the same stellar momentum we found there.

Sadly, the latest bit of Spider-Man DLC comes off feeling like nothing but set up, with little in the way of pay off. 

Without getting into too many spoilers, Turf Wars revolves around Detective Yuri Watanabi, Spider-Man's Commissioner Gordon from the base game. As is often the case with bad guys and the world of superheroes, something goes horribly wrong, Watanabi blames Hammerhead, and we're off swinging through the streets of New York to stop more bad stuff from happening. 

On paper, it's a solid superhero plot that ought to work out. However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Hammerhead is a decent villain, but he pales in comparison to the other super-powered foes Spider-Man faced in the main game. It also doesn't help that he's only in the two- to three-hour DLC at the beginning and end, never giving him enough screen time to feel like a threat.

This won't be the last time we see Hammerhead, but one can't help but wish for more of him in Turf Wars.

However, the biggest problem stems from Watanabi herself. Unfortunately never fully realized, her internal conflict comes off as generic, and her no-nonsense-cop caricature uninspiring. 

Watanabi worked as a supporting character in the main game, but trying to make her the main focus just doesn't work; she's just not that interesting of a character.

With the story being a letdown, you'd hope the gameplay would keep things going, but again, you'd be sadly disappointed.

Very little has changed in the way of combat from the base game, except for a new shield enemy that can be a nuisance. While the new foe is a better addition than the one found in the DLC, the combat encounters quickly grow repetitious. 

Rather than hiking up the difficulty in a meaningful way, Turf Wars just throws waves of enemies at you at a nauseating pace. There will be so much going on at any given time that you'll have a hard time telling what's happening. Add to that that off-screen enemies are more aggravating than ever, and the combat also leaves something to be desired. 

Outside of Turf Wars' story missions, Screwball makes another return, but the only new thing she offers are two stealth challenges that have you taking out enemies while dodging a new motion detector and taking a few photos.

They play exactly like the old stealth challenge missions and the motion detectors are more annoying than interesting.

The only other thing the DLC has are new gang hideouts, but they function exactly as they did in the main game.


  • Hammerhead is a decent villain
  • Polished combat mechanics


  • Repetitive encounters
  • Dull Screwball Missions
  • Disappointing narrative 

Turf Wars is a disappointing chapter that does little in progressing the main narrative of The City That Never Sleeps storyline.

While the DLC is fully polished and Hammerhead makes for a competent villain, his lack of screen time, mixed with Watanabi's uninteresting story arc and lack of new gameplay, makes for a bit of a miss.

Here's to hoping the last DLC makes up for this lackluster installment. 

Dusk Review: A Fantastic Classic Horror FPS Mon, 17 Dec 2018 14:14:42 -0500 Synzer

Dusk is a retro First Person Shooter that plays and looks similarly to classic Doom. This isn't merely a knock off, it captures the spirit of Doom and creates a unique and exciting new adventure. The game pulls you in from the start and is such a fast-paced thrill ride from start to finish.

What I Liked

There are multiple reasons I really enjoyed playing Dusk, but one of the biggest is the atmosphere.

The Horror

I am the kind of person that gets scared pretty easily, and there's plenty of scares to go around in Dusk. There are creepy moments and enemies appearing out of nowhere that made me yell on more than one occasion. I typically don't play horror games for long because I just can't handle them.

Dusk kept me playing though because of the fast-paced nature, and the lower difficulty setting I could pick. Even though I was scared, I could appreciate how expertly the game's horror was crafted in certain situations.

The beginning has you start off with nothing but sickles and surrounded by cultists chanting, "Kill the non-believer." That was a very creepy and wonderful way to start the game.

There are also messages written in blood on the walls throughout the game, with some of them being helpful tips. One in particular told me not to trust my eyes. I won't spoil what happened, but it was fairly terrifying reading that message.

It is not a slow, suspenseful horror. It is fast and in your face, which is how I prefer my horror if I'm going to play it.

The Action

I know I've said it a lot, but I can't stress enough how fast-paced you are in this game. The movement, shooting, enemies, everything is at break-neck speed. There are plenty of secrets and card keys you'll have to find to open doors, but it doesn't slow down the action in a bad way.

Dusk Card Key Doors

It is very exciting finding all these secret paths and hidden rooms, especially when you need to do certain things to reach them. The levels can go by very fast as well when you know here to go. Many of the times can be 2 minutes or less if you speed through them.

The Multiplayer

If you are looking for a balanced, modern FPS experience, you won't find it here. I think what you get instead is actually better. Just like the rest of the game, multiplayer is high-octane chaos that was way more fun that I thought it would be.

People are everywhere if you join a mostly full room and nothing but death and hilarity happens the entire time. You're lucky if you survive even 10 seconds after spawning, but you can kill others just as fast.

At first I thought it would frustrate me, but after embracing the nature of the game and seeing what they were trying to do, I didn't want to stop.

What I Didn't Like

There isn't much I didn't like about Dusk. There are only a couple things that were slightly frustrating.


You can collect various currencies to increase your "Morale." I just never noticed what it actually did. I'm thinking maybe it's partially a shield, though you still take damage when you have it. It could also increase my damage though it was hard to tell.

Either way, it would have been nice to know what Morale did, but it doesn't affect my overall enjoyment of the game.

No Map

This is a small one, but I would have liked to see a map. Some of the levels aren't fairly large and I got lost more than once trying to figure out where to go. The fast nature of the game probably doesn't lend itself well to using maps, but it still would have saved me some time.

The Verdict

Dusk dual shotguns

Dusk is an amazing game that fans of the genre are sure to love. Sure it doesn't have fancy new graphics, but it shows just how great games can be without them.

It captures what made classic Doom so good, perfectly. It is always nice to see retro styled games in the modern era because it makes you feel like you're playing a the sequel or spiritual successor of one of your favorite games that never came out until now.

  • Great horror atmosphere
  • Fast, classic gameplay
  • Slightly confusing at times

I highly recommend picking up Dusk if you're a fan of Horror or FPS games, which is available on Steam. 

[Disclosure: Writer was granted a copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes.]

Insurgency Sandstorm Review: A Niche Worth Scratching Mon, 17 Dec 2018 11:24:04 -0500 John Schutt

There are almost too many shooters to choose from these days, but most of them share more than they'd like to admit. The big names have a fast time to kill ratio, low weapon recoil, regenerative health, fast, if not instant, respawning, and if you're lucky, some wrinkle dropped in to make the experience feel new.

Insurgency Sandstorm is none of that (except the fast TTK). Instead, it favors a design philosophy that sits somewhere between military simulation and games like Red Orchestra. It's unforgiving enough to cater to more dedicated players but those without the time or willpower to sink their teeth in can still get their money's worth.

For this review, I'll be focusing on three primary pillars of any multiplayer-only title: map design, gunplay, and long-term fun factor.

The Playspace

Without good maps, a multiplayer game fails regardless of its other mechanics. Games that have stood the test of time, and some that haven't, live and die based on the quality of the playspaces they offer. Insurgency Sandstorm is no different.

My general impression of the maps is as follows: they will win no awards for ingenuity, nuance, or innovation, but they do the job. 

Maps follow a three-lane structure, usually with two lanes relatively open for snipers and DMR users to control, and a middle lane best suited for ARs and SMGs. 

Objectives are almost purely the purview of close-quarters weapons, usually located in a building with tight corridors and more than a few corners for planters. Certain maps spice things up with points sitting in open-air spaces, but usually, offer plenty of low cover so you can crouch or go prone.

Initial spawns are somewhat inconsistent, with some maps having respawn points with short, direct paths to an objective for one team and a challenging, longer route for the other. Because guns kill so quickly in this game, it's harder to flank than more mainstream titles. Miss one enemy and you'll find your sneaky maneuver fail in less time than it takes to blink. If you pull it off, though, that's a lot of points on the board.

Probably the biggest problem with the maps is also a spawn area issue. There are one too many sightlines that look almost directly into an enemy uncap, leading to many frustrating deaths from someone (especially snipers) holding the sightline you have to take to get to the objective.

However, I am impressed by the level of complexity on show.

Most maps offer at least three alternate routes to an objective, though there are a few exceptions. Verticality is hard to pull off when player movement is as sluggish as it is in SandstormHere, though, there are plenty of power positions, rooftops, awnings, and other geometry to climb on that don't completely break map flow.

The maps are sizeable, too, and depending on the game mode, they create a real sense of progress and sometimes story as you take objectives and advance. 

Sure, there are consistency problems, but no map ever made is perfect on every pixel.

The Gunplay

Insurgency Sandstorm will not please everyone with how the guns feel. Most weapons lack easy recoil control, even with a grip equipped, and they will send your aim into the sky at the earliest opportunity.

You are, as with actual guns, best-suited tap firing from anything except point blank range, and thankfully, you can switch the fire mode on every weapon save the single-shot rifles and snipers (for obvious reasons).

Assault Rifles

Ever the workhorse of the FPS, the AR class is the best overall weapon system to use for new players or players who want fast but consistent gameplay. Each of them is functional at medium range, and while they don't drop enemies quite as quickly as SMGs do up close, their utility sets them apart.

Submachine Guns

Guns in Sandstorm kill in one or two bullets, three or maybe four if your opponent is wearing heavy body armor. SMGs take a little more to get through kevlar, but they fire quickly enough and reliably enough from the hip that you're almost uncontested up close.

The problem? Because they kick so hard and shoot so fast, anything outside of close range is almost impossible to connect, especially when you factor in damage drop off.

Designated Marksman Rifles

Bundled with the ARs in the class creation screen, the DMR serves as a middle ground between a sniper and assault rifle. Semi-automatic and high damage, they falter a little bit up close but will outclass an M16 or AK at distance every time.

Their recoil is easier to control because of the need for a new trigger pull every shot, and if you're quick, you'll be taking down bad guys with one shot to the stomach and up.


The shotguns are usable at a surprising range, and if you manage to get up in someone's face, they're going down nine times out of 10. The pump action is also quick enough that, if you have the drop on a group of enemies, you'll likely be able to take out several of them at once. 

Sniper Rifles

As one-shot-kills to almost every area of the body, snipers are some of the most powerful weapons in all of Insurgency Sandstorm, but they're hamstrung by slow rates of fire, low magazine sizes, and a general need to be at a significant distance to play their role correctly.

The aggressive sniper playstyle is still possible, and incredibly effective, but you don't have nearly as much room for error as in other titles. One miss and you aren't just dead. You no longer exist.

Fun Factor

Is Insurgency Sandstorm fun? Yes, but not always for the reasons you might expect.

The gameplay is perfectly serviceable and offers plenty of opportunities for crazy moments, clutch plays, and close calls. If you stripped it of most of the communication and spectator options, leaving it as a rote shooter, it wouldn't stand out, but it wouldn't be the bottom of the barrel, either.

What sets Sandstorm apart for me is its dedication to a more old-school style of player connection: 

  • A comma rose of functional but fun and silly voice commands (insert Need Smoke spam here)
  • Open mics across the whole team, and that includes the enemy at the end of a round
  • Glitchy, sometimes unpolished character animations that are more charming than they are off-putting

The community helps too.

Sure, you'll get your share of trolls, racists, and other unmentionable people, but odds are, with a player base as small and dedicated as Insurgency's, you'll be laughing at someone's antics more often than you will be yelling at their anger.

People I ran into were willing to help, apologized when they made mistakes, and were ready, willing, and able to play the less desirable roles for the good of the team. Maybe I got lucky, but I spent much of my time playing Insurgency Sandstorm in stitches.

  • Unforgiving, satisfying combatSandstorm's combat loop is up there as one of the most enjoyable I've played. It's fast, the weapons are enjoyable to use and master, and demand concentration and skill to use effectively
  • Communication options that facilitate fun: Offering a commo rose in the vein of Team Fortress 2 and a wide variety of amusing voice commands, Sandstorm allows it's player to create enjoyment on top of its high quality gameplay.
  • Average maps: There's nothing special or revolutionary about Insurgency Sandstorm's maps, and when the core gameplay is solid, their mundanity really stands out.
  • Graphical Inferiority: Like the maps, the graphics in Sandstorm are at par or maybe just above it. They won't win any awards, and despite the glitchy animations adding character to the game, nothing about this game's aesthetic puts it heads or tails above any other shooter out there.

Overall, I had a pretty good time with Insurgency Sandstorm. There were a few hiccups that soured my experience from time to time, and I know for a fact that the game is not for everyone.

It is unapologetic in holding onto its niche, and much of its design will turn off players used to a more casual experience. But if you're into a more hardcore experience that's still got some quality of life mechanics, you're likely to find hours of fun in this gem in the desert.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Insurgency Sandstorm for the purpose of this review.]

Book of Demons Review: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Fri, 14 Dec 2018 10:25:08 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

This is a game where you choose from three hero classes - a warrior, a rogue, and a mage - and move beneath a desecrated church in an overhead, isometric view. Core gameplay consists of slaying demons in randomly generated dungeons, collecting loot, and working your way towards a demonic final boss, who is invading from Hell. Sound familiar?

Book of Demons draws a lot of its inspiration from classic ARPG Diablo but manages to have a unique presentation and poke enough fun at itself to carve its own spot into a crowded genre.

Stay Awhile and Listen

The first thing you’ll notice when you load up Book of Demons is the unique presentation and art style. The game is presented as a storybook, telling the tale of the adventurers who are clashing with a monstrous foe and its demonic army. The game embraces this presentation - everything looks like a paper cutout, hopping along through the dungeon and falling apart into piles of paper bones.

These little flourishes are what set Book of Demons apart from its ilk: the first time I used a Town Portal scroll, I watched the concentric circles fold open like a popup book and fold closed behind me. There are tons of fun little details that breathe life into the regularly drab and predictable “dungeon cave” backgrounds that the genre is known for.

Ante Up

Book of Demons’ other main selling point is its unique take on combat and inventory. Rather than collecting items like armor and weapons, all of your character’s abilities, spells, and items are represented by cards. As you progress in the game, you can upgrade your cards and open up more slots, granting new item synergies and increasing your toolkit to battle ever-strengthening enemies.

Each character can collect up to forty different cards, which can be upgraded three times each and also have randomized magical and legendary versions. Being able to identify combos in your available cards and adapt to new enemy types quickly is key to reaching the deeper levels of each run.

There are three types of cards available, and each work in different ways: item cards, like healing potions, have a certain number of charges that can either be replenished in town (for a price) or found in dungeons from defeating monsters. Spells consume mana, which can also be replenished in town or through various other methods when exploring.

Finally, equipment adds passive abilities to your character by “blocking off” chunks of your available mana. Finding the right combination of cards is a fun puzzle, which is compounded on the hardest difficulty, which randomizes the drop order of cards that your character receives.

Dungeon Hopping

To say Book of Demons draws inspiration from Diablo is to do it a disservice: Book of Demons revels in nostalgia for the classic Blizzard title. The old man in town who identifies items tells you to, “Stay and listen for a while.” Upon finishing the first stage of a run, your character will comment that “The sanctity of this place has definitely been fouled.” Even the three classes mirror Diablo’s character options, with abilities that should be familiar to savvy veterans.

Book of Demons treads a thin line between imitation and self-aware parody. Some of the jokes are pretty solid - the first time you see the Archdemon (the game’s final boss, a version of the Devil), he is sitting in waist-deep fire, squeezing a rubber ducky that is wearing a spiked collar. There are plenty of little winks back at the player, but their infrequency is a bit jarring considering that, outside of the graphics style, Book of Demons plays it pretty straight.

Luckily, it nails the sense of progression that a game like this needs. Like many procedurally generated titles, Book of Demons will teach you lessons in brutal ways. You’ll have to learn quickly what new foes are capable of - your health bar can melt away pretty quickly if you are surrounded and affected by status ailments. Especially on the highest difficulty, this can erase plenty of progress but, hopefully, will help you find success in future runs.

One More Level

One of the best additions Book of Demons adds to the genre is the “Flexiscope,” which allows you to customize the length of each dive back into the dungeon. The game puts together an estimate of how quickly you play through levels and will begin to estimate how long a “short,” “medium,” or “long” dungeon run will take you. This makes it pretty easy to customize your adventure and get a good idea of how much time that “last run before bed” will take you.

Granted, progress is saved every time you exit and enter a floor, so these time estimations are a bit superfluous. But it is nice to have an idea of how long a trip through the next few floors will take you - right up until that trip is cut short because you are killed halfway through without enough gold to purchase a resurrection.

  • Unique graphical style offers plenty of charm and surprises
  • Difficulty and length customization has something for everyone
  • Good nostalgia elements
  • A bit too similar to its inspirations
  • Self-aware humor doesn't always land

Book of Demons is a pretty fun time: it does bring back plenty of fond, sleepless nights combing the dungeons beneath Tristram. Its unique aesthetic adds a lot to the game as well. It can be a bit derivative, and if the roguelike formula of dying and starting over does not appeal to you, you may want to sit this one out.

Clearing out bosses, collecting gold, and upgrading your character are timeless fun, however, and Book of Demons has that progression down pat.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Book of Demons for the purpose of this review]

Kenshi Review: A Divisive, Demanding Adventure Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:29:25 -0500 Tim White

Let's make one thing clear right away: Kenshi, the newly completed free-roaming survival-ish RPG-type-thing from Lo-Fi Games, is not for everyone. If you're looking for something casual and accessible to spend no more than 45 minutes on after work, move along. Kenshi doesn't care how grueling your day was.

However, if you've got some time and energy to devote to it, and if you can handle rejection, this game needs to find a home in your library. It'll make you work for its love, but oh, what a deep and sweet love it is.


I seem to be reviewing a lot of story-less games lately, but Kenshi is a little different. It's not a simulator or an "experience." It's more like a blank canvas and a ton of paintbrushes with which to create your own story, if you're into roleplaying in your own head. Even if you're not, its engaging and intricate mechanics might fascinate you anyway.

There's no linear narrative to speak of, but I really think you should give Kenshi a try whether that bothers you or not. It does contain a ton of intricately crafted lore; after spending about 10 hours with the game, I suspect I've only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of learning about its world and the factions that inhabit it.


Imagine Diablo without eighty thousand billion "new" weapons dropping every ten seconds; now you know how movement and menus work.

Now imagine Mount & Blade's squad building system sandwiched by Fallout's wasteland vibe and simplified versions of the construction found in ARK: Survival Evolved, with just a dash of E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy's future-primitive techno-religion vibe.

Got all that? Me neither, at first. Just roll with it for now.

Upon creating a character, you'll be dropped alone into the middle of nowhere with nothing but half a pair of pants and a rusty iron bar that will do absolutely nothing to fend off aggressors. Where you go and what you try (and fail) to do is up to you.

The possibilities are myriad, but all paths are fraught with danger. You can start a farm, buy a fixer-upper house in town, rob the general store, or set out to explore ludicrously perilous ancient ruins brimming with valuable artifacts. You can go it alone or hire up to 29 other companions.

Whatever you do, you'll regularly find yourself beset by thieves, cannibals, vicious wildlife, and killer robots. You can run, fight (and lose), or try to pay them off—or join them. No matter what you decide, there are no simple paths and no easy answers. Every meaningful choice you might make has serious pros and cons associated with it. Each time the in-game clock rolls over, you'll simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief at living to see another sunrise and wonder how the hell you're going to make it to the next one.

If you can survive for about an in-game month, life does get easier, but it never gets easy. Once your settlement grows large enough to reliably sustain itself, you may think the worst of your troubles are over, but in fact you're now also a more tempting target for bigger gangs of deadlier criminals.

Life in Kenshi is a constant process of adaptation, exploration, being terrified of the unknown, and gradually overcoming it with the tiniest of baby steps. If you can embrace the fear and uncertainty, it's a wild and enjoyable ride.


Kenshi isn't ugly, at least not when you consider that about five people made the whole thing. It's blocky, and most of it is really, really brown. The bulk of the team's energy was spent developing the game's mechanics and setting, not its graphics, and that's okay by me.

There are some different biomes to explore throughout Kenshi's huge map, but a solid 70% of the map seems to be barren deserts and arid plains. Even though living off the land becomes even more difficult in snowy areas, it's almost worth it just to have something different to look at.

Character models move rather choppily, although a lot of the weapons and armor sets do look pretty cool. There's definitely a neat design aesthetic throughout much of the world, it's just not rendered in photo-realistic 4K.

Sound & Music

Kenshi is a relatively quiet game—perhaps deliberately so, in order to make sure you feel as isolated as possible. Your one constant companion is the low howl of the wind moaning through the canyons around you, but for the most part, there's not much to hear.

Pitched battles are another story. At some point—probably much, much later in the game—you might find your squad of 24 up against an equally numerous foe. The cacophony of clashing metal and angry shouting is jarring in contrast to the usual silence of your daily routine, but if nothing else, it makes it pretty hard not to notice when a huge battle is raging just off-screen.


Kenshi runs well on a GTX 1080 and an i-7700 quad-core 4.5GHz processor, at least in certain respects. There are some minor performance hiccups, but I doubt they'd disappear no matter how beefy your hardware is.

Loading times and pop-in are small but persistent headaches. Because Kenshi's map is so huge, and because you can send individual squad members all over it at any time, it might very well be technologically impossible to keep enough data in memory to eliminate this problem entirely. Nonetheless, it's mildly annoying to switch between a dozen squad members and have to wait several seconds for their current locations to load each time.

However, the game is pretty stable where it counts most. I encountered no instances of what I call "unacceptable" bugs—things which severely hamper your enjoyment of the game and that the developers could have been reasonably expected to find and fix ahead of time. The game has yet to crash or freeze on me, and all of its intricate subsystems appear to work exactly as intended.



+ Huge world crammed full of deep lore and lots of activities
+ Squad A.I. is simple but powerful and efficient
+ Unforgiving learning curve is satisfying to (eventually) conquer


– Brutal difficulty and lack of hand-holding will turn many players off
– Frequent, stuttery load times are an ever-present low-grade annoyance
– Ugly, boring environments

Kenshi will ultimately appeal strongly to some while instantly repelling others. Whether or not you like what Lo-Fi Games has done, it's hard to deny that they've done it superbly well. If you're willing to play by an unfamiliar and harsh set of rules, Kenshi will keep you entertained for many hours.

If you're having trouble with this game, be sure to check out our growing collection of Kenshi guides to help you gain some traction.

Note: The developer provided a complimentary review copy of this game.

GRIS Review: A Watercolor Platformer Full of Hope Thu, 13 Dec 2018 14:53:38 -0500 ESpalding

This week sees the release of an indie narrative platformer called GRIS. It is Barcelona-based Nomada Studio's first game and is being published by indie giant Devolver Digital. It is available on PC and Mac and will also be released on Nintendo Switch at a later date.

GRIS follows the story of a young girl who is beginning to explore her own emotions following on from a drastic event which has changed her world completely. The game boasts no combat, no deaths just plenty of platforming goodness and puzzles.

Story and Setting

As I've already said, GRIS follows the story of a young girl as she tries to come to terms with her emotions following a sad experience in her life. The titular character starts off with no special abilities and is just her exploring the world around her.

It has an unspoken story but as you progress through the game, you start to get an idea of what might have happened. There is no dialogue and no text to read. Through changes in the artwork and gradual introduction of abilities, the more you play the more you develop the story and begin to understand what is going on.


I don't know about you, but there are certain things I look for when looking at new indie games. The first thing is always going to be its look. One of the first things you will notice about GRIS is that the developers have gone for a very fine hand-drawn kind of look and, in my opinion, this has got to be the best thing about this game.

The watercolor effect the game has is simply superb and adds a beauty to it that is rarely seen in games these days. It has also been used to influence the story and the more you progress, the more color is introduced in the game. It starts out pretty monochromatic but, as you will find out, it becomes more colorful as you progress.


I'm not going to lie. The controls themselves are pretty basic and straightforward for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing platformers. Given that there is no combat in GRIS, the controls simply move you around and activate the abilities you gain as you progress.

These abilities come in the form of her dress. The dress can move independently and change shape depending on what you want it to do. Do you want Gris to become heavier? The dress turns into a block and gives you extra weight. You want to do a double jump to get over an obstacle? The dress wafts up to give you extra lift. This gives the character a good bit of development as the game progresses.

Aside from completing puzzles, the one other thing that you need to do in GRIS is to collect stars. Stars can be used to form walkways or bridge gaps when they are joined together. It is also through collecting these stars that Gris' dress gains its abilities. Once you have enough stars, they can be made into constellations to form special symbols and creatures which will grant you these special abilities.

Verdict: 8/10

All in all, GRIS is an absolute charm of an indie game. The story developing as you go along is engaging, the artwork is stunning and the puzzles are just hard enough to keep your mind working without being too hard and make you frustrated. For the first game from a small indie studio, this game is very impressive. If they continue this trend of blending aesthetics and gameplay in such a way, I can see them gaining a lot of recognition.

  • Mechanics change and develop as the story develops
  • Beautiful artistic design and emotive storytelling
  • Consequence-free world
  • Could be considered simplistic

[Disclosure: A copy of GRIS was provided for review purposes.]

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review: An Undeniable Triumph Wed, 12 Dec 2018 16:42:02 -0500 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Something that a lot of reviewers struggle with, myself included, is defining what a perfect game looks like. What specific criteria must a game live up to in order to achieve a score of 100%, A+, or 10/10?

Of course, I can't speak for any writer but myself, but for me, the criteria center on a simple question: "Would I change anything about the game?"

There are precious few games that fit this description: We Love Katamari, Pokemon Sun/Moon, Dance Dance Revolution, Bayonetta 2, and Super Mario Odyssey are a few that tick all of the boxes for me. 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate not only joins that group but in terms of its sheer scope, becomes bar-none, the most impressive game I've ever played. 

Everything You Could Ask For Is Here

The first thing to know about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that it is probably the most ambitious crossover project in the history of media. Right now, the game features 74 characters representing dozens upon dozens of games and companies, and that roster will expand to 80 with the addition of DLC.

Infinity War, eat your heart out. 

Add to that a staggering list of stages, over 800 music tracks, hundreds of items, and Easter eggs in the form of Poke balls and assist trophies, and the scale of this game starts to (barely) come into focus.

There's just so much ... 

For those of us who are longtime fans of the series, it can sometimes be easy to take a lot of this for granted, especially since director Masahiro Sakurai has had the unenviable job of topping his own announcements ever since they revealed that Sonic would be appearing in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

If the new announcement that Joker from Persona 5 will be joining the battle is any indication, though, the team still has the uncanny knack for topping itself and subverting expectations. 

Another way of putting it is this: the simple fact that this game was even made is a freaking triumph.

Taking Stock

From the minute you hop into battle, you'll notice how refined Super Smash Bros. Ultimate actually is. Every design choice feels painfully intentional, from the stunning new final hit animation to the revamped perfect shield mechanic and the way in which rolling has been changed.

Each modification comes together beautifully, like ingredients in the most delicate, delicious dessert you've ever had, and it's all meant to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate an incredibly fun game not just to play, but to watch as well.

Aside from the Home-Run contest, the basic modes players have become accustomed to are all here. From a revamped Classic mode that sees each character in the roster follow a different path to victory and a much-improved training mode that is tailor-made for drilling combos, to series mainstays like Cruel Smash and 100-man Smash (now called Century Smash), Ultimate has something for everyone.  

Under the hood, there's now an almost-endless array of ways for you to customize matches beyond choosing time or stock and turning items off. There are tons of modes -- tournament, smashdown, squad battle -- that are designed for large groups or party scenarios, and even if you're not using them, there are lobby rules for local Smash that allow you to set up rotating battles where the winner stays (or drops out), leaving no pauses in the action.

We've Got Spirit

After Ultimate's Spirit mode was announced, I was skeptical. The way that Nintendo presented it, the mode seemed like some weird cross between Tamagotchi, Pokemon, and Super Smash Bros., without the charm of any. It looked confusing, inaccessible, and tacked on.

Of course, it became my favorite part of the game.

In practice, fighting a spirit battle is more like fighting an event battle in a previous entry in the series, with the caveat that there are literally thousands of spirits. The majority of the time, these battles take the form of incredibly clever battles that use and subvert the rules of the game to simulate battles between characters that aren't in the game. 

For example, the Venusaur battle sees players facing off a gigantic Ivysaur on a stage where the floor is poisoned, while the Squitter battle simulates fighting on a spiderweb by making the ground sticky. To win these battles, you need to equip spirits to overcome these deficiencies, to either get more powerful or to render yourself immune to hazards. 

I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that everything in the spirit section of the menu is brilliant, from the rotating bounties on the spirit board to leveling up spirits to enhance them and change their forms to the amazing story mode, World of Light. 

In World of Light, you'll find a relatively deep experience, but not one as deep as Subspace Emissary. The mode will take you anywhere between 30-40 hours to complete, and it is sprawling, packed full of intense boss battles, spirit fights, and climaxes that will tug at your heartstrings.

It's a triumph.

Online Matches

I can only speak from my own experience, but the new online system, one where players set their preferred game rules (whether they want to play 1-on-1 matches or not, whether they want items on, etc...) has worked very well for me, though it seems like I'm the only one.

I very rarely (maybe one or two matches out of every 10) get placed in a match that isn't being played by the rules I have selected as my preferred rule set.

In addition, though reports have been coming in of players experiencing terrible lag during online matches, in my week of testing, I haven't run into that yet, even playing without a USB LAN adapter. 

Given the discourse on Twitter right now, I'm part of a huge minority of people who haven't run into these issues, and make no mistake, they are issues. That said, even if the lag and rule set issues don't get resolved, the addition of public arenas where players can actually set defined rules for matches (as opposed to quickplay, where there's always a chance your rule set won't be picked) makes any quickplay headaches people might encounter into a non-issue.

There are public arenas for every rule set you can think of, and you can set up private arenas for you and your friends as well if lag is becoming an issue and you want to make sure you're only playing with folks who are using wired connections. It's inelegant, but there is a way around every online issue you're likely to find.

I hesitate to say this but... maybe this time Nintendo got online right? At least kind of?

We eSports Now

The most surprising thing about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that finally, for the first time since the series debuted, the game seems to be catering to the competitive crowd as well as the casual crowd without making any concessions. 

There's no forced time mode here, no hand-holding -- the game gives you a toybox of rules, stages, and characters to play with and lets you loose.

Hazard toggle means that more stages than ever before will be tournament legal, and Stage Morph offers some pretty amazing variety for casual players, allowing them to essentially play on two stages at once.

The Smash Radar, a feature that allows players to see exactly where they are even as they're off-screen is incredibly helpful for competitive play and can lead to a whole bunch of amazing off-stage exchanges.

  • The Spirit Mode means the game has almost-unlimited replayability, even for single-player fans
  • The roster is absolutely insane
  • The new rules, stage lists, items, and ways to play make the game feel like a sandbox where you can play the way you want to
  • Online modes make sense, and generally work exactly the way they should
  • It's not looking like Waluigi is gonna make it in this time around, folks

The reason Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is such a triumph is that it says yes to the player at every turn.

It feels almost like a sandbox game at times, which is absolutely ridiculous when you remember that this is a fighting game. The level of freedom you have to smash how you want, in addition to the fact that the game itself has a ton of replayability for single-player fans, the party crowd, and the competitive scene means that this game is an instant classic already, and they're going to expand the game more through DLC.

It's the best entry in the series, despite what folks who have spent years perfecting Melee wavedashing will tell you. Once again, don't @ me.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate used in this review.] 

Desert Child Review: Sweet Ride Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:00:02 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

Whenever I review a game, I don't just look at the obvious points of interest, such as mechanics and graphics. I tend to also look for deeper meaning, even if the game isn't narratively rich in a traditional sense. 

Since I started reviewing games, I've found that indies typically have more freedom to answer more philosophical and esoteric questions.

Desert Child, developed by Oscar Brittain and published by Akupara Games is a game that does that, even if it doesn't look like it on the surface. 

A racing RPG about a young man, his trusty hoverbike, and the goal of winning a Grand Prix so he can move from a dying Earth to a vibrant Mars, Desert Child xyz

Vroom Vroom

Although it might be philosophical in nature, Desert Child is a racing game at heart. Races last about two minutes; you can gain speed by destroying targets along the way or damage opposing racers to slow them down. Of course, your NPC opponents can do the same to you, so you'll need to race with care and employ strategy to get through them in one piece. 

Of course, you can't win races unless your hoverbike is in shape. Upkeep and customization will determine how difficult the road to victory will be.

When you sustain damage, you'll start to notice performance issues, such as your bike getting slower. Needless to say, keeping your bike in shape is a priority, which you can do at various shops... for a cost. 

Customization and Powering Up

You can customize your bike with various parts that yield special effects. Some parts give you more firepower, while others can help you obtain more cash. Some parts can even help you determine when the finish line is coming, helping you cut off your opponents at the right times.

You can also increase these effects with battery packs, which you can earn for every race you win. So the more you race, the more you'll have available. 

For example, you can significantly increase your firepower via battery packs, which will let you really wallop your opponents. However, the tradeoff is that it now takes longer to reload your weapon. 

The beauty here is that this system increases the depth of a game that on the surface, seems relatively simple. The opportunities are broad, and testing out combinations is half the fun. 

Life In The Big City

With nothing but a bike to your name, there's a certain feeling that you're on the fringe of society. The game drives this point home further by letting you know you're flat broke -- repeatedly.

You can't fix your bike, you can't eat, and you most definitely can't enter the Grand Prix if you're penniless. This is where your city life comes into play. It's a big city, after all, and there's a number of ways you can get paid.

Sure, you have your share of odd jobs like pizza delivery or race tutoring, but you can find more exciting gigs like bounty hunting or herd-farming as well. You'll also find the occasional dollar testing weapons and doing odd jobs, as well as investment opportunities. You can, of course, also score payouts from winning races.  

However, not everything is above board. Head to the red-light district and you'll find some not-so-legal options. You can throw races, damage other vehicles, and even hack bank accounts. Of course, these all net more funds than legitimate jobs, and, of course, these shady jobs do come with consequences: completing any job will raise your wanted level. If it gets high enough cops will come after you. 

Being Cool For Yourself

Desert Child, much like it's influences and aesthetics, prides itself on being unconventionally cool. Visually, you can see that this pixelated adventure isn't very detailed. But the entire game maintains that distinct look.

Desert Child's music also fits into that "cool loner" vibe; with tunes ranging from hip-hop, chill-hop (laidback jazz fusion), lofi-hip-hop, and even vaporwave, the album's worth of songs don't skip a beat. 

  • Races are fast
  • Relaxing music
  • Customizing your bike is fun
  • Visuals aren't the best
  • Difficulty spikes up randomly 
  • Controls could be better

Desert Child is a fun game to decompress with. The entire journey will take you a few hours to play through, all at your own leisure and pace.

Every time you get ready to race you can race or chill. If you select chill, you'll see our hero taking a smoke break while the game's soundtrack plays. This is a nice little quality of life option for players; what better way to enjoy your favorite tracks?

That sense of operating at your own speed is what makes this game unique to play. Even though you have this looming goal and serious work to do, why stress it? No saving the planet, stopping evil, and all that jazz. It's just you and that cool hoverbike taking things one race at a time.

Fans of indie games, RPGs, and racing games can find Desert Child available on Nintendo Switch eShop, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam today.

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of Desert Child used in this review.] 

Gungrave VR Review: Iggymob Should Be Ashamed To Have Released This Tue, 11 Dec 2018 03:15:01 -0500 Ty Arthur

The PS2 shoot 'em up Gungrave has been resurrected yet again, but this time the unholy necromancy that brought it into the realm of the living clearly went horribly wrong somewhere along the way.

There's no way to sugar coat it -- this is hands down the very worst VR game I've ever had the displeasure of playing. From the baffling camera angles to the extremely half baked gameplay to the boring, by-the-numbers music, there is almost no redeeming value of any kind to be found here.

Without question, this will be remembered as the bottom of the barrel for PSVR games.

So why did Gungrave VR score a 2/10 instead of a 1/10? According to Gameskinny review standards, a 1 is a game that doesn't work and can't be finished. Sadly (very, very sadly) Gungrave VR is a stable, functioning game that can be played beginning to end, so a 2 it is.

A Case Study In Truly Bad Game Design

Nominally an action game, Gungrave VR's levels shift between extremely limited third-person arena-style levels and on-rails first-person shooting. In either type of level, your undead gunslinger will take on waves of drug dealers, with the occasional giant robot for good measure.

The only praise I can muster for this game is to say that some of the bosses have interesting anime-based character designs, and the comic book aesthetic is sorta fun from time to time -- but that's where anything good officially ends.

Developer Iggymob made every possible mistake you could when developing a virtual reality game, starting with the lack of Move controller support.

Since a large portion of the game is in third-person, there is absolutely no sensation of being in the action, which is the whole point of VR. You are looking down on the main character in third-person but you aim his gun with your head instead of the stick, which is unbelievably awkward.

You'd think since this is a DualShock controller-only game that you'd have full range of movement and camera rotation like in any worthwhile action game, right? Wrong.

You can't smoothly swivel the camera with the stick as expected. Instead, you flick through four different angles one at a time.

This is just straight up godawful game design for a fully 3D environment where there are enemies surrounding you in waves. Can you imagine trying to take on a group of opponents in God Of War or Darksiders if you couldn't ever see behind yourself? 

The camera essentially uses the single panel flip movement from The Inpatient, which was acceptable there because it was such a slow-moving first-person game. Here, in a third-person action title, its the kiss of death. 

Why On Earth Did They Do ANY Of This?

Virtual reality games don't have to always be first-person. Moss and Astro Bot Rescue Mission both clearly showed that third-person can work in VR -- it just stunningly fails in every possible way here.

Despite the limited camera angle rotation, I still constantly felt like I was going to fall down, throw up, or possibly both at the same time. Even when standing totally still, you will lose your balance due to the awful point of view flips.

Worst of all, the actual action isn't that fun. The core gameplay is bare-bones, by-the-numbers shooting in extremely tiny levels.

The experience doesn't improve in the first-person segments either, where the game becomes even more limited and boring. None of this is helped by the incredibly dated, bland visuals and laughably bad explosion effects. It seriously feels like playing House Of The Dead or Area 51... on the Sega Saturn.

Every single element of this drek feels like the developers totally missed the whole point of giving a game VR support. Frankly, Gungrave is a worse experience in VR than if it had remained a standard action/on-rails arcade hybrid with no virtual reality support to begin with.

The very sad part is that none of this needed to happen because we've seen all these elements presented in PSVR games with much more grace before.

Blasters Of The Universe, for instance, has you remain mostly stationary like with Gungrave VR, but you dodge bullets flying at your head while getting the heft of a gun and shield in both hands due to the Move controllers.

Gungrave is the opposite of that dynamic, picking the worst possible VR design decisions at every step.

I Cannot Overstate How Awful This Game Is 

  • The game is mercifully short
  • The anime-based character designs for the bosses are occasionally interesting to look at
  • The worst possible combination of camera and controller choices for a VR game in the entire history of VR games
  • Boring, bare-bones enemies and levels
  • Laughably bad visuals
  • Do you like feeling like you're going to throw up due to spinning too fast while you are standing perfectly still? Because you're going to feel like throwing up due to spinning too fast while standing perfectly still

Remember Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad on the Xbox 360? It was a terrible game with wonky controls and awful level design, but it had jiggly bikini samurai girls to oggle, so there was some small amount of reason to keep playing. 

Picture that, but with worse controls, no eye candy of any kind, and you'll be on the verge of throwing up for the entire (blessedly short) duration of the game.

That's Gungrave VR -- a game that flat out should not have been released. Shame on you Iggymob.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Gungrave VR used in this review.]

Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows Review - A Casual, Easy-to-Play TBS Tue, 11 Dec 2018 01:00:01 -0500 Sergey_3847

Steel Shadows is a stand-alone expansion for Ancient Frontier, which doesn't require players to have the original game or any experience and knowledge of the first game. Steel Shadows has its own tutorial, separate campaign and procedurally-generated missions.

However, if you've played the original Ancient Frontier, then it will be a lot easier for you to get all the intricacies of this turn-based sci-fi strategy with RPG elements. Here, you will play for the Pirate faction that brings chaos to the normal layout of things at the Frontier.

If you want to know more about the story, campaign missions and the gameplay mechanics of Steel Shadows, then read our review below.

Story and Setting

The story of Steel Shadows focuses on a few Pirate leaders, Rogan and Rickshaw, that struggle their way through the Frontier. They attack convoys and raid mining stations for valuable resources that could keep their network of ships survive in the long run.

There is an extensive black market of ships and items available for purchase with the help of several types of in-game currency. Also, ships can be upgraded through a skill tree of various technologies that focus mainly on combat and tactics, which can be bought using Data, one of the main currencies.

But there are two more resources that are of even higher value: Hydrium and Proto Energy. Hydrium is used specifically for buying new ships and repairing old ones, while Proto Energy makes those ships run well. All three are needed and they can be obtained in the course of the missions.

The combat in Steel Shadows is very much the same as in the original Ancient Frontier game. You control a fleet of various types of ships that carry different types of weapons, some of which can deal more damage from a long range, while others can do well only in close combat.

That is why it is important to acknowledge yourself with each and every type of combat ship in your fleet during the Tutorial stage. Later this will help you to choose the best ships for your fleet between the campaign missions.

A strong fleet supported by well-planned tactical and strategic game can lead to many victories.

The AI in the game is quite smart, especially in the harder difficulties. If it senses your weak spots, it will attack there and destroy your main ships. In this regard the gameplay becomes really exciting and makes you think about your next moves.

Gameplay Mechanics

As usual, when it comes to TBS genre, you have a series of steps for each of your ships, and then you pass the turn to an AI. The ships move really fast in this game, which is a good thing, because you don't want to spend your whole day just getting from point A to point B.

That's why you really need to keep your ships in good condition, as your fleet will only keep growing. This means that each campaign mission will take more time than the previous one. In this regard, the technology tree is your best friend, as this is where you get to improve your fleet's capabilities.

But there is also a possibility to deploy a part of your fleet on the Bounty missions through the Mission select menu, and the rest to continue the campaign. Either way, the big fleet needs to move as fast as possible, and thankfully, the tech tree will allow you to increase your Move and Ability Points.

Each type of ship has its own tech tree, and everything here depends on your budget. Of course, if you have enough Data to purchase the right skills early, then it is possible to make every ship grow in an equal manner. But this kind of scenario would work in a perfect world, while in this game it's a bit more complicated.

The lack of resources makes you put money in the most necessary things only, such as Shield improvement for your own ships and Shield damage for your weapons. This is one truly neat technology, since the AI ships often flee and hide when you destroy their shields. From then on finishing them off is really easy, but that's the trick you need to discover in the course of the gameplay.

Fortunately, the fleet management menu is really user-friendly, so making out the proper gameplan turns into a fun adventure and not a boring chore. Usually, it would take you hours to figure out what to do in any other TBS game, but Steel Shadows is very clear in its intentions from the very beginning.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Fans of the original Ancient Frontier game will be happy to try out another brand new campaign with all the familiar features. New players will have no hard time figuring out what to do either, as it's really easy to jump into the gameplay.

On the other hand, the veteran TBS players that are looking for a re-imagining of the genre or look out to be struck by the depth of the gameplay mechanics will be disappointed, as Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows is a rather casual game, although pretty well done taking into account that it was made by only two indie developers.

The good thing is that it's really light on hardware and will run even on the older PCs and office laptops that are not intended for playing games. After everything's said and done, it's a fair experience for the price given.


  • Intuitive and simple fleet management system
  • Extensive Tech tree and market
  • Fun and engaging gameplay


  • Not much depth for a TBS game
  • Low-quality graphics

[Note: A copy of Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows was provided by Fair Weather Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Stellaris: MegaCorp DLC Review: Free Enterprising Ferengi Mon, 10 Dec 2018 10:34:08 -0500 Fox Doucette

Paradox Interactive has taken an interesting tack with their DLC packages for Stellaris, specifically when compared to their earthbound grand strategy titles.

For one thing, there haven't been quite as many of them; while there are 15 expansions for 2012's Crusader Kings 2, 12 for 2013's Europa Universalis 4, and four for 2016's Hearts of Iron 4 (including the announced “Man the Guns”), Stellaris has only gotten three major expansions, as MegaCorp joins Utopia and Apocalypse in the spaceport.

As for MegaCorp, a DLC that expands trade and profit opportunities for a spacefaring race? Yeah, it's Stellaris: Ferengi Edition.

For the capitalist-minded empire, MegaCorp has a new empire type, the Corporate Authority. This replaces the old Corporate Dominion, which has always been viable for societies built strongly on the Materialist side of the Spiritual vs. Materialist slider. Those without the DLC still use the older Dominion.

There's a new civic in play for the corporate factions called "Criminal Heritage". Think Orion Syndicate from Star Trek. Taking the trait identifies your civilization as basically "the Mafia developed a warp drive", and your government is more like a crime family than a republic. It's a way to play an "evil" faction while still making use of the DLC's new features.

Criminal Heritage cannot be removed once selected, but it removes the more civilized requirements for expanding your commercial footprint. Instead of asking nicely for mutually beneficial trade agreements, you expand your empire like the mafia, not like a consortium of space traders.

The Megacorporation empire type has a higher administrative cap, so in theory, it would be ideal for wide players, but instead, harsh penalties are put in for anyone foolish enough to try that style.

Instead, there's a new Branch Office mechanic and Commercial Pact diplomatic option.

In other words, instead of an Emperor bringing warships, you instead have the Grand Nagus using his lobes to create lucrative business opportunities, all while the Megacorp's homeworld reaps the benefits from pursuing a strategy traditionally known as “going tall”, where a smaller core empire uses non-expansive ways to push for victory conditions.

Of course, what's a Paradox grand strategy game without a massive array of vassals? That's where Subsidiaries come in, and they involve the target empire paying 25% of their energy credit production in tribute and joining the master's wars.

There are also new options available so even the spiritual rather than material societies can get in on the fun, and they come in the form of “Gospel of the Masses”, a civic that is basically what would happen if Joel Osteen got his hands on a warp drive.

Long story short, instead of the consumerism coming through material avarice like a Ferengi, it instead comes through a sort of Prosperity Gospel on steroids, where religion is used to encourage consumerism and tithing in order to fund operations.

And at last, there's the Slave Market, because why go to the trouble of conquering and subjugating sovereign people for use as labor or livestock when you can just buy the product of someone else's soldiers dying to do it for you?

It's the same mechanic, but if you're freedom loving, you could even buy slaves for the sole purpose of immediately setting them free.

And if all of the above sounds a little bit like putting a fresh coat of paint on completely bog-standard mechanics from the basegame, you begin to see the problem with putting a $20 ask on Ferengi cosplay.

There just isn't enough here, even in the endgame, that has the gee-whiz factor that Utopia or Apocalypse does.

MegaCorp is just... the same, except for one huge difference that's worth talking about. 

In the 2.2 “LeGuin” patch that released alongside the DLC, the way planets are built and developed has completely changed.

The tile system? It's gone. No more. Forget everything you knew.

Instead, a planet's size is now more important as it determines how many of the new “districts” can be built on the planet. This is straight out of Civilization 6, to the point where you want to see Paradox's crib notes on the subject.

Districts are divided into City, Generator, Mining, and Agriculture, and they govern population size, energy credits, minerals, and food production respectively.

Instead of working tiles directly, your pops now have jobs that are created not only by the districts themselves but by the buildings that you can build with every 5-pop increase in overall population.

This allows for a much more adaptive form of planet-building, which is also massively more flexible and leads to a lot more interesting decisions. For example, you can selectively develop a planet to produce a specific resource.

Also in the free patch is the addition of the Unity system, previously locked behind the Utopia DLC. Unity becomes far more important not just to the Ascension Perk system (which is otherwise unchanged and still plays exactly the way it does when Paradox lifted it from Civilization 5) but to the empire's overall ability to govern itself.

And finally, the free patch brings Trade Value, a new resource that's gathered by upgraded space stations and produced on planets. This can be used via different policies to generate different types of resources. Most players, however, will find that trade value provides first and foremost the energy credits required to power mining stations and acquire resources on the Galactic Market.

Now, all of the above sounds like a meaty, worth-20-bucks expansion, right?

Well... not exactly. For one thing, all of the really big improvements to gameplay are available right there with the free patch.

There are two big takeaways here.

One, the new Planetary system with its jobs and its revamped ways to manage your pops, is right there in the free patch; you don't need to spend 20 bucks to get it.

And two, thanks to Unity/Ascension perks being brought out from behind the paywall that previously required you to own Utopia, that's another big thing you get for free that you don't even have to pay 20 bucks for (but you should still buy Utopia because it's a wonderful endgame DLC for "tall" playstyles.)

The actual Megacorp stuff? It is strictly depends-on-your-playstyle and might be too niche for all but the most determined role player.

In a game like Stellaris, which has been out for over two years now, there are a lot of well-developed and tremendously fun strategies to play around with, and even though Megacorp empires and the features in Utopia go together like hands and gloves, the same is simply not true of Apocalypse.

And since so much of what MegaCorp has to offer on the paid side of the equation doesn't really bear fruit until the late-game, you'll play it for hours on end and never feel like you're playing anything but the same old Stellaris you know and love.


  • The new Corporate Authority and its associated ways to expand your empire can be great fun for a less militaristic player
  • Synergizes amazingly well with the Utopia DLC
  • The free patch alongside the DLC is a great reason to start playing Stellaris again if you've put it down for a while


  • There's not $20 worth of paid content here; most of it, you'll never even see unless you invest a ton of time into it
  • All the best new features are in the free patch; you don't have to buy the DLC to enjoy most of the changes
  • New features are useless for militarist/conqueror playstyles.

This is a great time to get back into the game. It's going to feel fresh in a way that games this well-established rarely do so far out from release.

But there is simply not enough meat on the bones of this expansion to merit paying 20 bucks for it. The game's mechanical changes in the DLC are way too niche to be practical, and that's going to severely limit the value you get out of it past the first couple of experiments and full playthrough.

Everything here is well-made and lovingly crafted like it always is. The objection is that it's just not broad enough for lasting appeal.

Earth Defense Force 5 Review: One of the Best Co-op Games on PS4 Fri, 07 Dec 2018 13:25:00 -0500 Ashley Shankle

Awful movies are a sort of shared hobby between my husband and I, so it's only natural that we are an EDF household. Shooting down massive waves of bugs and a host of more menacing creatures is hard to say no to when the overall package is so welcoming and easy to hop in and out of.

Since Earth Defense Force 2025 on the PlayStation 3, the EDF series has become one of our go-to titles when we sit down for our nightly gaming sessions. Before I got my hands on Earth Defense Force 5, we'd just rotate between Risk of Rain and EDF 4.1 on the PlayStation 4. Until we make it and push through some of Inferno mode, it's all EDF 5 for now.

This newest addition to the franchise is an arcade-style shooter with both hands in the crazy jar. It takes you back to the first alien invasion and pits you against forces the EDF was never trained to fight. You've got the signature giant insects with giant frogs with guns, UFOs, huge robots and mechanical war machines, and a ton of surprises in store that I just don't feel right spoiling.

Enemies from previous titles make their way into this entry, but there are plenty of unique aliens and monsters here to shock and confuse newcomers and keep veteran EDF soldiers interested.

Player customization

Have I mentioned this game has 1,000 weapons yet? Yes, one thousand weapons that you can use these across four classes.

The versatile Ranger, a ground troop with a huge variety of weapon capabilities. The Wing Diver, an elite female soldier specializing in aerial combat and plasma weapons. The Air Raider, a support troop with a wealth of multiplayer-oriented weaponry and gadgets. Last but not least is the Fencer, which trades easy mobility for its own brand of alien destruction, requiring practice and a steel will.

Each class can equip a set number of weapons and support items at a time. Rangers get two weapons and one support equip, Wing Divers get the same number. Air Raiders get three weapons and have a dedicated vehicle slot. Fencers can equip four weapons simultaneously and have two slots for support equipment.

The support equipment slots are new to the series and add a great deal of variety to your loadout. Though each class is locked to its own weapons, that's still 1,000 weapons spread across just four classes.

The caveat here is that some weapons are prototypes, or lesser versions of the more powerful ones you get later in the game or at higher difficulties. Logically, this makes the variety only a little less impressive than it seems.

Nonetheless, there are a huge number of customization combinations for each class. It's very easy for a player to find a class that suits their playstyle and then spend a great deal of time trying out different weapon loadouts to find what works best for certain types of stages.

If you're not new to the series, it's worth noting that the classes have seen some changes from 4.1.

Rangers now have innate access to some vehicles, which used to be Air Raider-exclusive. Air Raiders now have fewer vehicles to choose from, but more versatility overall.

The Wing Diver weapon array has changed quite a bit, with the new style focusing on charging weapons before firing. Though there are some Wing Diver weapons that do not require charging, such as the classic Rapier and a handful of others, most of the best do.

Getting used to charging takes time, but once you get the hang of it and get some better support gear that allows for faster energy replenishment, you'll be running out of energy much less often than in previous games. It does take a while to get used to, however.

I'm not sure how the Fencer has changed since I pretty much just stick to Wing Diver with a side of Air Raider.


So, it's a shooter where you shoot a whole bunch of aliens, right? Right.

Between its 110 offline stages, Earth Defense Force 5 challenges players to learn to survive and kill kill kill the alien menace. Decidedly more difficult than Earth Defense Force 4.1, the new enemies, A.I., and class changes are all balanced around giving you a hard time.

Swarms of those rambling giant frogs (I hate them so much) will pincer you and make you rethink your strategy; those red UFOs will make you exit a mission and change up your entire weapon loadout out of frustration; and the kaiju (giant monster) fights later in the game might make you poop yourself. It's a struggle, I tell ya.

While you may get frustrated, your fellow A.I. EDF soldiers will continue to put on a brave face and crack jokes. Throughout the entire game, you're being fed cheesy lines from both your superiors over radio and the soldiers nearby.

Story dialogue is stilted and perfectly suited to the overall C-grade movie feel, which sets the tone perfectly for this sort of game. You're not really meant to take it seriously and the game is perfectly happy to remind you of that with every piece of story dialogue. I also really enjoy the news broadcast jingle, it's an unexpectedly cheerful highlight that gives me a little chuckle.

Your comrades on the ground are also pretty talkative, more so than ever before. Listening to them bring up their regular problems or crack jokes about the situation keeps things lighter in tone and makes you feel like you're in a unit. They'll also sing with you if you start belting out the EDF theme via the emote menu -- which is great, but I'm tired of my husband spamming it.

Keep that in mind if you want to piss off your co-op partner.

Speaking of co-op, Earth Defense Force 5 can be played entirely in local splitscreen or online if you so choose. You can choose to play alone, but the game is more fun and easier to handle if you play with someone else.

Grinding to victory

You're not only grinding up aliens and giant insects in EDF 5, you're also grinding for weapons and armor.

Enemies drop weapons, armor, or health upon death. Accumulating armor (HP) and bulking up your weapons array is the game's primary progression outside of clearing missions. You really want to pick up those green and red boxes.

One change from the previous games is how loot works in multiplayer. Previously, if a player picked up a weapon, it would always be a weapon their class could use. However, the weapons you pick up now will be split between each class, with a much heavier emphasis on weapons for the classes used in a mission.

So if you're playing co-op with Ranger and Wing Diver and your Ranger picks up all the weapons, you'll still get weapons for both classes and probably two or three for Fencer and Air Raider as well.

The new loot system does take away the one competitive aspect of multiplayer, which I'm not going to complain about. Now there's no more arguing over who's picked up more weapon boxes -- that's saved me an argument or five already, believe me.

Unlike 4.1, you do have to clear a mission in a particular difficulty before the next one unlocks. You can skip Easy mode, but you must do a mission in Normal before Hard unlocks, and you must complete a mission on Hard to play it on Inferno.

Inferno mode is where things get cranked up to 12, rather than the game's usual 11. As the default endgame, Inferno mode grants powerful weapons you wouldn't be able to get on lower difficulties while throwing challenges at you far beyond what Hard mode provides.

Getting to this mode and being able to do it for more than a mission or two requires a significant grind for armor and weapons in Hard mode. As with other EDF games, this means choosing missions ideal for farming limitless enemies for drops.

You don't actually have to do any of this, though. As there are 110 missions to play through offline, Earth Defense Force 5 is long enough as it is; it will take a few dozen hours to clear all of the missions on Normal mode. Most players will tackle Hard mode on some missions for drops, but Inferno is probably beyond what most people are willing or able to put up with. It takes a long time, and it's not an easy journey to get there.

Visuals & Slowdown

This is an EDF game, okay. There's going to be slowdown.

Since the game likes to throw dozens upon dozens of enemies at you at a time -- not to mention the absolute giant enemies that come to be regulars later in the game -- there is plenty of slowdown in many segments of the game. There's a ton of stuff going on, far more than you see at a time in most other titles.

Graphically, it looks a bit better than its predecessors. Aliens and monsters spew multicolored blood all over the environment, and they show signs of wear after being shot at but not killed. I really like how rain looks in some stages as well.

The game is not all that special graphically, but the improved performance over 4.1 is a huge boon. There is significantly less slowdown than 4.1 even in times of great chaos, though there's no stopping the chugging once you've got a dozen explosions going off in your immediate vicinity.

Enemy limbs can be blown off as well, which is a first for the Earth Defense Force series. You don't notice it much with the giant insects, but you definitely do with larger enemies like the frog aliens. It is satisfying.

  • 110 missions to shoot your way through
  • Humorous C-grade movie dialogue and story
  • More weapons and sub-equipment than you can shake a stick at
  • Easy to understand and jump into co-op
  • The enemy A.I. is sometimes really stupid (UFOs just bumping into buildings like they've got nothing better to do, for example)
  • Online progress is separate from local progress
  • Some missions are tedious or flat out boring

Earth Defense Force 5 is easily one of the best co-op games on the PlayStation 4, without a doubt. The sheer amount of customization, playtime, and fun to be had in EDF 5 is undeniable.

If you want a co-op game on the PlayStation 4 you can just sit down and play for a mission or two or 15 at a time, you could do a lot worse than Earth Defense Force 5. Heck, if you just want a hectic straightforward shooter with a ton of customization to play on your own, this is still a good bet.

Though some gamers may prefer a more serious shooter or narrative-centric title, that's not what this series strives for or should be. Here you are an EDF recruit rising to a hero, doing whatever it takes to stomp out the alien menace before it eradicates mankind. It just so happens, "whatever it takes" translates to 110 missions of "pew pew pew"ing, and that's totally fine.

Once you've played Earth Defense Force 5, there is no going back. Make sure to turn off Camera Effects in the Options menu, though.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Earth Defense Force 5 used in this review.]

Mutant: Year Zero Review: A Grittier, More Accessible X-COM Fri, 07 Dec 2018 11:23:37 -0500 Tim White

X-COM has garnered a fiercely loyal fan base and cemented a reputation for itself as an intricate and challenging turn-based strategy title. It's just too bad that its RNG system is absolute horseshit.

Mutant: Year Zero clearly draws strong inspiration from X-COM, but it definitely has its own identity. It's dark and gritty, yet punctuated with well-timed laughs. It's easy to learn, hard to master. Developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting clearly put lots of TLC into it, and the result is a polished, balanced turn-based strategy game that would make a great holiday gift for fans of the genre, even if it's not the holidays.


Note: As of this writing, the reviewer has not fully completed the main story.

For me, post-apocalypse tales are extremely hit or miss. They tend to spring from some variation on the premise that humans are a disease infecting the planet and/or that we're all scumbags that will inevitably destroy everything, and frankly, I'm way beyond tired of that outlook.

Mutant: Year Zero takes place in a world ravaged by a number of calamities, at least some of which are implied to be humanity's fault. Regular humans are fairly uncommon; most people have been subjected to varying degrees and forms of mutations, some of which are more useful than others.

I haven't yet progressed far enough into the story to know for sure what caused the initial armageddon—or if that's even relevant—but at the very least, Mutant: Year Zero doesn't seem to exude the same brand of childish nihilism often found in other post-apocalypse stories.

Not far into the game, it's revealed that an important person has gone missing from one of the last human(ish) cities. He's a smart guy and generally well-liked, so Bormin and Dux, your first playable Stalkers, volunteer to go find him. They pick up other mutants with common goals along the way, battling through thieves, thugs, and wildlife as they go.

I've made decent progress into the game, but not far enough to know exactly where the story is going, so for now, I'll describe my impression of the narrative's tone and content as "cautiously optimistic."


Mutant's real claim to fame is its unique blend of real-time and turn-based combat. Every enemy encounter throughout the game is heavily influenced by how well you understand and balance these two systems.

As we mention in our strategy guide for the game, stealth is mandatory in this game. Outside of combat, the action unfolds in real time. One button orders your currently-selected squad member into cover, while another splits the party and allows each member to move around independently. Picking great positions for each character based on their strengths and weaknesses is key to a successful ambush, which is in turn essential to victory.

X-COM is punishing but in a kind of unfair, frequently douchey way. Mutant is much more consistent and transparent. If you find yourself staring at a "Game Over" screen, it's almost always your fault.

The game lets you know right from the outset that you won't last long without sneakiness and planning, but it also rewards you when you play along and do things the right way. 50% shots actually do connect roughly half the time, and the sting of an embarrassing defeat is soothed by the knowledge that, as long as you take your time, you can inflict equally brutal punishment on your enemies.

My only real complaint about the gameplay is that it's just a tad simplistic. Each character has their own unique skill tree, which is great, but there are only a handful of skills to choose from. More variety in tactical options would have been nice, but don't misunderstand—what's here is done very well. I'd much rather have a simpler experience that works great than muddle through a complex series of mechanics that aren't fully fleshed out.


Much like its gameplay elements, Mutant's visuals are a bit lacking in variety, but they are nonetheless well done. Environments, in particular, are rather samey. You can only wander through so many collapsed tunnels and overgrown forests before you begin to yearn for something else to look at.

Character models are a little bit low-res and polygonal, but this strikes me as more of an aesthetic choice than a lack of competence. Giving the character models a rougher, boxier appearance jives nicely with the game's general vibe of a wild, desperate landscape outside the city walls.

Weapon models also deserve special praise for their inventiveness. Most ranged weapons are slapped together with duct tape, and one rifle looks to be sporting half of a pair of binoculars as a scope. The prospect of firing them is utterly terrifying, further enunciating just how primitive life has become.

Sound & Music

While Mutant is certainly not a boring game, its sound design is less than thrilling. Voice acting is competent, but not stellar, and on occasion, certain lines of dialogue sound flat or stilted. Dux is especially hard to listen to at times. His voice actor comes across as though he's only kind of trying to sound like a duck; he should either fully commit to Donald Duck mode or just talk normally.

Weirdly enough, random enemy chatter is usually conveyed by better voice actors than the main protagonists. Human and mutant enemies bicker, scream, and grumble in a wide range of voices ranging from silly to deeply threatening.

Music is even more uninspiring. I enjoy and pay close attention to soundtracks, but for the life of me, I mostly can't recall any of the music in Mutant once I'm not actively listening to it. I eventually decided to just turn the in-game music off and listen to some somber battle tunes in the background.

Sound effects are not much better, either. Gunshots are kind of empty and boring, as are many other ambient sounds.

Fortunately, Mutant's lackluster sound design is not reflective of the overall experience.


The game's hardware specifications are relatively modest by modern standards, recommending at least a GTX 970 and 8GB of RAM for best performance. On a GTX 1080 and a Skylake i-7700 CPU, Mutant runs flawlessly and has no trouble maintaining frame rates above 80 on max settings.

I'm approximately 15 hours into the game and I've experienced no crashes or obvious bugs. It's not especially resource hungry as far as I can tell, and I wouldn't expect any but the most bare-bones budget rigs to struggle.

  • Well-balanced gameplay is challenging but fair
  • General aesthetic is engaging and has flair
  • It just works—no major technical problems
  • Boring music and sound effects
  • Tiresome, depressing "humans suck" narrative premise
  • Skills and tactics are somewhat lacking in variety

It's nice to see carefully crafted turn-based strategy games years after their last major heyday. Mutant: Year Zero isn't groundbreaking in most respects, but it's much more good than bad, and it's refreshing when developers clearly loved making the game they're now asking you to buy. Its launch price of $34.99 is more than fair for what you get.

Mutant: Year Zero is available now for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Mutant Year Zero used in this review.]

Fallout 76 Review: An Exciting Experiment Thu, 06 Dec 2018 13:45:34 -0500 Synzer

Fallout 76 is different from previous Fallout games in a big way -- multiplayer. It seems very clear to me that this is the main focus and selling point of the game, so everyone should keep that in mind when reviewing and reading reviews.

I, and many other fans of the series, have wanted to be able to play co-op/multiplayer in a Fallout game. For people like me this was a dream come true when it was announced. Although multiplayer is a huge part of this game, you can still play solo.

There is more to this game and some changes that don't only apply to only multiplayer, so I've taken all of that into account when I came up with my thoughts, and score, of Fallout 76

What I Liked


It should be no surprise this is first on my list and easily my favorite thing about this game. I'm the kind of person that enjoys single player games, but think about how I'd have even more fun if I could play it cooperatively with another player.

Fallout is no exception.

The ability to play through the whole game with one or more friends is so fun and adds much more depth when deciding how to build your character. In previous games I might make multiple characters to see different things.

For example, if I want to hack terminals, I need to have a high Intelligence stat. If I do this, I'm missing out on other things I could do. If I play with friends though, somebody can choose to have a high Intelligence stat to hack the terminals, and the other players can do other things to cover what's missing.

It's fun to plan out things and compliment each other to survive the world of Fallout. I realize that this only applies to those that play with a dedicated group of friends, but it is still a cool concept.

It also makes exploration easier and more enjoyable. If I go up against a tough enemy alone, I might have some trouble. If I do it with a friend or two, it will be much easier. We can also search areas more thoroughly and take less time doing so.

Perk and Building System

fallout 76 perk cards

I like that perks are in cards now. This allows you to get many different perks, but also lets you swap them out. If you decide you don't want a perk anymore, or don't see anything you want at the time, that's fine! You can just put a different perk on, so you have much more flexibility.

Building is very similar to how it was in Fallout 4, but now you can put your base nearly anywhere you want, and even move it at will.

You can also save a layout to a blueprint so that you can easily build again if you move, though this feature doesn't always work the way I'd like it. Depending on how you set it up, it can be hard to find another location with the same terrain so that you can actually fit the blueprint in the area.  

Getting Power Armor and other useful items

I love how you can get power armor early in the game, even if you can;t use the armor pieces until later. Power Armor is definitely one of the coolest items you can acquire in Fallout, so it's nice to have them in abundance.

Since this is an online game, things respawn, so that makes getting power armor and other great items even easier.

Events and other Randomness

Events are fantastic because they give you a constant stream of things to do when you aren't doing the main or side quests. They will just popup in an area and you have a limited time to complete them.

Letting players fast travel to these events, and giving rewards to everyone in the area, is a great way to put players in contact with each other. I do see instances where some players could just leech off of others, but it is still a good system.

There are also so many cool moments that can happen since it is an online game. You might meet someone having trouble on a quest or a certain enemy, then jump in to help them. You might be minding your own business in your C.A.M.P. then get attacked out of nowhere by a group of players trying to take your stuff.

The amount of spontaneity this game allows gives the game the potential to last a long time for multiplayer-oriented players who want to play the game in less of a rush.

What I Didn't Like

Carrying Weight and Stash

I think things weigh too much in this game. This causes me to go back to C.A.M.P. or find random stations more than I'd like and makes the game feel more like an inventory simulator at times.

Bethesda has already announced plans to increase player stash, which helps, but my real problem is the player carrying weight. This causes some players to feel like they need to invest in Strength, certain power armors, or perks just to make the game less tedious.

fallout 76 power armor chassis

Lonely Atmosphere

It's almost funny how even though this is a multiplayer Fallout, it feels more empty and alone than previous games. The lack of living NPCs really makes the game feel more empty than anything.

All your interactions are through notes or recordings, and anyone you  do end up finding probably already died a while ago. Now, I haven't seen every single thing in the game -- but it doesn't look like I'll be running into another human that isn't a player anytime soon.

Solo play and Lag/Freezing

I must admit that even though I love the multiplayer aspect of the game, I do not enjoy playing the game solo. Sure you can do it, there's perks for being solo, but it just isn't much fun like it was in previous games.

The fact that it is online, even when playing solo, makes it a struggle to play at times. I need to logout of the game anytime I 'm going to be away for even a few minutes because my hunger and thirst bar will deplete. Then, I'm going to use more items than I need, just to keep my character functional.

I've also run into lag and freezing multiple times while trying to play through. One time I saw an enemy and went to engage, but the game stuttered for about ten seconds.

When it smoothed out, I found myself being attacked by three enemies. If this was a dangerous area, that could have meant I was dead without anyway to defend myself.

The game completely froze multiple times as well and I was forced to shut the game down and restart it. The good thing is that the game auto saves and you won't lose progress, but it is still frustrating, especially if I'm in the middle of an event with a  group of strangers.

Final Verdict

I think this is an enjoyable Fallout experience, but one very tailored to playing with others. It is a decent enough game to play solo, but I don't think many people will enjoy it if they never play multiplayer.

fallout 76 photo mode

My honest opinion is that if you don't want to play multiplayer, you probably won't like Fallout 76.

However, if you really enjoy playing co-op and have always wanted to play Fallout with others, this is the game for you.

Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse Review Thu, 06 Dec 2018 10:41:34 -0500 ElConquistadork

With a name that reads like a Brit complaining about his gaming hardware (just read it out loud in an accent if you don't believe me), and a logo that seems to whisper malevolently "we know," the Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse gets lots of bonus points for marketing itself to the youthful gamers out there who are most interested in showing off the flashing lights and hard edges of their computer setup.

Sadly, for the gamer who's looking for more under the hood, Bloody responds with an overwhelming "meh."

I will say right off the bat that the SP80 feels good to play with. The textures on the mouse are varied, which sounds like it would be annoying, but it seems pretty well thought-out. The top of the mouse has a nice soft-touch feel to it, while the left and right wall panels are more textured, allowing for a nice grip. The bottom of the mouse is laid out with four metal feet (as opposed to rubber or plastic ones you'll see on less gaming-focused mice) that make movements feel smooth. The roller functionality is smooth. It's all smooth.

Beyond that, I'm afraid, there's not much to recommend about the Blood SP80. The macro functions and thumb click buttons are perfectly adequate. Bloody themselves promise 1:1 response times, but it felt absolutely no different from most gaming-centric mice I've used in the past. This would be all there was to say about that, if it weren't for my left mouse button suddenly double-clicking automatically. This is particularly amusing considering the fact that Bloody's marketing material for this mouse in particularly proudly proclaims that it has "anti double click" technology. At this rate, the 10 million click performance I've also been promised has been effectively cut in half.

Even with this bug in the hardware, it's not like I have a ton to complain about when it comes to the Blood SP80. But I don't have anything that gets me excited, either. After playing several games with this mouse, its proclamations of tech-marketing words like "Light Strike Optical Switches" feel like just more terminology for the same old stuff. 

I think when you look into Bloody's other mice (there are literally dozens of them, and outside of their shells they seem fairly identical), you start to understand the hook: a sense of quantity over quality. There are so many different Bloody mice to choose from, and they're black and red and have skulls and say "Headshot!" and stuff like that. 

Call me a cynic, but the Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse feels like another example of form over function.

[Note: Bloody provided the SP80 Bleeding Edge used in this review]

Available on Amazon for $59.99.

Just Cause 4 Review: A Little Under the Weather Tue, 04 Dec 2018 13:01:13 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Editor's note 12/5/18: We originally rated Just Cause 4 a 7/10. However, after a few more hours of play, sleeping on it, and deciding that "fun" just couldn't salvage the game from some of the more glaring issues put forth in this review, we have decided to push the overall score to a 6/10. The original review follows.

Since its announcement, Square Enix has put a lot of effort into making us believe that Just Cause 4 sits at the pinnacle of open-world, sandbox action games. Words like “groundbreaking” and phrases like “best in class” have been used to describe its gameplay and redesigned engine in ads and dev diaries from the start.

It's true that it’s a step forward in a series predicated on schticky storylines, explosive combat, and glorious B-movie action. But on the other side of the coin, it’s a sideways step that keeps the franchise from realizing the mammoth potential in Avalanche's new Apex engine.

Regrettably, it appears someone didn’t look up the definition of groundbreaking before slapping it on the game’s marketing materials; and while “best in class” isn’t a complete misnomer, it does belie the true nature of what the game's new engine can achieve.

That's all to say that this game could be more.

However, that’s not to say Just Cause 4 is a bad game. It’s also not to say Just Cause 4 is a boring game. In fact, it’s quite a good game, and it’s quite a fun game, especially by the standards already set by the series itself. It's simply not what one would call "groundbreaking."

If you’re familiar with the overall franchise, JC4’s conceit is a recognizable one. Once again, revolutionary-for-hire Rico Rodriguez is out to dispose of a dastardly dictator who is, once again, subjugating a remote island nation under an iron fist and a couple of billion soldiers. Of course, said dictator also has aspirations of world domination (don't they all?) and one nasty WMD to prove it.

In this case, the appropriately over-the-top agent of destruction is Project Illapa, a weapon that controls Solis' weather. Illapa generates destructive storms at will, ranging from tornadoes to sandstorms to blizzards. It reeks of Bond film McGuffin, but it’s a plot device true to the hyperbolic nature of the series, and one that moves the overarching story forward if you’ve been following along from the start of the series.

Although mostly well-written in an action-movie sort of way and at times, somewhat stimulating, the story in Just Cause 4 will (unsurprisingly) win few awards for originality or narrative resonance -- even though it tries harder to do so than previous installments.

In what might be one of its glaring faults, Just Cause 4 doesn’t embrace its own quirky nature, instead opting for a more serious tone that bullies Rico’s quips and fourth-wall camera winks into the dark corner on the other side of the room.

Whereas Just Cause 3 had Mario Frigo and Just Cause 2 had Baby Panay, Just Cause 4 has no one to lighten the mood and bridge the gap between the tone found in the story and the one found in its gameplay. 

Fortunately, we’re not here for the story. Instead, we’re here to blow shit up, something Just Cause 4 does very well. 

From the game’s opening moments, it’s clear the island nation of Solis has been irreparably shaped by The Black Hand, its leader, and Project Illapa. As a career despot-deposer, it’s Rico’s job to aid the island’s insurrectionists in their quest for freedom. 

Wresting control of the game’s regions is a little different this time around, though. Whereas Chaos still plays a large role in subduing areas of the map, Just Cause 4 introduces a new Frontline system that adds a bit of strategy and complexity to the mix, even if the enemy never pushes back or retakes territory once you've attained it.

When you first start out, you immediately have access to the entire map. However, venturing outside of the small area initially controlled by the rebellion will be difficult since The Black Hand has an overwhelming presence in outlying regions.

As you blow up structures and Black Hand vehicles, you get Chaos points, which vary in value based on the size and power of the structure or vehicle destroyed. The bigger the structure or more powerful the vehicle, the more Chaos points you get.

After you’ve collected enough points and leveled up your Chaos meter, you’re rewarded with squads, groups of freshly recruited rebels. You don’t control these squads outright, but instead use them to annex territory via the Frontline system, which is akin to the hex-based annexation system found in strategy games like Civilization and Endless Legend just with less strategy and no one fighting back. 

To acquire a new region, you need to have a Frontline touching the region and enough squads to take it over. But that’s after you’ve completed the Region Strike within the area you want to take over.

Region Strikes are essentially mandatory side missions -- completing them is a requirement to take over regions and progress in the game, but they aren’t story missions in and of themselves. They are always centered around a large, well-defended Black Hand facility, and most objectives involve freeing rebels, sabotaging Black Hand equipment, stealing some type of intel, or defending some important object.

These missions could simply be labeled "Find Terminals and Defend" since most of the gameplay falls into the rote repetition of "find, enable, defend, find ..." over and over again. 

After you’ve completed one Region Strike in an area, established a Frontline in an adjacent area, and caused enough Chaos to get the squads you need, you can annex it and push back the Black Hand to make exploration easier and stunts less hectic.

Bringing more regions under the influence of the rebellion not only extends the friendly play area, but it also gives you goodies like new weapons and vehicles. Some areas even provide stackable buffs that decrease your supply drop cooldown, meaning one or all of the game’s seven unlockable pilots can continually send guns and ammunition your way, ramping up the mayhem and chaos.

On a very basic level, primary guns like assault rifles, submachine guns, and rifles are mostly interchangeable in many situations. I never found myself actively seeking out a specific weapon in my 19 hours with the game because traversing from one point to another with the grappling hook is so fluid. Switching from an assault rifle to a sniper rifle just isn’t as economical as quickly grappling to the top of a tower and pulling the trigger on a camping sniper.

Rocket launchers and grenade launchers are still powerful and useful in their own right, even if they're still unreliable against moving targets or targets you want to kill right away (I’m looking at you, grenade launcher). New weapons like the lightning gun and wind gun might be niche, but they're a hell of a lot of fun to play with and add memorable variety that the other guns don’t necessarily provide.

The biggest change to the game’s weapons, however, comes in the form of secondary fire, which makes up for the dip in the number of weapons available in the game (down to 19 in JC4 from 30 in JC3). While every weapon doesn’t have a unique auxiliary fire, there are enough options to go around that help you remember to switch things up. 

For example, the SMG fires small tactical missiles while one assault rifle can launch grenades and another can spawn free-roaming drones that attack enemies on site. The lightning gun’s secondary might be the most dynamic, though, in that it ionizes the air and creates a lightning storm in the nearby area. 

Gone from Just Cause 3 are pistols and revolvers, throwables like grenades, and dual-wielding. None of these are terribly missed, though, as the game’s other weapons and items more than make up for their absence.

The star of the show is the grappling hook. Just Cause wouldn’t be Just Cause without it, and with all of the changes made to JC4, it’s good to see that the grappling hook we all know and love remains mostly the same.

You can use it to catapult yourself into the air, climb towers (or mountains) in a single bound, and Scorpion yourself over to an enemy for a swift kick in the chest. Getting from one side of a base to another is often fastest using the grappling hook. Why drive or fly when you can zip?

But the most interesting part about the grappling hook is that the (very) light upgrade system found in Just Cause 3 has gotten a relatively detailed makeover for the sequel. Now, instead of going to a single character for upgrades based on story missions, you’re able to upgrade your grappling hook by completing stunts, challenges, and side quests from three unlockable NPCs, each of which provides a specific upgrade tree with unique mods.

For example, one tree allows you to tether balloons to any object or person, sending them floating off into the stratosphere; another mod tree allows you to attach booster rockets to anything, sending person or object zipping off in a swoosh or spinning uncontrollably like a death-dealing dervish; and another mod tree allows you to pull two objects together with explosive force or open doors that weigh several tons.

Smartly, Just Cause 4 doesn’t wait too long to give you access to the base mods for all three tether types as all three NPCs have available missions almost at the start.

As you complete missions for these NPCs, you’ll get points specific to each of them. Finish enough missions, complete enough challenges, or perform enough stunts, and you’ll unlock further modifications that allow further customization, such as increased launch force, situational tether strength, and directional rocketing.

The customization options are vast and granular, opening up new and creative ways for patient and inventive players to come up with some truly zany combinations. Even if you’ll probably never use more than the base mods in most situations, it's nice to have customizable options that allow for hours of tangential, creative rabbit-holing. 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Just Cause 4 is the vaunted weather system. Built up to be the game’s golden calf, it's simply a letdown. 

I admit that I went into the game thinking the new Apex engine would allow dynamic storms to influence locales and combat on a fluid, any-second-now basis. Based on the hype around the game -- and what’s been shown off before release by Avalanche and Square Enix -- I’d bet I’m not the only one with those not-so-lofty hopes and expectations.

Unfortunately, weather is mostly relegated to set pieces. And while those set pieces can be awesome examples of what Apex can do, they don’t much impact the world of Just Cause 4 on a moment-to-moment basis.

As you progress through the story and gain control of a few Black Hand weather facilities, you can summon storms at any moment -- but only in that immediate region and only if you trek up to the lone terminal in the middle of the far-away facility and activate it.

When storms do show up in-game (which I only ran into two storms I could call "organic" in 19 hours), they're more aggravating than they are cool. Dodging hundreds of bullets and lightning at the same time turns everything up to 11 in the most frustrating ways possible. Trying to see through dense clouds of sand while a hundred dead-eye soldiers fill you full of lead deflates the power fantasy you've worked so hard to create.

Something that was meant to make Just Cause 4 off-the-rails insane is instead relegated to the mundanity of "Mission XYZ". I suppose random storms could be irritating in their own right, but the magic Avalanche had in mind is completely lost when in your control or stuck in only one corner of the world. 

To this point, I haven't mentioned the game's graphics at all. That's because, like its weather system, JC4's graphics are sometimes disappointing and wildly inconsistent. Although Square acknowledged that the potato-tier cutscenes in the early review build would be fixed upon release, they didn't mention anything about erratic performance in regards to water, shadows, and level of detail. 

Speaking with several colleagues, I found I wasn't the only one experiencing less-than-stellar optics on both PC and console. Although there may be an incoming patch that will fix these issues, they are worth mention in the meantime. 

I'm running the game on a pretty beefy rig (i7-7700k, GTX 1080 8GB, and 32 GB RAM); that's above the recommended requirements on the game's Steam page. However, water still looks splotchy and muddy in places, shadows rip and move unpredictably in almost every occurrence, and the overall level of detail unreliably shifts based on locale and region. 

For example, the water in the opening jungle area looks like nothing more than an uncomfortably undulating sea of mud -- there's very little form to it and from certain angles, individual pixels can be seen from some distance. However, along the coast, things are considerably better, with water looking particularly crisp and colorful as it transitions out of shallows to deep water and back.

But even then, there are areas that look as if they're covered with a worn blue tarp, devoid of any real detail other than "I know that's water because coast." 

It also took some tweaking to get shadows looking just... OK. While the jagged shadows of overhanging trees are troublesome, things become overly bothersome with the unnatural shadows on Rico's character model, as well as the splotchy shadows created from smoke, explosions, aircraft, and more. 

For a game that's historically pretty darn beautiful, it's disappointing to see that the PC version is poorly optimized from the start. If Avalanche releases a patch that fixes these issues, I'll amend this part of the review to reflect such a course correction. 

  • Solid mechanics and controls
  • Increased tether customizability
  • Frontline adds depth to territory acquisition
  • Explosions, glorious explosions
  • Weather system doesn't live up to hype
  • Inconsistent graphics on both console and PC
  • Larger shift toward serious storytelling 
  • Irritatingly repetitive missions

Your main takeaway should be this: Just Cause 4 is a fun game and worth your attention if you're a fan of the series. In many ways, this could be called Just Cause 3.5, as it exhibits many of that game's best qualities. 

Unfortunately, a poorly executed weather system, inconsistent graphics plagued by pop-in, and a story that takes itself too seriously keep Rico's latest adventure from achieving its full potential. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Just Cause 4 used in this review.] 

Solbot: Energy Rush - A Colorful Journey Toward Energy Sustainability Mon, 03 Dec 2018 11:50:36 -0500 Allison M Reilly

In Solbot: Energy Rush, the player is a robot named Solbot who is on a space mission to collect renewable energy for humankind. The player accomplishes this mission by collecting brightly colored orbs in each of the game's 50 levels. Touch the wrong orb, and the player dies and has to restart the level. However, players will find plenty of help along the way in power ups and neat facts about energy sustainability.

Released in July 2018, this mobile game from indie game studio Freakout Games combines easy-to-learn gameplay with bright colors and an honorable mission. Solbot: Energy Rush is an entertaining casual game to play to help pass the time.

Good Difficulty Curve, Great Use of Color

The game's mechanics are simple enough, but can take a little time to get used to. Players move Solbot left or right by tapping on either the left or right side of Solbot. The game doesn't utilize a drag or pull to move the character, which is different but it doesn't affect the quality or difficulty of the game.

By tapping and moving right or left, players make their way through each level collecting the orbs corresponding to Solbot's color. Solbot changes color after each level. In each level, the orbs corresponding to Solbot are also indicated with a gold ring, making them easier to spot.

The difficulty in Solbot: Energy Rush curves nicely, starting simple at first. As levels pass, the arrangement of the orbs become more complex and the player needs to collect more orbs to complete the level. However, every 10 levels, the game introduces a new power up that makes collecting orbs easier, such as the magnet, which pulls all the right colored orbs to Solbot. The power ups appear on the screen among the orbs, and part of the gameplay is collecting the power up without running into any wrong colored orbs.

Facts Need a Little More "Energy"

Freakout Games seeks to increase social awareness of various issues through its games. With Solbot: Energy Rush, various facts about energy sustainability are presented daily along with a free key to resume after a death. I like the facts idea, but the presentation makes it easy to ignore the fact and just claim the free key.

Instead, it would've been cooler to present the facts either as a quiz. For example, instead of just sharing a fact with the free key, the fact could be presented as a multiple choice question. If the player picks the right answer, they receive two free keys. If they get it wrong, then they only receive the one. As a quiz, the player then has to read and interact with the information, which ultimately builds the awareness Freakout Games wants to achieve.

Overall, once players get the hang of the controls, Solbot: Energy Rush is fun game to open up when there's a few minutes to spare. There's enough challenge to keep folks interested, but not so much challenge to feel frustrating.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy: Reigniting a Franchise Tue, 27 Nov 2018 10:12:37 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Throughout my entire playthrough of Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, I couldn't help but smile.

Revisiting the original Spyro games with an adult mindset and beautiful HD graphics brought about a flood of nostalgia. I could vividly see myself, sitting on my bed, playing the original games on my PlayStation. I remembered the joys of exploring each unique level and showing off to my family what I had achieved.

I never thought I could ever feel such a deep, emotional response with the return of a cartoon-y purple dragon, but by God, did the Reignited Trilogy do that.

I had no doubt that the original Spyro Trilogy would hold up well, as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy proved PS1 classics could gain a second life in today's gaming world. Sure, there are some hang-ups that don't quite line up as they did in 1998, but Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is another example of why we need more platformers in an age that's filled with open-worlds. 

If you've never played Spyro, here's the gist of his first three games: 

  1. Spyro the Dragon has the titular character fighting against Gnasty Gnork, after the latter turns all of his dragon elders into stone.
  2. The Sequel, Ripto's Rage, has Spyro attempting to go on vacation when he's summoned by a Professor and his two friends to help fight against the titular Ripto and his henchmen.
  3. Finally, Year of the Dragon has an evil sorceress stealing dragon eggs, and Spyro must team up with a group of colorful animals to get the eggs back. 

I say all of that to say this: don't expect much in the way of in-depth story. This is, after all, a platformer. Don't expect something like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank level's of storytelling

However, the charming cast of characters you meet are filled with personality. From the Surfer-Dude like Hunter to the Greedy Moneybags, each of the characters is filled with well-defined characteristics. You'll even get a few chuckles from the various cutscenes that bookend each level. 

If you never played a Spyro game before, it may just come off as just another 3D platformer. You'll jump, glide, and collect to your heart's content. Your only means of attack includes fire breath and a charge attack to take down shielded and metallic enemies.

What made Spyro stand out from other '90s platformers was the emphasis on exploration. While the worlds you visit aren't quite as deep or complex as in something like Super Mario Odyssey, there's still a lot to do and collect in each of the worlds.

The first game, in particular, is all about collecting, as you'll spend most of your time exploring and looking for dragons. In the Reignited Trilogy, the guidebook you have has seen a noticeable upgrade from the original and now does a much better job of keeping track of the dragons and gems still left to collect.

Aside from a few dragons that are hidden in some obtuse places and will require some finesse platforming skills, the original Spyro is mostly a breeze to get through, taking around four hours to complete.

That being said, you can add an extra hour if you want to collect everything. It's a much simpler game when compared to the other two, but the platforming and "urge to collect everything" still holds up -- even by today's standards.

Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon, on the other hand, have aged even better and both feel like what the first game should've been.

Where the first game was a collect-a-thon, Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon are more about completing various tasks and mini-games, like skateboarding, jumping challenges, and "killing X enemies" in some sort of order. While a few mini-games that haven't aged as well, they're few and far between.

Ripto's Rage introduces power up's, like increased fire and charge damage, shooting fireballs, short-term flight, and more. It also introduces abilities like swimming, climbing, and other interesting moves that propel the game forward. Some level sections are in-accessible without them, encouraging you to replay old levels with your new movesets.

It all adds up to a much more varied and a meatier game, lasting longer than the original (though it can still be beaten in about six hours).

Year of the Dragon, meanwhile, continues to improve upon the foundations laid by its predecessors and has sections where you play as new characters, such as Shiela the Kangaroo, Sgt Bird, Agent Zero, and Bently the Yeti. Each brings a different and unique style of gameplay to the standard platforming, but they never feel out of place. 

None of this would mean anything if Spyro didn't control well.

Luckily, Spyro has always had simple-to-learn controls and the Reignited Trilogy keeps that going. Spyro moves just as silky-smooth as he did in 1998 and the added analog controls make for better movement. Save for a few instances where Spyro just barely missed where you wanted to go and somewhat stiff flight controls, all three games handle like a dream.

The only real misstep with the controls is the default camera mode. It's far too sluggish to keep up with the action, so I recommend going to the options and choose the alternative camera option. You'll thank me later.

The biggest update to Spyro is the new graphics. The Unreal Engine is put to great use in bringing the blocky, triangle characters and world of the original games to the HD world. It's a beautiful looking game with vibrant colors, excellent animations, and character models that do a great job of mixing new and old.

On a base PS4, the performance kept well, though some of the cutscenes had some noticeable slowdown and it'll take you out of the experience. While some have taken issue with the game's use of motion blur, I never found it to be a problem and thought it worked fine.

The audio is equally impressive, with series composer Stewart Copeland remaking all of the music from the original with a modern take. It sounds just as good as the originals, though you can change back to the original soundtrack if you're not a fan of the new arrangements.

On the voice acting, the game sees Tom Kenny, Greg Burger, Michael Gough and more reprising their roles. They all sound just as great as they did back in the late '90s and it's a nice piece of fan service to have them back. The newer voice actors also do good jobs, though a few characters start to sound too familiar to one another.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is another win from Activision. It manages to modernize what made the original Spyro games so memorable while staying to its roots. Some parts haven't aged as well, but it's a testament to how strong game design never ages.

Now that both Crash and Spyro have returned, I can't wait to see what the future holds for these two icons.

Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection Review -- Skip This Beat Tue, 27 Nov 2018 09:45:01 -0500 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Persona 4: Dancing All Night was the reason I got a PlayStation TV. Though the remote play rarely worked, the interface was laughable, and it required a first-party memory card to be functional, I was ecstatic to get my hands on the game. 


Needless to say, I was completely hooked from the first moment. 


Part of the reason is that the Persona series has always had amazing music courtesy of Shoji Meguro, but the remixes featured in P4D topped the originals consistently. Many of them are mainstays on my workout playlist (especially Yuu Miyake's remix of “NOW I KNOW.”) But that's not what made Persona 4: Dancing All Night a great game.


What really made it stand out in a crowded genre was the fact that it featured a 20+ hour story mode, full of all of the twists, turns, and emotional climaxes that the mainline series is known for. It was unlike anything I had ever played, halfway between a visual novel and a rhythm game. I loved it, and it made grinding tracks to unlock costumes and songs insanely fun.


It's no surprise that I was so excited to review the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection that I pestered my editor about it weekly for months on end.


I mention this only to say that if you were/are planning on buying the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection because you expected Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight to offer the same depth as 4, you'll be sorely disappointed.


Let's Dance

For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, the Persona series of rhythm games are spin-offs of the mainline Persona games, taking place after the events of the main game of which they're numbered.


The controls are fairly simple and will feel natural to anyone who's played a button-based rhythm game before; simply tap or hold buttons to the beat, flicking the joystick to boost your score with optional scratches. You're also rewarded for hitting special “Fever” notes -- if you manage to hit three, you'll see a special partner dance sequence and really boost your score.


At higher levels, this really gets challenging in terms of visual stimulus -- there's a lot going on.


This is where things get a little wonky with the scoring system as well -- depending on where a gauge is by the time you end the song, you might not clear the track. This is super frustrating because it means that if you're looking to clear a song, the only thing that really matters is nailing the last third of it.


You could have a full combo going and then miss four notes at the end and fail the track, then miss 50 notes during the first half of the song and clear it if you're able to pull it together by the end.


The main draw of the rhythm portions is in the dancing sequences that play out as you mash to the beat. Each track has bespoke choreography, and if you can split your attention enough to watch as Ryuji and Futaba bust a move together, you'll be rewarded.


There's obviously been a lot of effort put in, and it culminates in a couple of group tracks in each game that really shine.


The Music


I'll say this right now: if you're not a fan of the music in the Persona series, skip this game. Seriously. Close out of this review tab and read something else, maybe one of our wonderful Red Dead Redemption 2 guides or our review of Pokemon Lets GO Pikachu and Eevee


But if you're a fan, each game in the collection offers dozens of tracks, featuring impeccable remixes by the likes of DE DE MOUSE, Lotus Juice, and even Hideki Naganuma, the mad genius behind the soundtracks to the Jet Set Radio series.


As a collection, the soundtracks shine, but as three individual games, you'll likely come up wanting. Each game doesn't really have all that many songs on its own, and many of them are remixes of the same song. Both Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight only have 25 songs each, and that's paltry for a rhythm game -- even if many of the songs are brand new.


Anti-Social Link

Now, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, the paltry song list was excusable since the story mode was a sweeping, long, unexpected symphony that introduced each song as special, one with significance to the story.


Neither Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight or Persona 5: Dancing Star Night has that to fall back on since they have both axed the story mode entirely.


In their places are a brand-new “Social” tab, which is supposed to be reminiscent of how you build up social links in the Persona games.


It's a cute idea. As the player makes progress, unlocks achievements, and hits milestones in the game, they'll be able to see scenes between the player character and the other characters. As they progress, they can even go into their private dressing rooms and play a pathetically simple game of hide-and-seek. It's very fan-service-y, with characters reminiscing on the events of their games and what they've been up to or how they have changed since.


It's nice, but... why?


I mean, why have a freaking HIDE-AND-SEEK mini-game in a rhythm game based on a role-playing game that itself is based on the folklore of a thousand different cultures? Why did they cut the one function of Persona 4: Dancing All Night that separated it from other cookie-cutter mash-the-button rhythm games? Why am I getting more and more enraged as I write these words?


Okay, I'm going to go for a walk and calm down. Back soon.


The Verdict

It was snowing. The walk sucked. I'm still angry at these games.


Here's the problem with the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection. Rhythm games have already been perfected. Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band represent the Platonic ideal of what a rhythm game should be. Yes, you need accessories to play them, but the trade-off is a sublime feeling of flow when you perfect your technique, one where you can lose yourself in the music. It's perfect, and it's why I love rhythm games in the first place.


In order for a rhythm game without a specialized peripheral to offer a gameplay experience that even comes close to matching that feeling, it needs to offer some above-and-beyond gameplay hook. Many touchscreen-based rhythm games get around this issue by timing the music to touchscreen taps in a way that makes it seem like the player is actually playing the notes, as if they're cueing the music on a synthesizer or piano.


Persona 4: Dancing All Night got around this with a story mode that turned the game into something more than itself.


As I said before, at the time, I had never played anything quite like Persona 4: Dancing All Night. It was a visual novel with branching paths, a wonderful and heart-rending mystery, and a climax that had me at the edge of my seat. And to top it all off, the whole story dealt with the power of music, of one specific beautiful song that you're able to hear as the credits roll.


Sure, when you finish the story, you're not left with much to do other than chasing scores, unlocking the rest of a paltry tracklist, and playing dress-up, but the story mode excused all that.


Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night have no excuses. Despite the flash, they are both bare-bones experiences, and it's clear that the team couldn't bottle the same lightning they had for Persona 4: Dancing All Night. It's a shame, because bringing these games West was a pretty big deal for Atlus, riding on the massive success of Persona 5, and if the games under-perform, it doesn't bode well for a possible Persona 6 dancing game.


Having said that, the game mechanics work (with the exception of the weird gauge system,) and chasing scores is satisfying. It's also absolutely undeniable that the main draw here is in the music. It's all incredibly great, and the remixes do the originals justice. But without any kind of hook, without a story mode, without that draw, it's really hard to recommend Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night unless you're a rabid fan of the series who will be content playing and replaying the same tracks to unlock costumes for characters.


For everyone else, just wait for the soundtracks to show up on Spotify or Amazon, and save your time and money.


+Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a unique, must-play rhythm game, and playing it on the PS4 is a joy. 

+The soundtrack bangs. 


-Tracklists are shamefully short at 25 per game. 

-Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight both fail to include a compelling gameplay hook to motivate the player to play more.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection for the purposes of this review.]

Darksiders 3 Review: Perfectly Adequatesiders Edition Mon, 26 Nov 2018 14:04:38 -0500 Ty Arthur

Game hype is a funny thing when it comes to long-running series, especially those finally releasing a new entry. Sometimes you wait years and lose 100 hours of your life to Red Dead Redemption 2. Sometimes you wait years and get Duke Nukem Forever.

Smack dab in the middle of that spectrum is Darksiders 3, the long-awaited sequel where we finally get to play as Horseman Fury while the apocalypse ravages earth.

Not an actively terrible game and certainly not a great one either, this third entry is the textbook definition of a perfectly adequate, run-of-the-mill action title that doesn't particularly stand out in any way.

Returning To An Old Friend... Who Is Less Interesting Than You Remembered

Let's start with graphics and aesthetics.

Darksiders 3 maintains the Darksiders style with the same distinctive character design on full display -- well, for every character besides Fury, who just looks like a Marvel superhero most of the time. 

The locations where you battle demons, elementals, angels, and terrifying little cannibal fairy children are appropriately varied. You'll hack and slash your way through subway tunnels covered in egg clutches, ancient lava-filled catacombs, fungus-riddled caves, and overgrown apocalyptic skyscrapers.

The story unraveling between the whip cracking and sword slashing isn't really even worth mentioning. Fury is angry and wants to punch things, so she gets sent to Earth to hunt down the seven deadly sins. All of these demonic fisticuffs take place during the same time as the first game while War is trying to prove his innocence and before Death goes off on his fantasy adventure from the second game.

Fury is probably the least interesting of the four Horsemen so far, as her motivation boils down to, "I'm bored, let's fight". She weirdly goes from hating humanity and not caring if it is eradicated to trying to save all the adorable little babies so fast you'll get whiplash.

It's a mess, but you can't really expect much coherence from a universe that includes dwarves, magic users, demons, and a modern-day apocalypse all rolled into one setting.

Bare Bones Game Design

Apart from the visual style, Darksiders 3 sees a noticeable downgrade from the previous game. Nearly everything has been extremely simplified and boiled down to the series' base components.

Those addictive RPG elements that made Darksiders 2 stand out are mostly gone. Sometimes simplifying and removing unnecessary roleplaying mechanics make for a better experience (Mass Effect 2, anyone?) but here it really detracts from the overall gameplay.

Fury can utilize a few limited upgrades to her equipment that are mostly "deal more damage" or "heal a little over time." The main changes in style instead take place when you switch between different Hollow forms, going from fire to ice and so on.

Besides letting you access new areas, each form changes your attack type. With five very basic forms, there are far fewer overall options when compared to the wider variety of combos and weapon choices in the previous game.

This time around, you get three stats: health, damage, and "arcane," which is just the damage you deal while counter-attacking. I'm not sure why the developers tried to dress that up as somehow being a magic stat, because it most decidedly isn't.

But here we are. 

There were also repeated statements from the developer that Fury is more of a mage-focused ranged character, and that is also the clear and direct antithesis to what's found here. She's up-close melee through and through, just more fragile.

You won't start to notice it until bigger enemies show up about two hours in, but there's been a shift toward more of a Souls-style combat. Fury doesn't have stamina to manage, but she's super squishy and battle heavily revolves around memorizing attack patterns so you can counter at the right times instead of dying immediately.

There's one big, glaring, obvious problem in inserting that style of battle into a fast-paced action title -- it actually slows down combat, which is a terrible design choice for a combo-heavy action game.

You won't crash into a group of enemies with your chain-whips slashing wildly, trying to rack up 99 hits anymore. Instead, you'll cautiously go against one opponent at a time and wait for them to attack first so you can counter, doing your best to avoid groups of foes (who will quickly overwhelm you).

This change honestly feels like a culling of elements so the developers had to do less rather than implement changes that were actually needed.  For example, the minimap is entirely gone. In most cases that doesn't matter, because Darksiders 3 is much more linear and less open than its predecessor, so it quickly becomes a glaring problem. 

Most of the platforming -- an intricate part of the puzzle solving in Darksiders 2 -- is also completely gone. The few instances that remain aren't exactly awe-inspiring, and the timed puzzles combined with a finicky ledge grabbing system just aren't particularly fun.

The Verdict

If you are keen to continue the next part of the Darksiders saga, I'd recommend doing so on console, as this entry doesn't seem particularly well optimized for PC. The error message above before getting dumped back to my desktop was probably the most frustrating puzzle to overcome (something you shouldn't have to navigate on console). 

So now the big question is, "Is this game worth paying $60 for on release day?"The answer to that question is a big old hell no, son! 

At best, this is a weekend rental. It also seems like a pretty good bet Darksiders 3 will be free on Xbox via Games With Gold within a year or so and either on PS+ or PlayStation Now around the same time. 

Save your money and pick up something with better design unless you are the most diehard, obsessed Darksiders fan in existence.


+ Unique character designs remain interesting to gawk at
+ Varied atmosphere and style in levels
+ You get to kill tiny fairy cannibal children, angels, and demons all in one game


– Extremely bare bones weapon, stat, and upgrade systems
– Slow paced Souls-style combat doesn't improve the series at all
– Crashes and stutters frequently on PC version

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Darksiders 3 for the purposes of this review.]

Thief Simulator Review: Crime Kind of Pays Thu, 22 Nov 2018 11:00:03 -0500 Tim White

Simulators seem to be all the rage these days, and I must confess, I rarely understand the appeal. Most of them seem to be based on activities I can't imagine wanting to simulate for entertainment value.

Thief Simulator from developer Noble Muffins at least has a premise I can understand and — to some extent — appreciate. I love to make intricate plans and execute them sneakily.

I would obviously never steal anything in real life, but pretend digital crime? Bring it on.


Games that have the word "simulator" right in their titles generally don't have any sort of narrative, and that's fine. I can't very well assess an element that doesn't exist in Thief Simulator. Moving on!


There's an inherent downside to not having any sort of story in a video game: the gameplay is pretty much all that's left. Consequently, it had better be strong enough to hold players' attention for a while.

Is Thief Simulator's core gameplay loop sufficient to keep the whole ship afloat?

Kind of.

It's immediately clear upon starting the game that it doesn't have a huge budget. That's fine; I'm interested in what the developers have done with what they have, not what they might have done with what they don't have.

That being said, the content that's here is reasonably fun — there's just not all that much of it, and once you've seen it all, there's not much reason to go back. The developers regularly roll out new content in small batches, but it's unclear how much the game might grow over time.

You start with no skills and no tools (other than a less-than-subtle crowbar). Steal a few things, pawn them for cash, buy tools and skills with your profits, and then you can lift more expensive things that are more heavily guarded.

On occasion, a perfectly planned and executed heist can be ruined by technical issues, such as an inability to move onto certain surfaces while crouched or doors loudly slamming when you definitely pressed the button to close them quietly.

These problems aren't frequent, but they crop up often enough to merit a word of caution if you're on the fence about buying the game.

If homeowners catch you in the act, police will arrive swiftly, and if you get busted, it's back to the last checkpoint, which are only created when you rest in your car or leave the area, so there's some pressure to take your time and avoid notice.

However, that sense of caution has to be maintained largely through voluntary roleplay once you figure out that it's pretty easy to hide from the fuzz until they go away.

In short, Thief Simulator is only as immersive and challenging as you choose to make it. An optional "hard mode" extends the game's life somewhat by removing the mini-map and making NPCs more perceptive, but it's still ultimately up to the player to refrain from abusing the clumsy A.I. if they really want to play the game as it's meant to be played.


Thief Simulator won't be winning any awards in this department, but that's OK — graphics are too over-hyped these days anyway. I don't think its mildly clunky PS2-era aesthetic counts against it too heavily.

The UI is functional if a bit too crowded. A more minimalist and less distracting visual presentation would have helped maintain the immersion that the game relies so heavily on to create tension.

The display on your in-game computer is especially ugly, but at least it's easy to use.

Sound & Music

The music selection is limited to a half-dozen tracks or so, ranging from a handful of snazzy jazz tunes in your hideout to sparse dramatic strings during a heist.

Most of it is generic enough to fade from conscious awareness, which is probably for the best; there are already some distracting visual elements that make it hard to focus at times.

Voice acting and sound effects are equally amateurish, but far from terrible. Again, that's not necessarily a criticism; it would be ridiculous to expect such a small indie project to hire John Williams or Troy Baker. In the context of the whole package, the sound design gets the job done well enough.


If nothing else, Thief Simulator's dated graphics and simple A.I. make it palatable even to budget-friendly rigs. I experienced no stuttering or any other performance issues on a GTX 1080 with an i-7700 Skylake CPU, and I wouldn't expect most other hardware configurations to struggle either.

Load times can be long, especially when first launching the game — so long that you may think it's frozen. It hasn't (probably). It may be upwards of a minute, but Thief Simulator does most of its loading at startup, so you shouldn't have to wait nearly as long between missions.

The Verdict

Thief Simulator could have been fantastically fun if there were more to do and if it were more challenging. As it exists now, it's just kind of fun, for a while. I hesitate to recommend a full-price purchase at $19.99, but if it goes on sale for 50% off or more, stealth fans may want to give it a whirl.


+ Only does one thing, but does it reasonably well
+ Cautious players who stick to the rules will have more fun
+ Regular updates from devs that seem to be active and responsive


– Not much to do after 5-10 hours
– Rudimentary A.I. can be easily abused
– Occasional problems with input and collision detection

Keep an eye on GameSkinny's Thief Simulator page as the game receives more updates in the future.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Thief Simulator for the purpose of this review.]

Battlefield 5 Review: A New Coat of Paint on an Old War Tank Wed, 21 Nov 2018 10:06:29 -0500 John Schutt

Battlefield 5 is perfectly functional. Everything people want out of a mainline entry, this game delivers. The gunplay is sound. The sound design is spot on. There are enough maps to cater to many different gameplay styles. Even the game modes are just, well, fine. They create the same rush we've felt when playing the series for years, though Rush itself is no longer playable. 

But there is nothing particularly new here, nothing to excite the imagination like the infantry focus and pacing of Bad Company 2 or the grand reopening for the series with Battlefield 3.

Battlefield 5 goes through the motions, trodding a well-worn path that is all at once fun and adrenaline pumping but somehow still terribly rote.

Stories Well-Enough Told

The singleplayer side of Battlefield 5 is a stronger showing than its multiplayer. It's here where we see the developers playing with expectations in gameplay, if not in narrative. 

Like Battlefield 1BF5's "War Stories" are self-contained mini-campaigns with a lens focused on a single soldier. They're about the effect a few competent men and women can have on a small part of a much larger conflict.

Each of them tells the story of a different phase and theater of World War 2, and each plays with the expectations players have of a big-budget FPS experience.

Mechanically, each War Story is unique, and each chapter of each story attempts to give Battlefield's take on another type of game. From open world to area defense, flight sim to stealth-action, the gang's all here. 

And I'll be honest: I was quite taken with every chapter I played. DICE has just about outdone themselves when it comes to making the Battlefield singleplayer fresh again.

As with the rest of the game, though, don't expect anything to fly out of left field; the storytelling is sound despite predictable plots and somewhat stock characters. I never found myself particularly attached to any of the playable characters, or the NPCs for that matter, but I was interested enough to see where their stories would go, so that's somewhat of a plus. 

The expansiveness of the missions warrants a mention as well. Some of the levels are among the largest we've seen in a Battlefield game, and each is laid out to allow for multiple (and different) playstyles and playthroughs.

There are collectibles scattered about and plenty of chances to play with all the weapons and other armaments on offer, and vehicles are ever-present, as should be expected.

My main issue with BF5's singleplayer is twofold. First, the complete experience is currently unavailable. The fourth and final mission won't unlock until December 5, and while I can see the value in holding content back to keep people wanting more, it smacks of incompleteness if not desperation.

Secondly, I can't help but compare this offering to those with a similar length and content-saturation. Take a game like Titanfall 2, where every level brought something wild and new but still contained it's best ideas to individual stages, and Battlefield 5 seems quaint.

I was never knocked out of my socks, and I know for a fact DICE can pull off those kinds of moments. I've played them.

The only truly memorable moment was when an explosion synced up perfectly to a section of the in-game music. I suppose that's the point, but in a genre partially defined by its set-pieces, to have something so small stand out seems like an overall missed opportunity.

At War With Ourselves

I began my AAA FPS career with the Battlefield series. My entry into the franchise was Bad Company 2, and I was terrible. I could hardly hit the broad side of a barn, let alone see it in the first place. If I were a new player in BF5, I probably would have given up ages ago.

As I said in my feature on the betaBattlefield 5 makes every player feel like they can have an impact on the outcome of a match. It's not something most will be familiar with, but a single medic can — and has — turned the tide with a few well-timed revives. 

Here, a coordinated squad can take the entire map by the bootstraps and run roughshod over an enemy team. Moreover, they can be of almost any class composition so long as their aim is good enough. 

In short, individual players haven't been this powerful in years. 

It's a beautiful feeling, but it's held back by almost everything else about the multiplayer, which is best served as a list of unfortunate "demerits": 

  • The maps are some of the worst in the series. They lack verticality, personality, and gameplay variety. Each match turns into "run to that house. Now that one," over and over again. Oh, and there aren't enough of them.  

  • The guns all feel fine, but none of them give me a sense of satisfaction when I use them. The strong ones are strong but in a flat, uninteresting kind of way.

  • The game modes aren't anything special. They are fun and facilitate entertaining gameplay, but none of them try anything interesting enough to make them stand out.

  • The vehicles are also what we've come to expect. A tank is a tank, and a plane is a plane (read: there's a lack of actionable variety). 

One thing I will give the multiplayer is that its pacing is well done. Even the longest matches are played out in high-speed. Everything happens at a mile a minute, and the sense of escalation and de-escalation is what I'm looking for in a shooter.

One moment I'm sending out health packs to three different squads and the next it's quiet save for the occasional ricochet in the distance.

The way classes have been laid out only helps the pacing, too. Because Assault players are dependant on Medics and Supports to keep them in top form, they can only plow through a defensive line for so long.

With Medics now wielding SMGs, they have every reason to be up in the middle of things, getting their hands dirty.

I touched on squad composition briefly in my TDM and Domination guide, and I'll be going into more detail over the coming days in individual class guides, but for right now I'll say that I'm super satisfied with the state of classes in Battlefield 5

The Assault is more powerful than ever, but as the workhorse class, I think they should be, and without competent squadmates behind them, they can only do so much.

I'll hold off on talking much about customization because it has almost no effect on gameplay. Short of becoming a microtransaction-laden mess, there isn't much to say beyond, "Oh, it's there. That's nice."

Final Verdict

Battlefield 5 ticks all the boxes for a fun, safe, copy-selling entry in the franchise. It could be one of the least accessible shooters in recent memory, but most AAA FPS titles can say that, Fortnite notwithstanding.

BF5's singleplayer mode is well-conceived but ultimately treads ground we've seen before, though it does so with new boots. The multiplayer functions and provides moments of entertainment but lacks any real bite. 

I don't regret the time I've put into the game for this review, and I definitely can see myself playing a few hours at a time if I need a way to unwind or get my Battlefield fix. There's great potential here, but right now Battlefield 5 doesn't quite reach it.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Battlefield 5 for the purpose of this review.]

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review: Scratch the Strategy Itch Tue, 20 Nov 2018 09:00:01 -0500 Oscar Gonzalez

For one reason or another, games inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu have become in vogue again. October saw the release of Call of Cthulhu and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. The latter of the two – based on a tabletop game with the same name -- now makes its way to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 brings its unique strategic gameplay to the consoles. 

Developed by UK-based Auroch Digital, Cthulhu Tactics has a similar squad-based gameplay made famous by the XCOM series. Devoted fans of that style of play and lovers of everything Lovecraft may squeeze out some extra enjoyment, but it simply doesn't have enough in the tank for everyone else.


In the Nazi-killin' Business

Cthulhu Tactics takes place during World War II. As most history buffs know, the Nazis delved into the occult to either prove their superiority over other races or seek supernatural weapons that would ensure their victory. Other games explored this fascination they had, but in this game, the Nazi found the power of Mythos and plan to make use of it.

To take on this new mystic power, the Allied forces formed a special unit called Charlie Company with orders to stop the Nazis from using the power. The team is made up of British Captain Eric "Badger" Harris, Arian Dubois from France, Corporal Akhee "The Eye" Singh, and Sergeant Brandon Carter from the US. Each soldier has their own set of abilities and equipment for combat.

As players make their way through the missions, bits of additional background for characters and the overall storyline will be revealed, but not much. The battlefield will see bits of lore here and there with most of the story coming from briefings before the start of a mission. For a game based on one of the most well-known wars in history along with an iconic fictional world written by Lovecraft, Cthulhu Tactics' story doesn't have much to sink your teeth into.

Squad Goals

Missions place the squad on a 2.5D isometric map with a goal to reach a certain point on the map. Players will lead Charlie Company via a point-and-click interface called Explore Mode until the team comes within a certain distance of enemy units, which begins combat.

Enemies will not be revealed until they're within the sight of one of the team members. Until then, there will be no details about the opposition available such as the name of the unit or hit points.

When it's the player's turn, orders can be given to each character from taking a shot at enemies, reloading or using a special attack. Like XCOM and other similar strategy games, the number of actions available will be based on Action Points.

There are certain abilities that make use of Momentum Points, which are points based on the player with the highest leadership stat and can increase in number depending on how well the fight is going for the players. One of the special actions is called Overwatch that lets characters focus in a certain direction and if enemies move within that direction, the character will shoot at them.

Maps are based on a grid so players will have to move their characters in order to get the best shot on the enemy. There's plenty of cover in each area so it's a matter of deciding whether to do a hard push or to move slowly toward the enemy.

A battle will consist of several enemies and, once over, players will return to Explore Mode where they will continue moving toward their goal and investigate certain spots here and there until they come across another set of enemies. There are multiple battles in each mission, and after the mission, players will receive experience points that level up characters and in turn increase available skills. Weapon mods and other equipment will also be available after missions. 

While the Cthulhu Tactics' gameplay sounds intriguing, its execution is a problem. The controls are clunky, which really says a lot when we're talking about a turn-based strategy game. You simply have to press too many buttons per action, which becomes cumbersome when you are swapping targets often.

The game also desperately needs is a fast forward option as some actions take a long time to perform, which turns much of your time with Achtung! Cthulhu into a waiting game.

There is also the issue of performance. This review was played on an original Xbox One and there were multiple instances of slowdown in situations where it didn't seem warranted. Cthulhu Tactics takes around 10 hours to beat, but with a fast-forward button that could easily drop down by a few hours.

Another problem is the transition between Explore Mode and combat. Since it's based on distance from an enemy, players can find themselves in combat with an enemy that is quite a distance away because of the barriers separating them. This means battles could start with multiple turns needed to get anywhere near the enemy.

War Is Ugly

Cthulhu Tactics is simply boring to look at. There's a real lack of detail in both the characters and the environments, which ultimately makes the game leave a minimal impression. Although the game's aesthetics are on par with a tabletop game, considering it's based on one, it simply comes off as unappealing to look at after awhile.

Add on top of that the few musical scores and the few, barely audible words from the game's characters. There is nothing in the presentation to impress the player. 

The Verdict

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics may appeal to gamers in love with strategy games like XCOM, but who have beaten all the games in that franchise and are all out of juice. This is a game for those people that need a little hit for their strategy habit. 

For everyone else, Cthulhu Tactics offers nothing new or exceptional, It's like a video game version of junk food that has nothing but empty calories with no nutrition.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Achtung: Cthulhu Tactics for the purpose of this review.]

Farming Simulator 19 Review: Country Roads, Take Me Home Mon, 19 Nov 2018 14:53:50 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

I remember a time when my dad would tell me to stop playing video games and go outside. Well, the joke's on him because Farming Simulator 19 brings all the great outdoors right to your couch, letting you run the agricultural complex of your dreams.

It has it all: crops, animals... I guess that's really about it. However, it's a surprisingly deep game that has a lot to offer fans of simulation and management games, and it's a wholly unique title that probably isn't like many games in your library.

Despite Farming Simulator being a long-running seriesFarming Simulator 19 was my first time climbing behind the wheel of a digital tractor. I put together the most blinged out farmer I could -- leather vest and all -- to hit the fields.

So, is Farming Simulator 19 worth your time and cash? Let's dig in.

Gardening for Dummies

One thing that struck me almost immediately was how intuitive everything seemed to be in Farming Simulator 19. Loading up the tutorials made it all seem so streamlined: hop in your tractor, hook up whatever machine you need for the field, and get to farming.

Fields follow a fairly predictable pattern, and anyone can quickly learn how to take care of plants and get them growing quickly. Ready for the big time, I started up my very own farm.

How quickly I was lost in the weeds.

Strip away the tutorial, and you suddenly have a billion choices to make. What brand of tractor do I want to buy? How big of a cultivator do I need? Where do I find fertilizer in the mess of menus? Should I buy the frontloader attachment? Where do I get a vehicle with a forklift?

It's daunting when the world of Farming Simulator 19 just lets you loose because you can literally run a farm however you want.

The systems can be a bit obtuse - for example, the different types of equipment you can buy are laid out in a bizarre, seemingly random order. Instead of having categories listed alphabetically, you have to hunt and peck until you find the items you need.

After a few restarts, however, the systems all start to come together and you find yourself feeling like a pro. I was surprised how quickly the game becomes accessible; on medium difficulty, things are pretty forgiving and money is never too hard to come by.

The Beauty of Nature

Another striking aspect of Farming Simulator 19 is just how good everything looks.

This year's version features a much-ballyhooed total revamping of the graphics engine, and it is actually fairly impressive. There are tons of little details that add to immersion and help make everything look the way it should, though there are still some limitations. If you get close to objects and start inspecting them, you can still tell that there is not a huge, AAA budget allotted for the graphics.

The little details, coupled with the obvious visual cues of which areas of your fields have been worked, make the new graphics engine a big win for the Farming Simulator 19. Like many of our favorite simulator games, it's easy to just get lost in what you are doing, admiring the sights and feeling a sense of accomplishment when you perfectly cultivate straight lines into the soil of your brand new wheat field.

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

If tending to crops isn't your jam, there are plenty of options available to raise animals as well. Cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs all return in Farming Simulator 19, and you can tend to and breed these animals to make huge amounts of money. New to the series are horses, which come with all manner of extra options and abilities. Horses are a lot of work, but they add an entirely new layer to the game and are practically their own game.

Unlike almost every task in Farming Simulator 19, you cannot hire a helper to train horses for you. They're all on you -- without training, they're essentially really expensive lawn ornaments. Spend time going out onto your land and training them every day, however, and your horses will quickly level up, gaining stars, value, and abilities. Why would you drive your truck around town when you could saddle up on Bucaphalus and gallop around instead?

Raising livestock is an entirely viable way to succeed in Farming Simulator 19, and it offers a nice form of respite from the constant "driving back and forth in straight lines" that the crop portion of the game offers. Like much in the game, it takes a bit of experimentation to figure out how to make everything work but if you combine the two styles of play, you'll have a smooth operation running in no time.

Darn Hard Work

There are a lot of positives to take away from Farming Simulator 19, but this is definitely not a game for everyone. It can be a bit obtuse, and it doesn't offer much in the way of distractions from the farming elements.

In other words, this is not Stardew Valley. You aren't romancing your neighbors, traipsing through mines fighting monsters, or building more crab baskets. Instead, you are trying to save up just a little bit more money so you can add an engine upgrade to your John Deere tractor. You'll then be able to farm your fields even faster and finally be able to pull the massive fertilizer attachment you've had your eye on.

This is a game for stat geeks, people who want to build a fleet of tractors, line them all up in their garage, and feel a sense of pride and personal accomplishment for putting it all together.

There aren't a ton of "goals" in the game; Farming Simulator 19 is not really something you win. Successes are only what you deem as successes -- maybe a "win" is your first perfect harvest. Maybe it's putting together a cohesive operation on the hardest difficulty. Maybe it's buying every parcel of land in the entire game and just wandering through your farming empire, watching the money roll in.

It's not a game for everyone.

That said, this is THE game for some gamers.

The Fruits of Your Labor

There is a lot to like in Farming Simulator 19. It looks good, it feels good, and it manages to hit the sweet spot of simplifying a process but still making your efforts feel impactful when you get something accomplished.

It's not a game for those who demand constant action or concrete goals, but I was completely surprised with how hooked I was once I started to put everything together. When you get your operation running smoothly, using the leftovers of your harvest to tend to your animals, it triggered a wonderful sense of accomplishment that I did not expect this type of game to bring out in me.

If you know going into Farm Simulator 19 that you aren't going to get a realistic looking Stardew Valley, and you're still looking forward to it, then you really can't go wrong here. There are a few hiccups, but it's a pleasant and enjoyable experience overall.

Crank up the John Denver and hit the fields.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Farming Simulator 19 for the purpose of this review.]

Pokemon Let's GO Pikachu and Eevee Review: It's a Wonderful (Pokemon) Life Mon, 19 Nov 2018 13:22:21 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! met with mixed reactions when they were first announced, with some fans claiming they were nothing more than a cheap way to pull in Pokemon GO players until the next generation comes out.

It’s true Pokemon: Let’s Go appeals a lot to the more casual Pokemon gamer, but it does an excellent job balancing it with traditional gameplay, making it a great entry in the franchise and a must-have for Switch owners.

The Story

Nintendo and The Pokemon Company didn’t do a stellar job clarifying the games’ setting after it was announced, but here it is in a nutshell:

The Let’s Go games are essentially a reimagining of Pokemon Yellow. You journey through Kanto with your partner Pokemon that’s chosen for you — Pikachu or Eevee — on your quest to become a Pokemon Champion, tackling eight gyms and taking down the organized crime group Team Rocket on the way.

You’ll run into characters like Blue and Red (and even Green!), but the games take place in an alternate timeline. For example, the Pokedex is Oak’s brand-new creation, something Blue didn’t have on his journey, and now Blue and Red are just wandering trainers, both having been Champion for a time already. So the TL;DR here is it’s not a direct sequel.


The Pikachu and Eevee versions are pretty much the same, with your starter Pokemon being the only significant difference. As always, there are some version exclusives — Oddish for Pikachu, Bellsprout for Eevee, for instance — but between in-game trades and connectivity with Pokemon GO, you’ll probably end up with the other version’s exclusives at some point any way.

Like Pokemon Yellow, your partner Pokemon can’t evolve. But your starter Pikachu and Eevee receive huge stat boosts, plus Eevee can learn a water, fire, and electric type move from a tutor in Cerulean City, so you aren’t at any real disadvantage.

Gotta Catch 'Em All

One of the biggest changes in the games is, of course, how players catch Pokemon. Like Pokemon GO, you don’t actually engage in fights with wild ‘mon, and for the first time in the series, you can see Pokemon moving around in grassy areas and on the water’s surface.

If you decide to initiate an encounter, all you need to do from there is choose your ball, decide whether to chuck a berry or not, line up the circles, and hurl the ball. It’s pretty simple on the surface, but as you progress, the Pokemon aren’t nearly so easy to catch, especially the rare ones (but you can check out our catch combo guide to make things easier for you).

There was some confusion for a while about how catching controls worked and whether you could play the game in handheld mode. You certainly can, and the mechanics are smooth and finely tuned. The internal gyroscope is balanced perfectly when you’re trying to line up your circle, rather like the motion controls in Breath of the Wild, and once you’re ready to throw, just press A.

However, docked mode’s mechanics do add a touch more immersion to the process, somewhat reminiscent of the Wii days. You’ll make a throwing motion with the Joy-Con to throw your ball, aiming towards whatever part of the screen the Pokemon happens to be on at the time (which means that Joy-Con strap is highly recommended, especially for younger players).

I never had any issues aligning the control with where I wanted the ball to go either, though I also wasn’t standing too far away from the system either. I didn’t pick up the Poke Ball plus, so I can’t comment on how that works in this review.

Despite criticism the catching mechanic is just a gimmick, I actually found it fairly engaging, and it's something I'd like to see implemented alongside traditional wild Pokemon battles in the future.

Monster Raising

That might seem like a lot of space devoted to just one aspect of the game. But, catching Pokemon is something you’ll be doing a lot of during your time with Let’s Go, likely more than you ever did before with previous Pokemon games.

There are still trainer battles, of course—more than any of Kanto’s revisits, as a matter of fact—but catching Pokemon is the best way to raise your team. You get various bonuses depending on your style and whether the Pokemon is huge or tiny, and the experience is doled out evenly among your party Pokemon, unlike in trainer battles.

It’s a great way to make sure you’re ready to tackle the gym challenges, but it also means it’s easier to raise weaker Pokemon up to your team’s levels and to fill out the Pokedex, since you don’t have to spend hours grinding to level up for evolution.

Plus, catching multiple Pokemon of the same type has its own bonuses. Candy makes its appearance in the Let’s Go games, with Oak giving it out when you send him some Pokemon, but you won’t use it for evolution. Instead, you power up your Pokemons' various stats with it. Oak also tells you that if you send a lot of one specific Pokemon, he’ll give you candy suited for increasing that ‘mon’s special strengths.

For example, donating 5 Vulpix netted me a bunch of quick candies. But, I can also send off Geodude or some other high defense Pokemon to make up for Vulpix’s abysmal defense stat. It’s a versatile system that lets you either break the game completely or raise and use your favorite Pokemon regardless of its innate stats, something noticeably lacking in earlier games.

A Tailored Challenge

Depending on how you approach the games, you’ll want to buff up some of your monsters as well. The duo’s billed as great for kids and newcomers, and it’s not too difficult to see why. You’ll trash Brock in no time, your starter is obviously overpowered, and you’ll actually be close to Misty’s level when you challenge the second gym.

Moreover, despite Pokemon-amie/Refresh being limited to your partner Pokemon only, your other party members develop the same additional abilities as their happiness rank increases, so you’ll see plenty of shrugged of status affects and 1HP miracles as you go along.

But Cerulean is where the game starts to throw in some additional challenge. You can pick up Bulbasaur next door to the gym and Bellsprout or Oddish north of the city, but the trainers use Water/Ice types, and Misty has a Confusion-wielding Psyduck this time instead of Staryu. Normal trainers can pose a minor challenge if you don’t completely optimize your team, and there are tougher Coach Trainers scattered around Kanto that require more strategy as well.

After becoming Champion, you then have access to Master Trainers, 151 trainers scattered around the region who each specialize in a superpowered version of a specific Pokemon — Bulbasaur or Chansey, for example — or who want to see an IV modified Legendary Pokemon like Articuno. There’s the chance to challenge the Elite Four and Gym Leaders again as well, along with extra battles with Green and a one-time-only fight against Red, the two most powerful trainers in the game.

It’s not the most challenging Pokemon game ever, but it also isn’t a complete cakewalk. The difficulty is basically customizable, and it’s got something for everyone. Hardcore players will appreciate Mr. Hyper at the Daycare, Let’s Go’s IV trainer, and the ability to influence Pokemon natures via a woman in Celadon City. It isn’t easy to pull of this kind of balance, but Pokemon: Let’s Go does it, and does it well.

Pokemon Let's GO Quality of Life Improvements

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in the games. Without wild Pokemon battles, it does seem like your journey moves faster than before, but the time spent in Kanto is enjoyable nonetheless. The region’s never looked better, with bright colors and smooth textures, and the orchestral soundtrack is something that definitely needs to make a return in upcoming Pokemon games.

Character customization makes a return as well. Options aren’t quite as varied as in Gen VII, but you get a number of outfits to mix and match over the course of the game, including things for your partner, and there's nothing quite so adorable as dressing up an Eevee.

There are a number of other improvements making Let’s Go the definitive Kanto experience. As you’d expect, the world is brimming with life and expression. It’s true the Pokemon wandering the world have limited animations, but it’s nice to finally see something wandering around in the grass, instead of the somehow-invisible-until-they-attack monsters we’re all used to.

Plus, letting players see Pokemon is almost a necessity in a game emphasizing catching, and catching the same kind several times. Similarly, you no longer require a PC to store and move your Pokemon around, since you have a portable Box in your bag. It makes poor Bill a bit redundant, but it’s a huge quality of life improvement regardless.

Beyond that, your partner Pokemon exhibit various adorable reactions throughout the game. There are some scripted moments where your starter interacts with something specific—the bow of the S.S. Anne, for example—but whatever Pokemon you have out of its ball at the time will interact with the environment as you wander along as well. Whether they’re finding you a hidden item or just admiring their surroundings, it feels like you’re really on a journey with your Pokemon.

It’s impossible not to mention the ride feature and Pokemon scaling. The old shadow-based size comparisons between you and your ‘mon gave a hint as to these creatures’ “true” size, but Let’s Go finally renders on-screen Pokemon true to size, from the massive Onix to the oh-so-tiny Oddish. It means each Pokemon ride is completely different too, from sitting perched atop Onix’s head far above everyone to sailing over the fields on Rapidash’s back.

Pokemon GO Connectivity

I’m not a Pokemon Go player, but I’ve heard the connectivity is pretty simple and intuitive. Connect your accounts in the options menu, go to a GO park in Let’s Go, and choose which Pokemon you want to transfer from Pokemon GO, and that’s that.

Apparently they don’t actually arrive in Let’s Go at the same level they are in GO, though, and you don’t get them back either.


Local Multiplayer

No game is perfect, of course, and Let’s GO is no different. The multiplayer option is an excellent way to play Pokemon with someone new to the series or with less skilled gamers, but it is rather limited. It’s as easy as jiggling your Joy-Con to summon a second player, and battles then play out like double battles (much to your opponent’s disadvantage), but player 2 won’t be able to catch their own Pokemon or customize their avatar.

It’s hard to criticize the multiplayer completely, because this is exactly what the creators intended it to be. But it would be nice to see expanded multiplayer options in the future.

Other Shortcomings

There are a few other minor issues as well. There’s some slowdown from time to time, mainly when the screen is busy. Viridian Forest is a notable example, where even the menu selection slows down. It’s unfortunate because players will encounter this so early in the game, but it isn’t constant, and that’s the worst I’ve noticed in the game.

Pokemon textures are a bit iffy. I’m a fan of the bright colors, but the GO models don’t translate too well to a bigger screen. The Pokemon tend to look a bit plastic-y, almost like the old character tokens from Pokemon Monopoly come to life.

Locking Meltan behind Pokemon GO isn’t my favorite decision either. Sure, everyone and their granny plays it, but keeping a new Pokemon tied to GO connectivity breaks the immersion. Two Master Trainers focus on Meltan and Melmetal, so if you want to fully complete the game, you’ve got to be a GO player, too.


Pokemon Let’s GO Pikachu and Eevee won’t satisfy everyone. They aren’t core games in the sense people are used to. But they shouldn’t be totally disregarded as cash grabs either. It’s a relaxing approach to Pokemon, one you can tailor to your own needs and enjoy, whatever your playstyle might be. There’s a lot on offer here, and behind the Pokemon GO add-ins, there are enough recognizable Pokemon mechanics to please newcomers and long-time fans.

Let us know if you plan on picking the game up and what your thoughts are in the comments, and be sure to check out our Pokemon: Let's GO guides as well:

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Pokemon Let's GO Pikachu and Evee for the purpose of this review.]

Road Redemption Review: A Fun Highway to Hell Mon, 19 Nov 2018 12:31:22 -0500 David Jagneaux

Anyone that grew up with the Sega Genesis likely remembers a little game series from Electronic Arts called Road Rash. In those games, you raced motorcycles and fought your way across the track using all manner of weapons to beat your opponents into a bloody pulp.

The same is true with Road Redemption from developers Pixel Dash Studios and EQ Games, and publisher Tripwire Interactive. It's a game that feels decidedly old-school in ways both good and bad.

Bad to the Bone

Road Redemption valiantly attempts to tell a story that you care about, but fails to muster so much as a passing subtitle skim. NPCs mumble over the top of the action during missions about cartels and gang members, but that's honestly about all I can remember. The attempt at establishing any sort of compelling narrative was a total waste here.

Instead, I imagined my own Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world where the only way to get what you wanted is to decapitate and murder people on the highway while driving hundreds of miles per hour. Honestly, it just made a lot more sense that way.

Road Redemption is a simple game, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily easy. While racing you can swing your weapons on either side of you, grab enemies, kick other motorcycles, and block attacks all using the face and shoulder buttons. Cycling through the d-pad lets you swap out weapons once you find or buy new ones.

Road Redemption Gameplay Combat

Interestingly, Road Redemption is sort of split up a bit like a roguelike in some ways. You'll play through a series of missions, each of which have different layouts and enemy spawns, while you focus on completing objectives. Sometimes you just need to not die or finish high enough in the race, while other times things get more dangerous as you're sometimes required to kill enemies on the road.

The way the game dynamically mixes up missions and objectives really helps keep things fresh.

Your strategy changes dramatically depending on whether or not you're trying to place high in a race or if you need to take out seven marked enemies before hitting the finish line. In this way, some missions are more like races against the shrinking road than they are races against actual opponents. 

Plus, after each successful mission, you get an influx of cash that can be used to buy temporary upgrades such as more health for the rest of the campaign or increased damage. Then, after you eventually die (which you will a lot), you pick from an assortment of permanent skill upgrades.

Road Redemption Airborne Gameplay

Highway to Hell

Everything feels and looks a bit cheap in Road Redemption. The original Kickstarter for the game concluded its campaign back in 2013 and the game was originally slated to release in late 2014 but didn't hit PC until 2017 and just now released on consoles a week ago. Textures are muddy at times; I noticed some pretty bad pop-in issues, animations for crashes are laughable, and overall, it just feels like an Xbox 360-era game that got the remastered treatment before it ever even launched in the first place.

Actually using your weapons has great weight and impact behind every swing.

Your character has to really wind up before making contact and most riders can be taken out in just one or two swings. And if you don't block well, you can get thrashed really quickly as well. Combat has a deliciously violent speed as you zig and zag around corners, slam pipes and shovels into enemy torsos, and lop off heads for those without helmets.

Juggling various weapon types (short and long range, blunt and sharp, explosives, and even guns) is a big part of what makes everything work so well. It's far from a perfect system, hit detection isn't always the best, and it gets awfully repetitive quite quickly, but it's certainly fun once you get the training wheels off.

Road Redemption Ruined Highway

But one big problem with Road Redemption is a lack of explanation. A lot of the most interesting parts of the game -- like how repeatable it all is, how and when you should buy items, and what the general flow of gameplay is supposed to be -- are just overlooked. I just kind of figured out all that through trial and error because I was reviewing it; if I'd bought the game on a whim or got it for a gift I'm not sure I'd have had the patience to wait for things to click.

It also needs to be mentioned that the soundtrack selection is awful. Most of the music tracks sound like generic stock songs you might find built into YouTube or something else equally bad.

But despite all of those things, Road Redemption really surprised me with just how fun its core gameplay loop of speeding down the road and chopping away at enemies could continue to be even after dozens of races.

And in the end, all that really matters is if a game is fun or not. 

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of Road Redemption used in this review.]

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus Review Mon, 19 Nov 2018 11:21:25 -0500 Fox Doucette

Warhammer, both fantasy and 40,000, has deep roots in tabletop miniatures gaming, moving pieces around a makeshift graph paper board and engaging various rules and random number generators to determine hits, misses, kills, and all that fun wargame stuff.

Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus captures that atmosphere brilliantly in a tightly-paced little turn-based tactics game that even manages to stir in some video game influences from games like FTL: Faster Than Light and XCOM.

But all the same, it's also a game that unabashedly loves its Warhammer roots, and that is both the best and the worst thing about it; this game can be utterly impenetrable to people who aren't deeply versed in the lore in the first place.

The game casts the player in the role of Magos Dominius Faustinius, part of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a faction of Mars-based mechanically augmented humans tasked with stewarding technology both lost in mankind's past and found around the universe. These are the guys who, in 40K, build all that cool tech that you see in other, less obscure 40K licensed titles like the Dawn of War series.

The Adeptus finds itself on the planet of Silva Tenebris, home of a massive network of Necron tombs, and the whole thrust of the game is to raid those tombs through a series of both tactical battles and grand strategic decisions on how to get from one end of the tomb to the other in the fewest number of moves while still acquiring the largest volume of actual useful tech.

That's where the FTL comparison shines through. Because you only get a limited number of turns to acquire all the weapons, augments, and power-ups you'll need to beat the game's collection of Necron bosses and their robotic minions, giant spiders, and “blasphemy against the Machine God” scattered into the world.

And you'll notice there's an ungodly amount of jargon here too. It's entirely by design; this game is not in any way at all trying to be accessible to non-fans of not just the genre but of the specific lore the game is set in.

The writer, Ben Counter, is letting his geek flag fly here. Word is he's read enough Warhammer 40K books to stock a library, and he's chosen a totally obscure section of the 40K universe to mine for a unique experience.

These are not the hulking teenage-boy-power-fantasy space marines that usually infest the testosterone-poisoned lore of Warhammer 40K games.

And because the game is on a shoestring budget befitting its $30 price tag, there's not the high production values that, say, Creative Assembly has brought to the Warhammer fantasy marque with the Total War series' two separate takes on that franchise.

This game reminds me of nothing so much as a higher-res version of Fallout Tactics, and that's a game from 2001 built on an engine from 1998.

But on the other hand, I ran it on a potato of a laptop that was midrange at best when I bought it in 2016 and it ran like a dream. The game insists its recommended system specs are higher than the minimum spec for 2015's The Witcher 3, but do you really need ambient occlusion and fancy tech tricks for a barebones turn-based tactics game?

Spoiler: You don't.

What continually amazed me during the time I spent with the game, apart from how utterly foreign it feels to someone with no familiarity with 40K's extended lore, is how utterly punishing this design truly is. This is a difficult game, as hair-pulling, anger-inducing, games-aren't-supposed-to-be-this-hard-in-2018 an experience as you're going to get from a game these days.

Enemies use flanking tactics. They “shoot and scoot”, outright requiring the player to understand how to outflank the enemy themselves. They target weakened player units in order to give the player no chance to heal those units between battles. And some enemies have the ability to teleport, and rather than that being just a gee-whiz, the AI can and will teleport one of its units in perfect position to shove a bolt of energy from a disintegration rifle right where the sun don't shine.

On the other hand, the game does provide an impressive array of upgrades and power-ups that, in the hands of a smart strategic player, will turn a punishing game into...well, maybe not a cakewalk, but a much more manageable experience.

As with its tabletop roots, the game amply rewards the ambitious player willing to experiment, maybe do a little save scumming, and devise the best way to clean out each of the game's mini-dungeons.

While it doesn't out-XCOM the XCOM series in this regard, it's also on a tiny fraction of the budget yet doesn't shy away from the comparison.

The bottom line here is that Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus gives you a game that, while you'll enjoy it a whole lot more if you're deeply immersed in the lore, is still one of the most competent turn-based tactical games to hit the PC in a long time. And because of that, I can give it a solid recommendation.

It's intentionally impenetrable, and it's certainly not for everyone, but it rewards the diligent player willing to embrace it.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus for the purpose of this review.]

Bloody MP-60R RGB Mousepad Review: Waterproof but Sinkable Fri, 16 Nov 2018 17:10:27 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Despite advancements in mouse tech, mousepads are still a necessary component of every gaming setup. If you're a serious gamer, you already know rough surfaces, glass, and chip-ridden desks aren't ideal even if mice have evolved from balls to lasers. 

For gaming, mousepads have a lot of upside, but with the market ostensibly flooded with dozens of variations, grading mousepads really comes down to subjectivity and preference. 

On the surface, Bloody's MP-60R is an average pad; even its RGB functionality doesn't help it stand out from the likes of the QCK Prism or Enhance LED.

Not "standing out" or being "unique" doesn't make a mousepad bad. However, there are a few things to consider before you buy. 

The MP-60R is one of the thinner pads on the market. Measuring in at 354mm(L) by 256mm(W), the pad is only 2.6mm thick. Compared to the QCK and Enhance, the MP-60R is both lighter and more flexible, although neither matter all that much if you don't plan on carrying the pad from desktop to desktop. 

Its angular, hard-cut corners give it a futuristic look that's intensified by the thin RGB light-rail that runs along the edges of the pad. Although super thin (thinner than the 2.6mm of the pad itself), the light-rail powerfully emits light from the full 16-million color spectrum in a lateral plain when turned on, which keeps in-game distraction to a minimum. In contrast, the QCK emits light upward, which is more noticeable during play and might affect certain users differently.  

At the top of the pad, located directly in the middle, you'll find the MP-60R's polygonal interface module, where you'll find the lighting switch and micro-USB port. When you plug the pad into your computer, you'll have access to its 10 onboard preset lighting effects, which you can toggle using the fat, responsive switch located on the right side of the module.

However, since the module is placed at the top of the pad, its bulky height tends to get in the way if you have a wired mouse. There were dozens of times my mouse cord got caught on the edge of the module, either impeding my mouse movements or, in extreme cases, torquing my wrist sideways. It happened so often that the issue forced me to dock the pad a full score, from an 8 to a 7. 

The cloth surface of the pad is meant for speed an accuracy. Comparing to the QCK and the HyperX Fury S Pro, which is my everyday mousepad, The MP-60R didn't feel more accurate or speedier. In fact, it felt slower in some respects, specifically to the Fury S Pro.

One thing I can say for sure is that the fabric feels better on the fingertips than the fabric found on the reversible QCK. It's noticeably softer and less scratchy. That's something to keep in mind when you're buying an RGB mousepad for aesthetic and feel.    

Another interesting tidbit about the MP-60R is that the surface is waterproof. I tested the efficacy of that claim by dumping a cup of water on it and the QCK. Water immediately beaded of the sides of the MP-60R, with several ounces pooling in the middle. The water on the QCK simply pooled in the middle. 

After a full 90 seconds, I wiped the water off of each mousepad with a dishrag. The MP-60R showed zero signs of spillage, while the QCK was left with a large, damp stain in the middle (you can see a comparison in the image above).  

The Verdict

For the most part, it's hard to complain about the MP-60R. Its colors are vibrant, its fabric is smooth and water resistant, its non-slip rubber backing keeps it from sliding around on even the slickest surfaces, and the braided cable doesn't get tangled. That's not to mention the deep Illumine software that lets you essentially design and assign your own effects and color presets, storing it on the pad's 160Kb onboard memory. 

My biggest gripe is that the interface module at the top of the pad is bulky and inconveniently placed. If you have a wireless mouse, it won't be an issue at all. However, if you're one of the many who has a wired mouse, there's a significant chance the module will get in the way. 

Lastly, although the Illumine software is surprisingly robust, it's also extremely difficult to navigate and looks like a remnant of the Netscape era. While the latter is just a personal peeve, the latter can make assigning custom effects and color combinations an unnecessary pain in the rear. Add to that you won't be able to sync your creations across other Bloody products, like its mechanical keyboards and mice, and the MP-60R pushes itself out of the eighth position. 

You can buy the Bloody MP-60R Mousepad on Amazon for $29.99. 

[Note: Bloody provided the mousepad used in this review.]

RocketsRocketsRockets Review: Pick Up, Play, and Get Wowed Thu, 15 Nov 2018 15:14:15 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

How many games can you name that offer you their entire experience in under 5 minutes? I'll be honest, many don't come to mind. RocketsRocketsRockets by Radial Games for the Nintendo Switch is certainly one of them, though. But is this shmup-party action game as fun as it's name implies?

Functionally speaking; Rockets plays like most shmups. Unlikely most, it's not a vertical or horizontal stage scroller. You play throughout the entire space of stages of varying size. You can play on a number of maps against AI or up to four friends. The goal is simple: survive. Survive until you're number one.

What's In A Name?

Rockets isn't deep, everything you need to know is right in it's name. This is in no way a knock against it. To win, you just need to blow up everyone else guessed it, rockets! It's a quick pick up play title with a few modes: quick match, zen, and tournament. 

The game's ships, missiles, and rockets are all very fast. Speed is key to victory. As you zoom by opponents you can try to blanket foes in explosions like a fireworks show. The keyword here is that you can try. You can take advantage of the various map layouts and fly into your opponents or trap someone in a corner to chip away at their life and lead yourself to victory. There's so many things that you can do to win. All of it can happen in mere minutes.

It's a great reminder of what games can and should be. They all don't need to be grand sweeping theatrical events. They can still be like the arcades games of decades past, something fun to play for five minute or five hours. There doesn't have to be much of a driving force outside of beating your friends or AI. RocketsRocketsRockets isn't just a nice distraction, it's an enjoyable experience that doesn't request much commitment to get pulled in.

That Sure Is Pretty

You miss it during all the frantic gameplay but Rockets is an audio-visual treat. For example, parts of the stage pulsate in sync with the beat of the song that's playing. 

Along with the pulsating stages, your ships also leave streaks of color in space. If you pause the game you'll notice they also glow, which looks great in its own way. Using your shield also lets off small, colorful particles and unleashing your missiles explodes in a rainbow of colors. It's honestly a color feast for the eyes.

Of course, a game like this needs the right soundtrack. The music is a mix of high tempo electronica, chill synthwave, and thumping techno. Not many games have audio that fits perfectly, but RocketsRocketsRockets is one of those few. The music and visual pairing brings it all together into a cohesive package that is hard to pull your eyes (and ears) away from.

Quality Time

A lot of detail has gone into creating this game and it really shows. Personally, I think the best example is the game's Zen mode.

Radial Games decided to add a little quality of life feature with Zen mode. Weapons are deactivated and you can just fly around stages enjoying the music. Alternatively, you can just pick your favorite song and leave the game on as you just relax -- more games need to do this!

A Word of Criticism 

I had trouble thinking of some criticisms, but the few I have lie in how this game diverts from the standard shmup formula.

One is the lack of a proper arcade mode from stage to stage. I like testing my skills set by the via an arcade mode. Also, not having a highscore tracker seems odd. I think it would be great to know how well I'm doing.

Again, not having these doesn't devalue the experience in anyway. These are ultimately small qualms.

One Last Hurrah 

Had a long day at work or school? Do you want to just jump into some mayhem and blow off some steam? Rockets is the game for you. 

Perhaps you're not sold on that... that's fair. Do you just love games with impressive physics and utterly colorful explosions? Then by all means, you should definitely play RocketsRocketsRockets. It's fun for the whole family.

Fans of shmups, indie games, and or arcade games can find RocketsRocketsRockets available on the Nintendo Switch eShop Today.

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of RocketsRocketsRockets used in this review.]

Crusader Kings 2 Holy Fury DLC Review: High Praise Mon, 12 Nov 2018 15:06:38 -0500 Fox Doucette

Some of the highest praise I can give a game is when it blows me away with how good it is that only the little “due in 24 hours” reminder email I get sent to me ahead of my deadline can drag me away from it for long enough to do my job.

And while Crusader Kings 2 is usually like that, the new Holy Fury DLC goes above and beyond even that lofty standard.

Put simply, this is the best DLC for Paradox's six-year-old, ever-evolving grand strategy masterpiece since The Old Gods came out back in 2013.

For one thing, pagans are back with a holy fury. After being effectively nerfed in Sons of Abraham and Charlemagne, and by getting stripped of feudal government by the tribal system introduced with Horse Lords, the men of the north get a big dose of power with the Swedish pagans, forged in Valhalla by the hammer of Thor.

For example, new “warrior lodges” give pagans what essentially amounts to the Companions from Skyrim, which in turn grant questlines that allow a ruler to massively improve his or her military skill, army morale, and all that other fun statistical stuff that makes the gods of the random number generator favor their generals in battle.

A ruler can duel other characters for honor and glory (governed by a brand-new Personal Combat modifier), and as they rise up the ranks, they get all kinds of other fun toys to play with like gaining a commander trait of the player's choice, choosing to turn into a berserker (which, keeping up the Skyrim analogy, is only slightly less overpowered than turning into a werewolf), and appointing a shieldmaiden to lead armies. You'll be first to the battle, first to the feast.

Great warrior heroes of all faiths get to found legendary bloodlines. Some of them are included in the historical rulers in-game like Charlemagne, Ragnar Lothbrok, El Cid, and their ilk; others can come from that nobody you built in the Ruler Designer, starting a no-name dynasty in some far-off corner of the map.

Want to spend way too much time, money, and effort getting your spouse to love you? In-game, I mean.

Well, that's where the new “Sway” and “Antagonize” mechanics come in, perfect for making friends and enemies to shape the diplomatic landscape in your part of the world.

There are even new sainthood rules and coronation rules for the Christians, giving them that much more historical flavor when they're getting knocked around all over Europe by the newly-beefy Vikings.

Oh, and the game even takes names so your berserker king can keep a list of every single one of his kills.

And did I mention that it's not just the Norsemen who get to have a lot of good pagan fun at the expense of the Christians in this DLC? If you want to not just revive the Roman Empire (which has been an option for years in CK2) but really bring the Classical era back, there's an entire event chain for Hellenism.

But all of the above would just relegate this DLC to another case of “depends on your playstyle” but for one mighty, overwhelmingly awesome feature that makes it an absolute must-buy:

Shattered Worlds

Want every county in the game to start under the independent rule of a one-province minor in a massive free-for-all where nothing is predetermined except the religion and culture of certain parts of the map? Buckle up, buttercup;  that's exactly what you get. And it's awesome.

If you like an aggressive game where you have lots to do in terms of claiming titles and building up your power at the expense of your neighbors in the earlygame, this is the game mode for you.

Want to raid your Christian neighbors but don't want to wait for the Viking Age event in 793 when you're playing the Charlemagne early start? Norse culture coastal provinces start with shipyards so you can make with the looting and start in on your ambitious building projects sooner than you normally would in the basegame.

Tired of having Europe bottlenecked by you being a vassal of the real movers and shakers in the world, waiting for a big realm divide before you can take advantage of the chaos? This is the game mode for you.

And if all one-province minors isn't your thing, there are even game options that create a randomized world. Same basic flavor as a historical start, but with a wildly different setup of counts, dukes, and kings than you'd normally expect to see, giving you a truly different start every single time you play.

I want this in Europa Universalis IV without having to use the Shattered Europa mod. Hopefully Paradox learns a thing or two from trying it out in CK2.

But Shattered Worlds? That's why only the unpleasant reminder that I actually have to earn the free review copy of the DLC that Paradox sent me by writing this review could drag me away from playing it.

That's some of the highest praise I can give a game. If you play Crusader Kings 2, buy this DLC. I can't make it any simpler than that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go spend every free moment I have for.. oh, about the next week or so.. playing it.

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

Steel Rats Review: A Misaligned Destruction Derby Mon, 12 Nov 2018 14:21:40 -0500 Thomas Chiles

Indie studio Tate Multimedia has taken the concept of physics stunt driving often found in games like Trials HD and Trials Fusion and redesigned it for console and PC gamers who want a little more action.

Steel Rats, the culmination of that distillation, is a 2.5D action platformer where you drive a motorcycle hellbent on destruction through a retro-futuristic city overrun by killer robots -- or in this case, JunkBots. You'll control one of four members of the Steel Rats biker gang (which you can switch between) as they fight their way through Coastal City across 28 levels and five unique districts.

Riding through the second district, Halcyon Isle.

Familiar Gameplay Gets Advanced

If you have played any game from the Trials series, you will be familiar with the physics-based motorcycle gameplay Steel Rats is built upon, such as flipping your 2D bike through the air during both precarious and non-precarious jumps. But Tate Multimedia didn't stop there as Steel Rats has turned that concept into a fully fleshed out 2.5D experience, complete with a progressing storyline, unique level design, and unlockable upgrades.

Despite all of that, though, the game still plays like an arcade game at heart — each level is short and can usually be completed within a few minutes. No moments of lengthy exposition here.  

In fact, it's really all about gameplay. 

Your motorcycle’s front tire is equipped with a glowing red saw, which helps you destroy the many enemies and obstacles in your path through the city. Hands down, this feature is one of the game’s coolest — activating the saw has different uses, too, such as receiving a speed boost and clinging to walls and ceilings, both vertically and horizontally. 

Not only does it do that, but it also helps you destroy cars, debris, and JunkBots that get in your way by holding down the blade's activation button.

Although each character’s motorcycle handles the same, each of the four has a unique attack. For example, Toshi has a small, flying robot that shoots lasers, while the front of James’ motorcycle slams down like an energy hammer. You can also unlock different upgrades for each character as you progress through the game, adding a bit of variety to the overall gameplay. 

When it works, driving through Coastal City at full speed is when this game is at its best. Each level has moments where everything transforms into an eclectic playground full of high-speed stunts and destruction. Unfortunately, you aren't always going top speed — you'll sometimes find yourself stopping to fight JunkBots, complete short puzzles, or navigate through impossibly slow, tight turns. 

While each level is short, they are not always linear. Sometimes you will have to complete a task, such as powering up generators in a specific order, before backtracking to proceed through the level. This sounds OK and does add variety to the gameplay, but it also slows down a game that's built around speed, and for some players, this anachronism will stand out.  

Hard-to-Master Controls

All of that aside, the main issue with Steel Rats' control scheme is that it’s not intuitive. Even after playing for a while, you may find yourself thinking about the next button you will need to press instead of just intuitively reacting. 

Holding the right trigger/bumper accelerates your motorcycle while pressing "circle" (PS4) or B (XB1)performs a U-turn. Since the game is on a 2.5D plane, pushing up and down on the joystick moves you up and down along a horizontal track. Pushing left and right on your joystick rotates your bike forward and backward while in mid-air, akin to mobile motorcycle stunt games like Trials.

However, controlling your motorcycle can feel “floaty” and loose at first. For example, your first instinct may be to turn the joystick the other way to get your motorcycle to turn around, but that makes you tilt back.

"R2" and "RT" is throttle and holding "X"/"A" activates your saw blade, which means you will most likely be holding both of these throughout most of the game. But with "triangle"/"Y" being jump, it can be awkward to let go of your saw blade to reach all the way up to jump.

"R1"/"RB" will cause you to dash forward, which means you end up holding down three buttons on one hand. If you could change the controls for Steel Rats, it would greatly improve the overall experience, but as of right now, you can't. 

Getting used to Steel Rats will test your patience and your true gaming ability. You most likely haven’t played a game with controls like this before. And if you have, it has never been this demanding.

Don't make a mistake will riding the vertical walls of the Coal Mine.

The Verdict

In the end, great sound design and a creative concept carry this game far. The sound of driving your motorcycle is immensely satisfying, and the idea of driving a destructive roadster through a robot-infested city is just plain cool -- and the gameplay has some great arcade elements that help it stand out. 

However, there are a few aspects of Steel Rats that could be tweaked or changed completely, especially in the controls department. If a future update includes button configuration, Steel Rats would become a completely different game. Couple this hiccup with the game's weak enemy design, where basically every Junkbot is a smaller or larger version of the last, and the experience can devolve into arduous repetition at times. 

If you get frustrated with difficult-to-master or awkward controls, you should skip this one. But if you love a real challenge, Steel Rats is an easy purchase.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Steel Rats used for this review.]

Hitman 2 Review: Engineered Rampages Have Never Been so Fun Mon, 12 Nov 2018 10:57:30 -0500 Tim White

Hitman 2 is more like the biggest expansion pack of all time than a truly new game. That's not a bad thing, as long as you know what you're getting into. It's essentially a half-dozen (enormous) new missions for 2016's Hitman; you can play those original missions right in Hitman 2, even if you don't own the original.


Most fans of the Hitman series have probably never been drawn primarily by the writing. It's never been bad—it's just not the central focus or main appeal of the games. Agent 47 is usually either working for or running from one super-secret international shadow organization or another, and it's no different this time around.

You'll unravel hints of a new conspiracy in the first mission and gradually learn more about it through five more that will fill 47's (fake) passport with stamps from Miami, Columbia, and several other beautiful locations.

I'm essentially not factoring the story into my rating of Hitman 2, for better or worse. It serves its function as a reason for 47 to move from one location to another; that's about all it's good for.


The main reason the Hitman series has been so successful is a simple one: it's really, really fun to find a hundred different ways to kill somebody. The 2016 Hitman reboot took lethal creativity to new heights, turning players loose in some of the biggest and most intricate environments the franchise had ever seen.

If you thought those levels were big, you're in for a real treat this time around.

Let me describe the sheer size of Hitman 2's missions this way. I write for a living. I've written dozens, if not hundreds of game guides since the PS2 days. I've got a pretty efficient system for writing guides for games as I'm playing them—it doesn't take me all that much longer than simply playing the game for enjoyment.

This morning, I spent six hours exploring a single mission, taking notes and screenshots. When I decided to wrap it up for the day, I'd discovered 17% of the content in that mission—in six hours. The sheer volume of stuff to find and do is staggering. As long as you find it entertaining to set up elaborate assassinations, sneak around in disguise, or simply blow everything up, Hitman 2 will keep you busy for a long time.

Within the first three missions, assassination opportunities include but are not limited to: sabotaging vehicles, shoving targets off rooftops and balconies, crushing them under ludicrously heavy objects, feeding them to hippopotamuses, feeding them into heavy machinery, feeding them to piranhas, burying them alive in wet cement, and programming killer robots to shoot them.

This list barely scratches the surface, and these are just the unique opportunistic kills—you can always shoot, blow up, choke, stab, or poison anybody at any time. Completing assignments skillfully (i.e. smoothly and quietly) will unlock new weapons, gear, disguises, and insertion points, giving you even more options for next time.

Don't get me wrong, the core gameplay loop is really fun and enormously satisfying. But in a way, Hitman 2's greatest strength can also be its biggest weakness. There are, after all, only so many ways to kill people.

There's a real risk that Hitman 2 will overstay its welcome before you even finish all the missions, especially if you're a completionist reluctant to move to the next level until you've fully cleared the current one.

I recommend not doing what I'm doing (completing every single challenge in every level), at least not the first time through. It'll eventually get old for all but the most die-hard fans. Play each mission two or three times, try out a handful of assassinations that look the most fun to you, and then move on. If you're still hungry for more after you clear each mission, you can always replay them later.


Almost every game has some sort of multiplayer component nowadays. Frankly, I don't think it belongs in Hitman games, but I gave it a whirl anyway.

As of right now, there's only one mode, called "Ghosts." To be blunt, it's dumb. You and one other player race to kill the same target using limited weapons and equipment.

The first one to kill the target scores a point, but if your opponent also kills (a different version of) the target within twenty seconds, they cancel out your point. What all this means is that you both spend a very long time canceling each other's points and keeping the score eternally at 0-0. It's not worth spending any time on.


Hitman 2 is quite pretty to look at, especially considering how gargantuan some of the maps are. IO Interactive easily could have phoned it in and copy-pasted the same areas over and over, making only minor changes, but no two areas of any map are even close to identical.

From lush jungles to packed race tracks to the markets of Mumbai at sunset, the game's settings are just as diverse visually as they are mechanically. Though Hitman 2's gameplay might eventually get boring, its artwork never will.


Sound & Music

Hitman 2 is a quiet game. I assume that's intentional; it's easier to track moving targets, sneak effectively, and stay focused on a dozen different things if you're not bombarded by noise. The music during stealth/non-alert sections is intense but mellow, creating a sense of mild urgency without panic.

I can't comment extensively on battle music or on many of the weapon sound effects—I strongly prefer to take Hitman games slow and steady, so I rarely found myself in open conflict. On the few occasions when I found it unavoidable, I appreciated the deep, sharp crack of unsuppressed gunshots and the dramatic soundtrack that accompanies them.

Most of the voice acting is grade A, with only a few minor characters giving performances bad enough to be distracting. 47's usual deadpan monotone is the same as always, but in a few scenes, he steps it up considerably in order to impersonate someone or bluff his way past some guards. It's a shame that these scenes are so uncommon; an assassin of 47's skill would surely be a social chameleon, and it would be nice to hear him take on a wider variety of personas.


Hitman 2 is exceedingly well optimized, particularly in light of the fact that we live in a time when many developers seem content to release unfinished games and patch them later—if ever.

The game consistently maintained frame rates of 70+ on Ultra settings while running on a GTX 1080 and an i-7700 Skylake processor. This level of performance is even more impressive when you consider that most of the maps have hundreds, maybe even thousands of NPCs, all of whom move around and do stuff even when you're not close to them.

The load times are superb, never running longer than about five seconds on a Samsung 1TB solid state drive.

Unfortunately, it's not all good news. Like its predecessor, Hitman 2 requires an active internet connection at all times. This is, in a word, obnoxious. Your save data is effectively held hostage; you can't access it while offline. I understand that it's an anti-piracy measure, and I fully support content creators protecting their work, but there really are better ways to do it.

Verdict: 8/10

The Highlights

+ Excellent level design
+ Tons of enjoyable assassinations
+ Top-shelf optimization and performance

– Always-online requirement for single player
– Almost too much content, might get boring
– Lackluster, boring, tacked-on multiplayer

When sequels are described as "more of the same," that's usually a bad thing, but not in this case. Hitman 2 is really just season two of Hitman, but it's so big and interesting that I didn't mind. Fans of stealth, exploration, and jaw-dropping violence will find a lot to love here—as long as the clumsy DRM isn't a complete deal-breaker.

Note: the reviewer received a copy of this game for free from the publisher.

Check out our Hitman 2 guide hub for in-depth guides and more content!

Grip: Combat Racing, A Generous Throwback with a Lack of Style Fri, 09 Nov 2018 10:34:04 -0500 William R. Parks

As the scale of console games continues to grow, so do our expectations for the depth of their content.

It is not uncommon to spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours scouring the latest RPG, and many fans of multi-player gaming expect their first-person shooters, MMOs, and battle royales to provide nearly endless entertainment.

The racing game is certainly not exempt from this expectation.

At the beginning of October, Microsoft released Forza Horizon 4, an open-world racing simulator, and it is the perfect reflection of this current paradigm as it is applied to the racer. Featuring hundreds of cars, a dynamic weather system that alters gameplay, and a player-driven route creator, Forza 4 is massive and the fastest-selling game in franchise history.

But what about the racing simulator's stripped-down brother, the arcade racer? While franchises like F-Zero and Wipeout are revered for their adrenaline-pumping action, they are not exactly known for their depth of content.

Can a game with the goal of minimizing everything but the heart-racing thrills that come with driving at insane speeds thrive in a landscape where developers answer fans' resounding call of "more, more, more"?

Grip: Combat Racing, a spiritual-successor to 1999's Rollcage, says "Yes," and it is extremely generous with the features and content it provides.

However, after spending some time with Grip, I wonder how much of this throwback anyone actually needs.

Grip is a fast-and-furious arcade racer that lets players drive up walls and fly across ceilings, all while launching missiles and firing gatling guns at their adversaries. It is a a jacked up Mario Kart in a futuristic setting, and before starting Grip, the classic Mario Kart 64 was likely the last racing games I spent any significant time with.

After jumping into Grip's mammoth campaign mode (which can provide hours of predefined playlists spanning a majority of the game modes available), and crossing the finish line last in the first handful of races I joined, I feared that my time away from the genre had ruined me. Had I found my video game kryptonite?

Fortunately, Grip never made me feel inadequate. On the contrary, the game continually rewarded me with additional vehicles and cosmetics (through its XP-based unlocking system), and the campaign continued to advance, keeping me engaged as it introduced new tracks, game modes, and weapon types.

There are 23 race tracks (which can be played mirrored), 5 combat arenas, and a bevy of unlockable vehicles and customization in Grip, and the game was not going to let me miss its vast array of content just because I was bad at it.

This generosity made my time learning Grip's mechanics not only palpable, but fun (despite all of the losing that I was doing). While I certainly wanted to improve my racing prowess, active progression kept me playing even when I was at my worst. Soon enough, I was bringing home the gold and slaying foes in the battle arena.

If all advancement had been locked until I was winning races, I am not confident that I would have lasted long enough to ever be able to do so, and it is a boon that Grip is careful not to alienate a neophyte like myself.

It is important to note that some success on the track is required to proceed to the end of Tier 3 of the campaign, but Grip builds gradually, and what it requires of you never feels out of reach.

Regarding the gameplay, there are two primary ways to play: racing and arena.

Within the category of racing, there are several types that vary from straightforward non-combat races to those that consider weapon damage when determining your final position. This variety is appreciated, as it gives players a chance to find a racing type that they are suited for. Struggling with the Speed Demon races? Perhaps you will find your legs in the Ultimate Race.

The races themselves are exciting, and I often have a head rush after a play session. However, they operate on a very small margin, especially at the higher difficulties. You always feel one error away from last place and one well placed missile away from first. The exception is the Ultimate Race, where combat damage matters, and you can find yourself in the middle of the pack even with subpar lap times.

Living on the razor's edge can be exhilarating, and it is a large part of why Grip's gameplay is so addictive - "If only I had not missed that boost," I say to myself as I fire up the race again, looking for a better finish.

That said, it often leads to feel-bad moments where a late-race crash takes you from first place to last. I find myself frustrated and restarting races often, though the fact that Grip can keep me repeating "one more time" after so many failed attempts is a testament to the success of its gameplay.

However, there is a shortcoming in Grip's gameplay, and it is often the culprit for these race-ending crashes: its unintuitive aerial handling. The easiest way to put yourself completely out of a race is to get stuck against a track's terrain following a big jump, and it is even preferable to go out-of-bounds and get reset on the track. As a result, my strategy is to avoid aerial maneuvering as much as possible.

This is a major misstep for a game attempting to provide a gravity-defying experience, and it is Grip's biggest failing.

The other category, arena, does not suffer from these problems. This is an all-out battle in an enclosed space where winners are decided exclusively by damage dealt. Driving prowess means little, and, as a result, it is the game type I am best at.

Unfortunately, it is the least fun. Simply, the default timer is too long, and instead of engaging in frenetic combat, I am often looking at the clock, waiting for the minutes to tick away.

This is an apt distillation of the problem at the core of Grip -- while it it is packed to the gills with content, I am not certain that an arcade racer needs to offer endless play. For fans that cannot get enough of speeding around tracks and blowing up vehicles, Grip can easily supply hours and hours of gameplay through its massive campaign and robust single and multi-player options (which allow full customization of all of the game modes). For the rest, the novelty of the gameplay may wain quickly.

Instead of the glut of content Grip provides, the game would be served much better by addressing the non-gameplay aspect that is holding it back: the lifelessness of its assets.

While the tracks are serviceable, they are bland. The garage provides an array of vehicles and customization, but none of it feels particularly exciting.

Grip is indeed intended to be a throwback to a bygone era of arcade racing, but its aesthetic feels trapped in the games it references. While this is not a question of fidelity, as the audio/visual components feel quite clean and sharp, I would be hard pressed to offer my favorite track or vehicle, as none stands out in particular. This drabness is further solidified by the stock drum and bass that comprise Grip's soundtrack.

Here is where the genre has an opportunity to enter the modern age, with mesmerizing visuals that transport you to a future of combat racing and a blistering soundtrack to match the ridiculously high-speed competitions you are engaged in. Unfortunately, Grip is not quite able to find a style that is compelling enough to elevate it.

All-in-all, I have had fun with my time in Grip, and I appreciate just how much it offers. But, unless you can only find joy when ramming another vehicle at 400 miles-per-hour, it is hard to imagine it being much more than a passing distraction.

[Note: Writer was grated a copy of the game from the publisher.]

HellSign Early Access Review: Hard-R Supernatural Meets Shadowrun Fri, 09 Nov 2018 09:00:01 -0500 Ty Arthur

There's no question about it -- the indie development scene is where you want to go to find the best in horror these days.

Up and coming developer Ballistic Interactive is hoping to draw your attention away from Call Of Cthulhu and news of the impending Layers Of Fear sequel with the early access launch of HellSign, an investigative / action RPG hybrid.

What should you expect from this isometric mashup of gaming styles? Indie darling Distrust sought to provide gamers with a playable version of The Thing, while HellSign seeks to expand that inspiration out into a game version of essentially all horror movie tropes.

From disappearing puzzle boxes to pig masks to poltergeists, you're in for a "monster of the week" romp! 

'80s Aesthetic Meets Modern Monster Hunting

Somehow it's always a dark and stormy night in the HellSign universe, with every other house the recent site of a ritualistic murder probably involving  cryptids or even more obscure occult monstrosities.

There's a very specific hard boiled '80s synthwave vibe to locations your amnesiac monster scout visits on his quest to decipher the meaning of the sign tattooed on his back. 

What you get is essentially a cross between Shadowrun, as you seek out jobs from a fixer, and a hard R-rated Supernatural or Fringe. The term "horrorpunk" really applies here on the aesthetic front.

When you leave the bar behind and head out to investigate the sites of various awful events, the occasional screen scan flickers are a brilliant touch, making the exploration sections feel like an old VHS copy of a movie.

Those little visual touches are matched by absolutely top notch music and sound that evoke the right mood. In terms of overall atmosphere, HellSign absolutely nails it.

The gameplay itself is another matter...

Early Access Jitters

This is an Early Access launch, so obviously as an unfinished game there are some kinks to work out, like the super long load times to start each job.

For the most part the methods to find various clues in haunted houses are intuitive, but sometimes the blood splatters and so on don't seem to lead to any objects that actually yield clues.

There will be times where you'll end up just randomly clicking everything until you figure out what the game wants from you.

The randomized nature of each location also means that sometimes the clues don't really fully make sense or jive with their surroundings. Despite that randomization, HellSign can get pretty repetitive and overly similar quite fast, and that's the main issue that will need to be addressed as development continues.

There's one other nagging issue dragging HellSign down, and that's the ranged combat.

Never mind the AAA titles out there, the combat here can't even compete with other indie action RPGs, and it needs a big overhaul and a lot of polish. The gunplay reminds me of a slightly sped up version of the SNES Shadowrun game, and that's not a good thing.

Learning to time a dodge roll to avoid skittering monsters is critical to survival, but that whole system is marred by the collision detection, as its easy to get stuck on doors and other objects.

I'm not sure if this is a bug or an intentional design, but the giant centipede enemy can move through closed doors for some reason (maybe he's wiggling underneath it?), which is truly obnoxious when the player is already underpowered in every way at the start of the game.

Of course, combat becomes less of an ordeal as you upgrade equipment so you can more easily tackle the lesser threats and move onto bigger beasties for extra money.

Besides better firepower, your investigator can combine skills and clues to gain damage reduction and other benefits over the local supernatural population, but overall the combat is just a mess of jump rolling and frantic firing without much precision in the controls.

It may have interrupted the fast paced flow of kicking down doors and investigating rooms, but I can't help but feel turn based combat would have been a much better route to go here. That design would have worked better with the RPG elements and given more uses for skills.

The Bottom (But Very Early) Line

HellSign may be flawed and in need of polish, but that's exactly what Early Access exists to handle.

Overall you get a solid game here with a mix of finding and deciphering clues, interacting with rough 'n tumble characters, shooting at beasties, and running the hell out of a haunted house before you die and lose 66.6% of your earned loot.

A half dozen hours in and I'm officially intrigued, wanting to learn much more about the nefarious entity that wants our sunglasses-at-night wearing, monster hunting badass to stay alive for reasons unknown. The Early Access version only offers up the first chapter at the moment, so there's plenty more to this story to unravel still.

Its fabulous to see more indie horror coming down the pipe, and I'd easily recommend HellSign as one to earmark and watch during Early Access to see if the finished product manages to become the classic game it could be.


[Note: Writer was grated a copy of the game from the publisher.]

The Elder Scrolls Online: Murkmire DLC Review Tue, 06 Nov 2018 15:21:53 -0500 David Jagneaux

The Elder Scrolls Online has quietly become one of the very best MMORPGs on the market. Earlier this year, the brand-new Summerset expansion introduced a new crafting tree and delivered one of the richest and most beautiful MMO zones in any game to date.

Ironically, the Black Marsh is essentially a polar opposite in the vast continent of Tamriel.

Swampy Goodness

The Murkmire DLC brings players to the titular zone with all of its swamps, crumbling ruins, and reptilian scenery, nestled down in the far southeastern corner of the map. With it comes a brand new, very difficult group arena in the Blackrose Prison, a handful of delves, a new player home in the Lakemire Xanmeer Manor, and two new world bosses.

That's all on top of the typical assortment of quests, including a main quest line focused on the recovery of lost Argonian relics.

While it doesn’t have as much content as Summerset since it’s only a DLC pack and not a full-blown expansion, the new zone alone makes Murkmire a worthwhile purchase.

One of the biggest draws of ESO has always been exploration. There are plenty of merchants and questgivers peppered across the world to keep funneling you toward content and keep you busy, but it’s a remarkably playable game if you just turn off the HUD and go for a walk. These swamp lands hide a unique beauty that’s all their own.

Since I play an Argonian Warden, Murkmire was a special piece of DLC content for me. I felt out of place wandering the picturesque locales of Summerset and didn’t fit in with much of the base game’s content. Life as an Argonian is a life of exclusion and being labeled as an outsider. It was nice to see the tables turned for once.

ESO swamp creatures

Cyrdoilic Collections

The main questline for Murkmire begins in the starting city of Lilmoth near the southeastern coastline of Murkmire. After speaking with Famia Mercius, you join the Cyrodilic Collections’ expedition to track down lost Argonian artifacts.

Before starting Murkmire, you can even complete some prologue quests back in Shadowfen (for free) to get in the mood for the storyline. Once it gets going in Murkmire itself, it’s all got a very “Indiana Jones gone bad” vibe as you quickly end up having to help rescue lost expedition members.

The set-piece moments are very well done and the quality of the writing and voice acting is right up there with the best of the rest of the game. This is one of the few MMOs that I usually don’t skip dialogue in because everything is voiced so well.

All told, the main quest for Murkmire is about seven individual quests long and can take a few hours to complete. After that, there are tons of side quests, repeatable daily quests, and the other world content to dig into. This isn’t a DLC that will keep you occupied for months on end; you can probably finish everything in this zone in a week or two depending on how often you play, but the addition of a new end-game focused Arena is a welcomed inclusion.

Bethesda’s attention to detail with their world building is second-to-none and Murkmire does a great job of continuing that legacy.

If you take the time to speak with NPCs and really dig into the dialogue and listen to what they have to say, you’ll pick up on variations in accents and phrases. For example, I noticed one female Argonian refer to her biological family as her “egg-family” and it just made me smile.

Tamriel has such a rich culture that it’s great to see it continuing to be expanded more and more. ESO feels like a living, breathing history book.

Murkmire map

Coming off of the geographically massive expansion that was Summerset, Murkmire feels a bit more reserved. The content that is there is very well done, but it’s important to understand the difference between a large expansion release and a smaller DLC pack.

Along with Murkmire comes Update 20 as well, which does introduce some changes to the open PvP zone in Cyrodiil, holiday-themed furnishings, and improved home editing to round out the content offering.

The Murkmire DLC for The Elder Scrolls Online is available now for PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for free to all ESO Plus users or for 2,000 crowns in the in-game shop. A premium edition of the DLC costs 4,000 crowns, which also includes five 2-hour 50% boost crown experience scrolls, a swamp jelly non-combat pet, and a shellback warhorse mount.

Alternatively, Murkmire is also being given away for free as a daily login bonus -- this is the first time a paid DLC pack has been offered this way. All you have to do is log in to ESO at least 24 days in the month of November, which means if you haven’t logged in yet this month, you need to every day in order to earn it.

Murkmire is worth it, trust me. 

[Note: This review is based off of the retail version of Murkmire after it launched on PC. The reviewer is an ESO Plus monthly subscriber and received the Murkmire DLC content for free as part of his subscription.]

The Quiet Man: Uninspired and Boundlessly Baffling Tue, 06 Nov 2018 14:56:45 -0500 William R. Parks

In a time where vast open worlds offer increasingly boundless opportunities for exploration, VR experiences transplant players into new bodies, and elaborate role-playing games facilitate playthroughs that are custom tailored to the individual, "immersion" is a buzz-word frequently used when discussing the latest and greatest of video game art.

Each year, it seems we come ever closer to the holy grail of fully immersive gaming, and titles like The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Red Dead Redemption 2 give us the chance to truly lose ourselves in the characters and universes that are so meticulously constructed for us.

However, the scale present in these games is not requisite to creating an immersive experience. A focused, small-scale approach can serve just fine when attempting to put players into someone else's shoes.

Enter The Quiet Man, a new interactive movie co-developed by Square Enix and Human Head Studios (the developers behind Rune and Prey) with a high concept: silence.

The Quiet Man is a game without audible dialogue, and I can only assume that this emphasis on soundlessness is an attempt to allow players to inhabit the reality of the game's deaf protagonist, Dane. Unfortunately, The Quiet Man's execution is so painfully muddled that any of the developers' lofty goals have been completely obscured.

The Quiet Man is filled start-to-finish with scenes of characters talking, and while our protagonist is able to read lips and communicate using American Sign Language, the information he is privy to is never translated to the player. There are no subtitles or visual indicators making sure we are on the same page as Dane. Instead, we are left only to glean the broad strokes of the game's narrative while watching extended sequences of muted dialogue.

If a gross understanding is all we are intended to extract from these scenes, there are endless possibilities for conveying that information without requiring players to stare confusedly at unhearable talking heads. For a game so focused on storytelling, this misstep is a major failing.

Ultimately, The Quiet Man puts us in the position of a deaf spectator trying to make sense of dialogue-centric narrative. The protagonist also happens to be deaf, but there is no immersion here, only confusion and alienation. This is not to suggest that The Quiet Man's narrative need to be made crystal-clear. Rather, we should enter the game through Dane's perspective, unraveling the game's mysteries alongside him.

There are plenty of opportunities for Dane's deafness to impede an immediate and comprehensive understanding of the game's plot. However, that should not be achieved by making it impossible for players to decipher what is being communicated to him on screen.

That said, while increased clarity may make The Quiet Man more comprehensible, I am not certain that the game's narrative is salvageable even if the information Dane receives was being transmitted through an amplifier turned up to 11.

Note: A plot description and heavy spoilers follow.

The Story

The Quiet Man is an FMV game with heavy emphasis on its live-action narrative passages. However, from what I can piece together, the story of The Quiet Man is tenuous at best.

Here is my attempt to outline the game's action:

When Dane was a child, his mother was shot by a boy that is trying to get a pair of shoes back from a bully -- the perfect setup for an accidental homicide.

Dane-as-child seems to be friendly with the boy that fired the gun, and there is the indication that Dane believes that the bully was actually the one to pull the trigger (and that he was affiliated with a gang called "33").

It is hard to imagine why he would think that, as he seems to have been a direct witness to the shooting, but it is easiest to assume that Dane is confused about who killed his mother as, years later, he is still close with the boy responsible for her death.

After the shooting, Dane is understandably devastated, and a police officer (who is either his father or a concerned citizen) takes him to a psychiatrist where young Dane draws a picture of birdman standing (atop a pile of bones) next to a woman.

Flash forward to where the action of the game begins.

Dane is a young man now, and his first task is to infiltrate the 33 gang's hideout, recover a briefcase filled with cocaine, and promptly deliver it to the now grown executioner of his mother (Taye).

Taye hands Dane a letter that suggests a woman (very much resembling Dane's dead mother) is being targeted by someone, and, sure enough, the woman is taken captive by a man with a bird mask that evening.

Now it is time to lay waste to everyone standing between you and that woman.

This takes you through the ranks of the 33 gang, to the bully that you believe shot your mother, to Taye (who apparently has his hands in the kidnapping as well).

My understanding of this The Crow-esque revenge spree is hazy, but, at some point, the police officer from your past assists you in reaching Taye and provides you with a bird mask that seems to give you supernatural strength and the ability to resurrect.

What happens after your confrontation with Taye I cannot say, as The Quiet Man broke irreparably, refusing to trigger a cut-scene that would advance the plot further. I am simply unwilling to replay the section leading up to the encounter in order to see the game's conclusion, but I do not believe I would be remiss in assuming that the finale is just as nonsensical and uninspired as the story leading up to it.

I also tell you all of this because I seriously doubt you will make past the first few minutes of the game anyway. 

The Gameplay

On the topic of The Quiet Man breaking, the gameplay is simply a void -- a barebones and glitchy experience with the minimum amount of features required to call it a game. No tutorials, no UI, no interactive objects, no moveable camera.

The fixed camera has to be the game's worst offense. The Quiet Man plays like a beat 'em up, but attempting to kick, punch, and dodge enemies in 3D space without being able to adjust your viewpoint is, plainly, painful.

Combined with an unresponsive combat system, some of the later encounters feel excruciatingly challenging on the harder difficulty setting. Actually timing a dodge properly in The Quiet Man felt so uncommon that I expected a statue to be erected in my honor every time I managed to land one.

Fortunately, one of the game's few strengths is that the loading time after you are defeated is quite short, getting you back to the action quickly.

The only moments when combat feels passable are when you are fighting a single opponent, which minimizes the need to alter your focal point, or the game's playspace flattens into a side-scroller. While the combat would still feel wooden, The Quiet Man could be a serviceable brawler just by eliminating its third dimension.

Due to these immense shortcomings, I could never find a combat strategy that felt effective. There was no sense that I was ever improving, and I relegated myself to spamming a special move that made me temporarily invulnerable, clicking buttons, and praying that I would come out the other side alive.

The problem with this approach, beyond its obvious failings as a compelling combat system, is that it was the cause of the game's critical failure.

As I neared my encounter with Taye, The Quiet Man's camera was no longer able to handle my power-up move. When it was active, the camera would float in some liminal first-person space, never focusing on the action until I performed a finishing move that would end my invulnerability.

However, after fighting Taye, I put on my bird mask and went full Super Saiyan. The camera never recovered, and I was forced to quit out of the game.

All of these elements felt on the level of PlayStation 1-era shovelware, and this blankness translated to the drab and detailless environments and enemies I engaged with.

If so little effort was going to be made outside of the live-action sequences, I wonder why the developers would not just let the action occur within the live video in the way of Quick Time Events.

This would have kept The Quiet Man out of the realm of filmic dialogue, which it certainly does not want to be part of, and saved players from its inadequate gameplay experience.

The Verdict

The Quiet Man is an opportunity squandered.

A game that puts you in the place of someone with a hearing impairment could potentially be compelling in the right hands, giving players opportunities to problem solve in ways they may never have before, but these developers lost their way.

Was the original idea to make a game with a deaf protagonist, and, in a misguided attempt at immersion, all communication was extracted? Or did they want to make a soundless game and used deafness as a half-baked justification for doing so?

In either case, there is no cohesion between concept and execution in The Quiet Man, and the complete lack of attention to creating an acceptable gameplay experience pushes it over the line.

This is not a game to be enjoyed for how bafflingly incompetent it is in almost every category. It is simply bad, and you should stay away from it.

[Note: The developers provided a copy of The Quiet Man for review.]

The World Ends With You: Final Mix Review Tue, 06 Nov 2018 14:12:55 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Released back in 2007, The World Ends With You quickly cultivated a cult fanbase thanks to its unique anime, urban-street-culture presentation and original use of the DS touchscreen.

Since then, TWEWY has been released on iOS and the characters have made an appearance in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.

I was one of the many people who missed out on the JRPG when it originally released, and I thought it was a good time to see if it still holds up now that it's on the Nintendo Switch. The World Ends With You: Final Mix edition touts itself as the definitive version of the beloved cult hit, complete with HD graphics and a new control scheme.

After playing it, I can say it's one of the most difficult to talk about games I've ever had to review. 

TWEWY puts you into the shoes of Neku, your typical angst-ridden, anti-socialite. While Neku starts off as a wet blanket, seeing him grow from hateful misanthrope to (somewhat of a) paragon is at the core of the story -- and it's mostly well done.

The cast of colorful side-characters helps liven things up and make endearing Neku's anti-social personality worth the trip. The writing can expositional and it runs into cliche story beat's you've seen in countless anime, but it's still a decently-told tale.


What TWEWY does do well is embrace a unique style and presentation.

The streets of Shibuya are oozing with urban culture and the citizens that inhabit the city give life to this virtual re-creation of Japan's version of Time Square.

Tetsuya Nomura, known for his work on Kingdom Hearts, not only produced TWEWY but was the art and character designer. His work is on full display and mixes well with the street-art style that TWEWY is known for. Colors are a bit more muted than in other games in the genre, but that only adds to the game's overall immersion.

The final mix version adds more detail to the backgrounds and models. Characters, in particular, look less like 16-bit sprites and more like hand-drawn models, similar to what you see in a manga or comic book.

The environments also look much crisper and less pixelated than past versions, giving a game with tons of personality even more. 

There's still no game that matches TWEWY's sense of urban fashion and, even on an HD TV, the game still looks great despite its age.

Adding to the game's presentation is the fantastic soundtrack. From hip-hop to bits of J-pop, the game's music is almost 100% vocal and never feels out-of-place. It's so good, you might just want to get it on iTunes (it'll be stuck in your head for a week. You're welcome).

The final mix contains a remastered version of the original soundtrack, with updated tracks and melodies, that are even more pleasing to listen to. But, if you prefer the original version, you can always opt to change it in the options menu, which is a nice touch for returning fans.

Combat in TWEWY  takes place in real time, and will make use of either one of the Switch's Joy-Cons when docked, or the touchscreen when in handheld mode.

Either control style you choose will have you swiping, moving Neku and his partner via pins you collect. These powers can range from simple melee slashes to various forms of kinesis. You'll set enemies aflame, zap them with lightning, or even throw objects on the field. You can only switch between three pins powers in combat, but you can change which ones you want while in the pause screen.

Combat starts off basic, but slowly ramps up. Mixing and matching pins to your playstyle is generally a good time thanks to the flashy feedback you get. It all makes for a unique combat system but one that's begging for either a traditional control scheme or one that makes use of a stylus.

In my experience, it's better to not use the Joy-Con at all. The docked control scheme is just awful, as the Joy-Con's Gyro-sensor just isn't that responsive to keep up with the hectic action.

There's no way to turn off motion controls, so you're stuck with them whenever you're playing on the TV. Constantly flailing your arm to emulate a stylus just doesn't work and makes the game nearly unplayable. It's a shame that for a system that has the moniker, "you can play anywhere", gaming on the TV is a pain.

Fortunately, you can play with the game's touchscreen -- and it works well. The game will occasionally misinterpret one touch for another, but that never becomes too much of a problem.

What can be problematic, though, is the disconnect between story and gameplay in the exploration sections. An early mission, for example, will have you looking at a statue and trying to figure out what's wrong with it. You'll know what you have to do with it, but the game won't let you interact with it unless you search for a thought bubble that tells you what you already know what to do.

Despite these nuisances, TWEWY is still a fun game to play -- even after all these years. There are very few games that contain the style and gameplay that has yet to be re-created and it's easy to see how it gain such a strong cult following.

However, it sits in this weird state where it's both the best and worst version of the game. It's a hard deal to accept, especially at the $50 price tag. The game looks better than ever and plays well, so as long as you keep out of docked mode.

If you only have a Nintendo Switch, it's worth picking up. Just beware of some tacky choices here and there.

Review: Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard Mon, 05 Nov 2018 09:44:56 -0500 ElConquistadork

Apparently it doesn't take long for Corsair to improve on an already good thing.

This summer, we covered the original Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 keyboard. It was sturdy, customizable, and a perfect enough combination of form and function that we gave it a 9/10.

Now, almost half a year later, we're investigating its newer, quieter, and yet almost identical twin brother, the Corsair K70 Mk.2 Low Profile. So what exactly is the difference, and is it worth the upgrade?

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sold on the hardware when I first unpacked it. At first glance, it seemed identical to the original K70 Mk.2 in almost every way. It wasn't until I actually sat the two next to each other that I got a full handle on the main design difference: this new keyboard is lean. Lean as in 29mm tall.

With a lower frame and keys, the Low Profile edition lives up to its name. Factor into that whisper soft typing, and you've got exactly the sort of keyboard you want when you're looking for mechanical reaction time coupled with something that doesn't sound like an old typewriter. 

It's possible that it's just in my head, but this sleek layout even made me feel like my reactions were quicker, whether I was gaming or just typing.

Of course, this keyboard is fully equipped with everything that made the original K70 my favorite keyboard of the year (until now), including Cherry MX Keyswitches, full key rollover, and an onboard memory system to keep your personal customization options at hand no matter where you plug into.

The fully programmable lighting system is still brilliant, and iCUE remains one of the most reliable pieces of software out there for keyboards, with incredible options for RGB lighting, macros, and synchronization with any of Corsair's other compatible peripherals.

The differences might seem skin deep to some, but it remains that Corsair has heavily improved on an already brilliant keyboard for gamers of every stripe. For a mere extra $10, this is an upgrade worth getting.

The Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard is available on Amazon for $169.99.

The Colonists Review: Getting to the Nuts and Bolts Fri, 02 Nov 2018 16:48:04 -0400 Victoria B.

While many games set in the future might focus on the dangers AI consciousness poses to humanity, The Colonists makes robots just too cute to fear.

In this settlement/strategy/building game, you must help a spaceship full of adorable little bots escape enslavement on Earth so that they can build their own robotic society in the stars.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to achieve bigger and greater accomplishments to expand your city in various environments. You must help the bots maintain energy while avoiding running out of resources.

The game has a lot of fantastic characteristics, but there are also a few things to consider before you buy.


Art Style

There are some quirky and lovable qualities to this game because of the art style and robotic citizens. Each of your bots has individual names that you can change, and it can be fun watching them bustle about the city to complete tasks and build monuments.

This is part of the charm to the game that separates it from other builders. Each bot has a specific task and different build to indicate their role in the community, making them easy to track and keep an eye on.

Track Efficiency

The Colonists, while cute, also has complexities and fantastic details when it comes to tracking the functionality of your new society. You can view statistics on the production of resources, efficiency, building upgrades, and research.

Despite all the amount of detail, anyone can easily pick up this game and play. It isn’t overly complex and tutorial pop-ups follow you along the way to explain mechanics and provide advice.

Goal Oriented

To keep you goal oriented with the development of your city, The Colonists provides simple objectives and tasks to work up towards. For example, one of your first tasks is to build a monument.

Once you review the requirements for such a job, you realize that you must conduct research and collect new resources. The goals are easy to follow but sometimes require a bit of time and strategizing to complete.


The style of gameplay is relaxing and a time burner that I enjoyed playing in between work or when I wanted to avoid work. It is perfect for a casual player looking for a bit of stress relief during the day and can be a great way to unwind. I became engrossed at times thinking about the next task I wanted to complete.


Better Suited to Mobile

However, it is the causality and ease of the game that causes it to have some downfalls. This is perfect for casual gameplay, which makes me think it would work best if it was a mobile app rather than only a PC game. While a player could still hop on their computer and play, it feels more suited for a mobile or portable device that I could pick up in my downtime.

I can imagine how it could be even more addictive to let your city build while you’re at work and hear a notification when your building or research is completed. There are plenty of building apps that are successful in this platform because of the game always being in the players pocket and accessible anywhere. The casual gameplay is great for this style and genre but could reach a wider audience on different platforms.

Conflict and Stakes

While I enjoyed how calming the game could be, I also craved a bit more tension or stakes. Unlike many society building games, there are no huge threats to your city other than when you eventually must fight other bots to conquer new territories.

For the most part, antagonism players will face is the lack of energy, resources, and space. This makes the game accessible and easy to play for anyone, but it also lacks a bit of challenge to drive the player forward. The goals do provide players with something to strive for, but it can be easy to forget to check up on your city when there are no significant or immediate threats to it other than running out of materials.


Not all casual building games need significant conflict to keep players interested though. In fact, many of my favorite builders I spent hours on as a kid didn’t have the threat of another player attacking my city or the loss of territory. I think back to classic builders such as Roller Coaster Tycoon or Sim City.

Similar to The Colonists, players had to use a limited space to build resources that help the production of a city or must acquire more land to expand. However, unlike these classics, The Colonists has a bit less customization options. You can upgrade your buildings, which changes the appearance and efficiency of the town, but there are no options to change the look of the buildings or the bots themselves. Most of the customization decisions will apply when choosing which locations, you would like to build and where you want to place them.

Overall Thoughts

I did enjoy playing this game in my downtime and found myself attached to the adorable little bots as well as the cartoonish art style. But, it currently does have some limitations and player retention concerns.

If you play society building games and find yourself perfecting your city, you will likely enjoy The Colonist and appreciate ability to track every element of productivity. However, the game could have a greater potential on a mobile device, and as a player, I would have been more invested if there were a bit more customization options or stakes to my success.

My Hero One's Justice Review: Not Quite Quirky Enough Fri, 02 Nov 2018 13:20:20 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

My Hero Academia is, without a single doubt, one of the most successful anime franchises here in the West. The show instantly found an audience thanks to its strong writing, insanely likable characters (like Ashido and Kaminari, the best characters in the show don't @ me), and honest, gut-wrenching emotion.

Oh, and all the awesome superpowers and fights. Those are good, too. 

With all of that behind it, there was bound be a video game adaptation. A 3D fighting game in the vein of One Piece: Burning Blood or Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm seemed to be a slam-dunk affair. Unfortunately, although the game itself is fun, My Hero One's Justice takes too many liberties with the source material to be truly successful.


All Might and Eraserhead fight Shigaraki on the street

When you boot up the game for the first time, you'll find a variety of different single and multiplayer modes to explore -- a story mode that pretty much takes you through most of the show's second and third seasons, a mission mode where you pick characters and run them through a gauntlet of missions during which your health doesn't regenerate, both online and local multiplayer, and a classic arcade mode that was added in a day-one patch.

There is a fair amount of content to sink your teeth into, whether you're a fan of the show or just a fan of fighting games. If you're one of those folks who needs a game to give you at least 50 hours of gameplay in order for it to be worth a buy, you won't be disappointed. 

The gameplay itself is actually fairly simple, and will be familiar to anyone who has played Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, or Pokken Tournament.

You have one button that will launch you into a normal melee combo and two buttons for "quirk attacks" that take advantage of your character's abilities -- for example, Midoriya's Delaware Smash or Momo's Creation. There aren't any complex inputs here, and the key to stringing long combos together in My Hero One's Justice is figuring out which quirk attacks chain into others and then linking them together by dashing toward your opponent. 

Deku kicks at the camera while in the air in My Hero One's Justice

The set dressing is perfect, too. The characters look just like they do in the show -- the jump to 3D is natural and doesn't in the least venture into uncanny valley territory.

Buildings crumble as you run into them, which is a bit silly, but it adds to the feeling that your blows carry weight, while visual effects and camera shifts make heavy hits feel impactful, especially when you knock your opponent so hard they fly right into a wall and launch an intense, gravity-defying combo. It feels great.

This makes battles feel a bit like they do in Dragonball FighterZ, a game that has become the gold standard for the anime fighter genre. Unfortunately, My Hero One's Justice falls short of that bar by a fair amount when you dig a little deeper.

Lost In Translation

Not everything is pitch-perfect, though.

One of the first problems you'll encounter in the English release of the game is that there are no subtitles. This could easily be patched in later, but at first blush, it's jarring. Sure, it might not seem like an issue since this is a fighting game at heart and the story mode pretty much follows the arc of the show exactly -- but this lack of accessibility feels like an oversight.

Making matters worse, certain elements of the game aren't easy to understand because they aren't in English.

For example, loading screens. Here, the game will brag about how you can customize your character by equipping custom mottoes that change based on who you're fighting. This is a great feature, especially for a game that's based on a show that, at heart, is about the relationships between the characters and how they change over time. Unfortunately, if you don't know Japanese, you'll miss out on all of that.

Again, this wouldn't be an issue if the game were captioned, or if there was an option for dubbed voices, but as it stands now, it feels like a whole section of the game is walled off for folks who aren't bilingual. 

Roll Call

Deku and Bakugo fight All Might

The roster for My Hero One's Justice is respectable, even if the developers at Bandai Namco committed the ultimate sin in excluding Mina Ashido, the best character in the show.

Bandai Namco really did a good job balancing the need for lead characters (Iida, Uraraka, Shigaraki) while also adding some more minor fan favorites (Kaminari, Jiro, Asui, Toga). It speaks to their knowledge of their audience, and it's very much appreciated.

It's also good to know that they also plan to expand the roster through DLC -- Shoot Style Midoriya, Endeavor, and Inasa Yoarashi have already been confirmed, and one can only assume there'll be even more to come. I just hope they add Ashido (and Best Jeanist) down the line.

And despite what I said about the mottoes, there is a whole lot of fun to be had with the game's customization features. I spent hours unlocking and accessorizing my favorite characters in completely ridiculous ways, then editing together a splash screen so that whenever I fight someone online, Denki Kaminari poses while the words "PERFECT BOY" flash behind him.

That alone could be good enough to justify the game's purchase for some.


So all that sounds good, right? You're probably wondering why I gave this game a 7 and compared it so unfavorably to Dragonball FighterZ, and that's a fair question to have. Because yes, the game plays well! The roster isn't balanced, but no fighting game roster is. 

The biggest issue that the game has is that My Hero One's Justice just doesn't feel like My Hero Academiano matter how much it may look like it.

For example, regardless of a character's actual abilities, everyone gets two jumps and an air dash -- which aren't visually tied to the character's quirks in any way. Having movement options that don't feel character specific really flattens the game and makes the characters feel generic. Uraraka can fight in the air very well, sure, but she can't really hover. Asui can't climb up walls. Bakugo doesn't have any explosion-based movement.

Gran Turino fights Nomu in My Hero One's Justice

This problem extends to the characters' fighting moves, too; characters don't fight in the unique and creative ways that they do in the show. Stain's Bloodcurdle quirk is completely absent -- he's just a generic swordfighter. Eraserhead only has one move that revolves around sealing his opponent's quirks. Momo only creates very limited items, and most of her combos just revolve around her smacking fools with a spear. 

A big part of My Hero Academia's draw is that all the quirks feel so unique, and the show spotlights how all of the heroes and villains use their specific abilities to find creative solutions to big problems. My Hero One's Justice's true unforgivable sin is that this key element of the show didn't cross over. 

You'll end up playing each character more or less the same way, using a projectile move to close the distance, chaining that into a combo, and finishing off with a flashy super move if you're lucky. All the flash in the world can't make up for the fact that the spirit of the show is lost when all the characters largely feel similar.

It might be too much to ask to have Asui surprise other players by climbing up walls, where Momo can set traps for opponents, or where Bakugo can have acrobatic explosion-based dodges, but these are all key elements of the show. It's really a shame, because a My Hero Academia fighting game seemed like a no-brainer, and everything else about the game is pretty much spot on. But for now, this game just feels generic.

Fun, yes, but generic. 

And maybe that's enough for you! If you're a fan of 3D fighters like Pokken Tournament and Naruto Ultimate Ninja StormMy Hero One's Justice will admirably scratch that itch. The combat is satisfying, the game looks wonderful, and there's tons of content for fans of the show to sink their teeth into.

Unfortunately, when it's judged specifically as a My Hero Academia fighting game, My Hero One's Justice leaves a lot to be desired.

Looking to take your My Hero One's Justice play to the next level? Check out our Beginner's Guide, as well as our Character Guide and Tier List! PLUS ULTRA!!!

[Note: Bandai Namco provided the copy of My Hero One's Justice used in this review.]

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review: How The West Was Fun-ded Through Murder And Mayhem Thu, 01 Nov 2018 10:07:30 -0400 Ty Arthur

Eight years separated from its predecessor and delayed twice ahead of release, Red Dead Redemption 2 stands out as easily one of the most anticipated games of 2018.

There's been much said about this foray into the grit and grime of the 1899 American West, but in their rush to get reviews to print, many outlets didn't take the time to fully absorb all RDR2 had to offer before making their analyses. 

We've been playing for nearly a week now, so it's time to take stock and reflect on if Rockstar's latest open-world epic was worth the hype.

Immersion Through Minimalism

Arthur Morgan cooks meat over a fire at a campsite in Red Dead Redemption 2

There's one key element of this vision of the lawless old West that everyone needs to know about before galloping into its 60+ hour story.

Red Dead Redemption 2 may seem very familiar at first, but it's important to note that Rockstar is offering up a very different take on the open world formula, one that goes well outside the established norms.

As aging rough 'n tumble outlaw Arthur Morgan, you aren't going to unlock a chain of god-like skills that will help you conquer the Wild West. You won't become emperor of the lands west of the Mississippi, or even come close to saving the world (or what you know of it).

The game is easily defined by the extremely minimalist take on hand-holding, which bucks many open world trends. There are rarely on-screen prompts taking you to the next location, and Arthur isn't expected to collect everything in each area of the map.

Every system or mechanic that reminds you this experience is actually a game is kept as low key as possible, and sometimes actively hidden from view.

The developers clearly worked hard to maintain the gritty old West feel in all aspects of the game -- there aren't easily recognizable giant arrows pointing you toward an objective. When trails are visibly leading you somewhere, they are faint, hard to follow, and give off the feel of old-time Collodion photography.

Every system and mechanic that reminds you this experience is actually a game is kept as subtle as possible, and sometimes actively hidden from view.

While there are bonuses for completing missions in specific ways, they don't flash across the screen -- you have to go into a menu and find them yourself, making sure immersion breaks only if you want it to. 

The end result makes it feel as if you are living the character rather than completing a checklist for upgrades or marking quests off a to-do list. 

RDR 2's gameplay is more about living in the world than conquering it, and much of the game is spent staying out of the spotlight, not lording over it.

And for the most part, that's a very good thing. But the slow pacing that results from that design may not be to everyone's liking.

There are times where you will be wandering aimlessly about the world, not sure what to do or where to go (although you'll find plenty to engage with along the way, such as injured travelers or prisoners asking for help). You'll also find times where you will have to walk at a snail's pace because your horse died and you are out of stamina.

You could even play the whole game without realizing there is a limited form of fast travel to unlock. I only discovered it because another writer at GameSkinny mentioned it; otherwise, I would have finished the whole story without having the slightest clue.

Living The Outlaw Lifestyle

Arthur Morgan leads a horse across trains tracks

While going through that slow-paced exploration of the Wild West, you'll get to know a ragtag group of murdering, thieving ne'er-do-wells who believe they are superior to all the other murdering, thieving ne'er-do-wells because they are occasionally nice to each other.

A surprising amount of story springs from that setup, with strong themes popping up, such as civilization versus the wild, freedom versus conformity, and chaos versus order.

Despite centering around robbing people and outrunning the law on your trusty steed, RDR 2 features a fantastic range of main story missions that help you get to know the characters populating the world.

Even outside of the quests and dialog, there's a stunning breadth and depth to this game that centers on a frankly insane attention to detail.

From wandering about shops looking at items on the selves to day to day life around a ludicrously lifelike camp, every aspect of outlaw existence in the West is meticulously crafted. Horses get dirty, alligators eat corpses left near waterways, heck, your beard even grows.

You will constantly discover new gameplay elements while exploring, and I could spend 2,000 words alone just listing all of the different mechanics in the game. For brevity's sake, I'll keep it short with this brief (if wildly incomplete) list of things to do outside story quests and open world events:

  • Horse bonding/leveling
  • Horse brushing
  • Modifying saddles
  • Modifying guns
  • Cleaning your gun
  • Shaving
  • Bathing
  • Eating and gaining weight
  • Writing in your journal about American flora and fauna
  • Upgrading your camp
  • Crafting
  • Hunting
  • Playing dominoes
  • Solving bizarre puzzles out in the middle of nowhere
  • Watching full vaudeville acts (yes, some are more than 10 minutes long)
  • Listening to prostitutes sing tawdry songs
  • Discovering dinosaur bones

The list goes on and on -- and there's always more to discover. For me, one of the most surprising moments was when I tried to gallop full speed up a steep embankment to avoid going around a cliff.

My horse ended up falling down and broke its leg as I tumbled away while cursing loudly, which was unexpected and another instance of attention to detail. I didn't have anything to revive my horse with, so my only option was to put him out of his misery. That simple moment, where I have to put down a horse I'd been bonding with for a good 10 hours, impacted me more than most of the people I'd murdered up until that point.

While finding all those unexpected moments, Arthur will traverse a wide range of landscapes, such as snowy mountains, muddy livestock towns, oil fields, cave systems, large metropolitan cities, and even swamps.

RDR 2 has an absolutely massive open world to explore that easily rivals or beats Skyrim or The Witcher 3. This is a game that is absolutely begging for a PC release so it can stay alive for decades due to mods.

How The West Can Go Wrong

A horse tumbles over a rock in Red Dead Redemption 2

It can't be all whiskey and working girls though, and sometimes it's gotta be stale coffee and horse shit. While Red Dead Redemption 2 is a triumph in many ways, it does fall short in others.

There are times where the lack of explanations or on-screen prompts leads to baffling results. At one point, while lost after a hunting trip, I shot a guy to take his mount and try to get back to camp faster.

Suddenly, the screen switched to a view of the open sky and I re-spawned at camp for no apparent reason. Turns out, someone I couldn't see witnessed what happened and it counted as leading enemies to the main camp -- but there was no way I could have known that ahead of time.

Apparently, there's also a maximum distance you can get from certain mission objectives, but no indication of where that distance is or when you are nearing its boundaries. The mission just ends if you go too far.

It can't be all whiskey and working girls though, and sometimes it's gotta be stale coffee and horse shit. 

The exploration, dialog, and relentless attention to detail will all keep a player interested, but the controls deserve mentioning for their exceptionally clunky nature.

Figuring out how to properly ride the horse takes some serious effort, and the uninspired gunplay is easily the game's weakest link, taken so heavily from Rockstar's other major franchise, GTA

For all the unique elements at play, there are parts where it's crystal clear Red Dead Redemption 2 is basically a hacked apart GTA with a Wild West coat of paint.

The horse, for instance, often behaves very much like a car in Los Santos or Liberty City, with some small objects behaving like impenetrable brick walls and others thin tissue paper that can be blown through. There's a whole wild, hilarious world of high-speed horse mishap videos out there that are well worth perusing.

While the game tries hard to stay grounded, there are more than a handful of truly ludicrous elements that will pull you out of the experience, like trotting up to the post office and paying a fine as a "whoops sorry" for murdering a bunch of people in broad daylight.

Shopkeepers you shot in the head will helpfully clean up all the blood and happily trade with you after you sit outside the law's sphere of influence for a few minutes and let the heat die down.

Sometimes, those ludicrous things can add more charm rather than they take away, however, especially if you prefer the style of other Rockstar games.

For instance, you don't actually need a bow or gun to hunt. If you like high-speed chases, your horse is all the battering ram death machine you need to take down animals (or people). 

The Bottom Line

There's some bad but a whole lotta good in this gritty law-breaking adventure, and it's worth noting that RDR 2 looks flat out amazing for an open world game.

Beyond just the graphics, the entire experience is absurdly cinematic, and you could spend hours just watching the gang canter through untouched valleys or interact with locals at the bar.

The purposefully slow pacing and clunky controls may tank the game for some, but I suspect for most, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be a breath of fresh air in the open world genre.

There's no question this is going to be a contender for game of the year, and this is a story every gamer should make a point of playing.


If you're looking for tips and tricks for this Wild West epic, head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 for review.]

Spider-Man: The Heist DLC Review -- Too Purr-fect to Pass Up Wed, 31 Oct 2018 12:07:39 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

Just over a month after Marvel's Spider-Man launched to universal acclaim, the webslinger swings back into action. After saving the city from near disaster, the Peter Parker's latest adventure see's him jumping back into the red spandex and taking on New York's most persistent criminals.

This time, things get complicated with his long time frenemy, Black Cat.

The Heist DLC hasn't changed much in the way of gameplay, but it's solid refinement of the base-game stands out, and it tells a great Spider-Man/ Black Cat story, one well worthy of the comics it takes inspiration from. 

When we last met Felecia, she stole back her suit and gadget, while leaving a new outfit for Spidey to play around with. Now, Ms. Hardy is in deep trouble as she's looking from something that Hammerhead, another member of Spider-Man's rogues gallery, stole -- and, of course, she needs help from Spider-Man to get it back. I won't spoil what the major plot point is, but just that things aren't that clear when Black Cat is involved.

Overall, the story offers a fun new take on the Spidey/Black Cat dynamic, while still staying true to the duo's roots. While the climax is a bit predictable, it does do a good job in setting up the next batch of DLC stories that are due later this year.

The pacing is great, as the nearly 3-4 hours it takes to beat never drags once. 

Spider-Man hangs upside down in front of Black Cat

Along with excellent storytelling, combat has been spiced up to keep things fresh. While you don't get to play as Black Cat in The Heist, later sections have you teaming up with her while both beating bad guys to a pulp and stealthily sneaking past them. These sections aren't as refined or as interesting as the sections in Arkham Knight where you team up with Robin, but they're still handled well enough to keep things unique. 

Enemies are all the same from the main game, but the new brute enemy type does make for some interesting battles. You can't just web them up, as they now feature Gatling guns that'll do a ton of damage. It makes for a fun shake-up to battles, even if most enemies will still go down with a few punches and finishing moves.

Black Cat pins Spider-Man down

Challenge Missions, from the main game, return with a twist, too.

Screwball, the social media fiend from the main game, makes a return by offering up some optional challenges to partake in. Some, like having to web up some generators in the right order, are fun new additions, while others can be considered throwaways.

Meanwhile, returning Taskmaster missions are relatively unchanged, but are sprinkled with a new photo mechanic that let's you gain extra points to spice things up. 

Lastly, with Black Cat on the scene, it's only fitting that The Heist's new collectibles involve stolen pieces of art. You'll be chasing them down, much like the backpacks in the main game, and you'll get more info about Black Cat's history, particularly that of her Father, the original Black Cat (it's a long story). 

Close up of Black Cat against city skyline

The only real complaint I had were some various glitches that popped up throughout my time. Some are small, but others will force you to reload the last checkpoint. None are game breaking, but they could of been ironed out. Hopefully, we won't see them in future releases. 

Overall, Spider-Man: The Heist adds enough new content to justify its price. The story is short but sweet and, once you wrap up the main quest, you can unlock 3 new costumes that you can use in New Game+.

Top that with some new challenge missions and you get an addition that's just too purr-fect to pass up.

MapleStory 2 Review: MMO or Fast Food? Who Knows, It's Tasty Tue, 30 Oct 2018 16:36:43 -0400 Ashley Shankle

I'm not sure if there's a term for it, but I'm one of those people that bounce from one MMORPG to the next after a month or two. I'm not proud of it, but that's what happens.

For full transparency, I held off on reviewing MapleStory 2 for three reasons:

  1. I wanted to play the game for a prolonged period over several classes to get a real feel for it
  2. I wanted to see how Nexon approached the game post-Founders' head start
  3. I did not want that "new MMO smell" to taint my review

If you've played Korean MMORPGs before, you can probably understand the first two points. Generally, in Korean-developed MMOs, you get to some heavy enchantment grinding at endgame and, regrettably, run out of PvE content fairly quickly unless you are just set on grinding enchants.

As for the third point, well... I've been having a great time with MapleStory 2 and I wanted to make sure I was actually having a great time and not just whiffing on those new game fumes.

What is MapleStory 2?

At first glance, it's an action combat MMORPG. As a dedicated player, it's a social MMO with action combat.

MapleStory 2's primary focus is hanging out with other people, which can be done in any number of ways. You can run dungeons, farm world bosses, or grind a map with friends -- you know, the normal stuff -- but it goes deeper than that.

It's very easy to find yourself spending more time messing around with what would normally be considered "optional" in other MMORPGs.

You may get wrapped up in multiplayer minigames, perhaps even hosting your own to play with friends. You may wander into a lower channel for the performance map Queenstown and end up chatting while other Maplers play music. Heck, you may even decide to play some music on stage yourself.

The amount of activities found in MapleStory 2 is a little staggering, especially if you installed the game to get your regular grind on. There's a big difference between rushing through Epic quests for levels, and running around every map you come across to complete "Exploration Goals", such as hitting enemies with widget trees or finding chests just to get more attribute points.

Since everything you do (just about) grants XP, you don't have to level via Epic quests. Playing music, gathering, playing minigames, crafting -- almost every activity you get yourself into in this game grants XP. This means you never have to level two characters the exact same way, though Epic quests are easily your best source of XP up to level 50.

There are also several PvP maps in the game, though at the time of this writing there isn't much incentive to wail on other players. Some Epic quests near the end of MapleStory 2 send you into a small handful areas, but you can channel hop your way to safety and just get the objectives done without the stress.

Merets and UGC

You can't talk about this game without talking about user-generated content. And you have to bring Merets, the cash shop currency, into the discussion when you get to the nitty-gritty of it.

One natural assumption is that a Nexon game is going to be a little demanding on the wallet if you want to get serious with it; however, that is not the case with MapleStory 2.

I'm not going to lie and say there's nothing to be gained from spending money on the game in a gameplay sense. The in-game cash shop, the Meret Market, has some gameplay-affecting items such as the badge that automatically gathers for you when near nodes or the ability to send messages in the World chat channel, but as it stands, that's about as far as it goes.

You'd be surprised how big you can make your house and how many items are available without spending a cent.

This doesn't mean you're not going to be spending money on MapleStory 2, though. Oh no. Instead, it means you're going to want to throw tons of money at cosmetics, both official and those made by other players.

In Maple World, players are able to create their own cosmetics for use as character clothing and items or blocks used in player housing. There's a whole pile of templates to work with, and skilled UGC creators roll in Blue Merets, one of the two cash shop currencies, as UGC can be sold to other players in the Design Shop.

Creating cosmetic UGC costs Red or Blue Merets when purchasing the template. Red Merets are granted via events, meaning even free players can dive into the UGC pool and make Blue Merets on the Design Shop.

There are other venues for UGC in the game, too, such as scheduling images to display on signboards for Blue Merets or playing your own music via an instrument at only a Meso cost. But these are less notable than the use of the Design Shop or simply making your own clothes.

The Trail to and Making Camp at Endgame

I don't think I mentioned it yet, but leveling in MapleStory 2 is incredibly easy. So easy in fact, that you could hit max level in a single day just by pushing yourself through the game's story via Epic quests, then throwing yourself at level 50 world bosses (Heartless Baphomet keeps dinging me) to hit 60.

If you want to skip the typical MMO progression treadmill, you can do any number of other things to level. The best AFK leveling method is to auto-perform music, and fishing is basically only good for trophies until you max it out.

Everything in MapleStory 2 happens very quickly and simply, sort of like MMORPG fast food.

None of the classes (but thief) are all that hard to play, with most class strats coming down to spamming one or two skills with the others being situational. This doesn't make the game less fun -- dungeons are short and relatively easy, requiring players dodge their way to safety on a regular basis -- but it's notable if you're looking for a more hardcore game.

At the time of writing, endgame boils down to running dungeons to get good enough gear to push your gearscore up to 2100, after which you can run Hard mode dungeons -- and will probably just grind Fire Dragon until Chaos difficulty arrives.

You can only do so many dungeons in a day and in a week, with that limit being raised in November. Currently, players can only run 10 dungeons per day on a single character, and 30 total a week on a character. After the next big update, players will be able to reset the weekly limit on one character per week.

You can get around the dungeon limit by making alts, which is very easy, and grinding out the limits on them as well. If you get serious about the game, you're going to be doing this to try to get Epic-tier equipment. Epic equipment, by the way, has an incredibly low drop rate, so good luck.

Aside from dungeons, you'll also be doing daily quests and fulfilling 18 Daily Missions, which grant a whole host of necessary items and should ideally be completed each day. Daily quests are a separate entity and found in Queenstown.

All this together builds a not-entirely-interesting endgame but MapleStory 2 is more about the journey than stats. You can rush your way to endgame if you want, but you can also take your time and just explore your way to max level if you want.

Like Fast Food, It's Addictive

I said before, MapleStory 2 is sort of like MMORPG fast food, and that's something I've felt since I started playing. It's easy to get into and tasty, but not filling.

The best way to spend your time in MapleStory 2 is to join a guild that you get along with and just have a good time.

Nothing in the game is all that pressing, and it's built with so many ways to just relax and socialize that it almost feels mandatory to spend some time with other players.

Don't believe me? Go hang out in Queenstown on Channel 1 or 2 and start a conversation with others near the stage -- you may be surprised. Or even just go to a relatively populated area and start performing -- if the song is good or familiar, you may get other Maplers commenting on it.

Now, I will say that your time with this game will be short if none of the classes click with you. You have to try them out, maybe read some guides. When you're making characters, the previews don't give a great idea of what they play like, but they play (see: spam) differently enough that it makes a huge difference. I did not enjoy my time with MapleStory 2 as much before Runeblade came out, but after? Yeah, I'll play this for a few hours at a time. Why not?

MapleStory 2 didn't do too hot in South Korea, so only time will tell if the game can survive globally. If Nexon can keep events rolling to keep the game fresh,  global may have a bright future. If not, well...

As it stands, MapleStory 2 the perfect "between" MMO. One you can come to after you're tired of raiding in WoW or getting mad at Black Desert Online and just want a game you can still get that little endorphin and adrenaline rush, without the stress or pressure.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of MapleStory 2 for this review.]

Apparition Review: There and Gone Again Tue, 30 Oct 2018 11:00:02 -0400 Zack Palm

Indie horror games tend to pull players into their odd worlds and force them to search about for clues, all the while facing a nameless threat we can only hope to outwit and outrun.

The developers behind Apparition try their hand at this formula by giving players the role of a paranormal investigator working a case at a small campground called Green Creek. The player chooses what tools the investigator takes with them to learn about the spirits haunting the area, and a few them provide protection.

The big downside about Apparition is the game mechanics because the investigator can leave the site at any time to return later. This effect discourages players from taking substantial risks in favor of earning more of the game's currency, leaving the area, and then returning with new, updated equipment they can receive with little effort.

An Investigator's Tools

The story begins with the paranormal investigator breaking down the basic story of the game -- they've learned about Green Creek's rich history for many years now. During the early 2000s a murderer known only as Plague had been killing many people in the area, and many tourists who visited who were once believed to be missing are assumed to have become the killer's victims.

Though, our investigator is not convinced. They plan to document any strange phenomena in the area, record it, and then return to sell it for a decent amount of cash.

At the start of the game you choose from a list of various tools to take with you. These items vary from a camera, lighter, Ouija board to speak to the dead, helpful guidebooks, a crowbar, lockpick, and much more.

You can only carry so much on you, and each item comes with a predetermined weight. You have to choose wisely, and you won't acquire all of the evidence in a single run. 

Cumbersome Gameplay

After you've chosen the tools you want to take with you, your character arrives at the camp area, and it's your job to explore it in the middle of the night. Your goal is to communicate to the dead, and the only way to do that is to take your Ouija board, a required item, and bring it to the single campfire in the area to speak to any spirits that may be nearby.

Though, to speak to the board, you have to locate small sheets of paper scattered throughout the area with questions written on them. Already this game mechanic feels like a forced way to have you run into any dangerous foes that are lurking in the shadows. Because who needs to find sheets of paper to think up questions to ask an Ouija board? Unfortunately, it's how you progress. The more questions you ask, the more evidence points you receive.

To accurately record the evidence you need to have brought along the tripod and camera, which your character sets up with the Ouija board. Every time your character asks a question and you receive an answer, you collect evidence points. These act as your currency, granting you access to higher quality equipment, such as a camera headset that contains unlimited battery life and records everything you see.

There are more ways to capture evidence. When you're first starting, you'll only have access to a simple camera. If you catch a spirit or suspicious figure in the distance, take a picture of it, and you'll document the find. You'll find that this way is more troublesome, and undoubtedly dangerous, as some of the figures you see are not the most friendly. Also, some of the stuff is too dark to catch on camera making the Ouija the best source for evidence points during most of the game.

Gaming The System

The game feels like a lot of trial and error. Your character can stay for however long the like, collect what they need, and then leave. After you leave, the evidence points you receive go to you to use to purchase new equipment. You then return to the main menu and start all over again. However, any new tools you unlock with evidence points remain unlocked, and when you're back at the campsite, you'll still have all of the sheets of paper you collected from any other game session.

For a player, this means you can rush to the Ouija board location, set up the tripod, ask as many questions as you feel comfortable, and then leave, over and over again. It's a great way to acquire as many points as you want to aim for the higher quality items and continue the investigation. Because you can leave immediately, any threat the monsters may have goes away, especially when acquiring the better items becomes as simple as having a high amount of patience.

Because you have a weight system to consider each new round, you won't be able to directly complete everything you need to do in a single run. You're motivated to leave the area and return. During my playthrough, I only perished once, and it was because I was curious what a demon was going to do if it caught me. 

Another major problem is there's no apparent end goal. While my character routinely captures these creatures on camera and shows their presence to the world, they return to Green Creek over and over again, as if he waiting for something new to happen, when there's not much there.

Little Frights and Jump Scares

While you use the Ouija board, you're likely to hear various sounds in the distance. Distinct growls, moving bushes, and many other noises during the pitch-black night.

What you need to remain aware of are footsteps. These immediately give away anything coming at you, and if you hear those, you have the option to record and collect evidence about whatever is about to get you, as you run to your car. Again, having the ability to leave at any time downplays all of the horrors going on around you.

One thing that the game does do well is with jump scares. Every so often you're bound to be briefly visited by a ghostly figure that appears in front of you for a single second, followed by intense music and your character's pumping heart, but that's about it.

As soon as you grow accustomed to seeing the figure and you know what to look for when an enemy is approaching, all of the horrors washes away, and you're able to focus on acquiring evidence points. If it were not for the scary music, the dark environment, or their odd shapes, they'd be more akin to dangerous creatures you're trying to capture on camera than supernatural forces you have no practical idea of how to handle.

There's also a small crafting system in the game you can use to lure demons to your location, capturing them on camera with more advanced equipment.  There was an obvious intent by the developers to create a unique horror experience, but they missed their mark due to the shallow and repetitive gameplay.

The Verdict

The Apparition had the potential to become a popular Indie horror title with the interaction with demons and the Oujia board. But it turns out it's a slow, shallow game with little to offer, except for the same thing over and over again. There's no apparent end goal, except to find as many scraps of paper as possible and communicate with the dead, or demons, who haunt the empty campgrounds.

The game doesn't even make for a good Halloween game to pass around to your friends at a party.

[Disclaimer: The developers provided a copy of Apparition for this review.]

Call Of Cthulhu 2018 Review: The Stars Are Right For A Battle Between Truth And Reality Mon, 29 Oct 2018 19:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

The stars are finally right! We mythos fanatics have been waiting a long, long time for a new, proper Call Of Cthulhu entry, and it's finally here courtesy of Cyanide Studio.

Consistently making our lists of most anticipated horror games over the years, the official video game version of Chaosium's classic tabletop RPG is a worthy successor to the name.

Based on chatter across the web, it's clear that horror gaming fans think they know what kind of game they are in for, but, like any assumption about the true horrid nature of reality, they are all wrong.

This first-person investigative adventure game has a little bit of everything wrapped up into a unique, sanity-blasting package.

Just What Kind of Madness am I Descending Into Here?

Let's clarify this first: CoC 2018 is most definitely not a remake of Dark Corners Of The Earth, and it is not a re-telling of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, although that's the impression the imagery and trailers may have given off.

The game's Steam forum is jam packed with people assuming this is going to be Amnesia or Outlast with tentacle monsters, and that is not even close to the case.

While there are three segments during the game where you are hiding and sneaking past enemies you can't kill, that isn't the focus here. Those sections are more like their own one-off puzzles, rather than the bulk of the gameplay.

Call Of Cthulhu is primarily about investigating. It's about getting into places people don't want you to go so you can find information they don't want you to have.

In all the ways that count, Cyanide's new entry into cosmic horror feels like a CoC tabletop campaign, revolving around an investigation into the death of a brilliant painter. Since this version is based off the tabletop material, it's, of course, set in 1920s New England.

During the course of the game's 14 chapters, Detective Pierce delves deep into a unique mythos story that draws on familiar concepts and creatures -- like dimensional shamblers and Cthulhu itself -- but presents them in a different way than you may be expecting.

A few new entities make appearances as well, such as a cosmic being who  serves a similar role to Nyarlathotep in many mythos tales, drawing humans into something awful and trying to enact the will of the Old Ones while they slumber.

Some unique twists and turns pop up across the story you may not be expecting either, which for me, was a huge plus since the mythos is so familiar at this point. Characters who seem like straight up villains may be doing evil things for altruistic or sympathetic reasons, while those who seem innocent may be the biggest threats to humanity's continued existence.

Uncovering The Awful Truth

Our anti-hero, Pierce, is a rough and tumble PI and a hard drinker living during the Prohibition era. Despite his trappings, it is entirely up to you decide whether he delves into the insane truth of the cosmos or instead holds onto cold rational reality.

Truth versus reality is a constant theme and the central struggle -- more so even than against gibbering, multi-limbed things from beyond the stars -- because in this game, those two concepts are not even close to the same things.

Unlocking the truth or embracing the reality of any given area is where you'll see the pen and paper aspects converted into digital form. In general, CoC 2018 stays true to the core concepts of its Chaosium inspiration.

You can't physically kill the awful things from beyond the stars. You won't be saving the world by blasting monsters with a shotgun. Instead, Pierce has to rely on his skills to spot hidden items, uncover deception in conversations, pick locks, notice an important clue by drawing on his knowledge of medicine or the occult, and so on.

The detective recreation scenes are a highlight of the game and where your skill choices really come into play, as Pierce tries to determine what exactly happened in different crime scenes.

Dialog plays a huge role as well, and as you reach the later chapters of course there will be low sanity conversation options available if you go too far into the truth side of the game.

The locations for each chapter are all fantastically varied, and they all nail what you'd expect from a tabletop campaign. You'll explore a secluded island filled with secrets, caves beneath the sea, an asylum, an art collector's gallery, an old bookshop focused on the occult, and so on.

While most of the game focuses on our haunted detective, you get to swap viewpoints to a few different characters at key points, which keeps things fresh and lets you explore other areas while Pierce is getting chased by monsters or locked in a cell.

Unfortunately, you don't get to control the stats on these characters, which left me hungry for a more robust implementation of the tabletop rules featuring a full party of investigators to be messily devoured or go screaming mad.

Something's Fishy... And It May Not Be The Fish Guts

If your'e wondering, yes, there are places where Call Of Cthulhu is absolutely rough around the edges. In particular, the graphics outside of cut scenes... aren't fabulous. Some of the textures and character models are low-res enough to be noticeable, but not so bad they'll distract you from the story or gameplay.

Unfortunately, not all of my concerns from the two hour preview were addressed either. While you have plenty of skills to pick from, there are times when it feels like they should have implemented more ways to utilize those skills.

Strength, for instance, seems pointless overall. It lets you break into a tiny number of objects, and then at the very end, it is used to hit enemies with a gun. Since you pretty much automatically kill with the gun anyway, there didn't seem to be much point to focusing on that skill in my playthrough.

In terms of overall design, there was only one puzzle toward the end of the game that had me feeling like I was battling the mechanics rather than figuring out a solution, and honestly, that's better than I was expecting. That issue can be patched out, and the rest of the gameplay is quite solid.

Oddly enough, my biggest complaint with Call Of Cthulhu is actually with one particular section where the screen rotates and shakes after something unpleasant has happened to Pierce.

The shaky camera movement after being injured is a staple of first person games, but the problem here is that this segment goes on for about 5 straight minutes -- and there's no way to turn the effect off.

By the end of that chapter, I literally had to look away from the screen and tap the movement button blindly to avoid spewing my lunch, hoping to finally get anywhere to end the shaky camera.

There's no question that Cyanide needs to way, way, way tone that section down in the first post-release patch.

The Bottom Line

Call Of Cthulhu consists of 14 chapters, which I was able to beat in about 12 hours. There is some replay value to try out different skill sets or achieve multiple endings, as there are various unhappy fates to await either the world globally or just Pierce locally.

In terms of overall style, CoC 2018 mixes together the main elements from nearly every kind of modern horror game. You get investigative recreation segments, dialog-heavy gameplay, a variety of puzzles, defenseless sections where you have to hide from the unkillable monster, and a relentlessly creepy atmosphere.

While it could use a graphical overhaul and a few tweaks here and there, the end result is a solid 7/10 for any kind of horror gamer, and probably more of an 8/10 for the Cthulhu mythos fanatics.

Honestly, even the low points didn't turn me off to the game, though. Rather, they just had me hoping this isn't going to be a one off title. This implementation of the tabletop rules worked well, and I want to see more, whether that's set in the '20s or some other era.

There are plenty of time frames to pull from on the tabletop side, with both Cthulhu Dark Ages and the (hilariously now incorrectly named) Cthulhu Now in the '90s being prime candidates for another adventure into madness to follow Pierce's investigation.

LEGO DC Super-Villains Review Sat, 27 Oct 2018 15:31:38 -0400 Zack Palm

What does the DC Universe look like when all of the superheroes vanish, and we only have the worst of the worst? The best of the worst rise up to make the most of a bad situation. In Lego DC Super-Villainsnotorious evil-doers from the DC Universe take center stage against other villains attempting to take over the world.

Though there were a handful of hiccups along the way, the game's concept gets expertly executed, and the story keeps you invested until the credits roll. For those who were disappointed by the Suicide Squad movie, this is the game for you. Plus, it gives us more of Mark Hamill's fantastic Joker, which remains a shining light throughout the experience.

The True Star -- You!

Within the first minutes of the game, there's a scene of Commissioner Gordon driving a prisoner transport to Metropolis' prison. There, he unloads an unknown individual and asks for their expertise on the latest super-villain. This villain is none other than you, and at this point, you can start making your unique character!

You can spend hours in the game's character creation, choosing from dozens of different unique designs to make your new super-villain stand out from the notable characters you're bound to meet. These choices expand the further you get into the game as you acquire additional power-ups and unlocks.

How detailed is the customization? You can choose what arm your character holds their weapon of choice. That's a great little detail to throw into any character creator. When you gain a new power you can choose from a handful of different styles to make it stand out from others you may run into that have a similar trait.

For those who don't want to spend too much time during the character creation, there's plenty of preset choices to pick. These characters could have used a bit more time under the light of a watchful creative designer, but they're great if you want to jump straight into the story.

The Story

Once you're finished creating your character, you realize the mysterious prisoner Gordon brought in was Superman's sworn nemesis: Lex Luthor. Your super-villain shows up shortly after with one of Luthor's companions in disguise. The three of you escape, letting out nearly half the prison. Superman shows up with the rest of the Justice League soon afterword, attempting to put an end to this. All of the good-doers show up, except for Batman, whose dealing with Joker at the time. 

There's plenty of chaos happening, and the Justice League seems outmatched. That is until the Justice Syndicate shows up to lend a hand. To many, they look like a ripped-off version of the Justice League, like Ultraman, Owlman, Sea King, and so many other twists on the standard names. They describe how they're from an alternate Earth, known as Earth-3. For those who know the DC Universe well, alternative realities is a convenient plot device.

They later announce themselves as the Justice League's replacement, while the original heroes deal with an unknown threat elsewhere. Our group of super-villains soon become suspicious of these replacements, and when they visit the Justice Syndicate's Earth, they learn that they're known as the Crime Syndicate. Now, it's up to the super-villains of the original Earth to do something right.

Standard LEGO Gameplay

For those who have played a LEGO game recently, plenty of the features in this game may feel familiar to you. When you destroy certain objects, you're going to acquire studs throughout the entire game. You may have to destroy several objects to recreate something else to advance further in the level. It's fun to see a super-villain you're controlling using their powers while they build, but it becomes stales quickly.

The combat doesn't stand out too much, either. You're still using a single button to attack your foes, watching them explode after you've hit them enough times. 

You're never afraid or timid to go into a fight, either. There's the patented LEGO protection of knowing you don't have any lives to worry about because if you die, you wait a few seconds and then your controlled character respawns, giving you the chance to try once again immediately. You'll deal with a bit of trial and error, but nothing takes you too long.

The secrets in the game don't prove too challenging. If you're looking for everything in a level, it only takes a bit of running around and having a keen eye. Once you notice anything, it's just a matter of time before you acquire it and you're moving on to the next secret.

Your Character Is The Star -- To A Point

The start of the game immediately presented you with the opportunity to make your own super-villain, and when you're standing alongside so many iconic characters you've known for years, it can feel a little intimidating. What deflates this potentially amazing prospect is how little impact your character provides for the overall story.

Most of the time you're given control of one of the more prominent villains and tasked to head to a notable location in the DC Universe. Because the more notable superheroes are nowhere to be seen you're left to deal with some of the smaller heroes, Nightwing or one of the members of the Teen Titans. While the actors and encounters employ quite a bit of fun, some of it falls flat due to the how powerful the superheroes were during the start of the game.

If your character had a more significant part in the overall story, it'd feel like a great addition to the game. Due to you showing up to provide support to the main villains and hearing them always refer to you as 'Rookie,' your first introduction feels wasted.

The Voice Acting And Characters Steal The Spotlight

For those who grew up watching DC cartoons and the vast array of animated television shows they had during the 2000s, you're going to feel right at home. Many of the voice actors have reprised their roles and bring a fantastic dynamic to the crazy Lego backdrop happening all around you. 

You have phenomenal talent like Kevin Conroy behind the caped crusader, Mark Hamill laughing it up as the Joker, Clancy Brown as charismatic Lex Luthor, Tara Strong as the ever-loving Harley Quinn, and so many others thrown into the mix. You'll find yourself tripping over the nostalgia during every scene. You may forgive the game having you repeat the same tasks every so often.

The Verdict

Overall, Lego DC Super-Villains has a fun time giving you some standard Lego gameplay, while also attempting to throw in a few new features that don't quite hit their mark. There's plenty of repeated features that will feel stale for anyone whose recently played a LEGO game in the past few years as many of the gameplay mechanics get reused.

Though, for those who grew up watching DC cartoons for the past decade, you're going to find significant interactions between all of the actors knowing they had as much fun performing as you did watch them work.

[Disclaimer: A copy of LEGO DC Super-Villains was provided by the developer for this review.]

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Review -- A Fun Way to Learn Gwent Fri, 26 Oct 2018 10:58:40 -0400 Sergey_3847

This time CD Projekt Red killed two birds with one stone. The famed Polish developer of The Witcher series of games released two games in one day: Gwent: Homecoming, which has finally left the beta testing phase, and Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, a single-player isometric RPG set in The Witcher universe.

Gwent card game is already super popular and is one of the few competitors to Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. Thronebreaker, on the other hand, was most likely made as a means to promote the card game even further, although it does have a few merits of its own.

Thronebreaker incorporates Gwent in more than one way, and if you want to know why this is more of a companion piece rather than a fully realized game, keep on reading our review below.

Story and Setting

Queen Meve of Lyria returns home from a long trip when Nilfgaardians invade and steal her possessions. On top of that she learns that some of her closest servants betrayed her. Now she must find a way to free her native land from foreign invaders and treacherous traitors.

As a result Meve travels across her own lands and the lands of other rulers with her small army. On her way she gathers resources, such as gold and wood, and recruits new units for her army. And this is the point where Gwent overrides the idyll of this beautiful isometric RPG.

Units are represented by cards with varying powers and abilities. When the battles begin you see an already familiar Gwent playing board with two rows and a handful of cards. At this stage you almost forget that you were playing Thronebreaker, and fully devote yourself to the game of Gwent.

Fortunately, Thronebreaker has a few surprises and distinct features that make it a worthwhile investment of a few dozens of hours. For example, there's a lot of compelling dialogue, during which you must make decisions that will influence the rest of the game.

The map is filled with hidden treasures and puzzle battles, which is a new look at the Gwent mechanics, where you must follow a different set of rules rather than your typical "win two rounds and move on." But eventually you don't want to play a card game, eventually you'd rather just play the RPG that is called Thronebreaker.. but it doesn't exist, at least not without Gwent all in your face.

Alas, the game was developed by CD Projekt Red that is more interested in promoting the card game more than anything else at this point, which is totally understandable. The market share of CCGs is huge nowadays making it one of the most profitable in the video game industry.

Gameplay Mechanics

Your task in Thronebreaker is to collect as much gold, wood and recruits as possible. All these resources are required to build and upgrade your Workshop and Tents, where you train your recruits and craft new cards. The army in the game is represented by the deck of Gwent cards with a leader Meve, who is the main protagonist.

The only difference from Gwent is that the developers designed 250 brand new cards for Thronebreaker. However, the deckbuilding still feels a lot more constricted in comparison to what you can do in the actual Gwent card game. This means that veteran Gwent players will feel completely unchallenged even on the hardest difficulty. But it can serve well to those, who are completely unfamiliar with the game and wish to learn how to play it well.

In any case, if you lose or win your Gwent battles or make certain decisions during dialogue scenes, your army's morale will reflect on the quality of your cards. Some of your units will start losing their power points if you make bad decisions, and at times you may even lose some of the units entirely.

With all that said, apart from your typical card battles, Thronebreaker offers something completely new that may interest even the most experienced Gwent players -- the puzzle battles. These are special Gwent games with their own peculiar sets of rules. You can read more about puzzle battles in our Thronebreaker combat guide.

Puzzle battles can be really exciting and this is undoubtedly the best feature of the game. It is both familiar and innovative, and that's exactly what makes it so great. You will find these puzzles everywhere and some of them can get really complicated. But when you do find the solution, the result is extremely satisfying.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a fun little game despite its actual long length. It has excellent writing and a few interesting RPG elements, but ultimately everything boils down to a game of Gwent.

This means that long-time players of CD Projekt's battle card game won't get much out of it except the puzzle battles, so Thronebreaker may be more along the lines of a 5/10 for hardcore fans of Gwent. Newer players may enjoy it much more, though. As it stands, the rating is a 7/10 -- the middle-ground between what I feel to be a new player and a veteran's enjoyment of the game.

If CD Projekt Red focused on making an original RPG based on The Witcher universe with its own unique combat system that has nothing to do with Gwent, then it would be a 10/10. For now that's just a fantasy.

[Note: A copy of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was provided by CD Projekt Red for the purpose of this review.]

There's Playing & Then There's Winning -- A Reigns: Game of Thrones Review Tue, 23 Oct 2018 15:45:05 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Season after season, the Game of Thrones opening theme just gets longer and longer, and the franchise just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The HBO show may be winding down soon as the cast finishes filming its final season, but there's no end in sight for George R. R. Martin's fantasy behemoth.

Current news has him back-burnering the sixth book in favor of releasing a Targaryen prequel instead, fodder for another upcoming HBO GoT spinoff show. 

On the gaming front, the landscape is similarly explosive. There have been a few small games (e.g. in-browser and mobile games) and a few major releases (most that fared rather badly, like Atlus' 2014 Game of Thrones), including the much-talked-about cancellation of Telltale Games' Game of Thrones: Season 2.

In nearly all of these cases, the system in place seems to be akin to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. 

Telltale Games' take on GoT may have been the only piece of spaghetti that's really managed to stick -- its distinctive choose-your-own-adventure story-telling model may have lost its momentum after so many IPs, but every game has somehow managed to retain the charm of its source material. 

I mention the above because first and foremost, Nerial's Reigns: Game of Thrones attempts to walk in similar shoes, putting the choices of the mighty into the player's hands.

And somehow, even when these very familiar HBO TV show characters have been reduced to flat-featured, expressionless cartoons jabbering in a close approximation to Simlish, they somehow remain the people we've learned to know and love.

Who is destined to sit the Iron Throne?

No one is. That's the point.

Forging the wrong alliances, trusting the wrong people, and making the wrong choices will doom even the strongest Dragon Queen to exile, never to set foot in King's Landing ever again -- and leaving new bodies ample access to that paper shredder of a metal chair. 

Following in the path of the first Reigns and its sequel Reigns: Her MajestyReigns: Game of Thrones is at heart very similar to a Twine game with a royal adviser/strategy twist.

The super-simple mechanic of swiping left or right to decide who lives or dies allows the standing ruler to decide whether to commit to a course of action or not, always striving to balance the church, the people, the military, and the wealth of their kingdom. 

In this sense, the "Tinder meets Telltale game" format of the Reigns game style fits perfectly with the wheeling and dealing of Game of Thrones' rampantly ambitious political houses -- a constant carousel of new, familiar, and old faces in the struggle to hang onto the reins of power. (Already sounds like a familiar story, doesn't it?)

The first person who manages to sit on the throne may not be the one who stays there, and the first face that you know and recognize may not necessarily be the one who holds onto the throne for any length of time. 

And yet...

Does the format work? 

I asked myself this constantly while I played through.

Was it enjoyable? Absolutely.

Was the music a beautiful, perfectly playable soundtrack? Well, the titular GoT theme definitely made the budget cut, and the rest of the music holds up to that high bar. 

Were the characters really them? Not just names and familiar faces on cards, but sounded, acted like them? 

Well... yes and no.

Where the experience begins to unravel a little is that this particular world and this kind of game setup perfectly gears the players up for role-playing. You aren't just taking part in the action as in, say, the Lord of the Rings games; you are actively making the decisions that will make or break these people.

If you are playing as Tyrion and are faced with the decision to either send men to the Wall to back up Jon Snow's desperate fight against the White Walkers or to keep them at hand to buttress the Gold Cloaks' inability to control the seething crowds of King's Landing (they still don't like the Imp very much, even in Reigns, alas), you want to make those decisions as Tyrion.

If you are advising the movements of the army as Jaime Lannister, you want to be the one ordering them on in the face of poor odds, not tell everyone to sit back and let 'em eat cake.

(Note: For the sake of journalistic transparency, you don't actually get to tell everyone to eat cake as Jaime Lannister. But you get the point.) 

However, allowing yourself to role-play and make these characters act like themselves doesn't really do you any favors in progressing very far, much less allowing you to win.

And there's the rub. What's the fun of a game you either can't play as a Game of Thrones game -- or you can't win if you do play it as a Game of Thrones game?

Do I have to have watched Game of Thrones?

Also asked in this vein: do I have to have read the "Song of Ice & Fire" series in order to play this game properly?

Probably not.

After all, there's a give and take here. None of the characters will be familiar to you. The names "Daenerys Targaeryen, Dragon Queen" and "Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the King" will float along your consciousness with about as much meaning or significance to you as the Captain of the Gold Cloaks will. 

Will it be playable? Absolutely. You could arguably play it better than the average GoT fanatic because the role-play element won't be nearly so prominent. You'd probably still enjoy making Daenerys bellow "DRACARYS" at her snoozing dragon, but you likely won't insist on making her help out Jon Snow because who the heck is this guy sitting around on a wall anyway? 

But would it be worth it if you approached this game with no prior Game of Thrones knowledge whatsoever?

Sure, it's a fun game with an easy premise and no small amount of strategy involved. It's an excellent little time waster, regardless of whether you feel any personal connection with the characters you're playing. 

But why would you? You could just as easily play the original Reigns instead, which is slightly cheaper on both Android and Steam PC platforms, with far less branding. 

Repeat after me

Even for the most intrepid fans, be warned: there is a fair amount of repetition here; there are tons of branching story lines and the game employs a "collect 'em all" kind of approach. This is where I feel like the format lends itself better on mobile, where reading text and swiping around between decisions is just easier to do when you're on the go.

(Note: I played this on PC. I still liked it.)

You will also start to feel like many of your decisions are almost arbitrary. There were a few times where I just simply tried out how long I could last if I just only swiped left or right to see how long I could keep it up for, which turned out to be quite a long time.

But it's worth it, right? 

Yes. Yes it is. Who cares what winning is in a story-based strategy game? It is not deep enough to tug at your heartstrings like the Telltale games were crafted to do, and then crush your feelings into dust over the consequences of your decisions.

No, Reigns: Game of Thrones lets you move onto the next character who has a chance at holding onto power. After all, maybe this time, they'll fare better.

You can purchase Reigns: Game of Thrones on Steam for $3.99. You can pick it on Android on the Google Play Store for $3.99. And on iTunes for $3.99. 

[Note: A copy of Reigns: Game of Thrones was provided by the publisher for this review.]

Cities: Skylines Industries DLC Review -- A Fantastic Addition Mon, 22 Oct 2018 19:30:42 -0400 Fox Doucette

Every so often, a great game gets a great expansion DLC. In even fewer instances, that DLC improves so well upon the promise of the original release that from that point onward, it's hard to recommend new players buy the game without immediately including the DLC in their order.

Think Modern Times in Tropico 4, the downtown nightlife expansions in the Sims series, or Brave New World for Civilization V. They're indispensable parts of the games they add to because of the new mechanics they introduce.

Industries, the latest DLC for Cities: Skylines, joins Mass Transit on that must-have list.

A vast expanse of oil fields with red and white conning towers emitting steam, reaches toward the city downtown

As the name implies, this DLC completely overhauls the game's industrial system, taking mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who's already familiar with the game's districting system and using them to finally bring some real value to the four natural resources that have been part of Skylines maps since the game launched in 2015.

What's New in Industries

Before, you could put down an industrial district on fertile land and rely on the game to create farming industries. The same was true of trees and forestry, ores and mining, and oil and...well...oil.

With the expansion installed? You'll have a far greater level of control over the production chains those resources previously handled offscreen.

For example, if you build a forestry district, you'll first have specialized buildings -- and they're not standard industrial zones; they're actual buildings like the venues in Parklife, Skylines' previous DLC -- that create “forestry products”, which is to say logs.

Once your forestry district levels up -- and this, too, is a direct pull from the way the parks level up in Parklife, dependent on resource production and profitability -- you can start producing “planed lumber”, otherwise known as boards.

Those boards can then be transported within your city, influencing the classic zoned industry.

Trucks drive down dirt roads in a forestry district in Cities: Skylines

And Colossal Order has built a complete tycoon game into this new supply-chain mechanic. It's reminiscent of the resources in the Cities XL series or even the production chains in the classic Capitalism 2.

There are also plenty of other industry buildings -- warehouses, cargo airports, and even a post office system to turn mail into an industry unto itself -- to completely change the way the industries work in the game.

And because of the way these systems level up over the course of the game, they're not only usable out of the box, but it's actually better to plan your entire city's growth around just that eventuality. This is a DLC that scales from early- to late-game and can have a place in a variety of different city plans from the moment you're choosing a map and looking at what resources are available on it -- all before ever putting down your first building.

Another plus? Where in the past industry was something players tended to (typically) evolve away from in terms of employment options for their citizens as soon as office zones unlocked, you can now create actual prosperous industrial cities that aren't polluted disaster areas.

The high-tech production chains have profit potential that puts even the best office-and-education strategy to shame, but it comes at a cost of the game expecting players to put a lot of effort into the building and maintenance of their industrial production.

A dirt road cuts through farm land with trees on one side, green and brown crops on the other

If you are any kind of Skylines enthusiast, you're going to enjoy what this DLC has to offer. Your cities will have more variety since those resources on the map will finally be worth something in terms of actual interesting gameplay options.

In addition, managing those production chains is a game within a game that makes Skylines an even deeper and richer experience than it's ever been before.

If you're the kind of person who turns off the advanced options because Skylines is already a little too complex for you out of the box, this isn't going to be your cup of tea. It will break your brain if you're not careful, and if you just don't want to have manufacturing be part of your city's economy, you can still play without it.

The Verdict

This is an absolute must-have DLC for Cities: Skylines enthusiasts. It's one of the best expansion packs to come into gaming itself in years, and it brings Skylines closer to being the ultimate only city-builder you'll ever need.

The way industrial zones will change the way your cities function and serve as the focus of a powerhouse economy turns one of the biggest albatrosses of the late-game into an integrated part of the game's overall strategy from small town to metropolis.

If you own Skylines, get Industries. It's that good.

You can pick up the Industries DLC on Steam for $14.99.

[Note: A review copy of this DLC was provided by the publisher.]

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review: Come Back for This One Sat, 20 Oct 2018 11:02:17 -0400 John Schutt

Many players, myself included, put the Call of Duty series on the backburner a number of years ago. Other games came to take much of the FPS community's attention. That doesn't include the myriad other genres vying for our collective time.

The list of worthy distractions would fill an article twice the size of this one, and when I saw my first few glimpses of Black Ops 4, I was skeptical.

I played the beta and stayed skeptical. It was fun, sure, but would it capture my attention like the older titles did? I was willing to give Treyarch one last shot of saving an aging giant, if only for the purposes of this review.

Then I played my first full release multiplayer match.

I was hooked. The claws were back, and I couldn't stay away.

If you've been hesitant about diving back into Call of Duty, now is the time to put those reservations to bed. 

Black Ops 4 is worth the price of admission.

The combination of multiplayer, Zombies, and Blackout ensure hundreds of hours of fun, frustration, and if you can get a group together, friendship-powered destruction.

Multiplayer Review: The Bread and Exotic Butter

Of the three modes in Black Ops 4, multiplayer is probably the weakest part of the triple crown. There's nothing revolutionary about Black Ops 4's iteration on a classic, though the removal of regenerating health and an increased health pool does create the opportunity for hero plays we've not seen in a long time. At the end of the day, everything about multiplayer works, giving players everything they could want.

The gunplay is the same kind of crisp you'd expect from a Call of Duty title, and the recoil on most guns is minimal. The meta right now is mostly based around assault rifles, as their overall time to kill is shorter than almost every other weapon class at any range. They're easy to use, super consistent, and...well... there aren't many downsides, really.

I would be remiss not to mention sniper rifles because at least on PC, they seem to be the easiest to use. The one-shot kill hitbox is generous and the maps offer plenty of sightlines for players to hold down. The number of times I've lost a good streak to a sniper in a power position has a value I cannot properly name.

Submachine guns and shotguns got something of a shaft as of writing, as they take six hits to kill at close range and half of them don't shoot fast enough to make up for the damage discrepancy. It also felt like their hip fire, even with laser sights equipped, is still somehow outdone by a base AR.

There are a couple shotgun builds that make them at least passable, but in almost any situation you're better off using something that works at closer than point blank. The LMGs, by contrast, are all usable, and there aren't any bad options, kitted out or not. 

The scorestreaks are all effective, fun to use, and while I think they take a little too much to earn in non-objective game modes, each of them has a noticeable effect on the flow of a match.

I found the new maps to lack the creativity and variety present in some of Treyarch's earlier work. They stick to the three-lane model too closely and don't present enough ways to move between lanes, leading to map flow that's predictable to the point of mundanity.

Many of them are pleasing to the eye, which is more than can be said for some of the other recent entries in the series, but beyond their aesthetic, I wouldn't call them genre-defining. 

The remastered maps — Jungle, Firing Range, Summit, and Slums — are a welcome return, but they speak to the larger problem I have with the multiplayer portion of Black Ops 4: it's clear Treyarch had to drop everything to chase the Battle Royale craze and at the same time remove the advanced movement systems in favor of a more "boots on the ground" take on combat.

Class customization took a hit too. Weapon variety is fairly limited, with many classes having four or fewer options to choose from. Even though the assault rifles and SMGs boast five unique choices, that pales in comparison to the series' heyday where there were almost 10 you could equip, all of which had their own character and personality. 

Then there are the Specialists, which you can read about in detail in my Specialist guide. To sum up, all of them have a use and each of them presents plenty of new and exciting ways to play, but so many of them are returning members of Black Ops 3's cast that it's easy to see where the corners cut are. The new specialists are perfectly usable and offer some of the most powerful options in the game, but it would be nice to see more new faces.

It's a tough nut to crack because I'm a multiplayer guy at heart and I hate to see my favorite mode relatively gutted in favor of the more timely options. I understand why they did it, and I think there' still plenty to love about the classic Call of Duty experience, so don't disregard it in favor of Zombies or Blackout.

Zombies: Complicated, Crazy Fun

The Zombies story is a tangled mess of plot threads long and short, the mechanics progressively more arcane, and the maps more multilayered and overthought with each iteration. 

Black Ops 4's additions are no different, though there's only one truly "new" map to play: IX. The other three are re-imaginings of Zombies experiences from the three previous entries in the franchise, one of which is locked behind a paywall.

Even with all the new bells and whistles, the core conceit of Zombies remains. You want to find a good gun, probably off the wall, load up on perks, find Pack-a-Punch, and run in circles for hours shooting hordes of the undead. Everything else is just there to get in the way.

The maps themselves are twisting labyrinths with multiple levels, mechanics, and secrets to find, and I think IX is one of the most interesting takes on the mode since Shangri-La.

It's obvious the Zombies team put a lot of time and effort into making the Greek arena feel unique among the forest of high-quality maps. There's just enough variety to take the formula in a new direction, as the area is primarily claustrophobic hallways and strange sights and sounds punctuated by the grand facades of Ancient Greece. 

The other three maps: Blood of the Dead, Voyage, and Classified (it's Five from Black Ops 1) have each received a facelift, and though the mechanics are familiar, there are enough changes to make each experience fresh for the first couple runs at least.

What stands out to me about Zombies, however, is not the maps or new their mechanics, but the sheer amount of options for how to approach character customization.

  • Treyarch rewrote how weapons work, adding progression to each and every one of them.
  • They rewrote perks — Juggernog is gone, for one — to correspond to a player's choice, designating each with a type rather than keying them to a map.
  • Players have more health to compensate for Jug's absence.
  • Even Pack-a-Punch got a makeover. Now you can increase the damage up of your weapon by reusing the machine a set number of times while you roll for the most advantageous new weapon perks. 

Then there are the elixirs, some of them default and plenty of them rollable in a loot box system funded with an in-game currently that's likely to cost you real money. Elixirs provide powerful bonuses for a period of about five minutes or until their ability's expended, and the good ones can turn the tide of a bad round.

Probably the worst part about the whole Zombies side of Black Ops 4 is how Five (I'm not calling it Classified) is locked behind the Black Ops pass. Right now, it's the only thing that makes the pass worth even a quarter of its asking price, and we don't know what kind of support Blackout's going to be receiving via the Pass.

The little side gifts they give you don't even come close to justifying another $50 of your money, so unless you play the game and know you just have to have everything, I'd hold off.

Blackout: The King is Here

To start: yes, I believe Blackout is better than PUBG, and I don't think the comparison to Fortnite is worthwhile. The only things Blackout and Fortnight Battle Royale share are guns and the fact that you must shoot other players to win. Everything else, from aesthetics to mechanics to game flow and target audience is far enough apart to make them equally worthwhile experiences.

But if I had to crown a BR king, I would give Black Ops 4's take on the genre the big and fancy hat. Everything about it works.

  • The gunplay is multiplayer smooth.
  • Looting and loot spawn logic are almost exactly where they need to be.
  • The map provides just enough cover and the zone rarely puts the final few engagements in a boring location.
  • It even opens up long range engagements in an otherwise close range title.
  • Best of all, the matchmaking functions as intended, keeping people in the match and parties of friends together so they can take on the world as a team.

There are a few wrinkles, of course.

Armor is incredibly powerful, and an absolute necessity for the late game. You will win — and lose — gunfights you shouldn't because one person has armor and the other doesn't. Sniper rifles remain the workhorse weapon class, and ARs are a distant second choice. Bad luck quickly snowballs into terrible luck, and I've lost more than one round based on a single wrong decision.

The biggest problem with Blackout right now is its stability. Crashes are far more frequent than they should be, and most don't seem to have any rhyme or reason to them.

There are a number of error codes ranging from a simple mode disconnect to full on fatal errors. I haven't heard anything about a full system lock up, but judging by the sheer number of problems I've heard reported, I wouldn't be surprised if they happened.

It's still early days for Blackout too. One of Fortnite's biggest strengths is in how it keeps people coming back through its Season content. The core game doesn't change, but everything around it does.

Mysteries, community involvement, plenty of skins and challenges to chase, and the sheer amount of ways you can play with just one new weapon in the pool make it a juggernaut even Call of Duty will have trouble taking head-on.

Blackout needs continuous support in the same way, but there are barriers. Adding new guns has a high probability of upsetting balance, and Treyarch might feel obligated to put new weapons into multiplayer. There are a couple Zombies weapons in Blackout that aren't in MP, sure, but they're rare enough to not really make a dent in the current meta. 

Then there's the fact that BR content is locked behind the Black Ops Pass as well. People are far more willing to spend $10 on a Fortnite Season, even if they only play once or twice. It's just a 10-spot, after all. But 50 bucks? That's an investment without a guarantee of quality.

Plus, as far as we can tell, the Pass will be unlocking characters from previous Treyarch titles without much of the flair you'd find in something like Fortnite. And if there's one thing people want, it's the ability to show off. A generic character model in a different coat isn't going to ring any alarm bells no matter how many kills the player gets.

All that said, if you want one of the best, most polished Battle Royale entries ever produced, Blackout might be worth the price of admission into Black Ops 4 on its own. If Treyarch can keep it interesting with customization and new content, I don't' see the Blackout mode losing steam any time soon.


Final Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 provides players a content triple threat that's hard to beat in today's market. Hundreds of hours in classic multiplayer modes won't make you a Zombies expert, and being able to massacre the undead won't get you any Blackout wins. This is a game that could truly suck thousands of hours from everyone who picks it up, even those who've been on the fence about the series for years. 

Without the proper care, the opposite could be true. There are enough rough edges to Black Ops 4 that one wrong turn could kill it before it really hits its stride, and though many people are happier with this entry than they've been in years, there's plenty for Treyarch to do to keep people hooked.

Multiplayer weapon balance and spawn logic needs adjusting. Crashes need fixing. There needs to be plenty of new, quality content. There are too many other big titles on the horizon for anything less than Treyarch's absolute best.

If they pull it off, we'll be seeing a new Call of Duty title every year for many, many years to come. 

Soul Calibur 6 Review: Much More than a Fighting Game Wed, 17 Oct 2018 12:09:57 -0400 Synzer

The latest in the Soulcalibur series has arrived and has brought some interesting and refreshing changes. Soulcalibur 6 has the same gameplay that fans love, but much more in terms of story and overall content.

I'm going to talk about Libra of Souls a lot in this review because it was by far my favorite thing about the game. Now, let's get to everything that's great about Soulcalibur 6.

What is Great?

Fighting Mechanics

The familiar gameplay of Soulcalibur is back, and is as good as ever. Guard Impacts are back to not costing any soul gauge, but my favorite thing is the new Reversal Edge mechanic.

soulcalibur vi reversal edge

This allows you to attack or counter, then puts you in a rock-paper-scissors showdown with your opponent. If you chose the superior attack, you hit your opponent and get free damage. Choosing the same attack will cause the hits to bounce off and you try again.

This brings even more depth to the gameplay by adding a new risk/reward mechanic. Plus, having even more ways to counter opponents is always a good thing in fighting games.


This is something that most people don't care about in fighting games, and is usually not a big focus. Soulcalibur VI actually has two story modes and they tie very nicely together.

The Libra of Souls game mode follows the story of a character you create specifically for that game mode and tells the main story from their point of view. The best part is that you will come across this created character in the main game's story mode!

There are also extra details you can gleam from each story mode that you won't see in the other -- combining to make a sophisticated story that I was genuinely interested in experiencing.

Libra of Souls also has many side stories that you can follow. Some even take place over most of the game and I found myself very interested in seeing what would happen next. Speaking of Libra of Souls...

Libra of Souls is an amazing new addition

I enjoy fighting games just for the sake of the fighting, but I love it when they take it a step further. Libra of Souls does this very well. You start by making a character, then follow that character's story.

You choose a weapon/fighting style just like normal character creation, but you can switch at anytime before a match. 

Although the missions are still fights, they sometimes have special conditions to change how battle works. Your character can also level up gaining experience after finishing these fights. This increases your max health and allows you to equip stronger weapons. Your weapons can also have special effects added to them.

soulcalibur vi libra of souls quest

Another thing that makes it stand out is player choice. You will make multiple dialogue and impactful decisions throughout the course of the story. This will also tip the scales of your soul to either good or evil, which in turn affects some of your weapons.

Overall, there is a lot you can do to power-up and customize your character as you progress through Libra of Souls and brings even more variety to the game.

What is Lacking?

Load times are Abysmal

It is mostly likely better on PC or on the advanced versions of consoles, but they really are horrendous on a normal Xbox One. I would often wait 10 or more seconds to load my weapons menu in Libra of Souls. Sometimes I found myself wondering if I actually pushed the button or not.

While in character creation, most items aren't displayed in real time, which caused me to select each item, then back out to load it. This was very frustrating and added unnecessary time.

Cheap Fights in Libra of Souls

Now Libra of Souls is not supposed to be fair like the rest of the game, I know this. However, some of the fights are really cheap and cause a lot of frustration.

I remember one fight in particular that really frustrated me. The enemy could not be staggered by normal hits and the A.I. difficulty was really high/aggressive, which is the opposite of fun.

It doesn't take a lot away from the game, but it is still something that can sour your experience.

Character Creation Options

I know they are adding more with DLC, but I would have liked more options in the base game. I remember seeing most of the available options in the previous games.

soulcalibur vi character creation

Final Thoughts

Soulcalibur 6 offers a lot of story/extra content I was not expecting in a fighting game. Libra of Souls has so many missions and is worth getting the game for just for that.

The fighting is just as smooth as ever, and the new reversal edge mechanic is a great addition that keeps things fresh and exciting.

Fans of the series and fighting games should definitely pick this one up. Those unfamiliar with this or other fighting games should still check it out simply for Libra of Souls.

[Note: Writer was granted a copy of the game for review purposes from the publisher.]

Sinner Sacrifice for Redemption Review: Falling Short of Greatness Tue, 16 Oct 2018 10:16:45 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Difficult, gut-punching games have always existed. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts n' Goblins. In countless ways, these classics and others like them have undoubtedly led to millions of broken controllers over the years. Employing complex gameplay elements and punishing design, these games have served as predecessors to the catalog of games that make up the masocore subgenre. 

Masocore titles pride themselves on kicking you in the teeth and taking your lunch money for fun, making it perhaps the most radical gaming subgenre because it is often -- and quite literally -- painful to play. 

Over the past nine years, the now infamous Souls series has taken masochism to popular new heights, focusing on unrelenting enemies, unforgiving environments, and, at times, seemingly unfair boss battles. The grandiose nature of the series, coupled with exploitative feedback loops, have fetishized the grandiosity and pleasure of triumph against all odds. 

While it is one of the most rewarding subgenres in gaming, masocore's not for everyone, that much is certain. In fact, it's a genre that often spits in the face of fun, taking players to the brink of utter madness. 

Such is the case with Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption. Employing the most masochistic parts of the Souls series and amplifying them, Sinner is a gauntlet built solely to test your patience and resolve. It doesn't give a damn about your expectations, much less your feelings. 

If you're a fan of the difficult games, this probably sounds enticing. It was for me. The only catch is that while it downright nails certain aspects of the Souls formula -- emulating them almost pixel for pixel -- Sinner also stumbles in important ways, leaving the light of its greatness to die slowly in the shadows. 

Adam on stone platform at base of stone stairs looks up to warriors holding spears and Yordo in the middle in a ray of light

A Landscape of Mixed Emotions

On the surface, Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption shares the darkly brooding atmosphere of the Souls series. Much of its world is obviously inspired by it. But pay closer attention and it becomes clear that there's something anachronistic about the design. A Dark Souls: Kawai, if you will.  

It's telling that my first reaction to the game was "This is what Dark Souls would have looked like had Nintendo developed it first." There's a strangely cutesy vibe ingrained into the character design that doesn't quite mesh with the macabre surroundings and dire narrative. 

While that's not in itself a damning statement, it is a detriment when you realize the inexact tone rumbles on throughout the game, seemingly unaware of its own imprecision.

Aside from a few truly ghastly moments, Sinner doesn't seem to understand the missing link between what it aspires to evoke with its aesthetic and what it actually portrays. The tonal schism is only exacerbated by bland, un-engaging environments juxtaposed to the serious grandiosity promised by the initial set up and subsequent narrative.  

One of the only true caveats to my dismay comes in the form of Lustful Chanel, an initially uninspired boss design mirroring blueprints from the Souls series. However, it's one that quickly descends into terrifyingly appropriate nightmare fuel, warranting a response that can only be summed up by this picture made entirely of Shia LaBeoufs.

There are good things to be found in the environments, such as Angronn's anxiety-inducing lava arena that slowly breaks away as the boss gets angrier and angrier; and the swampy, phallic-rock filled poison pit that is Faiz Talus' stage. 

The start screen is also well done, seamlessly transitioning into the game at the press of a button. It's a small detail but one that works effectively at drawing the player in from the beginning. 

Close third person perspective on Adam as he enters the main nexus area; in front of him are glowing stones

Utterly Unforgiving, Ultimately Unfair

If it's not obvious at this point, much of the gameplay found in Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption plays out exactly as it would in a Dark Souls game -- right down to the game's lock-on mechanic. 

Rolling and parrying are important mechanics that require quick mastering. Light attacks deal small but stinging bits of damage, while heavy attacks dole out more severe punishment at slower intervals. Of course, you can block, but the mechanic is largely irrelevant as soon as you find it has little positive effect when fighting most of the game's eight bosses (pro-tip: rolling is just that much more efficient). 

When you start the game, you'll go through a quick tutorial on all of the mechanics at your disposal, fighting specters along the way to Sinner's level hub. Since this is a boss battler, the tutorial is one of the very few times you'll actually fight any mobs in the game, save for a very (very) small handful of bosses that have minion waves, so take the opportunity to brush up before moving forward.  

Eventually, you'll come to a place very reminiscent of the nexus found in Demons' Souls (and one that made me initially exclaim with optimistic delight). However, the portals here that lead to each of the boss stages act as nothing more than loading screens between the hub world and the boss arenas -- there are no stages to go through, there are no obstacles to overcome, there are no enemies to defeat beforehand.

Simply, you're tossed into the arena like a weary gladiator forced to face Goliath after Goliath. 

It's obviously something you might expect from a boss battler -- giant slayer is practically in the name after all. But the rote repetition of spawning right at the boss becomes an issue when you're not properly rewarded for your efforts, something that makes pushing through fight after fight more and more exhausting with every attempt. 

I had initially been excited with the prospect of tackling something with the opposite "grind" of Dark Souls maps, but not having the option to defeat enemies for rewards prior to facing the ultimate goal quickly felt unfulfilling. 

Giant boss Angronn holds his arms wide and roars as he stands in lava and Adam holds a great sword waiting to attack

And that feeling is tied up in one of the game's core mechanics. 

When you select a boss to fight from the initial nexus, you must sacrifice something to access its arena. Some sacrifices nullify your health regeneration, while others diminish your attack power or remove important items from your inventory.

These sacrifices stack from boss to boss, making the game harder and harder with each victory. You can't remove them, either, if you're planning on fighting the final boss; reclaiming sacrifices re-spawns bosses, and you need to defeat them all (and keep them that way) to unlock the final confrontation.

In some ways, Sinner is a lot like Mega Man, where there's an optimal path from one boss to the next. But unlike every other boss battler or masocore grind fest I've ever played, Sinner doesn't give you a damn thing for all your efforts. After each victory, your overall health increases. That's it.

There are no other weapons to get. There are no other armor sets to get. There are no other items to get. You don't receive more stamina and you don't receive any special buffs for your fights against other bosses. This, as plainly as I can say, is the most disappointing part about Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption.  

There are negative feedback loops and then there is the Sinner feedback loop, one in which you'll feel unjustly rewarded time and time again. As the debuffs stack, the only thing you'll gain is pride in saying "I beat them." Even Mega Man, Cuphead, and Dark Souls reward you with new weapons, abilities, items, and armors as you play. 

Sinner literally gives you nothing. If you get stuck on a boss, it's very easy to lose all motivation to forge ahead. 

I may sound like a big, fat whiner, but it's so demoralizing that only the most hardcore will make it through to the end -- if they can get past the crushing difficulty of the later bosses stacked with removable debuffs and without a single ounce of help. 

Adam holds a great sword standing on ice as the gigantic and fat Camber Luce walks toward him


As much as I've opined about the design of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption, it's not all bad. It does feel good to learn the quirks of each boss and finally beat them, the opening area is adequately gloomy, and the music is mostly memorable. 

On top of that, the controls are tight and responsive, and aside from a few differences, mostly familiar for Souls veterans, making this a pick-up-and-play title for the most part -- and one that truly masochistic players will truly enjoy. 

Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption isn't a bad game, but instead one that doesn't quite feel finished -- or, more accurately, one that doesn't live up to its potential. With a certain polish missing from the whole that bleeds over into its various parts, Sinner feels like an average -- if unforgiving -- boss battler cashing in on the popularity of From Software's juggernaut.  

The initial hook is there, but it never digs in to really snag its catch. I want to love this game, but the more I play it, the harder that becomes. For Souls fans and masocore aficionados, Sinner is a seven- to 10-hour scratch for that incessant hardcore itch. But after that, you'll find yourself still yearning for the real thing. 

Be sure to check out our extensive guide on how to beat each of the bosses, and stay tuned for a complete guide for beating the last -- irritating -- boss. 

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption for the purposes of this review.]

Mega Man 11 Review: The Blue Bomber is Back Mon, 15 Oct 2018 16:15:30 -0400 Lee Forgione

My love for the original Mega Man series runs deep. It has simple yet challenging gameplay, awesome music, and surprisingly deep lore for a run and gun franchise.

The formula hasn't changed since the first game launched on the NES in the '80s, and the newest entry is no exception.

However, despite its familiarity, Mega Man 11 does take a few steps toward modernity. A new graphical style and the new Double Gear System adds some pizzazz to the design.

Unfortunately, it ultimately falls just short of really expanding upon what fans have already come to expect. You still fight eight commonly themed robot masters, take a trek through several stages in Dr. Wily's castle, and then hang up your Megabuster. There's really no march into uncharted territory, either with its story or otherwise. 

A Mesh of Art Styles

The original Mega Man series hasn't ventured from its 8-bit roots -- save for the seventh and eighth installments, which brought Mega Man into the 16-bit and 32-bit eras respectively.

But Mega Man 11 offers an entirely new aesthetic for the Blue Bomber -- a 2.5D look. The crisp HD graphics coupled with a smooth frame rate makes this one of the best looking games in the series, that's for sure.

With that said, the art-style does vary from stage to stage.

For example, Block Man's stage offers a beautiful Aztec-style backdrop with golden temples and old crumbling ruins crawling off into the distance, while Acid Man's stage is a sprawling chemical lab full of spewing pipes and scientific mystery.

However, Bounce Man's stage, for example, is mostly devoid of anything particularly interesting. It's like an amusement park minus the amusement. It just doesn't have the same pop. 

Thankfully, it's only one of a small handful of stages that aren't up to snuff. 

As for Mega Man's visual upgrade, the changes are subtle yet noticeable for any fan of the series.

The most notable tweak is when Mega Man acquires a new power from a boss. Instead of simply swapping color palettes like in previous titles, Mega Man now changes his costume to better reflect the boss he just beat. 

It could rub some fans the wrong way, but ultimately, it's a nice change of pace, adding more variety to Mega Man's look. 

Familiar Gameplay with Some Tweaks

Gameplay mostly remains the same.

In classic sidescrolling platformer fashion, you'll run from left to right navigating pitfalls and traps until you reach the boss at the end of the stage. Avoiding pesky enemies and shooting them into oblivion is key, and unlike the Mega Man X series, there are no secret paths or hidden upgrade capsules to find, keeping the action front and center. 

However, there are a few quality of life improvements from previous games.

Mega Man's dog buddy, Rush, returns with his famous Rush Coil and Rush Jet features, which allow you to spring high in the air and travel over pits and enemies. But instead of having to switch between them in the game's pause menu, they are both mapped to single buttons for easy deployment.

Switching between different powers Mega Man acquires has also received an upgrade. You can now use the right analog stick to open a rotary menu for quick switching between powers. 

Double Down on Double Gear

The biggest addition in this entry is the Double Gear System, which alters your speed, power, or both with the press of a button. It adds an extra layer of strategy to boss encounters and how you navigate certain areas; knowing when to use it is critical for getting you through some of the game's tougher spots.

For example, when you run into enemies too fast to keep up with, it's best to use the Speed Gear, which slows down enemy movement and allows you to pummel them with a barrage of shots. The Power Gear is best used to take down baddies by giving you rapid firepower and a boosted charge shot. 

While using these skills, a meter will slowly start to fill up and when it reaches its max capacity, your power will fizzle out and require a cool-down. However, if you pay attention to the gauge above your head while using the Double Gear System, you can disengage the power, allowing it to recharge faster than if you had maxed it out. Doing this also allows you to reactivate it while it's recharging. 

This new mechanic doesn't change gameplay too drastically, save for putting a strategic element on boss fights. But if utilized creatively, it can help you blast through areas of a stage with ease if you are someone who enjoys speed-running through games.

Double Gear Isn't Just for Mega Man

The eight new robot masters can also utilize the Double Gear System during battles. Some of them will use the Power Gear to transform themselves into towering monstrosities, while others will take advantage of the Speed Gear and fly circles around you while they rain attacks from above.

As with every other Mega Man game to date, defeating bosses grants you special powers that give you advantages over other bosses. So, as always, figuring out the right order in which to defeat each boss will make the game much less frustrating. 

And as usual, the powers obtained from each robot master are a mixed bag, ranging from dull to exciting. There's the Acid Barrier, which basically puts a shield around you and lets you spit acid pellets; then there's the Tundra Storm which will wipe out any enemies nearby with a giant icy tornado.

Each of these powers can be enhanced by the Power Gear, allowing them to mete out massive damage but at the cost of a ton of weapon energy -- so it's best to use the Power Gear sparingly with special powers.

A Mega Man for Every Skill Level

Mega Man 11 also caters to newcomers and longtime fans alike by adding different difficulty options, ranging from "Newcomer" to "Expert Mode".

"Newcomer" will grant you near invincibility, letting you freely enjoy the game and not get bogged down by the more challenging modes. 

If the main game feels too short, there are also several challenge modes that can keep you busy. These include Time Attack, Boss Rush, and Dr. Light's Trial, which involves navigating through 30 enemy-filled areas with one bar of life. Finally, if you're the competitive type, there are also leaderboards to put your skills to the test against players around the world. 

In With the Old, Out With the New

Ultimately, Mega Man 11 may cater a bit too much to classic 8-bit fans, and while there's nothing wrong with going completely old school, the game does take away a few additions that Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8 brought to the table.

There's no intro stage, no mid-game stage that takes place after defeating four of the eight robot masters, and Mega Man and Rush's rivals, Bass and Treble, are missing. It would've been great to see the return of those two as they're some of the franchise's most liked characters.

Did I mention Proto Man doesn't even make an appearance? It's like Capcom completely forgot that all of these characters exist.

Mega Man 11 is a decent, if not game-changing addition to the series. Although it takes some bits away, it balances itself out by including a few fun changes in gameplay.

It may not be revolutionary by modern standards, but it doesn't have to be. Mega Man is time and time again a simple and fun, pick up and play series -- and Mega Man 11 paves the way for future entries.

Let's just hope that Proto Man, Bass, and Treble make their way back in Mega Man 12.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ the Golden Country Review Thu, 11 Oct 2018 11:41:57 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Nobody is comfortable buying a pig in a poke. However, in recent years, with the enormous upswing in season passes and "Ultimate" editions, that's pretty much what you're putting money down for when it comes to DLCs and expansions. 

Luckily, there's no pig to found here. With Torna ~ the Golden Country, fans of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 get exactly what they wanted -- and I daresay it's a whole lot more than they ever expected.

When Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles 2 released on the Nintendo Switch late last year, it was the final jewel in the year's long necklace of hits for the console, following in the sparkling trail of instant classics like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2.

The majority of critics praised it to the stars, although all conceded that there were a number of frustrations marring it, particularly the battle system's high learning curve alongside muddled, unrepeatable tutorials, poor graphics quality in handheld mode, and inconsistent voice acting quality. 

The standout voice of dissent was from Kotaku, panning it almost entirely aside from the environments and the music. 

I note all of this right from the beginning because I didn't play Xenoblade Chronicles 2. (I know, it disappoints me too.)

So what did I do instead? Well, it involved a hell of a lot of YouTube.

I know what you're thinking. It is 100% completely not the same thing, and I absolutely agree. But I didn't want to walk into this game completely blind.

Did it help? Yes, and no. 

The story of XC2 is incredibly vast, multi-layered, and built on the back of virtually hundreds of hours of gameplay (if you're into collecting every last Pokemo -- sorry, Blade). I was barely scraping the surface.

Torno ~ the Golden Country is not nearly quite so ambitious, and rightfully so as a standalone expansion whose story acts as a prequel to XC2. It focuses on the Aegis War, long before the events of the main game. So while outlets differ on exactly how much content is packed into this standalone prequel, the Reddit community seems to agree that it can be finished in 12 hours.

Can, of course, because there exist some players that are not as easily distracted by silly, off-the-beaten-path explorations, harvesting, side questing, and unashamedly picking fights with everything that's got an HP bar like I am. (When it comes to games, grinding is my zen garden.)

Is it possible to play Torna, and to like it, without having played Xenoblade Chronicles 2? I answer -- unequivocally -- yes. 


Is it possible to follow and understand the story of Torna all on its own without having bought the base game? Wellllll... technically yes. But only technically.

After all, Torna is set 500 years prior to the events in XC2. As a standalone expansion, the game does fairly well bridging the gap of things to come, bringing all the battles, the action, the glorious, shameless time sinks that are side quests all to the fore.

But its story is not truly its strong point.

From the outset, it skims past most of the events that occur in the Aegis War and narrows its focus to the end of the war, on the adventures of Lora and Jin as the race to stop the evil Malos from destroying the world. 

As a new player, this is fair enough. Hello, new spiky-haired characters that appear to have some form of backstory! You two are charmingly lovable protagonists with your cooking and charm-making duty-sharing.

But what is the significance of all that's happening, of the fact that we are watching this story unfold between these two people? 

That isn't there, and Torna doesn't stop along the way to try and re-explain. New players with absolutely no idea about the game story will also have to guess at what the relationship between Blade and Driver is, what a Core Crystal is, and what happens after a certain BIG moment I won't spoil in the slightest.

Are new players able to get past this? Of course. But you'll be like me, skimming the surface when you can sense there is so much more underneath. It's like watching the Star Wars movies in actual episode order. Technically, it works, but your foreknowledge of their fates, that connection you already have with these characters, just isn't there.

Arguably, it's something you expect out of an expansion like this. If you're familiar with the base game's deep lore, then you'll find yourself at home here, so keep that in mind. 

Graphics & Gameplay

Like with the base game, there's still a learning curve to mastering the battle system in Torna, but from all appearances, many of the larger criticisms of XC2 were addressed.

Right from the get-go you are informed that if you missed anything while mindlessly skipping through the tutorial screens that you want to review again, you can do so through the menu options. 

The battle system itself is simple to understand once you get the hang of it, all of the concepts (Attack Canceling, Vanguard Switch, combos, etc.) stem from timing them properly and filing up different gauges. It also requires you, especially in the beginning, learn to lay off the button mashing while trying to figure out what to do in order to let your characters auto-attack in peace to get the combo ball rolling!

Speaking of Vanguard Switching, herein lies another brand new element to the battle system that was absent from XC2 -- the ability to switch your control between Blade and Driver, opening up new attack chains and uniquely different combos. While not in control, the rear guard can provide extra support, and when the Vanguard gauge is full, a swap between the two will bring out the rearguard with full attack gauges. 

The game has also cut out the rather tedious gacha system of collecting a number of different Blades in the hopes of building your perfect team comp. Here, your party size is condensed and less cluttered, which brings a more action RPG feel to the gameplay. 

The upshot of all this is a rather refined battle system that was a pleasure to learn and play.

In terms of graphics, the game still combines an odd, choppy mix of beautiful cutscenes that play like an episode of RWBY, in-game dialogue sequences with decent-looking character models, and an unfortunate amount of smeary graphics while running around the world when playing in handheld mode.

(Note: I play a lot in handheld mode.)

This is a shame, but not entirely unexpected since no graphics updates were ever issued to fix this in XC2. And certainly, while it's impossible not to notice how much these graphically inferior character models look and move around the beautifully rendered environments, it's not a death sentence.

Side Questing 

This deserves its own section, I think because your enjoyment of side quests will make or break your enjoyment of Torna.

I personally am a huge fan of silly side quests, having experienced my adult gaming reawakening with games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion where I didn't complete a good 3/4 of the main storyline until well after 200+ hours of emptying caves, picking flowers, committing ritual murder, and mostly just sneaking around stealing people's silverware. 

There's plenty of that in Torna (okay, maybe mostly the part about picking flowers and less about stealing silverware or committing ritual murder) because there's plenty of stuff that you can go out of your way on the map to investigate (and collect).

Most of these are crafting ingredients, but you do find the occasional treasure chest and other significant items hidden around the area.

Of course, all of the above was already part of the base game. What is new, however, is the Community System. While the gacha system of collecting Blades has disappeared, there had to be collecting of some sort thrown into Torna to fill that void -- and collecting NPCs is what you get instead. 

Whenever you meet a new NPC outside of your community circle, a notification pops up to register them. You can (and should) turn this notification off as soon as possible. The game even suggests it. This system acts as a nearly never-ending menu of NPC side quests that you have the option to complete. 

Well, "have the option" isn't quite true either, since there are certain points in the main story that halt your progression until you've done enough side quests to raise your community to a certain level/threshold. This is part of what pads out that 12+ hour game time we mentioned before.

Side quests that are required parts of the main quest sound a little odd, but it's a system that oddly appeals to my particular style of game progression, and I was charmed.

I know a lot of other players will probably find this kind of gate lock far more annoying. 

Is it worth it? 

Nintendo calls Torna a DLC, but I think that's a bit of a disservice to the expansion considering how much you're actually getting. 

In light of that, Torna ~ the Golden Country is hands down a beefy, impressive expansion that lives up to its promise of being a standalone game experience. It is not, however, as deeply meaningful when experienced as a standalone experience. 

The fun, action-y battle system and the exploration of beautiful environments, excellent music, the simple joys of digging random crafting ingredients out of the dirt, and the silly fetch-and-carry of completing side quests will rack up the hours. But mandatory side questing is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. 

In the end, if you were a fan of XC2, you are probably going to love Torna. If you played XC2 and just weren't a fan, this game probably will not change your mind.

If you were like me and visiting this world for the very first time, it may be just enough of a taste to get you interested in playing the main game for real. 

You can buy Torna ~ the Golden Country either on Nintendo's eShop or Amazon for $39.99. 

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Torna ~ the Golden Country used in this review.]

Space Hulk Tactics Review: Turn-Based Combat in a Space Maze Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:28:56 -0400 Sergey_3847

Focus Home Interactive has released a new turn-based tactical game based on the Warhammer 40K universe -- Space Hulk: Tactics. It is now available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

This is not the first attempt at adapting a classic Space Hulk board game. For example, the previous one was Space Hulk: Deathwing, but unfortunately, it received mixed reviews from the gaming community. Space Hulk: Tactics will try to prove once again that there is room for high quality turn-based games in the 40K universe after all.

A few exciting new features and a fresh look at the tabletop original actually work in this case. There may be some balancing issues when it comes to the two conflicting races -- men and aliens -- but that will hopefully change in the future updates.

For more information on the gameplay, character customization and squad tactics keep on reading our full review of Space Hulk: Tactics below.

Story and Setting

Space Hulk is a remnant of the giant space ship filled with rubble that becomes a perfect environment for breeding the Genestealer swarm, an alien species that kills everything it sees. On the other side the squad of Space Marines or Terminators roams the claustrophobic corridors of this ship.

As a player, either in single-player mode or online multiplayer, you can choose on whose side you want to play. This approach is basically the main selling point of the game, as never before players could choose the side of the Genestealers. Now it's very much possible and there is an entire separate campaign designed just for that purpose.

The two perspectives are so different that you almost feel like playing an entirely different game. This is due to the vastly different mechanics that are used in the two separate campaigns. While Space Marines are mainly looking out to shoot someone in the head, the Genestealers attack like wild animals and can even spawn in groups.

As a result, the two factions require opposed tactics. The Terminators move individually and have to constantly overlook their perimeter for imminent danger. This slows them down significantly, and requires a lot of time and action points until they reach their objective. That is why the developers introduced a brand new card system into the game that allows players to convert them into additional action points.

The Genestealers, on the other hand, can be far more aggressive and in general have more action points to use than the Marines. They move around the map concealed and this is where the RNG enters the stage. Since aliens can spawn in the so-called Blips, they can appear as one creature or three. So you never know how many of them you will have to deal with in case you're playing on the side of the Terminators.

This makes the gameplay quite unpredictable and makes the multiplayer format extremely engaging. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer in terms of the mechanics.

Gameplay Mechanics

The gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics is based on Action Points (AP). One move equals one AP, whether it's a physical movement forward, backwards, etc., or any other action such as shooting or activating abilities. The Terminators, unlike Genestealers, have an ability to convert their cards into AP, which is understandable since they have 4 AP max, while Genestealers can do a lot more in one turn.

As soon as one of your characters finished its turn, the next one goes to your opponent. At this point you can choose to stand still and wait until your opponent takes action, or you could move your camera and see what they're doing and plan your next move by looking at your mini-map.

Alternatively, you could assign further actions to your units while waiting, and they'll just keep stacking until the turn is over. However, this is not recommended. You never know which action your opponent may take, so you need to react to their actions in real time rather than stacking your own. So it really depends on the situation you're in.

The Genestealers are far more agile and mobile than the Marines, so they can move a lot faster. Some of their actions cost zero AP, such as turning around. So in this regard the Genestealers are a lot more convenient to play with. Some aliens have 8 AP per turn, and if you can convert spare cards, then you will be able to spawn Blips -- randomized alien swarms that may contain up to three aliens per Blip.

It is also possible to deploy specialty units, such as various types of Biomorphs that can evade attacks and weaken Terminator melee attacks. But that's not the only way how one can disrupt the Space Marine squad's game plan.

The problem is that Terminators can't move or shoot over occupied squares. So in case there is another squad member standing on the way of the Marine, the Genestealers will have an advantage. By the way, aliens don't have this limitation and some of them can move freely, including over the occupied squares.

Players can use all these tricks to confuse another squad and prevent the Terminators from accomplishing their objectives. But the main power balance problem lies in the Genestealer's ability to easily shred heavy Terminator armor if allowed, and deploy multiple Blips that can easily overwhelm any Space Marine squad.

Map Creator and Squad Customization

In addition to the two main campaigns the game also offers Skirmish and Quick Match modes for players who want to play against other players online. There you can choose which map you want to fight on, or you could create your own Hulk using the Mission Editor tool that can be found in the main menu.

There you can play with the layout of corridors, create something unique and share it online for all players. The map creator is really simple and intuitive, so if you like to build space mazes, then you will greatly enjoy this area of the game.

Besides the geometrical structure of your new map you can add all sorts of obstacles, such as traps, doors, rubble, entry points, and many other objects. If you carefully combine all these elements in a fun way on one map, it can really enhance your gameplay experience.

The last but not least feature that Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer is he ability to customize your squads. The squad composition menu not only lets you choose which of the available Terminators or Genestealers you want to include in your squad, but also their looks. And for this purpose the developers have added an extensive character customization menu as well.

It allows you to change every little bit of your characters beginning from the color palette to surface patterns and even the model of your gear. But beware, the process is so fun that a couple of hours may pass while you decide to change every single aspect of your characters' appearance.

But it's a great way to personalize your gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics and show off your squad on a global arena. And this is something that the fans of the game will enjoy immensely.

Final Thoughts

Space Hulk: Tactics is a genuine Warhammer 40K game that strongly resembles the original board game. The addition of the new cards system and the ability to customize both your squads and maps is a true gift to all the fans of the franchise.

If you were a fan of Space Hulk: Deathwing, then here you can also switch to first-person view and play the game just like before. But of course, playing in isometric view is a lot more comfortable since you can almost see the entire map at once.

The technical execution of the game is top-notch, and despite a few minor bugs here and there, you will not see any major disruptions. By the way, the developers regularly push out new updates so that's where bugs get fixed rather quickly.

If you like turn-based combat, then Space Hulk: Tactics will impress you. As of now, if you can overlook a few power balance issues between the Terminators and the Genestealers, then it can be easily called one of the best turn-based games in the Warhammer 40K universe.

[Note: A copy of Space Hulk: Tactics was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Great Balls of Fire: Marble It Up! Review Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:27:56 -0400 Steven Oz

Marbles have a history that spans back centuries. From balls of stone to modern day glass balls, children have always played with some form of marbles.

These baubles have a history that spans back centuries. The new game Marble It Up! wants to recapture that playfulness of playing with marbles for a whole new generation.


Let me state: This is a very simple game. While it is simplistic in nature there are intense challenges and secrets that will push the envelope of playing with marbles.

Your goal is to get your marble to the end of a goal. Like a race, it is timed with different levels of medals handed out when you complete it. Marble It Up! is accurately described as a high speed-puzzle platformer.

More akin to a Rubik’s cube than a timed race, you have to bounce, speed. and master physics to advance through each level. With even more updates are promised which includes a marble royale mode and more maps, and a level editor.

This is a short game with level lasting around no less than two minutes or even less as you speed past them. You can beat the game within a two to three hours. However, most levels harbor a secret marble in them. That is where the extended play comes in. These secrets are for customizing your marble as you play.

There are 40 levels for you to test your skills as a marble master. Each level is suspended in a different space, with each one having a different look. Personally, I like the grid-like look that the game has. It feels futuristic at points. While there is no story, It feels like something created these levels for you to pass some type of challenge.

There are four power-ups to help you traverse through the levels: Super-Speed, Super Jump, Glide, and Pause.

Out of all the power-ups, Pause is the weakest power-up due to it only affecting your time. It doesn’t even pause time as you might expect. It only slows down time for around five seconds.

There is a reverse button that you can press but when it's active, your times are not recorded for obvious reasons.

Graphics & Music

Marble It Up has stellar graphics. Since I was playing on the Nintendo Switch, it ran at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second both docked and undocked. With that everything from the marbles to the levels looks fantastic.

Certain marbles have a reflection that actually reflects the level. Which is I believe is a cool thing to see in a game. The graphics processing power that went into creating that reflection is amazing. It just shows how far gaming has come, just like the soundtrack in this game.

Each piece of music you hear in Marble It Up is phenomenal. Described as an “An electronica tour de force by Solovox. Psychedelic techno, ambient, chillwave, melodic and heroic.” I would add the music is stimulating and in a way helps guide you through the level. If that particular song does not suit your fancy, pause the game and change it. You are in charge of the soundtrack much like being in charge of the marble.

Marble It Up! is a fantastic game that shows the power of bringing an old medium into the next generation. From the racing your marble against the clock to the futuristic soundtrack, this is all for a game of marbles. A very cool and different way of playing with and collecting marbles.

[Disclaimer: A code was provided by the publisher for review.]

Super Mario Party Review: Super Star Mon, 08 Oct 2018 11:05:15 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the Mario Party series lost the plot. Was it during the waggle era of the Wii? Was it during its ill-fated tryst with the 3DS? Was it the moment the developers decided to introduce a car into the mix? Or was it even earlier, when Mario Party 6 came bundled with a microphone?

Regardless of when it happened, the simple truth is that there hasn't been a Mario Party game that really feels like a Mario Party title in an incredibly long time. 

Mario Party: The Top 100 was our last, best hope at this; a title that promised to collect the best minigames from across all of the titles, packaging them in an easy-to-digest way. It fell short. Super Mario Party, however, does not. It's the first must-have Mario Party title in years, and it's incredibly ambitious for a party game.

Party Time

As you jump into the experience for the first time, you'll be asked to do an initial setup where you select the number of players, the characters they'll play as, and how many consoles you'll be using. You'll do this every time you boot up the game -- which is somewhat annoying given that it makes any kind of pass and play gameplay difficult if folks want to play as their favorite characters. 

After a short initial tutorial, you're free to roam around a main hub area that links you to all the different game modes. As you play each for the first time, the next one will unlock, which is a bit frustrating if you want to play a specific game mode to start. 

Your main menu is a "Party Pad," a little screen that serves as a way to quickly start a game, consult tutorials, and check on your progress.

Interestingly, the game's Party Pad system and a number of other aspects of the game suggest it may have originally been in development on the Wii U.

Aside from the Party Pad, there are a number of minigames that take advantage of asymmetrical play with two Switch systems. This is something that would have been possible with the use of a single Wii U and its Gamepad. The game's fonts and color scheme used in the menus match the Wii U style, rather than what we generally see on the Switch.

Image via Nintendo

One of the first, most disappointing things you're bound to notice about the game is that for the main Mario Party mode, there are only 4 boards to play, one of which is hidden. None of them have gimmicks that are particularly engaging or special, and that's a shame given the fact that the core Mario Party gameplay here is amazing.

The game features 80(!) minigames, and though a few of them pay homage to classics of the series, they're all 100% new. It would have been nice to see a few advanced boards that require more strategy. Perhaps there will be some DLC down the line.

Outside of that, the main mode is everything you probably expect. Roll a die, collect coins, buy stars, and learn to hate your friends. The addition of character-specific dice that augment your chances of landing on a specific space adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but it's still the same wonderful random game we all know and love.

Oodles of Extras

Were the main mode all that Super Mario Party included, it'd be a passable-but-forgettable entry in the series. Fortunately, the game packs in so much more. In fact, I imagine that I'll be playing the game's other modes more frequently than the classic board game mode.

A clear standout here is the Partner Party mode, a 2v2 romp that features free movement around a board and allows for much more strategic play. Of course, the goal is still to collect stars. Since you have the ability to split up, one teammate can focus on collecting coins or blocking the other team's path while the other focuses on collecting items or stars. There is a surprising amount of depth on display here, and I imagine that this will be a mode I come back to often.

Another winner is the River Survival mode, a cooperative adventure that tasks you and three buddies with traversing a branching path, playing minigames and avoiding obstacles in order to make it to the end before time runs out. It's kind of like a cross between OutRun and Mario Party, and it works way better than it has any right to.

Image via Nintendo

The Sound Stage mode may not be for everyone, but I had a blast playing it. This mode is sort of a Rhythm Heaven or Warioware: Smooth Moves-styled competitive game, featuring only rhythm-based minigames that require you to stand up to play them.

Though the Joy-Cons can be sensitive at times, motion-based rhythm games are never not fun, and Sound Stage mode is no different. As an added bonus, the music on display here (especially the remixes of classic Mario tracks) is pure head-bopping fun.

Super Mario Party also throws a bone to solo players with Challenge Road, a gauntlet of minigame challenges that is unlocked after you unlock all the minigames. It's incredibly fun, and is the type of game mode that will eat up the better part of your day before you even realize it. 

Oh, and speaking of solo play: Though there's no way to play the classic Mario Party experience online as of yet, the Online Mariothon mode is the perfect blend of engaging and frustrating that will guarantee I stay up until 4am getting more and more angry at children over the internet.

The way it works is actually pretty brilliant -- the games featured in this mode are all timed. Either you want to finish a task first (winning a tricycle race, cooking a delicious-looking steak cube), or you want to last as long as possible (avoiding Chargin' Chucks, outrunning Broozers, dodging Fuzzies in a plane).

Points in Online Mariothon are awarded based on time rather than whether you've won or lost, so the lead can swing wildly across the 4 minigames depending on if someone just absolutely airballs a challenge while another person nails it. I didn't see myself enjoying an online ranked mode for Mario Party (it even gives you a letter grade based on your performance) but, well, here we are.

Image via Nintendo

I've saved Toad's Rec Room for last, since it was my least favorite of the bunch.

Toad's Rec Room is pretty much a collection of minigames that are slightly more fleshed out than the rest: a miniature baseball game that is actually a blast to play if you have a full group of players, a top-down tank game that is reminiscent of classic Atari titles, a forgettable game where you assemble sprites with your friends, and a puzzle game that tasks you with arranging two Switch consoles beside each other in order to complete an image of a banana.

There's also a sticker collecting mode, which is something I will never do unless I unlock a really cool sticker by being the best in the world at Online Mariothon.

Party Crashers

There's a lot to love in Super Mario Party, but there's also a lot that is missing. Four boards for the main mode seems like not enough, but that isn't a huge deal given the other game modes. 

What is a huge deal is that in order to play with four players, you'll need four Joy-Cons.

The game doesn't work with Pro Controllers, or even Joy-Cons used in the grip attachment. Presumably this is to even the playing field for the games that require a gyro sensor, but the Pro Controller has that too! It's ridiculous that Nintendo is forcing folks to use the Joy-Cons, especially when every other game for the Switch supports multiple control styles. Hopefully this gets patched in later.

My only other major gripe here is the lack of any kind of 8-player mode. I get that Mario Party is traditionally a 4-player game, but 8-player modes have been supported on Nintendo consoles since the Wii U. It's a shame that they didn't include any kind of cooperative pass-and-play party mode that supports more than 4 players. It seems like a no-brainer. 

Party On

All in all, though Super Mario Party is by no means a perfect game, it succeeded in skyrocketing the Super Mario franchise out of mediocrity and back into the hearts of fans everywhere.

With a couple of tweaks and patches and -- dare I hope -- free DLC boards down the line, the game could stand alongside series juggernauts like Mario Party 2 and 3. But even if nothing changes, Super Mario Party is a must-have for any Switch owner, and a natural fit for the console. 

[Disclaimer: Writer was granted a free code from the publisher for review purposes.]

Northgard Ragnarok Update Review: The End of Days Isn't So Apocalyptic Sat, 06 Oct 2018 11:21:24 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Ragnarok. The end of days. 

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a time of great tribulation and hardship. It is a time of violence and difficulty. Ragnarok, as it seems, is when the gods kick you in the ass. 

If you've played enough Northgard, you know that even on its hardest setting, it's never been a truly difficult strategy game. Although it's immensely fun to play, I've always seen Northgard as a casual, more laid-back RTS experience. 

Hoping for something of a difficulty spike, I jumped into the game's new update with gusto. But despite its foreboding moniker, Ragnarok doesn't make Northgard any harder than its ever been. As soon as you figure out the gods aren't as clever as they think, gaining victory comes as it has many times before. 

In some ways, that's not a bad thing. But with such high hopes ahead of release, it's a bit of a letdown that more risks weren't taken. 

Three warriors in red stand next to a snow covered trading post by the shore

More Like DLC

If you're looking for it, Ragnarok brings plenty of new content to Northgard.

When you boot up, you'll find a new option for the update after choosing singleplayer in the main menu. Select your clan, and you're loaded into the new Ragnarok map, a terribly (and aptly) desolate place covered in the drab brown and grey overtones of the apocalypse. 

From there, things begin differently enough. 

Resource Priorities Have Changed

The biggest change you'll immediately notice is that early-game resources such as food and lumber are scant -- and you can only gain food by foraging or hunting (unless you're playing as Clan Fenrir, of course).

This one wrinkle can -- and probably will -- completely change your strategy; where you might have once expanded toward fertile land and then areas with stone or iron, you'll now find yourself quickly seeking out the map's few hunting areas to quickly establish a foothold. 

It's a dynamic mix-up I found refreshing for the first several matches, but ultimately one that led to rote repetition in subsequent games, specifically if I never deviated from the optimum path of my own accord.  

I also quickly found that Ragnarok is easy peasy if you play with a clan like The Raven, which has the ability to annex land via Krowns instead of food. By building enough marketplaces and trading posts alongside a savvy trade route or two, you can easily circumvent the primary obstacles inherent to the map and glide to victory. 

Ghostly fallen sailors attack a Northgard settlement from the sea

Ghosts, Raiders, Volcanoes, Oh My

Not everything comes up roses. 

One thing that does shake things up quite a bit is the addition of new events and enemy types. If you're like me and consistently go for Wisdom or Trade victories, completely ignoring your warband in the process, that changes here. 

In many ways, it's essential you build a relatively robust warband of at least 12 warriors and one hero unit. Not only will that help you defend against wolves, Draugr, and other players but also against Fallen Sailors and the Myrkalfar, or Dark Elves.

The former damage sponges present a dire threat as they attack from the sea in numbers and not only bring strife but also unhappiness to your territory, causing your workers to be less productive. The latter are more nagging, launching raids on "random players" (read: you) each year stealing resources from your stores and leaving a few warriors dead if you're not careful. 

But by far one of the most interesting new enemies comes from the molten rocks spewed forth by the unconquerable volcano in the middle of the Ragnarok map.

Like other random events, the volcano will erupt, sending ash across the sky and darkening the map for a time. This darkness hides the stone golems that have indiscriminately on the map. At first they look like simple boulders, but if you don't mine them fast enough, they'll morph into raucous golems bent of your destruction.  

Couple that with a random rat infestation and Gates to Helheim, and you're in for a devastating ride.

An overlay showing the three military paths new to Ragnarok

Way of the Warrior

If you've not yet guessed, Ragnarok more the pushes you toward a Domination victory, for better or worse. The incentive is increased by the new Military Paths system, which gives your warband XP for every enemy killed. 

Depending on your playstyle, points rack up quickly, giving you access to three different paths: Tactician, Guardian, and Conqueror. Within each of these three paths there are three buffs that unlock at certain XP levels. Some provide increased health while others instill fear into the hearts of your enemies. 

The Guardian is the clearcut choice, though, because it increases your warband by one for every guard tower you have built (and by two if that guard tower is upgraded). Since you can -- and certainly should -- build guard towers in each section of your territory for protection, you can save some space on Training Camps and resources on upgrading them. 

So while Military Paths are interesting, there's never really any reason to pick anything but Guardian. Ever. 

Oh, and there's also something called a Bloodmoon, which increases the attack power of every unit outside of its territory. This is perfect for attacking other settlements, but since I've only gotten one once in a few matches (and wasn't close enough to another camp to test it out) I can't exactly say if it works as advertised or note. 

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Northgard's newest update is a mixed bag. On paper, all of the added content adds dynamic new layers to an already fun RTS. In practice, the number of occurrences feels unbalanced and the Ragnarok map is just, well, drab. 

Since the update is free, it kind of feels a bit ungrateful to gripe at all. But with all its potential not maximized, it feels like all that tribulation and hardship is a bit for naught. 

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review -- Boldly Rolling the Dice Tue, 02 Oct 2018 11:25:30 -0400 Nick Congleton

Ever since the Pathfinder RPG made its debut in 2009, it has won over fans of classic RPGs time and time again -- including Dungeons and Dragons, which Pathfinder owes its lineage to.

The Pathfinder tabletop game earned its popularity and devoted fan base by staying true to more traditional elements of Dungeons and Dragons. But does  Pathfinder: Kingmaker stay true to those same roots?

In a world where the RPG has been popularized and ultimately toned down by the likes of The Elder Scrolls and World of Warcraft, is there a place for the unforgiving nature of tabletop RPGs?

Spoiler alert: the answer just might be yes. 

Interface and Controls

For anyone who has played anything similar to a true roleplaying game in the last 15 years, Pathfinder: Kingmaker's user interface should automatically feel familiar. It features a small menu with different character management and game system options. The character screen offers a very familiar inventory and equipment management interface that centers around dragging pieces of gear around an animated model of your character.

On a more practical action based front, the camera controls are your standard WASD keys. Then the combat controls themselves come on a tried and true action bar.

That's really where the similarities end, though. Pathfinder: Kingmaker isn't the PC RPG (CRPG) that you're probably used to. Kingmaker is a tabletop RPG in digital form. It is your dungeon master, and you're playing much the same game you would if gathered around with a group of friends.

Such a relatively bold move presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to controls. Most gamers, even RPG fans, have never played a game that controls like a tabletop game. That means that the controls would need to be highly intuitive to your average gamer while still preserving the tabletop gameplay elements.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker mostly succeeds in its control design. There are elements of that pen and paper gameplay that translate very well into a PC game. However, there are others, like live action combat and formations, which feel sort of strange and out of place initially.

It never gets perfectly smooth, but it is possible to adapt to it and feel mostly comfortable down the line.


Diving deeper into its gameplay, you'll really feel how strange Pathfinder: Kingmaker seems at first. Your first instinct will probably be to dive in and start mashing the buttons on your action bar, much like you would in countless other RPGs. That's, of course, not the way Pathfinder works. It is a virtual tabletop RPG, and it plays like one. That includes automatic dice roll mechanics. Yes, it rolls virtual dice.

When you first engage in combat, time freezes and gives you a chance to plan out a strategy for your party. This part is well explained in the initial tutorial, and it works great. After you have your strategy in place, you unfreeze time and dive into the fight.

That's where things get a little weird.

After the live-action combat kicks off, it's not all that easy to manage your party anymore, and attempting to attack just feels clunky, especially with the dice rolling mechanic factoring into the combat as well.

That's why, in practice, Pathfinder: Kingmaker feels a bit like a cross between an RPG and a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. That wouldn't really be the case if you were only controlling your one character, more like it's pen and paper origin, but it's also clear why that system wouldn't work all that well in the context of a PC game.

Altogether, the combat experience in Pathfinder is fun, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and there is a learning curve.

The game also features a fairly unique travel system that aims to replicate the experience of the tabletop game.

The map interface is nicely designed, and it cuts out a lot of what could be nonsense while retaining the adventuring feel present in a pen and paper RPG. Most of it is fast travel until you encounter a challenge on the road. At that point, you'll drop down to a ground-level view to fight.

Stopping also means setting up camp to rest and gathering rations. Rest resets your party's abilities and heals them up. You can also find interesting side content on the road that leads you down different narrative paths that build on the story and flesh out the world.

Art and Graphics

The art and graphical aesthetic of Pathfinder: Kingmaker are fantastic. The key here is not to go in expecting the same level of graphical polish that you'd find in a AAA title with a gargantuan budget. That's not what this game is, and it doesn't try to be.

Kingmaker's static artwork is essentially the same art that you'd associate with the Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons tabletop games. If you're not familiar, it's a painted style that takes advantage of a wide color pallet and a sense of motion. That same style is common in other media within the fantasy genre, especially with novels. It fits well with Pathfinder, and it really does help build the overall ambiance of the game.

The in-game environments are great as well. They expertly set the scene in the locations that you're playing through, and really do help with immersion, which is a huge deal in an RPG.

The game does a great deal with environment detail that helps to set the stage of the world, helping players understand bits about the plot and overall lore, without the need to play through any additional content.

There is one weak point with the in-game artwork, though: character models. They just aren't that detailed. In some cases, they even feel slightly out of place. The world itself seems more finely tuned graphically, while it's hard to shake the feeling that the character models feel dated.


There isn't too much to say without revealing any spoilers, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker's story feels like a very well put together tabletop campaign.

It comes complete with a main quest line that brings your character along through a story complete with meaningful decisions and the ability to shape your own narrative. It even partners you with a bard character to chronicle your story, which is a nice touch. 

The story kicks off with your character attending a gathering of heroes and mercenaries, all of whom were brought together for a chance to claim a lordship of their own complete with land and titles.

Of course, there's a catch. The land is occupied by a somewhat mysterious warlord. Within a few minutes, things at the gathering go violently wrong, and your adventure kicks off prematurely and chaotically.

Customization, The World, and RPG Elements

No RPG is complete without real role-playing aspects. This is another area where Kingmaker really delivers. The first part of every RPG is character creation.

So, when you first start up your campaign, you're able to create your character. There are a handful of template characters that you can pick and get started with right way. Chances are, though, you're an RPG player, and you want to make your character from scratch.

Of course, that is an option, too.

The beginning of the character creation process is probably also the weakest. There aren't many playable character races to choose from. It would have been nice to see more options, especially in a landscape where RPG fans expect a broad range of options.

Once you do pick your character's race, you'll get to customize their appearance. Unfortunately, the available options are limited. It would have been nice to see more variation here, especially with how invested RPG fans tend to get in their characters.

Beyond that, the class customization options are great. Pathfinder: Kingmaker brings an impressive range of character classes and subclasses to the table. The classes do feel unique, and each variation changes the flavor of the class and changes the way you play.

Of course, you get to choose specific talents and abilities for your character and customize their stats. Stats are a huge part of creating characters in a pen and paper RPG, and they're still very present here.

The world itself feels very alive. There are secrets, items, and NPCs to interact with through the entire world. Some just give you interesting loot. Others provide additional side stories or enhance the main plot of the game.

A lot of the game is fully voice acted. While not all of it is great, there are some real stand out characters that help to bring the game to life and build investment in both the characters and the story.

The Verdict

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a breath of fresh air in a fairly stale RPG landscape. It takes some seriously bold risks, and they pay off for the right audience. If you're a fan of tabletop RPG games, or you're looking for an unexpected challenge in the form of something truly different, you won't be disappointed.

It's important to note that the launch of the game was plagued with a really nasty bug causing saved games to fail to load. While there are some easy temporary fixes on Windows, Mac and Linux players are having a rougher time of it.

In reviewing this game on Linux, it was extremely frustrating having to start the entire game over every time the full party died because saved games couldn't load. That said, it's just a bug, and hopefully, it'll be fixed soon.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker set out to bring the look, feel, and gameplay experience of a classic tabletop RPG to the PC and, in that, is an absolute success. It's not without its flaws, but all of them could be corrected with additions and further content patches, which a game like this lends itself to very well.

You can pick up Pathfinder: Kingmaker on Steam for $39.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Pathfinder: Kingmaker used in this review.]

Assassin's Creed Odyssey: A Worthy Return to Form Mon, 01 Oct 2018 19:16:26 -0400 John Schutt

As I make my way through Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, I am often struck by how confident it is in itself. The action is a more polished version of Origins, its storytelling stands on firmer footing, and overall, I find the Greek world more interesting than Egypt. And that's not just because of personal preference.

Rather, it's because the combination of these and other factors make Odyssey feel like the game Origins was trying to be.

In this full review Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, we'll discuss the story and the content, as the series has always lived and died on its writing.

A Tale of Two Parts

For me, one of Origins' biggest problems was the way it split its narrative even further than the series usually does. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey has one protagonist around which the game revolves, with a large and interesting supporting cast.

Their story doesn't begin, as the series' narratives often do, with a revenge plot. Rather, it's simple pragmatism that sends our hero on their way into the wider world. 

Ubisoft's writers continue to add wrinkles to this easier entrance into the story, but not at the breakneck pace most players of the series are used to. This time, rather than hit us squarely with a grand conspiracy, Odyssey takes its time, introducing mechanics, characters, and plotlines at a pace that allows for actual comprehension. 

People Make it Matter

One of the initial highlights for me was the main character's position in the world. They don't initially have a reputation, aren't part of some guild or noble house, and they certainly don't seem to follow the creed of the Templars or Assassins. They are a normal, if competent, person who sees opportunities and takes them.

More interestingly, they aren't the naive kind of protagonist I'm used to seeing at the start of an Assassin's Creed game. Instead, they understand the world in which they live and are satisfied learning more about it as their journey unfolds — they aren't usually surprised by the darkness and suffering they see.

These were good qualities, as I expected our hero to change and grow as the story went on.

I'm sorry to say I was disappointed.

The same qualities that at first made the main character (whose gender is up to the player) unique and enjoyable in the end made them flat and relatively hollow. Certainly, their reactions to some of the revelations the story throws at them are believable enough, and there were some genuinely touching moments that involved the main character, but they weren't because of them. 

Thankfully, the supporting cast was there to lighten the mood, as each does, in fact, have roundness and color. Every major NPC — and even some of the minor ones — in the game felt like a person, with regrets, desires, and dreams that related to their situation in life. The protagonist's past, which is actually quite important to the story, acts just as window dressing even when things get serious, and never really moved me.

My family, friends, lovers, and enemies, though? These were people I cared about because they were actually people who were as unsure about their lot in life as you or me, and made due the best they could with what fate dealt them.

Even with Ubisoft leaning heavily into the reputation of some of the more important figures, people who helped define what it means to live in Western society, I was rarely left wanting more of their character, because to ask for more was to ask for a super-person, and those are boring. The NPCs in Odyssey are well constructed and are the real drivers for the game.

The Plot Thickens

As for the narrative itself, the common threads are here. Someone or something is pulling strings, the main character is somehow involved and becomes more so, their decisions will decide the fates of thousands, no one who appears to be of consequence (read: with a unique and higher quality character model) is exactly who they say they are, etc. etc. 

What impressed me, however, is how Ubisoft managed to weave as many story threads together as they did. Though there's the main story for players to follow, it certainly isn't the only one, and each plotline has direct connections to the others, and each was interesting enough that I was always curious where the story would go next. 

Some of the twists and turns were, sadly, predictable in an almost comic-bookish kind of way. I called several of them in the first couple hours of play. There were also moments where it felt like Ubisoft was putting in fantastical things just to get a rise out of their players, trying more to force a reaction than let it happen organically. 

Still, I was satisfied for the most part. The formula Ubisoft established is well intact, but Odyssey chooses to play with it in subtle ways that make what would be old news fresh(er) again. 

Solid Content

As with Origins, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey follows a more RPG style of gameplay, with character and enemy levels, a randomized loot system with rarity scores, health values, and skill trees all making up a solid, if not revolutionary, whole.

For me, though, the core gameplay in Odyssey is not what brings me the most joy. It's a moderate expansion on a system that functions, and I'm fine with that. I'm most taken by the small quality of life improvements Ubisoft's made. Most of the ideas come from other games, but they're implemented into the world well enough that I'm more than happy to take part. 

The Option to Enjoy

My favorite new side mechanic is bounties. Collected from a notice board, they come in several varieties and all offer either money, loot, experience, or some combination of the three. They don't take very long, they occasionally weave their way into the larger world, and the reward is usually worth the small effort it takes to complete them. 

More importantly, you'll want to pick up bounties and side content frequently, as story content is often gated behind a level cap. Especially as you approach the late game, Odyssey's main storyline takes longer and longer as you have to take more and more time doing optional content so the enemies in the core content don't kill you in a single hit.

This is an annoying design decision that forces the player to engage with the world against their will. It works in games like Destiny or The Witcher 3 because the main story — many people's reason for playing the game at all — is perfectly playable with little to no grinding required. Odyssey all but forces the issue, and in a game all about choosing how you approach something, such a heavy hand stands out.

On the flip side, I really enjoyed how armor customization matters in this game. The Origins system of standardized outfits is gone and head-to-toe gear with stats is in. And unlike previous titles, the overall aesthetic of the gear changes, and might even inform its stats. There are also specialized sets with accompanying bonuses, so there's yet more reason to seek out the hidden areas of the map.

The other bits of side content — the Shadow of Mordor-inspired Mercenary system, a pared down version of the Assassin's Creed 4 sailing mechanics, the various one- or two-step side quests, the arena — are all fun as well, and for the same reasons they've worked in the titles they originated in. It's just that they can really get in the way sometimes.

The number of times I suddenly found myself in a sea battle in spitting distance of the objective was incredibly frustrating, especially since pirating doesn't have the same charm or reward it did it Black Flag.

Mercenaries is a nice addition, though. There might not be any real consequence to the GTA-style bounty system, but finding a mercenary I hadn't encoutered yet was always a real thrill, as I knew the subsequent fight would be both tense and satisfying.

It's Not All Roses

The trouble with Odyssey, as with many recent Assassin's Creed games, is how spread out the content feels, and everything ultimately feels shallow because of it.

I enjoy bounties, but they will never carry a title. The ship combat makes something of a return, but it feels tacked on, as it has in every game after Black Flag. And many optional quests were almost always some variation on "go here, kill dudes, come back." That, and the fact that every non-story location in the game is a hostile zone really makes me wonder what purpose any location serves other than a new coat of paint on "this is a new place to kill dudes."

The voice acting is also hit and miss. Especially in some of the randomly generated world quests, but certainly not limited to them. Some of the line deliveries are incredibly stiff, with one mechanics explanation at the game's outset spoken so awkwardly I could tell the voice actors were just done with it that day.

Loot can pose issues, too. It's a problem many ran into with Nioh, where you're so overwhelmed with useless gear that managing it became a game all its own, and not one you wanted to play. Again, bounties are good for giving a possible upgrade, but the game completely floods you with common items you'll never so much as swing.

Last is an issue I saw pop up in Far Cry 5Odyssey does not want you to ever be bored and so tends to contrive reasons for you to engage with its world. Whether that means spawning a random patrol or NPC recruitment quest, I often find myself bombarded by things I don't have the time or desire to discover. And sometimes I just want to walk through the city without being attacked by guards. Is that too much to ask?

Final Verdict

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is one of the better entries in the franchise, especially in recent years. Its side characters are solid, and I care about their personal conflicts and motivations. It builds on the systems established in Origins without trying to reinvent them, and the gameplay loop and core mechanics remain fun and engaging. The game does try to do a little too much of everything, and the experimenting it does do — a player-driven protagonist, for one — sometimes falls flat. Odyssey also has its overbearing moments, too, and I wish parts of its story didn't drag on for so long.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. It's a beautiful world that's had real care and attention paid to it, and a worthy entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of AC: Odyssey used in this review.]


CrossCode Review: A Surprising, Expansive Adventure Mon, 01 Oct 2018 13:56:14 -0400 Zack Palm

At first, CrossCode looks a lot like your typical RPG throwback. Stylized, 16-bit graphics greet you from the get-go with catchy chiptunes that quickly draw you into an expansive world rivaled only by some of the genre's beloved titans. 

You assume the role of a hero eager to find out the source of your short-term memory loss, while also taking part in some fun gameplay consisting of unique puzzles, challenging platforming, and some really beautiful pixel art.

The game continues to surprise, even twenty hours in, and reissues its already understood mechanics to make them feel fresh. The developers truly crafted a wonderful game, though a few flaws still cut through.

The Setting

CrossCode throws you into a future world where the MMO, CrossWorlds, is the game everyone plays. Players assume all of the controls of their avatar with their bodies, able to speak and move for them by using some unknown virtual reality equipment.

You assume the avatar known as Lea, an avatar who has no memory of who they are behind the digital mask. Several of the starting NPCs know she's a unique case of a player, hinting at a grand mystery awaiting her as she steps off the tutorial boat and embarks on a journey to remember who she was. Because she doesn't know who she is, she can't speak, creating a loophole behind the silent hero trope.

To jog Lea's memory, she's forced to play through the game where the player's goal is to complete through the main quest called Track of the Ancients, where players uncover the mystery behind the beings that were there long before anyone else. Lea picks a handful of friends along the way, and just like in a traditional MMO, she gets the opportunity to join a small guild to help her out.

The developers crafted the world to feel like a constantly-moving MMO, including having "players" going through the world around you intent on completing quests. Though, after a time it's clear they're moving on a track and they don't fight with any of the monsters around you, the background details were added to make it feel authentic. The development team nailed it.

In the game, it's mentioned there are five classes to play from. You do not get to choose this as Lea is a pre-made avatar, and I felt a little robbed from this experience. I would have enjoyed getting to dive deep into the RPG aspects of this game, choosing my character's appearance, class, and perfecting her stats. But this linear experience demands to have certain aspects chosen for you, and it doesn't take away too much.

Gameplay and Puzzles

CrossCode provides you with two methods of attacking: range-based and melee-based. When you have a keyboard and mouse, you change between these two based on how you aim at the enemies on screen.

There's a quick-attack button on your keyboard, but you'll mostly ignore it. It's far easier to use your game's reticle than it is to remember what key it is. The range-based attack is called Orb, and they're the main way you interact with the hundreds of puzzles littered throughout the game.

The combat was a straight-forward affair. Beat an enemy until their health is zero. When you defeat a group of enemies you'll receive a battle rank based on how difficult they were. You'll have a bar on the top of the screen where you can continue to fight other monsters in the area, gaining more battle rank up to the rank of S. You'll receive more experience points and better loot if you do this, but you won't gain any health between fights.

To make fighting easier, you'll find instances to 'break' an enemy during combat. Breaking an enemy is basically stunning them, causing them to freeze up and they can't react for a number of seconds. The developers make this unique by forcing you to find different ways to break certain enemies. Some of them are broken by simply attacking them while they charge for their attack. Others require you to use a specific element to break them, thereby making your neutral attacks useful against them. The break mechanic doesn't get old, and even twenty hours in, the developers used it with a refreshing tone.

If you're not a fan of puzzles, you might not want to pick up this game. Not only are there puzzle-filled dungeons, which can take you an hour if you're not careful, but each new area contains platforming and orb-based puzzles for you to solve. While you do not have to do all of them as some of them provide you with great equipment, many of them are forced on you and prevent you from continuing forward.

The developers don't try to trick you through the puzzles. The puzzles were made in an obvious way for you to quickly grasp the mechanics and proceed forward. Although, the one-hour long puzzle dungeons were a bit much. There's a good amount of combat added to these dungeons, but it's easy to get lost in them and have to take a break immediately after you're finished.

The 16-bit RPG Art

The wonderful art shines throughout the experience. The various avatars, the season-changing worlds, and the unique monsters populated everywhere make every new sight an appealing experience. You'll forget you're playing a PC game and think you pulled out your old school PlayStation for old time's sake. The gameplay feels the same way, too.

There's a few times this art becomes troublesome when you're dealing with the platforming puzzles. You may think you're jumping on the ledge, but you miss by just a hair, and its enough to send you tumbling down. It also works in your favor when you need to remain on a platform and you're barely hanging off the side so you can make it to the next jump. There's a handful of cons with the chosen art, but you'll find far more pros and the art doesn't get stale.

It's Still An MMO

Because its an RPG disguised as an MMO, you'll feel the massive world gets a little lonely at times. Even when your companion consistently comments on your lust for battle or about the new area you've unlocked. You'll want to take a friend with you through your quests and show them what you've been looking on. But as you might expect, there can be a fair amount of grinding.

This feeling typically arrives just before a big fight. Right before a dungeon, your companions will ask if you're truly ready to tackle whatever lies behind those threatening doors. There are so many side quests for you to do before you enter it, you'll feel you need to take a step back to go take care of them. You can ignore most of the side quests and proceed into dungeon after dungeon, but you'll feel a far more difficult challenge if you don't do so.

You do need to grind XP to level up and stay within the appropriate limits of the game. No, it's not as bad if you were to play World of Warcraft, but it take an hour or two out of your time from your main quest to stay within the limit. It does pull away from the experience and make it feel like a necessary element. Those who love to be completionists and check off every box will have a blast running through every little detail of this game.

The Verdict

CrossCode is a wonderful game. The developers painstakingly added numerous background details to make the experience feel genuine and the mechanics don't feel stale, even thirty or forty hours into the entire game.

There's a lot to do, a good story, a handful of great characters to meet, and the combat feels like a challenge. You may bash your head against a wall attempting to figure out the puzzle-dungeons, but when you figure it out you're going to feel accomplishment and excited to move on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

You can pick up CrossCode for $19.99 on Steam. If you're not completely sold, try out the demo

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

Think of the Children Review: Cute Concept But Fundamentally Unbalanced Mon, 01 Oct 2018 12:13:28 -0400 Littoface

Parenting is hard work. It involves delicately balancing love and discipline -- and making sure things don't catch on fire. 

Think of the Children from Fellow Traveller and Jammed Up Studio sets out to show players just how tough striking this balance is when you have six kids -- and they're all extremely flammable.

The game has some redeeming qualities, of course -- like its ridiculous death scenarios and silly writing. 

But try as it may, Think of the Children is, in many ways, on fire itself. The game is supposed to be a challenge, but it's more of a rote masterclass in patience and repetition. It'll need some balancing before it provides the "good" kind of challenge (as opposed to the "pull-your-hair-out" kind).

We tried our hand at virtual parenting and came out thankful that we're (just a little bit) better at it in real life. 

Ready, set, parent!

We're Pretty Sure Parenting Doesn't Work Like This

Think of the Children consists of several stages, each with its own set of objectives. Set up a barbecue in the park. Do some shopping at the store. Set up umbrellas and buy ice cream at the beach.

Each of these tasks is accomplished by walking over to key spots on the map and pressing a button repeatedly.

The catch? While you're tending to the BBQ, your kids are wandering off onto the road and getting run over. They're climbing the shelves and getting crushed when they fall. They're getting eaten alive by seagulls.

To save these unusually dumb kids from their inevitable fates, you run around and pick them up whenever they come into harm's way. You then place them down or, because it's more fun, fling them toward safety.

You can also call them over if they're nearby for some crowd control, but as this has an unfairly long cooldown, it's actually not very useful at all. Resorting to the other methods is just more efficient. 

Each child is given a random name, and it's darkly funny to see the names get crossed out one by one as you inevitably fail to save little Kristy from burying herself alive in the sandpit or baby Mort from swinging so high he flies off to his demise.

The levels end when the timer runs out or when all the kids die. At the end of each level, you're given a letter grade for completing objectives, with a score multiplier for every child that's still alive.

You can play in two main modes in Think of the Children: Party Mode and Story Mode. 

The former lets you play any stage while shooting for the high score, while the latter tells the story of poor parents who have racked up over 400 counts of negligence on countless kids, dead and alive, and are now in court pleading their cases before a judge and CPS (protip: that's definitely not how it works IRL.)

Although it's absolutely unnecessary to even have a story in this ridiculous game, the writing is funny and very tongue-in-cheek, which is a big plus.

The downside to Story Mode is that it makes you play each level again and again until you get a passing grade in order to continue — a feat which, as we'll see in a moment, is basically impossible to accomplish alone.

Frantic and Unfair

The game bills itself as a "multitasking simulator", and it certainly is that — but to a point that goes beyond challenging and becomes just downright unfair.

Every level's objectives are displayed in a tiny notepad in the corner of the screen, making it a bit difficult to see what you're supposed to do while also keeping an eye on the kids.

Like real parenting, you have to be in about 10 places at once. Just as you start unfurling the towels and opening the beach umbrellas, one kid swims off dangerously close to a circling shark, another kid tempts fate by poking a jellyfish, the grill back by the car has caught on fire, and — oh! — so has the tanning dude by the water who forgot to put on sunscreen (is… is this how it works? We're starting to believe it).

All of these things are happening all around the screen and even if you run it's impossible to save everyone. Literally. Impossible. 

It didn't take long before my partner and I realized the only way to get through a level was by just holding onto one child at all times and dragging them back if they started to wander off while other tasks were being completed.

And even then, points were lost for, you know, letting five other kids die, and the grade was inevitably an F, dooming us to repeat this weird parenting Hell for Story Mode over and over again.

Quite simply put, the balancing is off. When playing solo, there is no way to actually accomplish everything the game expects you to accomplish while also keeping those darn kids alive.

Luckily, Think of the Children has one saving grace: local co-op.

Parenting Is a Collaborative Experience

With drop-in local co-op for up to four total players, Think of the Children doesn't seem to scale difficulty when more people join.

Every player gets to choose an avatar: quirky, blocky people (and animal-headed creatures) with fun hats and colors. These are actually quite charming, and more features and character designs can be unlocked by doing well in the game.

Having co-op in means that if you have a few friends over who want to experience the joys of parenting, you can just about complete the levels by splitting the tasks between you.

If one player watches a group of three kids and another watches the other three, a third stands by for all the things that tend to catch on fire, and the final player sets everything else up… well, then things become doable.

We're not sure we'd call it fun, but it definitely becomes a bit easier to handle, which, let's face it, is true for parenting in reality. Sometimes, splitting the tasks is just about the only way to make sure everyone gets out of things alive.

Final Takeaway

Think of the Children is a cute idea in theory but in practice, it lacks the balance it needs to succeed. Couple that with an unfair pace and it's more of a train-wreck than a fun time.

It also doesn't help that it is literally impossible to complete levels on your own. So while the co-op mode makes the game a bit more manageable, it ultimately lacks the depth it needs to be enjoyable on every front.

Of course, we can see it being a fun and silly party game, where flummoxed IRL parents take a shot every time a digital child dies, but ... well, we hope we never type a sentence like that again. 

In the end, it's silly, colorful, and ridiculous, and we'll hope for a patch that better balances the game -- but until then, we'll stick to real parenting. It's easier, and the kids don't (usually) spontaneously combust.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Think of the Children used in this review.]

Underhero Review - I Need a Hero Sat, 29 Sep 2018 11:13:46 -0400 Kimberly Cooper

Underhero is another one of those games that you might've otherwise missed if you were not actively following its progress. More often than not, it takes a lot of perseverance and charm to get this far and Underhero is a quirky, exciting adventure that changes up the hero formula.

The Story

The game is played within a 2D side-scroller view and while it may feel compact, it's accompanied with delightful, unique characters and a solid story of trying to save the world when you weren't exactly cut out for the job in the first place.

You take on the role of an underling-turned-hero (the Underhero) and unknowingly tasked with saving the world. This puts the antagonist-turned-protagonist into quite the pickle because this obviously isn't what he planned to happen. 

The main character is another one of those silent-types, but the fluid animation and comical moments give him plenty of personality without ever really saying a word. You're paired with the former hero's sword that is capable of changing from a blade into a hammer and slingshot at will. 

The dialogue is both quirky and cute which makes listening to all the passive dialogue quite the adventure.  Each world hosts its own color scheme but they all end up coming off as vibrant and colorful instead of dull and dreary.

Going through each area filled me with excitement as I wondered what sort of enemies I would encounter and what kind of attacks they would use against me. Would I need to duck or jump when they attacked? Would I need to use my shield or bribe them with money because they were too strong? The enemy designs fit perfectly into the peculiar world of Underhero, however, at times I felt like there could have been a larger quantity of enemies between areas.

One thing that had me baffled throughout my play-through was how all of the enemies worked for the corporation led by the main boss in the game, Mr. Stitches, but they never seemed to question why one of their own was out attacking them in the field.

The Battle System

I expected to be faced with either turn-based battles or regular ol' hack and slash when going about my journey and was met with something entirely different. People that are familiar with Undertale might see some similarities in Underhero's battle system. Once you come across a monster you initiate a fight where you can talk to your opponent to get the occasional hint or even bribe them with your own hard earned cash so that they'll leave you alone.

If throwing your money away doesn't sound like your cup of tea, have no fear. Battling involves a little more thought in which you have to actually observe your opponent's actions in order to predict which move they'll use next. If predicted correctly, you're able to dodge moves by jumping or ducking.

Time your own attacks perfectly in tune with the music to get extra damage but your attacks are also based on how much stamina you have which fills back up during the battle.

You can buy potions and other items from the shop back at the HQ as well as finding potions out in the field. The game isn't overly difficult by any means but my complaint is the game occasionally experiences lag during battles which can make them go on longer than necessary or cause you to get hit by attacks. 

There's plenty of fun to be had in Underhero with mini-games, boss fights and puzzle elements with a little platforming thrown in. While you're playing, you get to experience a phenomenal soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren that I found myself listening to throughout the odd hours of the day.

Underhero isn't an overly difficult game and if you ever think an enemy is too much to handle you can always just bribe them so that they will leave you alone. You'll go broke, but at least you're able to continue on your adventure.

Despite the presence of a few bugs, this game was designed by a team of only four people and offers roughly 15-25 hours of gameplay that will scratch that indie itch. If you've been needing a break from Dead Cells or Hollow Knight and just want to experience some witty comments and bash around a few monsters without a fear of losing your head, this is the next best thing.

It's available for $14.99 on Steam, Gamejolt, and

A demo for Underhero is still available on Gamejolt and for those who need extra incentive. 

Depth of Extinction Review: A Fun, Old-School Throwback Fri, 28 Sep 2018 11:19:22 -0400 Sergey_3847

Anyone who uses Steam knows that games in Greenlight aren't always of the highest quality. 

But from time to time, something very interesting appears out of the oozing verdant mass to grab the community's attention. Depth of Extinction, a 2D turn-based tactical RPG from HOF Studios, is one of those rare finds.  

After spending some time in development, the game garnered enough votes to make it to Steam's front page -- and as of this writing, is one of the platform's top sellers. And with good reason: while Depth of Extinction might not be perfect, it's a fun throwback to old school classics like X-COM

Story and Setting

Depth of Extinction is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remnants of civilization have managed to survive on small bases scattered all over the world. Since most of the Earth has been flooded by a cataclysm, your squad moves between locations in a submarine, which is an interesting touch in a genre filled with space ships.

The world map is divided into five sectors, all of which correspond to different factions. On top of that, each sector contains several major locations, each of which consists of smaller bases that serve as mini-maps.

This is where all the events take place. Your squad arrives at one of the chosen maps, raids it for loot, and moves on to another one.

Main points of interest keep you pointed in the right directions, guiding you down the optimal path for story-based items. To get them, you'll go through a chain of intermediate mini-maps. However, the game allows you yo choose the path on your own, as well, so you can make your journey shorter or longer depending on your needs.

For example, if you need money, weapons, or healing items, then you ought to raid as many bases within the game's major locations as possible. Depth of Extinction will even suggest that you either skip certain locations or quietly observe them without interfering, while others state clearly that you can enter, kill a bunch of enemies, and take all that you can find.

This makes selecting your path to the main objective a lot of fun in most regards. Unfortunately, the mini-maps themselves aren't as exciting; the design of each is great, but the actions you need to take are all basically the same over and over again.

Gameplay Mechanics

Before setting out on missions, the game asks you to choose your loadout. It includes the submarine you want to take on your journey and the squad that will accompany you on your mission.

To get you started, you'll get a relatively good amount of funding, which is enough to buy a basic submarine and add one extra member to your squad. From there on out, it's up to you to keep things running and your crew manned. Each squad member has their own perks and specialties, but in the beginning, it doesn't really matter who you choose.

The further you progress through the game, you will be able to meet Merchants, NPCs that can provide you with extra equipment. Although you'll get loot from looting bases, the really good items come from spending mission money at the Merchant to get the really good stuff that'll help you deal with more powerful enemies and bosses. 

When you arrive at a base, your team moves in turns. If you spot an enemy, you can start shooting immediately.

However, positioning squad is very important, and you need to enter each map with certain tactics and strategies in mind.

Just as it is in other tactical games like X-COM, it's important to keep your squad behind cover as much as possible. It's also important to the range of your currently equipped weapons. For example, it's wiser to position a sniper further away from the enemy and a shotty much, much closer.

To get a better idea of what this is like, you can easily compare the game's shooting mechanics to those in Wasteland, where you see hit chance when hovering your mouse over the enemy.

Mercing enemies is made easier seeing as the controls are very simple and intuitive. Although the process can be a bit clunky in the beginning before you learn all the hotkeys, the mid- to late-game runs really smooth.

The only real downside is that there isn't much variation here. Perhaps the game will see a few post-release patches to increase tactical diversity, but as it stands, you'll us the same strategies to win time and time again -- even against Depth of Extinction's harder foes. 

Final Thoughts

Like I said in the beginning: Depth of Extinction isn't perfect, but it's got a lot of good things going for it. 

The game's visual and audio presentation are great. The soundtrack is especially cool, and it plays in the vein of 80's synthwave, which really strengthens the overall vibe; it perfectly fits the 2D setting of the game with its industrial design. Nothing really distracts you from the gameplay in this regard, which means that the developers paid a lot of attention to the details.

The downside here is that although the gameplay is fun, it does get a bit boring if you play for longer sessions. You basically repeat the same actions without much variation.

But if you're a fan of old-school turn-based games, then you will enjoy the hell out of Depth of Extinction. So at the end of the day, it's all a matter of perception and taste.

[Note: A copy of Depth of Extinction was provided by HOF Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: Beautiful Turn-Based Strategy Thu, 27 Sep 2018 18:55:53 -0400 ElConquistadork

I'm just gonna come straight out and say it: I'm not an anime fan.

I'm not going to discount the genre on the whole: a work of art is a work of art. I appreciate and enjoy Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion (I'm not a monster, after all), but the general over-the-top tropes that come with your average anime always left me a bit cold. But, as I said, a work of art is a work of art, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 is magnificent.

The Stories of War

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is another installment in the quasi-World War 2 universe first introduced to the PS3 in 2008. In it, you take charge of a scrappy group of soldiers from the Atlantic Federation: a force dedicated to fighting back against the creeping doom of the mysteriously evil Imperial Alliance.

With a wide-stretching range of characters with well-written motivations, it's nearly impossible not to get caught up in the story. These soldiers of yours are fighting to protect their homeland after all, and that underdog mentality has always been contagious. But beyond that foundation, there's a real flexibility in the narrative that allows for moments of irreverent nonsense just as often as staring, grim-faced, into the horrors of war.

As the war progresses, you're subject to a great number of little scenes throughout. And while some of these scenes felt a little long-winded at times ("when do I get to the next battle, for God's sake?"), they did a wonderful job of perpetually deepening the storyline.

As the perfect complement to this story, each character is lovingly crafted and detailed, to the point that even the grunts who aren't a part of the main storyline feel like fully fleshed-out people. Even the most minor character has a unique take on their actions. A failed writer-turned-grenadier mutters about how well a certain moment would work in his novel, and a pretty boy sniper quips "Did you fall for me?" after headshotting an enemy soldier from a distance. No two characters look or act the same (outside of the enemies), and that had an effect on how I treated these characters on a level that I haven't felt since I named all my characters in XCOM after my friends and family.

Commanding Your Soap Opera in Battle

XCOM is actually a game that gets brought up a lot when it comes to this franchise. With its combination of turn-based strategy and HQ-based research and development, it's easy to see why. Like XCOM, you spend a lot of time developing your army and building yourself up from your headquarters using resources collected on the battlefield.

But if I had to compare Valkyria Chronicle's gameplay to any previous game, it would have to be the Shining Force series: the classic turn-based fantasy games that were a high point for RPGs with the Sega Genesis, a console that otherwise felt very bare in that sense. Like the Shining Force games, VC4 focuses heavily on both storyline and tactical strategy, something that is often lost in turn-based games these days. That perfect blending of story and mechanics gave me a wash of nostalgia for those older games, and I was more than happy to take that feeling here.

There are differences, however. Your strategies are based on Action Points, meaning that units can move multiple times or not at all, which is handy for focusing on tougher enemies or getting a soldier out of trouble. 

That level of gameplay allows for a lot of replayability, given that you receive a score for the completion of each mission. This could be frustrating at times because your ranking appears to be based on nothing more than how fast you can finish. It doesn't hurt that, even on the more mild challenge levels, Valkyria Chronicles 4 can be hard. While some levels can have a more subtle bent, like an assassination or scouting mission, others are full out, D-Day style meat grinder affairs, with all the constant, bullet-pounding action that goes with it. Anyone who's interested in replaying this game for perfect scores will have to deal with that in a big way: and that's not even mentioning the fact that you can spend upwards to 40+ hours on a standard playthrough.

But past that difficulty (and occasional controller-throwing frustration), there's a game that is as filling story-wise as it is sharp gameplay-wise. As a continuation of a beloved franchise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 hits all the right notes, sometimes bending them into the stratosphere. It also works brilliantly as a stand-alone game or introduction, as the cast is completely new, and require no previous experience to fully appreciate.

For players who have enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles from the beginning, there's plenty of the same to enjoy here, with some added goodness. The first new thing to pop into mind would be the Grenadier class, a valuable heavy-hitter armed with a mortar-style weapon that can be launched up and over enemy cover, and even takes out the weak spots in the backs of tanks. The ability to upgrade your more rank-and-file soldiers into Leaders is also a terrific way to add some customization to your squad. 

Unfortunately, those players will also find some of the same exploits they saw in 2008. A glaring example of that is the unbelievably fast scouts, who can overtake and hold camps at breakneck speed, sort of breaking certain aspects of the game. As a small concession to that, there are many missions that center around far more than just holding camps, but the ability to tear through various missions with little worry about enemy reinforcements is absolutely still there.

Just graphically speaking, VC4 is a piece of art. The colors alternate from lush, blissful explosions of pigment, to muddy, dirty warzones. It only accentuates the two sides of the coin that the storyline offers. The weapons, uniforms, tank designs, etc: all of them are incredible. These characters were basically tailor-made to be action figures and statues: I wanted at least a dozen of them to display on my shelves.

This is a game for people who love strategy and/or love a beautifully woven story. The care and precision that went into making it is clear, and there's little doubt in my mind that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is going to make it into quite a few Best of 2018 lists come January.