Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Dragon Star Varnir Review: Dark Magic Tue, 18 Jun 2019 11:13:56 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Idea Factory and Compile Heart's latest game to come West is Dragon Star Varnir. IF's titles aren't usually associated with much substance and tend to fit snugly into the niche category, but Varnir is a bit different.

It has its faults, for sure, including some less than spectacular writing and characterization that could do with some boosts. However, it boasts a compelling story set in a genuinely unique world, and it's not afraid to be dark and brutal in its narrative.

The combat system is dynamic as well and offers a substantial degree of freedom in how you customize your characters and approach combat.

It might not be for everyone, but Dragon Star Varnir is a solid RPG all around.

You're a Witch, Zephy

Dragon Star Varnir's story is an interesting one. Even though a fair bit of it ends up being predictable, the premise and build-up are compelling and unique enough to make up for the story beats you can see a mile off.

The game takes place in Varneria, a land that worships the divine savior Varnir. One group that defends the righteous on behalf of the emperor is the Knights of Requiem; they are dedicated to hunting and exterminating the witches who live in hiding throughout the land. As you'd expect, they believe there is no gray area here: witch = bad. Always.

They hunt dragons, too, but the player quickly finds out those are one and the same.

Without getting too spoilery for the story you can see coming a mile away, Zephy, the game's protagonist is a Knight of Requiem — for about 30 minutes, at least. Of course, all of this gets challenged when he's saved from near death and is imbued with power. 

Of course, Zephy deals with both a sense of abandonment because the Knights want to kill him now and astonishment of his new identity. His less assertive friend wants to subvert the Knights and help, the witches don't trust him, and *gasp* it's possible the nation's religion is corrupt.

Much of this is not only easy to see coming, but it's been done elsewhere in other forms. The game doesn't necessarily try to do anything new or innovative with these tropes either, and the writing can be fairly shallow at times.

However, the larger setting and plot these are wrapped in does go a long way in keeping things interesting. On whole, it's a pretty dark story, with lots of death and tragedy — not something you typically associate with Idea Factory.

Magical Personalities?

What you do typically associate with Compile Heart and Idea Factory is lots of innuendo, women with impossibly large, gravity-defying breasts, and a distinct lack of characterization.

Some of that is present here. Despite the fact that witches are generally depicted as sexy in culture to begin with, the majority of female characters, including non-witches, aren't designed with what you could call sensitive representation in mind.

For what it's worth, the designs aren't quite as provocative as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and also like XC2, the game doesn't really do anything with the designs other than putting them out there; this isn't a Neptunia game with groping, sex jokes, and the like.

The characters themselves could do with some more personality, though it isn't dreadful by any means. For the most part, the writing is distinct enough to give an idea of the personality behind the words, but it does stray into generic territory before the story really gets going.

Here, too, the setting redeems what's missing in characterization. For example, Zephy might be the typical protagonist, but he's stuck in a difficult and dark situation, which casts his willingness to help and desire for approval in a less cliche light. The same goes for many of the witches, especially Minessa.

Despite featuring in the opening movie, Minessa doesn't have a very strong personality at first. Once you learn about her past and connection to the Witch of Hellfire, though, it's easier to see her as a more interesting character.

Then there's Laponette, whom you meet shortly after finishing the opening sequences. She seems like the younger and more innocent "little sister" character — only, she has the ability to see the fortunes of those she comes in contact with. In other words, she knows how and when her friends will die.

You'll encounter plenty of additional characters on the way who follow this same pattern of semi-tropiness, and it's nice to see how effectively the setting and plot are used to give more substance to the whole affair.

One other thing worth noting is the harem aspect. With such a setup, you might expect the game to drip with harem anime tropes. Since you can romance some of the older witches, it exists to an extent. But Dragons Star Varnir navigates these waters well, keeping things from becoming too cringey; luckily, it's not a major focus. 

Take to the Air

Where it falters with writing and characterization, Dragon Star Varnir really shines in its combat and character customization.

The basic setup is your typical turn-based system where each character has a type of physical attack — slash, hit, pierce — and elemental strengths and weaknesses, including fire, ice, water, earth, and light, among others.

In a bit of a twist, though, battles take place in midair, and the grid-based field is divided into three layers. Certain attacks can only be performed on a specific layer, some affect multiple squares, and some pierce all three layers. Not only do you need to plan your strategy around enemy placement, but you can also use the layers to push enemies into making certain moves.

It seems simple on the surface, but it rewards you for paying attention, for using space and movement alongside exploiting weaknesses.

For instance, say you know one character is weak to earth, and you don't want an enemy to spam two earth attacks in a row. You can split your party up so two are on one layer and one is further down (or above). At most, it's likely said boss will only use that attack once and spend the other attacking other layers with a spread-based attack.

Each character has a special set of Dragon Skills, with one, in particular, being most useful: Devour. It is what it says, and it lets you consume an enemy, should certain conditions be met, like the fear meter being raised through attacking their weaknesses. Devour grants the devour-er a special core with unlockable nodes that grant stat boosts or new skills. Boss dragons leave a core that every character can use, though.

That ends up being a lot of skills, though each category — physical, Dragon, etc — has a cap on how many skills you can take into battle with you. It's worth tinkering around with to find the best build for each character, and it can easily change over time.

Whether you want to make, say, Minessa a magic-focused character with spells ranging the gamut of elements or split her abilities between physical and magic is entirely up to you. Some characters are better suited for certain roles, like Laponette and, surprisingly, Karikaro (she wields a nasty looking spear but is stronger with magic). However, it's still a good idea to make sure a character can exploit at least two weaknesses, either physical or magical.

There are special Dragon Skills you can invest in as well that can only be used during Awakenings. These are a lot like Limit Breaks, really. Each party member has an Awakening meter that fills over the course of battle, and once it's full, they transform into a semi-dragon form, complete with stat boosts and the aforementioned superpowered Dragon Skills.

The downside to overusing these Dragon Skills is that they do a number on the character's balance and can hasten the dragon's birth inside that character.

All of these mechanics are explained via simple tutorial screens that give just enough information without outstaying their welcome; it can seem a bit overwhelming to have 10 tutorial pages to go through in a short time, but the way you implement what you just learned helps everything stick.

There's a lot going on, and it helps keep things interesting — which is good, because there is a risk of getting stale with the dungeon designs.

A Special Brew

Dragon Star Varnir is a peculiar mix of dungeon exploration, item crafting, combat, and visual novel. The vast majority of the game is told through still character portraits, with random segments showing 3D models and movement. The conversations tend to go on for a while. There's usually some interesting world-building involved or at least important exposition, though the writing often drags it down some.

Most of the navigation is done via menus, even in the den, and you pretty much only move around in 3D in the dungeons. Unfortunately, the dungeons tend to be a bit on the bland side.

You'll find lots of collection points, granting items you use to create elixirs and other important things, even more enemies, and very few puzzles. Those that do exist make use of party members' field skills, but they don't really require much thought; press the square button, and move on. It's all reminiscent of the PS2 era.

The visuals are as well, except the well-rendered portrait art. Models and enemies lack detail, movements on the field and in combat are very stiff, and overall, it doesn't take advantage of the PS4's capabilities.

How much of an issue that is depends on perspective. This is from a small developer and publisher, and a lot of RPGs don't prioritize cutting edge visuals. Those who aren't looking for the best graphics and smoothest animations likely won't find this too big of a problem.

The game's soundtrack is mostly good and makes good use of orchestral arrangements that fit a given area; the den is a particular favorite, partly because it's one of the few chipper areas and tunes in the game. Boss battles are a bit of a nuisance, though, since each repeats a rather grating chorale piece that overshadows any background instruments and consistently encouraged this writer to turn the volume down.

The game does sport an English voice track, which is a nice addition. It's a bit hit and miss at times, but the main gripe is just that a good chunk of the voiced exposition is delivered in a flat tone, even when it's meant to be emotional.

The Verdict

  • Unique story and setting helps rise above predictable tropes
  • Interesting characters and backstories
  • Deep combat and character customization
  • Some bland writing hampers characterization
  • Dated visuals and a few audio quirks might turn some away
  • Dungeon designs need some work

Dragon Star Varnir actually has a lot more going for it than the slightly stilted opening scenes and skimpy witch outfits might initially suggest. The setting and overarching plot are reason enough to see the journey through to the end, and the combat and customization make it easy to overlook some of the other problems you might encounter on the way.

It's not likely to convert newcomers to the genre or developer, but it's a worthy addition to the PS4's RPG library and tells a story you likely won't forget in a while.

[Note: A copy of Dragon Star Varnir was provided by Idea Factory for the purpose of this review.]

Cadence of Hyrule Review — Rhythm and Roguelike Combine in a Title That Hy-Rules Fri, 14 Jun 2019 14:10:17 -0400 Jonny Foster

Cadence of Hyrule feels, in the truest sense of the word, like a genuine Zelda title. Between the music, sprites, and temples, everything points towards this being a first-party Nintendo game.

Despite being published by Nintendo, however, this is a canonical sequel to Crypt of the Necrodancer, made by the same developers Brace Yourself Games.

You get to play as Link or Zelda - or both, if you have a partner to pass a Joy-Con to - in this Hyrule adventure, where you must defeat the villain Octavo's four champions. The setting is immediately noticeable from the art style used for the environments and enemies. There’s a big nostalgia factor here with old faces like the stalfos and skulltula, as well as modern baddies like the talus and bokoblin.

The audio is also fantastic, as you'd expect from any title featuring Zelda and Link. The songs are all original medleys and remixes of instantly recognizable classics from the Hyrule universe. It’s no surprise that these all sound amazing; after all, the music needs to top-notch for any rhythm title to be a success.

For those that haven’t played Crypt of the Necrodancer, the gameplay prompts you to make all of your actions in time with a beat. You need to time your movements and attacks to the beat or your actions will be cancelled.

The controls are incredibly simple, but this can be just as much a hindrance as it is a blessing. You’re often forced into situations where you try to avoid incoming attacks but end up attacking an enemy instead - especially when using the broadsword. The broadsword does make fighting most enemies significantly easier, though, so it’s a balancing act.

As your experience grows, you'll come to learn that skipping a beat by standing still is actually an invaluable option, and learning enemy patterns and tells is vital. Even the projectiles travel in individual tiles to match the beat, so you feel masterful when the stars align and you effortlessly dodge around projectiles while you fight.

It’s important to note that Cadence of Hyrule isn't a strict roguelike, but it does have some elements of that genre. You have a persistent currency in the form of diamonds, whereas your rupees, keys, and limited-use items are lost when you die. There are also procedurally generated crypts, but the overarching world map is generated once per save file, and will stay the same between deaths.

This is a symbiosis that allows the player some level of respite and practice on the overworld, but retains the challenge and mystery of entering crypts. It’s a subtle, gentle blend of roguelike elements into a game that still very much feels like a traditional 2D Legend of Zelda title.

This can be taken a step further with Fixed-Beat Mode, which exists for those without a natural sense of rhythm or that don’t want any rhythm gimmicks. It doesn't restrict you to moving or attacking on the beat, and stops enemies from moving unless you are. This isn’t exactly an “Easy Mode” however, as it still presents a reasonable level of difficulty.

Even though it was challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours of my playthrough, but there’s a difficulty spike the size of Mount Everest towards the end that hits you like a truck. Most of your deaths will probably come in the sequence between the penultimate boss and the credits, and I spent the last hour or so begging for the end to come.

Cadence of Hyrule isn’t a particularly long game, either; the credits rolled just after my timer hit the five hour mark. In fact, the leaderboard already has three scores under an hour, with one speedrunning it in under 30 minutes!

Of course, these are the extremes, and you’re more likely to get 4-8 hours out of a playthrough, depending on your skill level. The leaderboards also give you incentive to try and beat the game faster or using less moves than your initial attempt, but I felt no strong desire to put myself through that again.

  • Soundtrack featuring excellent medleys of nostalgic Zelda classics
  • Feels a lot like a traditional Hyrule adventure
  • Novel blend of rhythm, roguelike, and action genres
  • Simple controls can be a major frustration at times
  • Despite some excruciating difficulty, it’s over too soon

Cadence of Hyrule is a fresh approach to the classic 2D Legend of Zelda adventure that looks lovely and sounds even better. The rhythm and roguelike elements blend seamlessly into the established universe and enrich the experience. Its simple controls are easy to pick up but it’s brutally difficult in places, and ultimately feels too short if don’t plan on returning to Hyrule more than once.

HyperX Cloud Stinger Wireless Review: A Solid Wireless Offering Fri, 07 Jun 2019 15:34:27 -0400 Jonathan Moore

In 2016, we reviewed the wired version of the Cloud Stinger. We gave it a 10/10, with our writer saying "I would go so far as to say that the Cloud Stinger is the best gaming headset I've ever owned."

That's ostensibly high praise. 

Recently, the company released a variant of that headset in the Cloud Stinger Wireless. For all intents and purposes, it's nearly identical to the wired version of the headset. Because of that, we'll be primarily looking at the differences in this review. For a more in-depth analysis of the headset, be sure to check the review above. 

One thing is important to get out of the way up front, though: the Cloud Stinger Wireless is double the price of the wired version. Coming in at $99.99, it's on the higher end of mid-tier, and you're essentially paying $50 for wireless functionality. 

Don't misunderstand, it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's simply something you should know up front and be aware of as we talk more about the headset. 



The wireless version of the Cloud Stinger sports the same all-black primary aesthetic as the wired version. The primary deviations here are that the HyperX logo on the outside of each earcup is black as well, whereas the logo was red in the wired version, and there is a blue flourish around the earcups.  

Personally, I miss the splash of color on the earcups. But then again, I'm only looking at the headset when I'm not wearing it, so it's an ultimately tiny gripe. 

The headset is more lightweight than ever before. The wired version weighed in at 275g, and the wireless weighs in at 270g. The chassis still feels a tad flimsy, but it's comfortable across the jaw and across the top of the head. I was able to wear the headset for hours working, watching YouTube videos, and playing games without any pain or discomfort. 

Once you dial in the right fit, the headset stays put. 

Both earcups still swivel 90 degrees, so you can lay them on your chest, easily shove them into an overnight bag, or lay them flat on your desk. As I say every time I get the chance, it's a feature I love and one I think should be on every headset. 

On the right earcup, you'll find the volume wheel, which works great and is relatively quiet when moving. On the left earcup, you'll find the USB charging port, the wireless on/off button, and the somewhat noise-canceling, flip-to-mute mic. 


Since there isn't any nifty hardware or surround sound to talk about here, let's just jump right into how the Cloud Stinger Wireless performs. 

In our original review, our writer said that the wired version of the Cloud Stinger "still boasts the full spectrum of sound quality that you'd expect from the brand. Deep bass tones reverberate without sounding buzzy, and higher pitches come through without getting too tinny."

For the most part, I tend to agree with those statements. In my time with the wireless version of the headset, highs and mids were crisp; lows didn't tread into muddy waters, although they weren't as punchy as some other headsets on the market. For heavier music, there was ferocity behind some of the heaviest bits. 

Overall, the full spectrum experience was pleasant, once again making it easy to give HyperX high marks for driver design. 

One thing I appreciate about the headset is that the sound doesn't decrease or grow louder when you turn your head from side to side. Some other headsets are guilty of that vexing idiosyncrasy, and while not damning, sully the overall experience. Luckily, that's not the case here.

Another tick in the "good" checkbox is that they're also loud without having to jack the sound up on either the headset, the computer, or the PS4. I like to listen to my music and games loud; few things are as frustrating as not being able to get the volume you want and are comfortable with. 

The only real negative here lies in the headset's wireless range. While the headset has a wireless range of 12 meters (which is most likely good enough for 99% of users), I did notice that I wasn't able to go too far downstairs from my PC at home.

Although my kitchen is just below my office, the signal started cutting out during testing; my Logitech G533s are able to easily manage that distance with the same obstructions.

Lastly, the mic is average, producing mostly clear communication, even if it does pick up some background noise. 

  • Works for PC, PS4, PS4 Pro, Nintendo Switch (in dock mode)
  • Fantastic sound quality that defines HyperX
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Under $100
  • Does not currently support Xbox One or mobile
  • Does not have a wired option built-in
  • Range is iffy, not as strong as some other cans
  • Does not have customization options

The main takeaway here is this: if you've been wanting the wireless version of the Cloud Stinger, this is a no-brainer. And if you've been looking for a comfortable, reliable, and great sounding wireless headset under $100, you'd do well to consider this newest model. 

There's not much at all to complain about here. Even though I've opined about the range, it's adequate for most users.

I could nitpick these to death, but I won't. These are a good set of cans. 

[Note: A Cloud Stinger Wireless review unit was provided by HyperX for the purpose of this review.]

GameSir GM300 Mouse Review: Surprisingly Good & Customizable Fri, 07 Jun 2019 12:11:51 -0400 Jonathan Moore

These days, it's hard for any one gaming mouse to stand out from the pack. GameSir's GM300 might not stand head or shoulders above the rest, but it stands firmly in line with the competition. 

From stem to stern, it's a surprisingly good mouse. It doesn't suffer from the same identity crisis that haunts GameSir's GK300 keyboard; instead, the GM300 knows it's a gaming mouse through and through.

Everything you'd expect to find on a modern input device you'll find here. From customizable RGB lighting to tunable DPI and programmable macros to responsive switches, the mouse clicks all the right buttons to be considered a real contender. 

Aside from its low $49.99 price tag, it's also worth noting that the GM300 has both wired and wireless configurations — all in a single unit. More importantly, though, it is an ambidextrous mouse. Anyone looking for such accessibility knows all too well what a rare commodity that is. It's conceivable that fact alone will push this mouse to the top of the pack for some. 


The GM300 comes in all-black. The top shell features a matte finish, while the sides are a bit glossier, although not exactly brushed. The GM300's RGB lighting comes from the GameSir logo positioned at the back of the mouse, as well as from the mousewheel at the front.

The top shell is easily scratchable by even a fingernail, which I noticed while trying to remove a small splash stain. The rest of the mouse, however, isn't prone to scratching. 

Because of its steeper back arch, the GM300 is best suited for palm and claw-grip styles, moving faster, of course, with the latter. However, at a staggering 340 grams with the weights installed, moving fast with the mouse is relative. Removing the weights brings it to a 328 grams. 

In a nice touch, the sides of the mouse can be altered with different side plates, all of which come in the box. Everything pops on and off very easily, and aside from flat side covers, GameSir also provides two thumb rests. The mouse's polygonal weights are on either side of the mouse, positioned underneath near the mouse's feet. These also easily pop out, although neither lighter nor heavier weights are provided. 

There are eight buttons on the mouse: RMB, LMB, the mousewheel, the DPI switch just below it, and two lateral buttons on each side. The RMB and LMB are OMRON switches rated for 20 million clicks, which is in line with some other competing mice. 

If using the mouse in wired mode, there is a port at the front of the mouse for the cable. At the back of the mouse, you'll find a space underneath the top shell for holding the wireless dongle. 

Flip the mouse over to find the on/off switch for wireless mode as well as a switch for releasing the wireless dongle holder. However, it's just as easy to pull the dongle out without using the switch, so I found it mostly useless in my time with the mouse. 

On the bottom, you'll also find the GM300's three feet, as well as its PMW3389 sensor in the middle. 


Unlike the GK300, which featured no extra software, the GM300 has a rather robust set of features available via G-Core, which allows for myriad customizability options.

Opening up the program, which can be downloaded from the GameSir website, you're met with four different categories.

In Basic Settings, you can change the mouse's native DPI, assigning custom DPIs to any of the GM300's five profiles. Out of the box, the mouse is set to 400,800,1,600, 3,200, and 16,000. GameSir's marketing materials say the mouse can achieve 16,000 DPI at its highest setting, although G-Core's slider "allows" for up to 32,000 DPI, which is patently absurd. 

Despite the efficacy of such a high DPI option, you can also change the GM300's polling rate here (from 125Hz to 1,000Hz), the pointer movement speed from 1-10, and the mouse's overall acceleration, with values ranging from 1-10. 

In Key Settings, you can completely change the function of any of the GM300's eight buttons. From basic a click to volume mute, to DPI cycle and Windows functions, there are more than 40 different options available. This is where users can also change the mouse from a right-hand mouse to a left-mouse at the click of a button. 

Light settings are self-explanatory. If you've used an RGB mouse before, you get all of the same functionality and 16.8 million colors from the GM300 as you do from other such mice. The only difference here is that there are only three different lighting profiles: static, neon, seven-color breathing. You can also set a timer to automatically turn off the mouse's RGB after a certain period of time, which is a nice quality of life touch. 

And finally, there is a bevy of macros available as well. As with other software that provides macro customization, you can name macros, record them, add default (or no) delay, and assign them to specific profiles. Configuring, recording, inserting, and deleting macros is a cinch. 


In-game and at work, the GM300 was smooth and mostly accurate. At higher DPIs, I did notice a bit of inaccuracy, specifically when stopping on specific objects, icons, and buttons. However, in games like Killing Floor 2 and Battlefield 5, the mouse was well accurate enough and didn't prove to be problematic. That was doubly so in wired mode. 

I did experience some rather intolerable jumping when I first used the mouse in wireless mode at work, where I'm using an older computer and three different wireless devices at once. At home, on a newer computer and the same amount of wireless devices, I didn't experience any jumping. This makes me believe my work comp has more electronic noise clouding the GM300 signal, rather than it being an issue with the mouse itself.

Aside from that, all of the buttons are mostly easy to get to, although the side buttons, specifically the ones closer to the front of the mouse, can be difficult to reach when using a claw-grip. The RMB and LMB are responsive from the front of the mouse to the backends of the side buttons, about 3/4 down the back of the mouse. 

The GM300's lift-off distance is about average and useful for someone like me who makes too many micro-movements and micro-lifts while playing. However, there isn't a way to adjust the LoD, as there is with a mouse such as the SteelSeries Rival 700

  • Ambidextrous mouse 
  • Provides wired and wireless capabilities
  • Highly customizable with weights and side panels
  • Responsive, reprogrammable switches
  • Wireless dongle holder
  • Side buttons can be a bit hard to reach
  • Top shell can be easily scratched
  • Heavier than most mice, even with the weights removed
  • Wireless on/off button can be a bit hard to switch

Since we review games and hardware on a full-point scale, I struggled with the final score on the GM300. Ultimately, I decided to go with an 8 because at the end of the day, a lot of my qualms with the mouse were pithy or circumstantial. Overall, the GM300 is a great mouse. 

It might not stand out from the competition in a big way, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth some attention. With multiple customization options, including ambidextrous handling, both wired and wireless functionality, and one of the better PixArt sensors in the PMW3389, giving it a 7 just doesn't feel right. 

Here are the mouse's specs: 

 Connection Type(s)   Wired/Wireless (2.4GHz)
Platforms   PC/macOS
Adjustable 5-Level DPI 400/800/1,600/3,200/16,000
Frame Rate 500fps
Acceleration 50g
Polling Rate 125Hz/250Hz/500Hz/1,000Hz
Switch Lifespan 20 million clicks
Switch Type OMRON
Connectivity USB Type-C
Cable Length 5.91ft
Weight w/ Weights 340 grams
Weight w/o Weights 328 grams

[Note: A GM300 review unit was provided by GameSir for the purpose of this review.]

Cooking Simulator Review: Good Eats Thu, 06 Jun 2019 10:42:52 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Let's cut to the chase here: Cooking Simulator is the only real cooking game out there today.

Think about every other cooking game you're aware of. Diner Dash, Overcooked, and Cook, Serve, Delicious! are all closer to management simulators than they are reflections of what it's like to actually make a meal. Cooking Mama and its ilk may give a closer representation of what it takes to put a dish together, but they're little more than collections of minigames. Battle Chef Brigade is one of my favorite games ever, but even that distills the actual process of cooking down, turning it into a puzzle game.

The point here is that there are very, very few games about cooking that actually allow you to, well, cook. Cooking Simulator is one of them, and despite a few hiccups, it's the best one out there today.

Mise En Place

Cooking Simulator follows in the footsteps of other games with "simulator" in the title by being, at its heart, a game built to show off a sandbox-style physics engine. Like Car Mechanic Simulator and Surgeon Simulator before it, Cooking Simulator gives players a ton of opportunities for both skillful manipulation of ingredients and utensils, as well as opportunities for shenanigans. There's a dartboard for throwing knives at, as well as a note that tells you to Definitely Not Put The Fire Extinguisher In The Oven (but you totally should anyway).

Playing around in sandbox mode is a great time if you want to destroy the kitchen, but there's a lot of fun to be had in actually trying to create a perfect meal as well. 

Taste, Creativity, and Presentation

The most impressive part about Cooking Simulator is that generally, it follows common-sense rules of cooking. If you put something in a pot of boiling water, not only will you cook that ingredient, but you'll also flavor the water somewhat. Meats give up fat and oil during cooking, which can then be used to flavor other ingredients. Ingredients react differently from a visual standpoint whether they're cooked on the grill, the griddle, in a pan, in the fryer, or in the oven.

All in all, this means that from the time you boot up the game, regardless of whether you're playing the campaign or just messing around in sandbox mode, the game not only allows you to be creative but encourages it. 

It might be an odd parallel to draw, but it's actually a little bit reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's open world, in the way that it encourages you to discover how things interact. And better yet, most of the time, things react in a way that makes sense.

Top Chef

Unfortunately, the campaign takes a really long time to get rolling. To its credit, the game takes its time teaching you its mechanics, which is a huge help because you'll be trying to control tongs, spatulas, and saucepans with a mouse in ways that seem specifically designed to be more difficult than they need to be.

On one hand, this is slightly frustrating when you've spent 15 minutes making a stew and then promptly pour it all over the counter because you had trouble with depth perception. On the other hand, it's a lot of fun cooking a salmon steak you've dropped on the ground three times, serving it up, and getting full marks in judgment anyway. 

All that said, it's still a bit of a shock to put six hours into the campaign serving up relatively basic recipes, then open up the sandbox mode and realize that you're only using about 12% of the ingredients the game has to offer, and you haven't even touched the food processor.

The real draw of the campaign mode, and to be honest, is that each and every one of the recipes can be recreated in real life. The only thing an aspiring chef would have to do to adapt these recipes and try them in real life is to extend the cooking time of most ingredients (and tweak temperature control ovens and burners in the game only have on and off settings. No "roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes" here.)

As you serve dishes up, you'll get feedback on, say, if you oversalted the dish, if you burnt the vegetables, or even if you cooked the meat on the griddle instead of on the grill. You'll also get a chance to snap a screenshot of your meal, which to the game's credit, rewards you with some mouthwatering and 'grammable shots. Though the game's environments aren't all that visually arresting, the way that ingredients particularly the meats look as they cook is amazing.

Probably the best thing I can say about this game is that every time I finish cooking a meal, no matter how many times I've dropped it on the floor, or how many plate or bottle shards are in the bowl, or even that I forgot to cook the chicken, I want to get in my real kitchen and mess around a little bit trying out recipes. 

Disappointingly, at this point, you can't really bake anything in the game, and sauces and soups aren't labeled with their dominant flavors, which is a bit of a  bummer. Plus, it is just way too easy to spill stuff. At the end of the day though, as someone who really likes to cook, this game is legitimately unique in the way that it allows for, and encourages creativity in the kitchen. 

  • Really the only game that allows you to create a dish from start to finish
  • Visually, the way that ingredients cook and come together in a dish is incredibly mouthwatering
  • The way the game's rules work allows for experimentation, fun, and somehow, actual culinary learning
  • Certain cooking techniques like baking are absent from the game
  • Control can be awkward at times

You likely know whether this game is for you or not simply by the title and the elevator pitch. Do you want a sandbox style game that plops you in the kitchen with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ingredients and equipment and allows you to do whatever you want with them? Then yeah, buy this game. It's a no-brainer.

If you have no interest in cooking, then why are you even reading this review? 

[Note: A copy of Cooking Simulator was provided by PlayWay for the purpose of this review.]

Trover Saves the Universe PC Review: A Veritable Riot in VR Thu, 06 Jun 2019 09:55:14 -0400 Jonny Foster

Trover Saves the Universe is a comedic virtual reality platformer from Squanch Games with a twist: the entire game can also be played outside of VR. It’s a novel approach that works incredibly well thanks to the unique symbiosis between third-person gameplay and a first-person view.

The characters, environments, and plot of Trover Saves the Universe are beyond bonkers, though. You play as a mute, unnamed Chairopian a race of chair-bound aliens who controls the eye-hole monster Trover on a journey to stop Glorkon. Oh, Glorkon? He’s a big, blue, featherless chicken who kidnapped your dogs and stuffed them into his eye sockets.

You’d be forgiven for needing a couple of attempts to make sense of those sentences, and it’s no surprise that Squanch Games is run by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. It’s actually surprisingly easy to follow the plot in-game; every new character and world you’re introduced to is as crazy as the last, so it somehow blends into a cohesive storyline.

It’s very obviously built around the idea of VR, but the Chairopian angle was a stroke of genius. Rather than adopting the disembodied floating role that many VR titles put you in, your character has a body, down to skinny little legs that flop around as you move your chair and hands that mimic your inputs on an in-game controller.

This is how you direct Trover around the different worlds, and although his body is at your mercy, his mind is very much his own. He’ll disagree with you, berate you for taking too long or for making poor decisions, and generally comment on the world around him as he sees fit. The game is constantly ridiculing itself, at times poking fun at its own sense of humor, while Trover regularly breaks the fourth wall by complaining about game mechanics.

The combat is fairly routine, though you’ll unlock new powers throughout the story that put new twists on the gameplay. The main draw of this title will be the comedy and environments, however.

Perhaps the most fun you can have with Trover Saves the Universe exists outside of the main story. Encounters with NPCs often consist of a few lines of vital dialogue, followed by minutes of improvised chatter that you can sit and listen to.

These expositions often lead to laughs that otherwise would have been missed entirely, and there’s reportedly 20 hours of dialogue in Trover Saves the Universe. Now, you could rush through everything in around five hours, but you’d miss most of the hilarity hidden in these extended conversations.

Though there’s still a smattering of crude jokes and toilet humor, this is a softer shade of Roiland comedy than you might be used to from Rick and Morty. The writing and voices are still very clearly his own, and the delivery follows the same deliberately stilted, slapdash format you’d expect, but the overall themes are comparatively light. It tends not to get bogged down in existential crises or morality, even sweeping downright evil acts under the rug.

This is perhaps due to the “child-friendly” option offered by an obscenity filter, which lets you play Trover Saves the Universe without  some of the vulgar language.

The delivery just doesn’t pack the same punch without the customary swearing, however, and it still doesn’t bleep everything. Coupled with the questionable themes and heaps of murdering, this probably isn’t something you’d want to buy for the young and impressionable.

On a different note, the soundtrack is a genuine surprise. The music is pleasant and calming, almost serene, and it complements the vibrant saturated environments superbly. While you have the option to play Trover Saves the Universe on a flat screen, the VR experience is far more compelling, and I loved turning my head to see the beautiful, bizarre worlds that Squanch Games has crafted.

Still, the option to give your eyes a break without having to close the game entirely is incredibly welcome, and you can seamlessly swap between VR and flat-screen modes whenever you want to.

  • Fantastic humor throughout, especially the fourth-wall breaks
  • Environments are lush, vibrant, and out of this world
  • Ability to play in VR or flat-screen is amazing
  • Combat can get repetitive, not particularly challenging

Though the initial offering may be a little short for some, Squanch Games has also pledged future support for Trover Saves the Universe. They announced that they’ll release free DLC to extend the experience, but don’t intend on dropping the price for a while.

The satirical comedy and vibrant world-building are enough to recommend this at full price, anyway, so more adventures to look forward to is a cherry on top. This is a game you’ll want to come back to.

[Note: A copy of Trover Saves The Universe was provided by Squanch Games for the purpose of this review.]

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Review — Play It Again, Sam Mon, 03 Jun 2019 06:45:06 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Well, it's that time. The 3DS is truly on its way out, and we're left with one last big release to celebrate its legacy: Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. It's a fitting swan song, given Atlus's extensive support of the platform during the past 8(!!) years.

It also happens to be a great game in almost all respects. Though it stumbles in a few places, the metric ton of content, eclectic labyrinth design, and wide variety of enjoyable cast interactions — to say nothing of the superb soundtrack — bring everything together in a compelling package.


PQ2 is the sequel to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and follows a structure similar to its predecessor. It's a mashup of Persona characters, themes, and battle moves with Etrian Odyssey combat style and exploration. And brutality, but more about that later.

This time, the mashup includes characters from Persona 3, Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4: Golden, and Persona 5. Each group was carrying on with their usual routines — preparing for a heist, entering the Midnight Channel, and heading into Tartarus, respectively — when suddenly, their transit is interrupted, and they find themselves stuck in a bizarre movie world.

The game starts with P5's cast, but rapidly expands until everyone is united by the end of the third labyrinth. Everyone in PQ2 also includes the Minako Arisato, or FeMC if you prefer, from Persona 3 Portable, making this the first time she's appeared in a Persona game since her original outing.

Like the first PQ, New Cinema Labyrinth's plot centers around why everyone was dragged into the strange, alternate world. There's a mysterious movie theater that acts as your hub base, an even stranger creature working the film projector, and two enigmatic people who occupy the theater when the cast first arrives: Hikari and Nagi.

The theater is locked shut, with five giant padlocks securing the chains — and they just so happen to correspond with the number of films being shown in the cinema. No surprises about what you need to do to escape, then.

Make no mistake. Despite their vital importance to the game's plot, Hikari and Nagi are no Ren and Zei from the first PQ. They don't join the party and only really come forward during important scenes that advance the story. Instead, the focus is firmly fixed on the main Persona casts.

Like the misquoted line in this review's subtitle, there's something wrong with each film, and the goal at the end of every film is to change its ending. Why? Because each film keeps repeating and never reaches the ending, meaning Hikari's just stuck there in the theater watching the same thing again and again.

The problem is these films are reinforcing certain negative worldviews she holds — for very spoiler-y reasons — so the Phantom Thieves and co. need to put the films back on course so they reach a satisfying ending.

That's where New Cinema Labyrinth is the weakest, actually.

The Script

The themes and lessons Hikari deals with through films are noble and in keeping with Persona, certainly. From having the courage to hold a dissenting opinion to standing up against abuses of power, these are all things we've seen before in one form or another.

But we usually see them after the characters involved go through a traumatic experience or moment of self-revelation, which gives the themes much more weight than they would otherwise have.

Not so in New Cinema Labyrinth. It takes a Bravely Default approach to imparting wisdom, which is to say it's very heavy-handed and lacks substance. What's more, it's like the writing just flatlines during these moments. Characters lose personality, and their lines are completely interchangeable with anyone else in the cast or even with a brick wall.

That these concepts and styles make up a good deal of the first labyrinth and the exposition around it mean the game takes a few hours to really get to the good stuff, which is a disappointment given how vibrant Shadow of the Labyrinth was even in just the first chapter.

Rest assured, though, there is plenty of good stuff awaiting you after that point.

Despite its lighter elements, the story gets fairly involved and a bit heavy later on, something much more like what one would expect from a Persona game.

Stealing the Spotlight

You don't have to wait until the end to enjoy the game, fortunately. Things really pick up once there are other people to interact with, which happens in the second labyrinth, the very humorously named Junessic Land. If you've played P4, then it won't take much guesswork to know this is where you'll encounter Yu, Chie, Kanji and the rest of the Investigation Team.

Like in PQ, the Investigation Team is capable of carrying the game on its own, but there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments when the two teams get together. The writing quality vastly improves as well, and the juxtaposition of the two — later three — different cast styles and overall outlooks is an excellent testament to each game's unique personality and why mashups like this are the best kind of fanservice.

Most of these moments are completely unrelated, or at least just tangentially related, to the story. However, others take the form of side quests, called Special Screenings in New Cinema Labyrinth. Like PQ's side quests, Elizabeth handles these, and they're very similar to her quests in PQ and P3: hunt x number of monsters, gather an item, find a certain spot on the map.

Completing these is worth your time for a few reasons. Not only will they grant a bundle of experience points, but they're also a good opportunity to use characters you might have left on the bench for a while. That's because Special Screenings have set character requirements, and the requirements tend to vary wildly from Screening to Screening — Futaba as Navigator and Naoto in your party for one, and then Rise, Minako, and Ann for another.

There are several additional Special Screenings that unlock once you reach a certain point, and these involve putting specific characters together to accomplish a (usually goofy) goal — Chie teaching Ann kung fu, for instance.

PQ included multiple scripted scenarios in the labyrinths that played on the differences between casts. While New Cinema Labyrinth doesn't seem to include quite as many of those, these special Special Screenings more than make up for it, with as many, if not more, top-notch interactions between casts.

Plus they serve the practical purpose of unlocking special teamed attacks if, after finishing the quest, you have one or both of those characters in your party.

More importantly, they're an excuse to interact with Elizabeth, who is easily the star of the show. PQ2 has plenty of self-referential and pop-culture humor on its own, but Elizabeth takes it up a notch. She regularly breaks the fourth wall and confounds her listeners with references to things like Dragon Ball Z, and her quirky personality from P3 combines with a level of confidence and bossiness when she's around Theodore that never fails to please.

It's probably plain by now that the story definitely doesn't have the same horror elements as its predecessor. Your new items are born from a popcorn machine after all, manned by Theodore, who's dressed in a popcorn box mascot outfit, and F.O.E.s can take the form of a giant chicken or a pterodactyl wearing a Rise wig. It's helped by Minako's dialogue matching her generally bubbly and goofy dialogue choices from the female path in P3P.

On whole, the lightheartedness is much appreciated and actually makes the later reveals a bit more intense.

Rough Editing

The overall gameplay remains largely the same in New Cinema Labyrinth as it is in Shadow of the Labyrinth. The game's core is dungeon crawling and mapping, with plenty of semi-random encounters and regular mini-bosses, leading up to the big bad at the end of a labyrinth. In between, you'll encounter several puzzles and the anxiety-inducing F.O.E.s, punnily dubbed Film Obscurite Etendu (extended obscure film) by Nagi.

The whole thing is a familiar loop to both Persona and Etrian Odyssey fans: enter a labyrinth/dungeon, go as far as you can, retreat to heal and buy new gear, then push forward again.

It's worth mentioning the puzzles are toned down a lot from Shadow of the Labyrinth. Many players took issue with the brain teasers that required you to trap or work around an F.O.E or a group of them, and probably as a result of that, they're fairly straightforward this time around.

The labyrinths in general seem more straightforward as well, with fewer dead ends that force you to backtrack and endure more fights — and it's not necessarily a bad thing. The overall design of each is still excellent, with sprawling layouts, plenty of shortcuts to gathering points, obstacles to overcome (even if they aren't as challenging), and F.O.E.s to avoid. You don't really realize the design was streamlined unless you stop and think about it — or unless you read this paragraph.

The battle system is basically unchanged, but with many more options.There are more physical skills, a wider variety of magic skills, and, of course more characters to place in your party.

Unlike Shadow of the Labyrinth, each character is designated a specific class: Physical, Defense, Magic, or Support. These are sort of like general guidelines for how best to use each character based on stats and base Personas. Putting Ann in the front row is a bad idea, for instance, while Kanji and Ryuji have higher HP pools and more defense-oriented skills.

Support is a bit blurrier and can mostly be used as you see fit.

One complaint here is with how Minako is handled. Despite being a Physical focused character, her stats are much lower than Ren's, Yu's, and her male counterpart Minato's, meaning she's not as versatile a frontline fighter. Given this is her first appearance since P3P, it'd have been nice to make it count a bit more.

Then there are the sub-Personas, lots of sub-Personas — roughly 10 per major Arcana, which equates to more than 200 Personas, including a handful of DLC add-ons. These diversify your party even more and can be used to complement existing strengths — giving a Magic character more magic skills — or add an extra, different layer — giving a Defense character more offensive skills.

The Velvet Room returns with mostly the same functions, only it adds Persona Sacrifice from P5. This function lets you sacrifice a Persona from your stock to give an experience boost to another Persona and perhaps pass on a skill. It's a great way to make use of unwanted Personas, and the experience is always a boon.

The pace at which major functions are doled out is better too. For example, you don't get to inflict or have to suffer from binds until the second labyrinth, which is also when you get to play with the new elements from Persona 5, Psi and Nuclear.

That decision does a couple of interesting things. It makes you get very familiar with the foundations of combat over the course of the first labyrinth, including status afflictions, which means the game is okay with taking the gloves off afterwards and hurting you badly if you aren't ready.

New Cinema Labyrinth's difficulty is a step above Shadow of the Labyrinth's. The first labyrinth, Kamoshidaman — a riff on superhero films, if the name wasn't a giveaway — isn't too difficult until the first boss fight. Junessic Land is a challenge throughout, and even basic random battles can wipe your powered-up team out if you aren't careful and don't consider your party setup and sub-Personas.

For reference, Normal difficulty is basically equivalent to Hard in Shadow of the Labyrinth. Difficulty levels can also be changed in the Cinema hub, should you wish to experiment.

One very welcome quality of life change that helps smooth the difficulty out is that you no longer have to pay for healing; it's automatic when you return to the Cinema. Margaret still has ways of getting your money, though..

It's easier to perform All-Out Attacks as well. Shadow of the Labyrinth made you have four or five characters in Boost state before one could trigger, but New Cinema Labyrinth follows more of a Persona style. knock all enemies down by exploiting their weaknesses, and it opens an All-Out Attack opportunity.

It's easier said than done sometimes, especially when you're facing a mob of 5 enemies with varied weaknesses.

Special Effects

Shadow of the Labyrinth and Persona in general aren't short on style, but New Cinema Labyrinth takes it even further, much like P5 itself. Character models are improved and boast the shadow-glow effects that feature at the end of battles in P5, and the textures on whole are smoother and more appealing than in Shadow of the Labyrinth.

Labyrinths are visually interesting as well, which is good since you'll be seeing a lot of them. Atlus seems to have heard the complaints about Shadow of the Labyrinth's random and/or boring designs (complaints which this writer didn't share, incidentally). This time, each labyrinth corresponds with a specific genre or film. This helps make them stand out by providing them with unique, themed atmospheres that don't seem as random as Shadow of the Labyrinth's did until the ending.

There are other small, but influential visual effects as well. The screen crackles and streaks like an old film reel when you're in the dungeons, the battle transition screen is a quickly scrolling reel of film, and the Persona fusion animation is a treat too, but it won't get spoiled here. (Spoiler: it doesn't involve murder and execution, even though it does involve Caroline and Justine).

But the soundtrack is what stands out the most. It's varied. It's catchy. It's fantastic. You know it's fantastic when you're actually looking forward to the next random encounter because you want to hear the BGM.

The labyrinth themes are fairly simple, but appropriate, and the Cinema itself gets several jazzy tunes matching its P5 inspirations. Aria of the Soul makes its return in the Velvet Room, naturally. However, it's the battle themes that will really — wait for it — take your heart.

The primary initial theme is Invitation to Freedom, performed by P5's vocalist Lyn Inaiuzumi. It has a similar opening to Last Surprise, but takes a much more upbeat, less moody path overall, in keeping with New Cinema Labyrinth itself.

Then there's the P4 theme, Remember, We Got Your Back. It's an alternative take on Reach Out To The Truth with Shihoko Hirata on vocals. It's this writer's favorite tune, both for the general flow of the melody and how it perfectly captures Persona 4's spirit.

Persona 3 gets Pull the Trigger, performed by Mayumi Fujita and Lotus Juice. It's an excellent homage to Minako's battle theme in P3P, Wiping All Out, even if it doesn't quite reach the same heights.

Fret not if none of these appeal to you in the beginning, though. Not only can you swap what you want to hear in the Cinema hub. Selections from all three games represented, including Last Surprise, Reach Out To The Truth and Wiping All Out, will also be available as three bits of DLC, $2.99; the official site lists them for $2.99 each, but they're showing up free in the in-game DLC screen.

Sadly, there's no English voice over. However, the Japanese voice actors do a quality job for the most part, with a few exceptions.

Ryuji sounds like he's doing a Kermit impression at times, and it's easy to easy why Yosuke finds Teddy annoying in Persona 4. All in all, though, it's not something that makes you turn the volume down, which is always a good thing.


The Final Cut

  • Loaded with content
  • Highly engaging combat system and gameplay loop
  • Excellent mashup of casts
  • Mostly high-quality writing
  • Fantastic style and soundtrack
  • Wonky localization in places
  • Weak story for the most part
  • Ham-fisted delivery of morals

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a worthy successor to Shadow of the Labyrinth and improves on it in many ways, despite a rather shaky plot up until the end and some questionable localization in places. There's almost endless customization between experimenting with party setups and sub-Personas, not to mention a ton of content outside the main story.

All of this is wrapped up in a stylish and engaging package that naturally invites continued gameplay for a long time.

It might be the 3DS's last hurrah, but it's certainly a fitting way to bid farewell to the dear handheld system.

[Note: A copy of Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth was provided by Atlus for the purpose of this review.]

GameSir GK300 Keyboard Review: Solid Choice That's Missing a Few Parts Fri, 31 May 2019 12:52:38 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Before writing this review for the GameSir GK300 gaming keyboard, I didn't know much about the peripherals company headquartered in Guangzhou, China. However, after testing the GK300 for a few weeks, I can say it's a company I won't forget. 

While this board might not have all of the bells and whistles found in other mechanicals, it's well-built, reliable, and effective. The GK300 is well-worth your attention and your money. 

At $69.99, it's as solid as my every-day Logitech G513 Carbon, even if it doesn't have features like USB passthrough and RGB lighting. As far as gaming keyboards go, it's rather understated and minimalistic. Having both wireless and Bluetooth functionality is as crazy as it gets. 


The GK300 comes in two color variants: all-white and space grey, the latter of which is simply grey with a smattering of black. 

I tested the all-white version, and while I enjoy it as a change of pace from the all-black boards I usually review, I can't help but notice that it has already started to get a tad dirty around the edges. Additionally, the white exacerbates the natural shadows on the right edge of many of the board's 104 keys. This can make the board look a bit dirtier from certain angles or in certain light. 

Minor aesthetic gripes aside, the chassis is made of anodized aluminum featuring an alloy cover. The aluminum's silver is an elegant backdrop for the white keycaps, and it provides a sturdy base capable of withstanding bangs against desk edges and door jams. 

On the front, right-hand side of the chassis, you'll find the GameSir logo and the switch for turning the GK300 on and off; this switch also activates its wireless and Bluetooth functionalities. A Micro-USB charging port is on the left side of the chassis, which can make charging cumbersome if your tower is on the right side of your desk. 

Flip the board over, and you'll find a holder for the USB dongle tucked into the top-right foot. Interestingly, the feet aren't adjustable; the board naturally sits at an unchangeable 7.5 degrees. In an era of customizability, it's an odd choice but not one that bothered me in my time with it. 

Finally, the included white (or black) plastic wrist rest is functional, but hard. It doesn't attach to the board; instead, the board's feet fit inside small grooves cut into the wrist rest itself. 

Functionality and Performance

As stated earlier, the GK300 doesn't have many bells or whistles. You won't find any software here, there aren't any dedicated "G" keys, you can't reassign keys or make new macros, and it doesn't have RGB. 

However, it does have a few nifty things that make it interesting. 

While there's no RGB, that doesn't mean there isn't light. The GK300 features a beautiful white light underneath all of the keys. It comes with three different presets, too: wave and ripple, steady, and breathing. You can cycle through them or turn the lights completely off using the board's arrow keys. 

However, what's more useful is the board's use of Bluetooth. Switching between wireless and Bluetooth modes is literally as easy as flipping the switch in the top-right corner of the GK300. It's a functionality I didn't know I wanted until I had it, and very few boards have it

It's nice being able to seamlessly switch between writing an article and answering a text message without having to pick up the phone or take my hands off of the keyboard. 

Moving to the keys themselves, The GK300 features TTC mechanical Red or Blue switches. These are a bit stiffer than Cherry switches of the same color, although they're listed as having the same actuation force, 45g and 50g respectively. Both TTC Reds and TTC Blues are rated for 50 million keystrokes as well.  

I tested the TTC Reds on this board, which have a higher-pitched clack than the keys found on something like the Logitech G513. That board has a similar body design but uses Romer-G switches. The TTCs also provide a bit more bump than Cherry Reds, which are found in boards like the Corsair K68

Lastly, the board features 10-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting. While it isn't N-key rollover, I imagine most gamers will get by with 10-key just fine.  

  • Solid anodized aluminum frame
  • Plug-and-play Bluetooth functionality
  • Wireless dongle holder
  • Responsive, low-latency keys
  • 30-hour battery life with backlighting
    • (GameSir claims 300 hours w/o backlighting, but that remains untested)
  • No software
  • No dedicated gaming keys
  • Can't reassign keys
  • Can't assign macros
  • Can't adjust lean angle
  • Charging port on left side
  • Short charging cable

While in-game actions are surprisingly fast and typing is a breeze, I didn't notice a considerable difference between the GK300 and the boards offered by the market's biggest brands. Latency is minimal here, even if it's hard to fully test GameSir's "1ms ultra-low latency" claims. 

What I will say is this: despite what it lacks, the GK300 is a great gaming keyboard. It's even better as a multipurpose typing tool. However, it's not for everyone.

For those that need multiple "G" keys and the ability to remap keys and assign macros, it's best to look elsewhere. There are other keyboards that can mimic the speeds and actuation forces here that also provide those functionalities. 

If you're on a mid-range budget, it's hard to say no to the $69.99 GK300. My wife wants one for work simply because of its Bluetooth capabilities. I think I'll buy her one. 

Here are the board's specs: 

 Connection Type(s)   Wireless/Bluetooth
Platforms   PC/macOS/Android/iOS
Keys Layout 104 mechanical keys
Switch Type(s)  TTC Reds/TTC Blues
Polling Rate 2.4GHz wireless 1,000Hz (1ms)
Polling Rate Bluetooth  125Hz (8ms)
Key Lifespan 50 million clicks
Actuation Force Red: 45g±15gf
Blue: 50g±20gf
Actuation Distance Red: 2.0±0.6mm
Blue: 2.2±0.6mm
Backlight Color White, 5-level adjustable
Battery Capacity  3600mAh rechargeable Lithium 
Charging Voltage 3.7V~5V
Charging Time 2.5~3 hours
Working Time 30 hours
Charging Connectivity Micro-USB
Charging Cable Length 3.28ft
Wrist Rest Size 17.32in x 3.07in
Keyboard Size 17.24in x 5.08in x 1.65in
Weight 3.09lbs


[Note: A GK300 review unit was provided by GameSir for the purpose of this review.]

SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest Review — Galaxy Brain Fri, 31 May 2019 09:51:04 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

SpellForce has always been an incredibly ambitious game franchise. It's no small task to blend real-time-strategy and hero-based role-playing into one neat, tidy package. However, Grimlore Games has been at it for over 15 years.

Does the stand-alone expansion to the series, SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest, live up to the vaunted promises of its predecessors, or does it fall frustratingly short?



A Cold Open

If you're not familiar with the SpellForce series, or even SpellForce 3Soul Harvest does a pretty impressive job of teaching new players the game's systems. And before you ask why I've brought this up, trust that accessibility is key since there really aren't many other games quite like this one.

In brief, SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest plays like a mash-up between Warcraft, Diablo, Dragon Age, and League of Legends. As the game begins, a lengthy tutorial section will gently guide you through character creation, kindly pointing out each class' key attributes so that you can concentrate on them.

From there, the game allows you to become familiar with your hero's equipment, skill tree, spells, abilities, buffs, and debuffs. It all feels at least somewhat familiar to folks who have played top-down or isometric RPGs in the past, which gives new players a nice point of entry.

From there, it teaches you about resource management, town building, army allocation, and the other RTS elements of the game. Again, this will feel familiar to folks who grew up alongside Command & Conquer titles.

It seems like a bit of a slog in the moment, but it's appreciated when the game starts in earnest. You're matched with a group of heroes, each with their own equipment, spells, skill trees, and attributes to juggle, all while you're attempting to raise an army to beat back your opponents while expanding your territory by capturing control points.

A Jam-Packed Expansion

According to the game's developers, the stand-alone campaign should take about 20 hours to complete, though I'd bet that mileage will vary for most folks. There are so many sidequests and so many secret caves and alcoves to explore in each part of the world map that at the end of the day, folks might spend upwards of 30 hours on the campaign alone. And that doesn't account for skill level or for the single battle skirmish mode either.

There's a lot here to dig into.

Of particular note is the way that some quests mess with the game's formula a bit, or streamline it altogether. One early sidequest has the party traveling through a cave in order to tunnel behind enemy lines. As the party enters, all real-time-strategy gameplay elements fade away, and the game turns into a dungeon crawler for a few minutes as the party smashes skeletons, banishes ghosts, and hunts for loot. 

It may seem jarring, confusing, and jilted on paper, but in practice, the gameplay elements really do work very well in concert with one another. More impressively, the campaign really knows when to bring one element out, and have some others take a back seat in order to keep gameplay refreshing. 

Nightmare Mode

Here's where we get into the part of the review that I dread writing, because in order to make this point, I have to get into a little games journalism-ism.

See, there are only so many objective truths out there about games. A game can be good, great even, and certain people will just not enjoy it. Maybe it's too difficult, maybe there's something they find off-putting about the art style, or maybe they simply don't like the genre. There are thousands of reasons why folks can like an otherwise great game, and each of those reasons is just as valid as more objective complaints about the game's stability or quality. 

That brings me to this point: I can say, without a doubt, that the SpellForce series is not for everyone. 

And I don't mean that in some sort of Dark Souls-y way; SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest's difficulty levels are well-tuned, and I never found myself overly frustrated. Even if you enjoy role-playing games and real-time strategy games, the core gameplay mechanics in this game can prove to be stressful.

You know that feeling you get at work when it's lunchtime, but your boss has just handed you three assignments to do by the end of the day? There were shadows of that feeling creeping in during my hours with the game, and for folks prone to stress brought on by multitasking, this might be a sticking point.

Obviously, this comes with the territory in any real-time strategy game. Resource management, technology upgrades, raising an army while building defenses part of the appeal of these games is juggling all these responsibilities at once. 

SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest goes a little bit deeper, though, and in adding Diablo-esque role-playing mechanics, everything becomes much more complicated. You're not only juggling resources, but you're also juggling spells, attributes, and equipment for your heroes, too. To exacerbate matters, they are out on a quest across the map while your base is under attack, and you're out of moonsilver, and you don't have any earthshapers left to protect your infantry.

Granted, this is more an "issue" with the game series as a whole and not specifically with SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest. And having said all that, the way in which the game's campaign shifts focus from one gameplay style to another is one of it's biggest strengths over the base game. If you found vanilla SpellForce 3 a bit intimidating and stressful, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the expansion. 

  • Masters the combination of RPG and RTS better than the base game
  • Bursting at the seams with content
  • A bargain at $25 (less if you already own the main game)
  • It can be stressful to manage everything, even for veterans of the RTS genre

At the end of the day, I'm also assuming that all this difficulty stuff won't matter to a lot of you, because the game really is great, and worth playing no matter whether you're a fan of the series, a fan of real-time strategy games, or even a fan of role-playing games.

It's unique, fun, and challenging in all the right way. And hey, if it stresses you out, you'll know early enough.

[Note: A copy of Spellforce 3: Soul Harvest was provided by Grimlore Games for the purpose of this review.]

Warhammer Chaosbane Review - Slaughtering Chaos Cults For Fun And Profit Fri, 31 May 2019 03:15:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

Ready to wage a one man war against all the forces of Chaos across the Old World? Whether as a suicidal dwarf slayer, devoted imperial soldier, haughty high elf mage, or quick footed wood elf scout, you're in for a hack 'n slashing good time with Warhammer: Chaosbane.

If you read our coverage over the last few months, you probably noticed I was pretty over the moon about this game during the first beta. That excitement has cooled a bit now that I've had the chance to play through the whole finished product, but Chaosbane is still an excellent overall addition to any ARPG fan's collection.

With Diablo going the freemium mobile route (ugh, don't even get me started), this is probably the best fantasy action title we're going to get this year, and that's quite a triumph for a Games Workshop title from a developer who has never made an ARPG before.

Yeah... But WHICH Warhammer?

 Gotta say, I love what Khorne has done redecorating Praag!

So, there's one big element we've got to cover before jumping into the gameplay that fans of the Warhammer line will need to know about.

If you aren't familiar with what's been happening in the tabletop world recently, for whatever reason Games Workshop decided to blow up the existing Warhammer universe and replace it with Age Of Sigmar, which has divided the fans.

Sort of like how Wizards Of The Coast decided to annihilate Forgotten Realms and radically change it up to match with the D&D 4th edition rules a decade back, Age Of Sigmar is a very different beast from the standard Warhammer fantasy setting.

There's lots of player speculation as to why they went this route, like Warhammer 40K selling better than its fantasy counterpart -- and I'll admit the new Age Of Sigmar models sure do look a lot more like space marines than knights.

You needn't worry about those changes, however, as Chaosbane doesn't do away with the standard Old World setting or replace it with the various Realms from Age Of Sigmar.

Instead, this one actually goes back in time, taking place a few hundred years before the End Times content from games like Vermintide and far away from the Age Of Sigmar update.

Everything you know and love from Warhammer is still here, from witch hunters to champion and standard bearer units. Whichever hero you pick, you'll be carving a swathe of destruction through classic Chaos enemies like nurglings beneath the streets of Nuln, Khorne's dreaded flesh hounds in Praag, and daemonettes of Slaanesh in frozen Norsca.

Unexpected Limitations, And Some Nifty Additions

This guy stampeding out of nowhere will delight Warhammer Fantasy fans.

With that out of the way, let's jump into what you can expect from Warhammer going the Diablo route in Chaosbane. If you've played any ARPG before, you know the basics of what to expect, but there is an issue with the full game that wasn't apparent just by playing a single act in the previous beta. 

A number of limitations and shortcuts have clearly been implemented here, staring with how some of the enemies from different Chaos factions are very, very similar to one another.

The mini bosses in Nuln and Praag for instance are nearly identical, exploding in the same way after death or just swapping out fire ring ground attacks for poison ring ground attacks. On the same note, if you've killed one Chaos cultist, you've killed 'em all, and the sound effects between minions of Nurgle and minions of Khorne are eerily similar.

On the plus side, some of creature types are much more distinct between factions, like the skull master riding a metallic flesh hound and knocking you down with charge attacks.

For any enemy you come across, the animations are also absolutely killer. From nurglings gathering together to form a disgusting swarm to the giant gut of the Great Unclean One doing terrible, awful things during the first boss battle, I was consistently impressed with the visual flair on display.

On the character creation front is where you'll find the biggest problem ARPG fanatics are going to have with the game -- there are only four classes, and no customization options of any kind in terms of appearance, gender, or dual classing.

That's a limitation that won't sit will with people used to half a dozen base classes and dozens of possible build combinations. While you can customize your skills, the base gameplay for each class is set in stone. The soldier wields one weapon and a shield, the high elf mage wields a magic implement and a sword, the dwarf slayer dual wields, and the wood elf uses ranged weapons and traps without variation.

The addition of local couch co-op will likely make up for that limitation for the console crowd, although solo players on PC may be less enamored with the lack of options. Sadly, there's been no talk of an extra class getting added with future updates, although with any luck that may be rethought as players call for additional character types.

There's another issue here that may be a sticking point for some gamers who prefer a little more variety in the combat. Simply put, all weapons essentially handle the same, while the differences show up in what attack skill you are using for energy regeneration.

For example with the soldier class, a warhammer, mace, or sword all swing at the same rate and have the same radius while using the same attack skill. How basic weapon attacks change is in swapping out those skills, as some are slower, have different ranges, or offer defensive buffs in addition to dealing damage. 

With the soldier for instance, you can use Slash as your main attack -- no matter which type of weapon is equipped -- for quick, damaging strikes that slow the enemy. For the more defensive-minded, you might want to switch to Incisive Breakthrough instead, which is slower but reduces your damage while you are swinging.

As a final mention of the limitations you might not expect, keep in mind that this game is all about the combat. There aren't any lore books to pick up and learn about the world like in Grim Dawn, and you can't strike up conversations with anyone in the various encampments unless they are about to give you a quest.

 In the grim Old World, people aren't super chatty

On that front, the main storyline isn't particularly long, but there's significant replayability in Boss Rush, Expedition, and Relic Hunt modes. Those modes add in different elements, like health dropping if you remain stationary in Relic Hunt or randomized events on Expeditions to get better loot and experience gains.

There's another reason why the main campaign isn't as long as you might expect compared to other games like Torchlight 2 or Grim Dawn, and that's the whopping 10 (Yes, 10!) difficulty levels to try out for a real challenge. "Very Hard" isn't kidding either -- and that's only the fifth difficulty level! I don't even want to think about what must be going for the ultimate challenge with Chaos 5 mode.

Its also worth noting that the main campaign has a bit more than just the standard rinse and repeat of the ARPG genre as you smash through another horde of enemies. The missions are a little more varied, featuring additions like timed levels where you are fighting against the clock to catch a fleeing cultist or save a bunch of soldiers before they can be scarified.

The Skill Difference

The one big difference between Chaosbane and any other Diablo style game is in how skills are handled. Each class skill tree is static, meaning you don't get to choose which skills are unlocked at which level. Instead, they unlock automatically at predefined levels.

On the opposite side, the God skill tree is yours to traverse as you see fit to gain passive bonuses and acquire new skills. Unlocking nodes on that tree requires finding fragments and earning blessings, and which route of the tree you take will significantly change up your skill options.

Here's the big change -- you can have a combination of 12 different skills at any one time, but each skill requires a certain number of points to equip. That means you tailor your play style based on whether you want a super upgraded Slash for instance, or a bunch of less powerful skills like banners for reducing damage or extra attack types for generating more energy.

 Flee before me vile daemon! 

What's revolutionary on that front is that any player can respec their character build on the fly at absolutely any time. You don't need to use an item and you don't need to meet a specific NPC in town. Tired of your current skill set? Cool, swap it out with completely different ones and try playing another way -- there's nothing stopping you.

That ability to make changes becomes absolutely necessary for anyone playing through in single player rather that online or with local co-op. After breezing through most of the first two acts on normal, my empire soldier was repeatedly annihilated by the Bloodthirster of Khorne boss. After a couple of fruitless attempts, I only managed to kill the greater daemon by swapping out my skills to be more defensive.

The Bottom Line

 I've come to chew bubblegum and slaughter Slaanesh cults... and I'm all out of bubblegum

  • Warhammer works surprisingly well in the ARPG genre
  • With 10 difficulty tiers, you won't run out of hack 'n slash adventure anytime soon
  • The daemon animations are simply stunning
  • Very limited class selection
  • No real ability to customize your character, and the equipment types don't have nearly the broad range as other ARPGs
  • Fairly short main campaign, and some of the enemy types are clearly recycled

Admittedly, there are quite a few ways in which you can tell this is a game from a lesser known developer that isn't experienced in the ARPG style. That being said, Eko Software has still managed to put out a really solid game that will easily hook hack 'n slash fans.

If you've already played Grim Dawn into the ground and aren't interested in what's happening with the new Diablo and Torchlight games, Chaosbane will easily offer you dozens of hours of daemon killing fun either solo or co-op.

Void Bastards Review: Rewarding Wit and Experimentation Thu, 30 May 2019 11:41:50 -0400 diegoarguello

Void Bastards is all about experimentation.

Playing as one of a group of prisoners stranded in outer space, you're looking for a way to escape the Sargasso Nebula with some interesting help: friendly robots, tons of recyclable trash, and, of course, wit.

Void Bastards encourages you to craft and manage resources as you explore different space facilities, always by letting you run the show, choosing your next destinations and thinking ahead.

Publisher Blue Manchu doesn’t call the game a roguelite but rather a “strategy shooter." However, it certainly has a foundation set in the former.

You start with a randomly selected character that carries either positive or negative traits, which range from having the chance to save an ammo clip once in a while to a cough from your days as smoker that can alert enemies.

In each playthrough, you’re free to select which space stations you want to visit, following a path that will slowly get you closer to the main item that you need. The story is rather secondary in Void Bastards, and mostly tasks you with finding and retrieving certain objects needed to craft something.

The core of the experience is focused on how you want to overcome such tasks. There are many variables in each of these space stations, along with random events, that can shake things up if you’re not careful.

Some might have tons of food or fuel but fire is also in pretty much every corner. Other stations are plagued by portals, so you can expect to see more enemies than usual. All crucial details are always outlined before jumping in, such as exactly what type of enemies you can expect and the number, ironically expressed as “few” or “many." But sometimes the game will play you, and you’ll end up going in blind.

You don’t have to actually visit each destination that you select, though. But each jump requires a can of fuel, and your space bastard also needs to grab a bite during the trip. Resource management is key, even though you can just start over with a new character and carry all of the unlocked blueprints and weapons you obtained so far during that run.

After selecting your destiny and your loadout (usually primary weapon, secondary weapon, and a third tool) you’ll be good to go. A facility's entire map will be displayed, which can be accessed at any time, but you’ll have to rely on your minimap or your surroundings to know exactly where loot is.

The main goal remains the same in each situation: retrieve the key items in the station, and all the resources you can gather in the meantime before your oxygen runs out, or some baddie ends with your life.

There are concurrent rooms that you should always check out first, along with different things to experiment with. Some will let you deactivate turrets and security cameras (the latter called “peppers”) for a couple of seconds, while others will display exactly where loot is for each room. Throw in a few merit points, too, and you’ll be able to see enemies’ locations as well.

But how does it play, exactly?

It’s a shooter alright, and a quite decent one thanks to the absurd weaponry at your disposal. You start with the usual, such as proximity bombs or a trusty ol’ pistol, but spend some time at the crafting table and you’ll be drifting enemies into locked rooms or commanding bombs in the shape of kitties that not only distract foes but also explode when they’re destroyed.

There truly is a lot to play around with, and pretty much everything can be further upgraded. As you’ve probably guessed by now, crafting is key to survival in the game, and the one thing that will keep you coming back to it.

In one of my many ventures, I remember looking at the map, trying to figure out the best way to retrieve those three fuel cans at the other side of the station. There were Janitors roaming around, floating enemies that will shoot you on sight, but I also had to deal with a new type I hadn’t seen before: the Spook.

These bastards are dressed like old-school detectives (yes, even with the fedora) and will disappear in thin air when they find you, only to reappear on your backside for a surprise attack. They can be easy to defeat in one-on-one battles, but when there are several of them, it turns into a hide and seek bloodbath.

I got what I wanted, but now I had to make a run for it. I barely had ammo left and my oxygen was about run out. There was a room in the station that could provide me with a few more minutes of air, but detouring from the main route wasn’t the best option. Once the Spooks started to follow my lead, I started using what are probably one of my favorite tools in the game: doors.

If you’re lucky, the layouts of rooms will be in your favor, and if you time things right, you can lock enemies and block their paths. So I used the robotic kitties to distract them, and immediately locked the doors. Made a run for it, and managed to escape out alive.

Void Bastards rewards improvisation, regardless of how exhilarating it might be.

That was just one of many situations I went through, and while reduced in scope, there are things to keep in mind as you use the map as well, such as gigantic whales and space fleets of Scottish pirates. Yes, it’s an odd game, but a very stylish one in that regard, packing a comic-book style that goes from the humor to how to UI is designed. And it works perfectly.

  • Rewarding and entertaining loop
  • Outstanding art style
  • Room for experimentation
  • Interesting weapons and tools
  • There isn't a clear atmosphere
  • It could be benefited with a stronger story

Void Bastards has an engaging gameplay loop, an art style that really nails the comic book feel, and tons of toys for your to craft and mess around in horrifying space stations. But even though it carries the influence of games like Bioshock and System Shock 2 in its development, there isn't a clear atmosphere attached to the game.

You'll find humor, crafting, and cool weapons. You even get to explore different stations that carry their own challenges and rewards. But it's mostly tied to how you get from Point A to Point B to retrieve the item you need, along with resources to not starve to death on your way to the next destination.

If you're just looking for a new roguelite, though, Void Bastards is certainly worth checking out.

[Note: A copy of Voidbastards was provided by Blue Manchu for the purpose of this review.]

Five Nights at Freddy's VR: Help Wanted — FNAF Meets Playroom VR Thu, 30 May 2019 11:30:20 -0400 Ty Arthur

That Five Nights At Freddy's movie may be in development limbo with the dreaded "to be announced" release schedule, but there's still a new way to experience the thrill of getting stuffed inside an animatronic suit because you didn't hit the door button fast enough!

How this wasn't a PSVR launch title is sort of baffling considering the high tide the series was riding just a few years back, but better late than never, I suppose.

To make a long story short, you probably already know whether you want to play this game simply based on how you feel about the main series, although there are a few additions and changes here that might draw you in if you didn't jump on the craze during its heyday. 

DualShock Players Need Not Apply

 Don't do this to yourself life's too short

The schtick this time around is that the pizza chain is real, and aware of all the games purporting to reveal real events of murder and mayhem to night watchmen, but no one would possibly believe that nonsense. 

That's where you come in hired to help out, after signing a waiver that specifically tells you to close your eyes and stop reading it so you won't get concerned. In other words, the same mix of creepiness and deadpan humor is on display.

Here's the thing, though, Freddy Fazbear's Pizza may need help fast, but they don't need the poor peasants without extra peripherals to take any of those empty positions.

I need to make this as clear as I possibly can  do not, under any circumstances, play this game with the DualShock controller. You are flat out better off not playing Help Wanted instead of pointlessly trying to play it without the Move controllers.

This won't be an issue on the PC edition, but for the PSVR, the single-camera setup makes the DualShock version nearly impossible to play. The problem is that the DualShock mode revolves around the camera being able to see the light on the front of the controller.

That simply doesn't work in a game where you need to turn to your side to move objects, press buttons, pick up parts, and so on. The second you turn sideways (which you need to do while playing the mini-games), the light is obscured and the controller stops functioning.

That means you have to (very awkwardly) try to hold the controller in a forward facing position even while manipulating objects off to your far left or right. Trying to play this way results in you battling the controls rather than battling the game mechanics, and it's simply not fun.

This is one of those frequent issues showcasing how much we need the PSVR 2 to include either a multi-camera setup or eye tracking (or both!) when it launches after the PS5

Let me reiterate so there's no uncertainty  if you haven't dropped the extra $100 on the Move controllers, DO NOT BUY THIS GAME. Got your Move controllers handy? Cool, then this is actually a pretty fun little outing if you like FNAF already.

Benefits Of Employment At Freddy Fazbears

 This may not look menacing as a flat screen, but in VR it is wildly intimidating

So what exactly do you get with Help Wanted?

The big draw here is that it includes the first full three games in VR mode. That's worth the price of admission if you're a fan of the series and want to experience it from a closer perspective.

If you've already played those three games into the ground, then the only bonus is the virtual component, as the content and gameplay is the same (with minor additions like being able to pick up some objects in the control room), you just reach out with the Move controllers to press the buttons rather than clicking with the mouse.

Aside from those three games, you also get a series of extra mini-games that essentially turn FNAF into a horror version of The Playroom VR. In a clear echo of that VR tech demo, you even get to head to the ticket counter prize room and view all the goodies earned by beating levels.

Unlike with The Playroom, you don't need couch players to shout out locations or provide hints, but Help Wanted is still better as a shared experience with other people involved to scream and shout warnings about where to point your camera.

 Gotta clean those cockroaches out of Chica's mouth and eyes!

Here's what you can do in the mini-games when you get sick of the three main titles:

  • Carefully repair the animatronic characters from a seated position so they are ready for the next night of terror (don't worry, unless you are pointlessly using the DualShock, this isn't anywhere close as frustrating as that obnoxious spring lock puzzle from Sister Location)
  • Fix problems in the pizza parlor's vents while very Alien-esque FNAF characters crawl towards you from different angles
  • Play flashlight walk-a-mole while listening to audio cues to time turning on your light for stopping characters as they crawl along the floors and walls towards your stationary position
  • Exploring a (very) limited teleportation based movement game around your house to close doors and check closets

They aren't revolutionary by any means, or even particularly in-depth, but the mini-games do add some fun to the virtual experience for a PSVR title based on such a simplistic series.

The Bottom Line Is This Game Worth Your Money?

 Hey cool, prizes!

  • Getting to play the first three games in VR will be a dream come true for FNAF uber-fans.
  • Mini-games add some extra content for watching your friends try (and fail) to repair the characters or quickly fix vents without getting murdered
  • All the same limitations and frustrations are present as the standard games, just in VR mode
  • You absolutely must have the Move controllers if you want to actually enjoy the game on PS4

Adding a VR component does make the jump scares more visceral in Help Wanted, and I'll admit I got a rush of adrenaline and involuntarily shot into the air the first time.

The problem is that, like with the normal version of the game, that jump scare becomes predictable and stops being scary after the umpteenth time, and that doesn't change even in virtual reality. 

Help Wanted has all the same strengths and weaknesses of the first three main games which, let's be honest, are more Let's Play oddities and less high art or even serious games worth investing dozens of hours into.

That being said, the exclusive mini-games are a fun new addition, but once you've figured them out there's not really much replay there other than in watching your friends give it a try and laughing as they jump in terror when they mess up a sequence.

That tiny number of people who have never played (or more likely watched) a FNAF game before and the diehard fan base who agonize over lore details and salivate over the prospect of anything new will definitely get more out of Help Wanted than any other type of player.

For anybody else, this is a fun diversion if you've already got all the other party style games for PSVR, but it can definitely wait for a PS Store sale.

[Note: A copy of Five Nights at Freddy's VR: Help Wanted was provided by Lionsgate for the purpose of this review.]

PixARK Review: What if Minecraft and ARK Had a Baby Thu, 30 May 2019 10:01:58 -0400 Sergey_3847

The first time you try PixARK you can't really comprehend if this game is trying to be more like Minecraft or actually more like ARK: Survival Evolved.

On one hand, there are a lot of pure RPG elements, such as character stats, leveling, and quests. But on the other hand, you have to do all the stuff you need to do in Minecraft, such as collecting resources, building houses, and harvesting crops on your farms.

Visually, PixARK leans more towards Minecraft, but the blocks are smoother and more colorful. And this is not the first time we see someone adopt Voxel graphics in a game, the world of which consists of breakable blocks.

However, the best part about PixARK is that it has much lower system requirements than ARK: Survival Evolved. So in this regard, it allows players to play the game even on a casual laptop.

In any case, if you're wondering what this game is all about, then keep on reading our review below.

World Full of Dinos

The first question mentioned above, whether PixARK is more like Minecraft or ARK has a simple answer: It's both! Together these two sources of inspiration created a world with over a hundred dinosaur species roaming several different biomes, and your job as a player is to survive in this kind of environment.

At times it can be hard, but as soon as you adapt to most of the mechanics PixARK can really start growing on you. Of course, you will find already familiar gameplay elements of both Minecraft and ARK here, so you need to be familiar with at least one of them, or you may find the Voxel world of PixARK too confusing.

But even small kids can play the game and enjoy it pretty much on the same level as more mature players, since everything looks like a cartoon, and even the most dangerous kinds of dinos aren't that scary.

Most of the animals look really cute, despite being able to hurt your character. But if you manage to tame them, then these funny creatures will serve you well and let you explore the giant open world around you.

PixARK can be played either in a casual way or you could take on quests that involve hunting and taming creatures, crafting and building, etc. Again, if you've played either Minecraft or ARK, then you will find all this way too familiar, albeit some of the mechanics may differ slightly.

Gameplay Mechanics

It is important to understand that PixARK requires a lot of free time, just like Minecraft and ARK. Just imagine that each type of building requires different types of materials. You will have to craft floors, walls, and ceilings, that each consist of various blocks. The construction process also requires a lot of precision, or you'll end up with a very fragile building.

Soon after building your first house you gain access to better resources that allow you to build much stronger structures. Fortunately, you don’t have to destroy an old house and build a new one, because individual blocks can be replaced.

Leveling is just as important since it affects your crafting and taming abilities. Taming creatures is probably one of the most important mechanics in PixARK. All the different species live in various biomes, but you can only tame certain creatures when you achieve a specific level. In addition to different types of dinosaurs and unusual creatures, there are also more familiar animals like pandas and crocodiles. But dinosaurs are the best for taming, since they are more powerful.

PixARK can be played either in single player or multiplayer modes. The maximum number of players is 100, but experience shows that servers run much better with around 50 people at most. Otherwise, you risk running into network lags and glitches. Administrators can set their own servers and focus either on PvP or PvE.

Lastly, if you like playing in Minecraft's creative mode, then you will find PixARK's similar mode enticing. It includes all the necessary tools for creation, but many parameters need to be programmed manually, which can take some time.


  • Shiny, smooth Voxel graphics
  • Huge open world
  • Cute dinosaur models
  • Low system requirements


  • Offers nothing new
  • Requires some optimization

The developers really tried to add a proper sense of character development to PixARK. But this game feels more like an ordinary sandbox rather than an RPG, so this kind of approach seems out of place.

And even if you look at PixARK as an RPG game, then it simply lacks depth. Even the quest system is optional, and frankly, there is no real need for quests to begin with.

Virtually every action, whether crafting or hunting creatures, will grant you XP. Then, you can distribute them across your stats, and there are no limits to what you can do.

In this regard, PixARK solves the problem of arbitrary RPG elements, but otherwise, just enjoy it for what it is a cute survival sandbox game full of dinosaurs.

[Note: A copy of PixARK was provided by Snail Games USA for the purpose of this review.]

Team Sonic Racing Review: Really, You Gotta Go Fast Tue, 28 May 2019 14:38:53 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Both of Sumo Digital's previous Sonic the Hedgehog kart racers are among my favorite racing games, particularly Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. My qualms with both titles have always been minimal, so I had high hopes for the new Team Sonic Racing. Sumo treats Sonic well.

Team Sonic Racing is a far cry from those first two Sonic racing games, and probably in just the way the series needed. It casts off its traditional kart racer roots, tosses tight turns to the wayside, and screams "GOTTA GO FAST" because the name of the game here is pure speed.

In a manner more fitting the Sonic series than traditional kart racers, Team Sonic Racing's whole focus is on speed. The tracks are wide, the driving is loose, and the speeds, once you know what you're doing and your way around the tracks, are about on par with Wipeout HD. Just without the tilting and dealing with antigravity.

This change isn't the easiest to swallow, though. If you've played both of Sumo's previous Sonic racing titles, you may come into Team Sonic Racing expecting a more traditional experience. I know I did, and it took a little while to accept that this was a new, different game.

Transformed went its own way with the airplane and boat segments; where else was the series to go if each game was to be unique? How about making it feel like you're playing 3D Sonic... but you're actually racing?

That's exactly what Team Racing Sonic feels like.

I appreciate you, too, game.

Everybody Super Sonic Racing!

Anyone who played Transformed can agree that S rank is pretty dang fast, but even normal mode in Team can get faster than that in a split second with a lucky boost of one form or another.

Part of what pushes this sense of speed is this iteration's new focus on teamplay, which does a lot more than give your younger sibling a chance to win.

Team racing is the main focus in Team Sonic Racing. A team consists of three racers in campaign mode, all players must be on the same canonical team, in local play mode it can be any combination or even a non-team race.

Team racing itself is handled in a tactful and creative way.

While racing, those behind others in their team can follow the trail of one of their teammates ahead of them. Following the trail is an instant boost of speed, and it charges a special boost called a Slingshot that can and will be stacked on top of every other source of speed at a given time.

The trail system is a huge boon compared to most kart racers' hidden and innate rubberbanding. In this, it's up to the skill and judgment of the driver (with a little help from a yellow line) to make their way back up.

The trail isn't the only unique feature to the game's team system. Teammates can also pass items to one another, which may transform mid-toss to either have more charges or turn into another item completely. If you're in first and don't feel like tossing out more cubes, just pass your item to your teammates.

Passing items is done with a single button press with a dialogue box at the top of a player's view to let them know they can receive an item from a teammate. It sounds complicated, but it's actually easy as pie and doesn't impede the racing even one bit.

Using items which are actually Wisps from Sonic Colors  doesn't feel as impactful as in most kart racers. Perhaps it's because of the item tossing system or perhaps because it's so Wipeout-like, but using them in most situations just isn't satisfying. Wisps are more Team Ultimate fodder than anything else.

Performing team actions like riding on a teammate's trail to get Slingshot boosts and tossing items back and forth charges up your Team Ultimate meter, meaning it's in all three of your interests' to Slingshot and pass items around as often as possible. The Team Ultimate itself can be done by all three in a team at once for a longer ult, or it can be done individually.

Unfortunately, Ultimates still aren't as unique as they were in the first Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (I miss you, Chu Chu Rocket cat), but they get the job done. You'll go faster than you can deal with, and at times it may not be in your best interest for all three of you to use it at the same time. Making your teammates listen to the Chao theme when you ult is priceless, though.

Throughout all of this, your teammates and rival racers are running their mouths nearly incessantly. Everyone has something to say so often it all just sort of blends together. The English VAs are the same ones from Sonic Boom, and there's a variety of audio language choices.

Campaign and Unlocks

You may remember how unlocks were handled in the last two Sonic racing games from Sumo. In Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, you purchased new songs, tracks, and characters using the currency you obtained racing. In Transformed, you unlocked these things via challenges in the campaign.

In Team Sonic Racing, you obtain currency from each race and use them at the Mod Pod, a gacha machine. Ten Credits and you get one pod, which can be anything from a vehicle part, paint, or decal, to power-ups you can apply before a race at character select.

I'm not a big fan of the Mod Pod system, but the customization system it comes with is quite nice.

You can choose a paint set to decorate vehicles with, as well as the sort of material certain parts of the vehicle are made of and which decal you would like. This doesn't have any bearing on your performance in-game, but you can pull off a surprising amount of customization within this system.

We got sprawling stat-modifying mods to alter vehicle stats in Transformed, but in Team, we can change parts on three sections of each vehicle. The stat changes are significant and the system is quite flexible, giving you more control over your favorite character's stats than in Team's predecessors. AKA there's nothing like speed-modded Ages to slap the time trial leaderboards stupid as seen in Transformed.

If there was a way this series needed to go, this is it. There is no other Sonic the Hedgehog racing game that meets this level of speed, that gives you this feeling of freedom. I didn't even touch on the three character types; it's notable since Technique and Power characters have totally different routes open to them. The character you play as has a bigger impact on your racing than ever.

As my husband says, Team Sonic Racing is basically podracing with Sonic characters. It's true. It works wonderfully.

It took a few hours for me to accept that this was the successor to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed because I've been playing that game on and off for so many years, but I've come to accept this is the direction Team Sonic Racing needed to go to remain fresh and relevant.

It's an absolute joy to play, and the team racing aspect is so cleverly implemented you just sink into it and be one with the team. There's no other racing title I can compare that aspect to.

  • Basically like playing a 3D Sonic game, but you're racing! The closest we're going to get to a good 3D Sonic in a long time, probably
  • The team racing mechanics are intuitive, unintrusive, and most importantly are incredibly fun
  • A fair amount of vehicle customization
  • Seriously, you go crazy fast
  • It seems every track has side or hidden routes, they're fun to find and rewarding to master
  • Said busy tracks can cause some slowdown on PS4 in specific areas, and it's very noticeable
  • The music is mostly a big "Meh"

Sonic Team Racing is different from its predecessors, but this is a fresh evolution of the series that surprises and exhilarates in a brand new way. Sonic has seen a lot of changes over the years, and this is one of the best yet whether you just want a new kart racer or are in need of a 3D Sonic title because it's pretty dang close.

[Note: A copy of Team Sonic Racing was provided by Sumo Digital for the purpose of this review.]

Lapis X Labyrinth Review: Fevered Tedium Tue, 28 May 2019 14:29:28 -0400 Ashley Shankle

There's nothing like a little mindless button mashing to propel you through a game focused on grinding.

If that sounds appealing to you, you may very well like the budget-priced Lapis X Labyrinth. If it sounds like Hell on Earth to you, though, it's probably best to keep on steppin' because this game is not going to appeal to you at all.

Lapis X Labyrinth is a simple game with a plot I frankly can't remember because there's not really much dialogue, which is fine. All of the focus is on running through stages and upgrading your party members via gear and direct stat upgrades, which is a long and grind-heavy process. Which, again, is fine if you're into that.

I am into that. I am into mindlessly grinding on one TV while a movie or show plays on the other (multiple TV living rooms represent), so it says a bit that the uphill climb in Lapis X Labyrinth is a bit too much for me. While flashy and fun in small doses, LXL quickly loses steam once you realize the core gameplay barely ever changes. You're going to be doing the same things with minor tweaks... forever.

It's flashy, though. Hoo boy, is this game flashy in a way you usually only get with slot (or perhaps pachinko) machines. That flashiness is what's kept me at it, showing there's something to be said for the mini dopamine rushes one gets from a short-lived powerup and invincibility period.

You may remember how stacking worked in World of Final Fantasy, Square Enix's turn-based fanservice title.

Your party is stacked in Lapis X Labyrinth as well, but this is an action game. Stacking here means you can hotswap characters in dungeons. The characters you are not currently hacking and slashing with are simply there to provide extra bonuses to your team attack when not in use.

Stacking is a cute way to grant yourself some extra gameplay flexibility, and there are a number of classes to choose from. The slow Destroyer, the healing Bishop, the stalwart Shielder, and a handful of others. Each class is different enough from the others, and some take more positioning than others. For example, some classes' attacks have finicky areas of effect that have to be learned and kept in mind to make good use of them.

Creating your stack is sort of like creating your character, that you can swap parts out for between quests. Swapping characters in your stack can be done in town between any quest. Between being able to hotswap your stack leader in quests and interchange them completely when in town, you don't really have to stress over trying new things. It's the nature of the game, and trying new class combinations is mostly harmless.

That said, combat is mostly harmless, too.

At its heart, Lapis X Labyrinth is a button masher a button masher with repeated invincibility periods.

While enemies themselves are usually not a problem, they're made into easily-dispatched punching bags when you enter Fever mode, a massively flashy period where you are invincible and deal extra damage.

Fever mode is brought on simply by traversing dungeons and whacking on things, and if you're doing things right, you should be entering Fever within a few seconds of exiting Fever when in a dungeon. This is where you get that dopamine rush that pushes you to keep going. The music changes, everything starts flashing, fireworks are going off in the background, and you are a killing machine.

It's not hard to see why or how Fever mode compels one to keep going. In a lot of ways, the game seems designed around you being invincible most of the time. Your characters don't have a ton of health, and when they're knocked out, you can just pick them up again after a short delay. LXL does its best to keep you alive, outside of occasionally getting stuck at the base of a worm boss monster and dying.

That lack of difficulty is what wears on you, though. You go into a whole slew of dungeons that really don't look all that different. You gather treasure along the way, you get back to town and sit there manually disassembling your trash drops, you get some better stats, you go back in.

There's always something to grind. Money, materials for equipment enhancement, or stats. But no levels. You increase your guild level, but neither your stack nor your characters have individual levels.

Some may enjoy the longer progression route found in Lapis X Labyrinth, but it quickly and unceremoniously turns what would otherwise be a straightforward game into a menu-diving bore when you're in town and have all your progression methods unlocked.

Yeah, I guess.

Though flashy and with 80 quests to take on, the sheer repetition of it all is hard to ignore. Fever is fun, the gems shooting all over the place when you take down enemies in Fever is fun. The rest of the game, unfortunately, isn't.

When you go into a fast-paced beat'em up/dungeon explorer where one half is an exercise in menu-based tedium, you're bound to get frustrated over the slog of the second half. That's because it really highlights how droll the actual dungeon design is, and you start to wonder why you're bothering.

Whacking on things is fun, running through dungeons with similar layouts time and time again and having to sift through menus for repeated incremental stat increases is not.

I'm no newcomer to NIS America's incremental stat-increase titles, and I'm actually a fan of the Cladun series, but Lapis X Labyrinth just has too much going on system-wise for its incredibly basic gameplay. You have a handful of gauges in combat tied to your special attacks and skills, but for what purpose if Fever makes them all irrelevant?

  • Fever mode is a lot of fun for what it is
  • Lots of gameplay styles between the game's X classes and stacking mechanic
  • Too much menu management I hope you like disassembling equipment and mashing confirm for ages when trying to upgrade a piece of equipment repeatedly
  • It's incredibly easy thanks to Fever mode (a negative for me, but perhaps opens LXL to younger players as there is no real untoward content)
  • The game barely explains its systems, which are plentiful

Lapis X Labyrinth is fun in small doses, but it becomes a chore once you grasp the game and unlock all the progression methods. An unfun chore, not all that different from vacuuming with a persistent fever clouding your judgment.

[Note: A copy of Lapis X Labyrinth was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review.]

Draugen Review: Draggin' Through a Beautiful World Tue, 28 May 2019 11:25:36 -0400 Jason Coles

A small-town idyllic life amongst the mountains of Norway is an appealing thought. One away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life, from the pollution and noise of the city, and devoid of your normal stressors. Rather than worry about getting to work on time, you can become part of a small community; all working together for the good of each other in an almost utopian setting.

Draugen has you heading to a sleepy village in search of your sister. You arrive by rowboat with your trusty companion Lissie, an intensely free spirit who is just along for the adventure of it all. You moor your little boat in a small dock in Graavik and go to meet a family you’ve been in contact with.

There is a problem though as there often is there is nobody home. It isn’t just the family that you’ve been in contact with though, the entire town seems to be missing. The seemingly simple task of finding your sister is made infinitely more complex by this peculiar occurrence. How can you find your sister when there is nobody to talk to?

This is the core concept of Draugen and is the story you’ll be following as you walk through this sleepy village. By interacting with various points of interest and objects you get to uncover more of this strange tale and get closer to the truth. Thankfully, the game is absolutely beautiful to both look at and listen to. The scenery will have you wishing you could just jump into the world and unwind, while the music does a brilliant job of setting the scene.

The voice acting is good too, not only do the characters feel believable, but they do an excellent job of mixing languages and feeling as though they are real. One stand out moment for me came when in a heated discussion with Lissie. I was looking around the room to see what else I could interact with when I heard “Please look at me when I’m talking.” It snapped me out of what I was doing, and I actually felt quite rude.

It’s the kind of thing that Draugen does quite well and it results in things feeling a bit more personal than they would otherwise. Lissie interacts with the protagonist in a natural and charming way, which makes it all the worse because the protagonist isn’t all that likeable. He is short-tempered, abrupt, and cold-hearted for the most part.

While it makes some sense in the context of what’s going on you would be tense if you were trying to find a missing sibling it feels a bit out of place given the mystery that Draugen presents you with. One missing person is stressful, but if you found that an entire village was missing wouldn’t your perspective change?

There is some discussion on mental health in Draugen, but it all feels a little bit off. The way it portrays it just doesn’t sit right. Just because somebody suffers with mental health issues, doesn’t mean they are going to be unpleasant, yet there are several moments where it feels as though that’s what the game believes. It mars the story somewhat because it feels outdated.  

The story itself is told in an intriguing slow roll, one which you can elaborate on as you go by exploring the village. It starts off pretty well thanks to the gorgeous setting and fascinating sense of mystery. The world is strikingly beautiful but also deeply unsettling which draws you in and keeps you invested in everything you see and hear. Things fall apart towards the end though unfortunately due to a mix of peculiar pacing and a somewhat lackluster ending.

  • Beautifully realized world
  • Fantastic sense of foreboding and genuinely unsettling atmosphere
  • The interactions with Lissie are stellar
  • Lackluster latter half 
  • It feels as though it is setting up a series rather than just standing on its own

Draugen is a good game that slowly transitions into being a perplexing one around halfway through. It’s interesting, but not always in a good way. This lack of consistency is fine in something like peanut butter, but it is a bit disappointing in a video game.

The world and characters are intriguing, but it almost feels as though it’s a prologue for a bigger game.

[Note: A copy of Draugen was provided by Red Thread Games for the purpose of this review.]

Blood & Truth Review — Live An Action Crime Drama In VR Tue, 28 May 2019 00:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

This is the PSVR game I've been most looking forward to in 2019, finally letting a playerbase hungry for new experiences live a big budget underworld crime drama with plenty of fast-paced gunplay.

The end product does have a few issues that I wish had been handled differently, but it's hard to fault this game for what it manages to do within the current constraints of the PSVR hardware.

Blood & Truth starts familiar, as we've seen this setup in plenty of other games before, with the protagonist under interrogation and each level showcased as part of his story. The difference here is that instead of an innocent soldier trying to clear his name, Ryan Marks really is gangster who deserves to be in some black ops site. 

That's where Blood & Truth starts to set itself apart. This main character's glorious mix of James Bond, hardened soldier, and wisecracking crime family enforcer is ludicrously improbable... but also a genuine pleasure to play in a first-person VR setting.

The VR Shooter Gets A Dose Of Flair

Those who have to devour every new title that hits the platform will notice quite a few similarities in mechanics to Planet Of The Apes VR, with limited node-based movement, similar (but expanded and more satisfying) gun handling mechanics, as well as utilizing the Move controllers in the same way to climb up ladders.

If you thought that movie tie-in title needed to be taken up a notch and given another layer of polish, you won't be disappointed with Blood & Truth. The developers added just about everything you could want for a game in this style.

Critically, you actually see your gun and ammo holsters, and there is this incredibly satisfying click when you put a gun away or whip it out properly. Immersion is crucial to a VR title, and this one nails the concept with those little details.

Between having to actually jam ammo into your weapon, to holding larger guns with two hands for increased accuracy, the Move controller support here really puts you in the game and makes you feel like part of the virtual world.

 You will come to love your trusty ammo pouch companion more than your family.

The combat and chase sequences are enhanced by a movie score-style soundtrack that constantly pushes you forward. In essence, you are living an action flick.

Now onto that one nagging problem: the biggest constraint with Blood & Truth is a lack of full free-range movement. It's a damn shame that Ryan can't freely roam around the levels and instead has to shift from pre-defined location to pre-defined location while shooting.

I'll say this though despite that limitation, SIE London Studio still does some really interesting things with the mechanic, like switching between cover-based combat to on-rails shootouts.

Those "rails" aren't always in a vehicle either, with one pulse-pounding chase sequence entirely taking place on foot. That scene was made more difficult not just by the goons jumping out to shoot at you, but by the fact that you can't kill your target. Having to make sure you don't accidentally shoot him while defending yourself is as exhilarating as it sounds.

Working Within The PSVR's Limitations

 Your tool kit is a much-needed source of diversion between shoot outs

There's plenty to do here in any given level to make you forget about the movement problem, from modding and spray painting your arsenal, to trying to unlock various achievements that require you to be flashy during combat.

Whether using a record player during a night club shoot out or blowing away enemies while hanging off a railing, the game offers a surprising number of ways to engage in the environment and suck you right in.

Acting as a stark contrast to the even more limited Everybody's Golf VR that just landed last week, the movement problem can also be overlooked in Blood & Truth because the rest of the mechanics are so advanced.

First up, lock picking is an absolute pleasure in Blood & Truth. I'm honestly baffled as to why more games haven't implemented this system of rotating one hand to twist the pick, then bumping up with the other hand to crack that lock. It's so much more intuitive (and fun!) than more traditional lock picking systems you'll see in games like Fallout.

The developers also clearly went out of their way to make the environment something to be interacted with, offering plenty of motions to make with your hands to draw you into the game.

An early segment driving home with your younger brother in his flashy new car immediately shows off the level of interactivity as you can pull down the visor, turn on the hazard lights, change the radio station, do little flourishes with your gun to look super awesome, and so on.

Of course, being in a virtual world and wanting to cause some mayhem, I tried to grab the gear shift and throw us into park on the freeway to cause a high-speed collision and end the level in a fiery explosion, but alas, they thought ahead and wouldn't let me do that. Killjoys!

The Bottom Line

 Whoops... did I do that?

  • This game is absolutely dripping with style
  • The environment is highly interactive and there's a ton to do while looking for new ways to kill dudes
  • The Move controller mechanics are spot-on and really take advantage of the VR environment
  • Limited movement is the biggest issue, as lack of free-range motion drops the immersion factor
  • This is a big dumb action flick, so of course, you'll get shot a hundred times and be just fine at the end
  • Graphically Blood & Truth trails behind any non-VR shooter

Like many PSVR titles, the graphics aren't as advanced as what you'd see with a typical AAA PS4 game, and sadly the movement is annoying limited.

Those issues aside, Blood & Truth basically puts you into the driver's seat of a blockbuster summer action movie where it's cool to shoot and blow up whoever, so long as you look damn cool doing it.

As Ryan, you get to jump through windows off tall buildings, shoot guys on motorcycles, get into a battle at a disco with the strobe lights flaring, toss grenades back at surprised enemies, and just generally be a badass, and that's really what video games are all about.

The bottom line here is that this game is just flat out a ton of fun. Yeah, I've knocked it down a few points because of the limitations inherent in this gen of PSVR (which I'm hoping will get resolved with the impending next Playstation VR iteration) but don't let that stop you from playing, because this is some of the most fun I've had with my VR headset so far.

[Note: A copy of Blood & Truth was provided by Sony for the purpose of this review.]

American Fugitive Review: Life on the Lam Mon, 27 May 2019 10:39:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Do you yearn for the days of the Grand Theft Auto of yesteryear? Before Rockstar changed the crime sim forever with Grand Theft Auto 3, that little series of open-world driving and shooting looked considerably different. If you find yourself looking back with fond memories at those top-down mayhem simulators, American Fugitive may be just the thing to scratch that itch.

American Fugitive is a direct homage to those GTA games of the past, upgrading the graphics and destructibility of the environments, but maintaining many of the gameplay elements (for better and for worse) of that particular genre. It can't be recommended for everyone, but it has a certain charm that makes it worth a go for many.

Criminals Gonna Criminal

When you start up American Fugitive, a brief prologue introduces your main character (Will) and some of the basic gameplay mechanics. Story is told through dialogue options, but don't expect anything too fancy in that realm. A logical story is not one of American Fugitive's strong points.

Will is called to his father' house and, when he arrives, he discovers that his dear old dad has been murdered. Worse yet, the police arrive and throw Will in jail for the crime. After breaking out (it all happens very quickly), Will goes on a quest to prove that he is innocent of all charges.

He does this by breaking into houses, robbing stores, stealing cars, and murdering police officers.

Honestly, this turn of events was a jarring one. Will insists he is not a criminal, yet he gleefully pulls women out of their cars and drives off, ramming police into trees all the while. Even the game's description from the developers page reads: "Set in a sleepy American country town in the 1980s, American Fugitive invites you to play as Will Riley. You're no angel, but you're not a killer."

Except you totally are.

Luckily, American Fugitive has some strong gameplay elements to make up for its... questionable story beats.

Buckle Up

The best element of American Fugitive is the driving. The game takes place in a country town, so there is plenty of room to get up to speed and pull some fun driving tricks. There is a pretty good variety of vehicles available for you to commandeer, and each feels very different in terms of speed, acceleration, and weight.

When you're driving a tow truck around, you feel powerful. As your wanted level increases and the police pull out ever more tricks to stop you, a big heavy truck will make you feel like you can drive right through them. However, a quick little muscle car will test your reflexes as you drive circles around town, trying to evade arrest.

Not everything about the driving is perfect the cops' interest in you seems very hit and miss on occasion. For example, swerving into a police car while towing an ATM behind you may barely get their attention, but you better not run over a light pole where any officers can see you.

Damage calculation is a bit haphazard and cars explode a bit too quickly once they reach critical mass. Overall, the driving is very satisfying and ticks a lot of the boxes you want in a game like this.

Keep an Eye on the Timer

It isn't all kicking tires in American Fugitive: there are a few other central gameplay elements on display in the game. One of the most interesting and probably most divisive is the way you break into and loot buildings. Before entering, you can peek in windows and see if anyone is home.

If you have found the keys, you can let yourself in and take all the time you need to collect valuables. Otherwise, you'll need to break a window, and that's when the timer starts counting down.

Entering a building will pull up a blueprint-like view of the building you're in, with an ever-present timer ticking down until the cops arrive. Each room will run a set amount of time off the clock, forcing you to prioritize and make some quick decisions to get as much loot as you can carry and get out before the police show up.

The system adds a good deal of intensity to your thievery, replacing what would probably be pretty boring if it stayed the same view and mechanics as the central gameplay. This tiny little twist encourages you to explore and take your time with certain elements of your crime spree and keeps American Fugitive from being too much of the same throughout its runtime.

Building A Better Speed Trap

Not every element of American Fugitive works as well as the driving and burglary sections, however. The shooting feels loose and imprecise: an early quest sees you in a showdown with several police officers and seems to encourage you to take some cover. A much more effective plan than ducking behind a building and taking potshots is to run out in the middle of six officers, blasting each from close range and absorbing the shots they fire at you.

In classic video game fashion, just drink a coffee and eat a granola bar afterward. Your health will be right back where it started, despite the multiple bullet wounds you sustained.

There's something about the controls when you're outside of a vehicle that just doesn't quite work. Will feels sluggish: his running animation is slow and his sprint meter runs out far too quickly. Shooting feels imprecise, so it's a good thing you get outfitted with a machine gun quickly — single shot rifles and pistols lead to frustration here.

Luckily, there are ways to increase your character's stats to help shore up some of those problem areas. However, it doesn't always work quite as planned.

Eat Your Vitamins

There are also some light RPG elements included in American Fugitive. As you complete certain missions and objectives, you earn skill points that can increase your abilities in various areas. You can pump extra points into your foot speed, the damage you or your vehicles take, and how quickly your health regenerates. As you put more points into certain areas, they will start to cost more and more to increase.

The unfortunate side of this progression system is how little it all seems to matter. It surely does your car taking 10% less damage will get you out of more scrapes than it won't. However, nearly every skill you earn is a passive increase to RNG, meaning the impact of these skills is rarely seen or felt.

American Fugitive isn't the type of game that should have massive amounts of abilities to trigger, but it would be nice if you could actually see the difference in how much damage you're doing or taking, rather than just blindly putting points into skills and hoping that it works out like you want.

On the Lam

  • Driving mechanics are well done
  • Burglary sections are an interesting break in gameplay
  • Big, open world with lots to do
  • Destructible environment looks great
  • Story makes zero sense
  • Shooting feels imprecise
  • Skill tree doesn't feel impactful

There is a lot to do in American Fugitive, and a lot of it works well. It hits that sweet spot where everything holds up whether you're out on missions or just driving around and exploring. You can definitely feel the game's limitations, but that doesn't feel like a problem many of them add to the charm that American Fugitive brings to the table.

You'll get your money's worth out of this one, and you'll have a good time doing it. Just make sure to cue up the Dukes of Hazzard theme song, you'll want it on hand for certain sections.

[Note: A copy of American Fugitive was provided by Curve Digital for the purpose of this review.]

Vambrace Cold Soul Review: What If Darkest Dungeon Was Harder And A JRPG? Mon, 27 May 2019 03:15:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

There was a time when I was ready to give Vambrace: Cold Soul a 1/10 rating, light my computer on fire in protest of ever having played it and then hunt down the developer's loved ones in truly brutal fashion like an Asian revenge flick.

Thankfully, that time has passed on by, and now I think I may actually be legally married to Vambrace in some states due to the number of hours we've spent together. She doesn't give it up easily that's for sure, and she definitely makes you work for it.

The Harder The Task, The Sweeter The Reward

Yours truly didn't get anything but the cold shoulder on the first date with Vambrace, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the *checks notes* what the hell the 25th?!?

Yes, it took me 19 hours. NINE. TEEN. HOURS. to beat the first expedition. 

But oh man, when it finally happened, when I beat that first boss and Vambrace gave me the wink and the "come hither" finger motion, it was all worth the frustrating wait.

I think we can all agree that heroin and meth are objectively bad for you, but once you've started it's not like you are going to be inclined to stop, and that can sum up my relationship with our cold mistress during those first 19 hours.

Imagine being thrown into a long quest in Darkest Dungeon on your first time playing the game, and having absolutely no idea what provisions to bring or how to interact with objects. That's what it's like on your first time with Vambrace: Cold Soul. You will scream, and cry, and throw things, and then head into another trek through the cold frozen wastes even though you know it's doomed ahead of time.

But oh man, when it finally happened, when I beat that first boss and Vambrace gave me the wink and the "come hither" finger motion, it was all worth the frustrating wait.

 Yes, we suffered for you. Worship and adoration are accepted.

Sadly, none of you reading this are ever going to experience the pain and pleasure of that first conquest the way we poor, abused advance reviewers did.

After a mountain of complaints from reviewers (not from me mind you, I was far too browbeaten by the mistress to ever question her ways) the developers decided to slightly tone down the difficulty on the first level for the launch version.

Even with the difficulty taken down a notch, you are still going to want to read our guide not dying for any hope of not smashing your laptop to bits after freezing to death for the 15th time.

Darkest Dungeon Gets A JRPG Makeover

 Chibi world map movement!

There's no question that Darkest Dungeon is the obvious starting point and strongest comparison to make in terms of overall game mechanics for Vambrace.

The combat is set up the same, with four positions to utilize and a variety of classes that are only able to attack specific positions on the enemy side. The similarities don't stop there, either.

Resources are scarce, healing is scarce, companions to recruit are randomized so your strategy will get kicked in the teeth before you even embark on an expedition, traps are prevalent and will screw you over without warning.

In some ways, Vambrace is actually harder, however.

 The combat routine will be familiar to DD veterans

The randomized recruitment board means one of your biggest challenges is juggling companions with a high Overwatch skill to raise your vigor and health while camping versus recruiting allies who can actually be useful in combat to survive a few rooms.

Since the shops are reliant on whatever has been scavenged from open areas of the city, which items are available to buy before a quest are also randomized. You might get lucky and have plenty of vigor restoration options and awesome relics available... or you might get nothing useful at all.

Whereas DD has the light meter that results in harder enemies when it gets snuffed out, here you're battling two dwindling resources: vigor and the dreaded geist meter.

Vigor makes sense in this game, as your party is traversing a frozen city filled to the brim with ice-themed undead. Entering any room drops vigor by 1, and if it hits 0, your companion (or main character) freezes to death.

 Didn't find a campsite in the randomized dungeons? Cool, you gonna die.

As with health, opportunities to raise vigor are few and far between, so simply moving between rooms becomes deadly. Even worse is the geist meter, which also ticks up by 1 for every room you enter. The longer you stay in an area, the more the souls of the damned are drawn to your party. Stay too long, and every single room becomes an extremely difficult combat encounter.

While all this sounds like a Darkest Dungeon reskin with an ice theme, Vambrace distinguishes itself in ways that will be very pleasing to fans of the SNES era. For one, there's actually a continuing story arc and a reason to travel into the various districts of the city.

More clear cut RPG elements and nods to classics of the genre are ever present, from privates named Biggs and Wedge, to an overland map style that is pulled straight from Chrono Trigger. There are also lines clearly meant to call back to famous characters like Locke and Magus from old Squaresoft titles.

 Lingerie. The most powerful weapon in the drow arsenal is lingerie.

While this game is bleak and hard, there's also some surprising humor the likes of which wouldn't be out of place in any given JRPG... like a quest to obtain the most powerful weapon owned by the drow matriarch. 

In case you're wondering, yes, you can wear this as an outfit while battling undead and plundering sections of the frozen city. We don't even need sexy mods for this game, because it came with its own!

Was It Worth It?

  I'm partial to the Wraith Veil outfit myself

So at this point, you might be wondering... why go through all that? Why get kicked in the genitals repeatedly by a stiletto-heeled JRPG protagonist cosplaying a Darkest Dungeon character?

Here's the thing... all of the main JRPG quest lines and world-building elements to suck you into the story take place AFTER that first devastatingly hard expedition. So yeah, this game makes you work for it, but there's a payoff.

Despite taking place in one main location, Vambrace is a surprisingly in-depth world that takes familiar ideas (cat folks, elves, dwarves) and presents them in a more unique setting.

All of these different factions are forced to live and work together in extremely close proximity, with revolutionaries plotting an uprising in the slums, dwarves who want to see the status quo maintained, mysterious assassin drow keeping their own counsel, and so on.

Once you finally get a hang of the exploration and combat, there's a lot more to this than just dying endlessly while trying to make it one room further than before.

From outfits to unlock, upgraded equipment to craft, factions to side with, different party combos to try out, and an endless string of lore books to uncover, Vambrace will hook you if you're willing to look beyond the initial difficulty. 

The Bottom Line

 ...I may have actually cried a little when I beat the first boss.

  • Gorgeous visuals in a mashup of RPG styles
  • Darkest Dungeon combat seen through a more traditional JRPG lens that becomes absolutely addicting
  • The world building is interesting and worth exploring even with the high difficulty
  • A word like "hard" or "difficult" doesn't even begin to cover it
  • Have you tried smashing your face in with a hammer a couple of dozen times? That's what the first mission is like.
  • The overly randomized nature of party lineup, item inventory, and dungeon rooms means sometimes you can't win no matter what you do

How best to describe the seductive allure of this punishing game? Vambrace: Cold Soul is an abusive girlfriend who got me hooked on crack, locked up my passport for "safekeeping," and now has me turning tricks on the street, but I still love her anyway.

I've literally found myself hand mapping out the number of rooms in each area to find the best way through and I can't think of a time that's happened since DOS was a thing.

If you like the idea of Darkest Dungeon's mechanics but want them transported into a unique JRPG setting, pick this one up as soon as possible... so long as you are ready to survive some serious abuse along the way.

[Note: A copy of Vambrace Cold Soul was provided by Headup Games for the purpose of this review.]

Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland Review — Cozy Crafting Sat, 25 May 2019 08:30:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Gust's Atelier series has been around for two decades now, with about one new game per year added to the series. This year received two new games, the underwhelming Atelier Nelke and the return of the Arland series, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland.

After so many years and games, the series is bound to be getting old, right? Why bother reviving the first modern Atelier cycle? Well, there's a pretty good reason.

Atelier Lulua might not be a huge leap forward for the series, but it combines the best elements from previous Atelier games to make this new entry a contender for best of the crop and an excellent starting point for newbies.

The Quest to Be the Best

Atelier Lulua's basic beats are closely similar to pretty much every other Atelier game since the PS2 days. The main character — Elmerulia Frixell, aka Lulua — is an apprentice alchemist who wants to improve her skills and takes on a variety of tasks to do so.

To get to that end point, the plot structure borrows some from the Arland and Dusk trilogies to make its own unique setup. Each chapter has its own focus, whether it's crafting a certain item, helping fend off monster invasions or — in a nice nod to the first Arland game — working yet again to keep the government from closing Rorona's atelier.

There are several sub-goals in every chapter as well, most of which revolve around finding new items and learning new recipes. These recipes typically unlock important items Lulua can use to further explore the world or gain new materials — or both.

Lulua gets important sub-quests in the Alchemyriddle, a special book that falls onto Lulua's head early in the game and acts as a sort of alchemy guide. There are some riddles, hence the name, with hints for places to go or items to collect, and upon fulfilling these requirements, Lulua can decipher the book's meaning and unlock a new recipe.

As the designation of "sub-goal" suggests, you don't have to complete these if you don't want to. It's a good idea, though, both to help raise your Alchemy Level and because the items are always useful.

Like the Dusk games, Lulua also has an overarching plot that isn't directly related to the main character's quest to become an alchemist. Alongside the mysterious ruins next to Lulua's hometown of Arklys that no one can figure out how to fully explore (but, as you'd expect, is very, very important), there's a strange bird connected to judgement and salvation that makes a recurring visit every time something important happens to Lulua.

Oh, and an equally strange child who knows way too much about said bird and doesn't act very childlike; as with many JRPGs, and anime in general, her special hair (mutli-color) gives you a good idea she's an important character from the get-go.

Familiar Faces

Lulua comes across a variety of characters in her journeys that help out in one form or another, either by joining her party or acting in a support role of some kind. A big draw for series fans is the return of many familiar characters from previous Arland games, including the three main alchemists — Rorona, Totori, and Meruru — along with several others, such as Piana from Totori, Keina from Meruru,and Sterk from Rorona.

A common issue in modern Atelier games is the lack of real character development or interesting characters in general; most fall easily into a well-established trope or five.

Lulua isn't much different in this regard. You've got the bubbly, determined girl (Lulua) the quiet one with hidden depths (Eva), the stern young swordsman (Aurel), and the experienced teacher (Piana), among many others.

Silly gags abound, the goddess-like tavern keeper binge eats when no one is looking, and of course, Lulua deals with insecurities arising from her youth and bumbling nature.

Eva's hidden depths take the form of this giant cannon

The issue is that many of these types are present in other Arland games as well. It's difficult to criticize too much, though. The writing is so earnest — if shallow and of dubious localization quality at times — and the characters fit their roles so well, everything ends up flowing naturally anyway.

Using well-worn tropes complement the series's appeal, as well as Lulua's. There's a definite sense that the games are meant as a kind of comfort food, and the predictable and recognizable fit perfectly with that.

That's not to say characters don't develop at all. The story takes some interesting twists later on, including certain characters' relationships to each other and the potential for future Arland games to continue building on some of the elements introduced in Lulua.

Important narration comes in the form of black and white flashback-type scenes where an older Lulua reflects on how certain events changed her or were significant, typically at the end of each chapter.

They offer a subtle, but interesting, bit of character development, which stands out since big changes don't often happen. Normally, almost every sentence Lulua utters ends in an exclamation point, but when looking back Lulua speaks in a calmer, more measured tone.

Goofy as the writing might be at many points, there's a level of self-aware humor that's difficult to resist.

For example, after the Alchemyriddle materializes from nowhere and hits Lulua on the head, she acknowledges it, but then runs off, ready for her next meal. Aurel later comments about how perhaps she should consider the merits of trusting a book only she can see that fell out of the sky.

These are just a few instances where the game is capable of recognizing its more outrageous points and joins in the fun of poking at them.

As is common with the series, Lulua includes several slice-of-life components, such as specific character events that unlock at a given point. Unlike previous entries, including Rorona, it's a lot easier to figure out when and where these are because the quick travel map adds a star mark to places with events.

Some characters don't make a return, like Astrid. Her snark and general presence might be easy to miss. However, it means the Arland games no longer have that slightly creepy element, making it easier to recommend on whole.

Take Your Time — Or Not

One other important thing to note is that while Lulua does include a calendar, it doesn't have hard time limits like the other Arland games. Fortunately, the overall structure helps Lulua overcome an issue that plagued some later games in the series that also did away with the time limit mechanic: The lack of anything to push you forward.

There's always something to do, whether you're trying to move the story forward, unlock new items, or are simply taking time to complete the never-ending barrage of sidequests available in each major location. It does mean the element of weighing decisions to find the best option for moving forward is gone, which might not please longtime fans.

However, it makes the game an excellent entry point for the series and helps make it a relaxing way to spend time overall. The inclusion of a more in-depth story, by series standards, helps make this one of the better Arland games as well, if you're looking for more of a traditional RPG.

Synthesize Me, Cap'n

The heart of most Atelier games is in the alchemy, and Lulua doesn't disappoint here. It eschews the placement-based mechanics of the Mysterious trilogy and goes back to the Arland roots by emphasizing item quality and characteristics instead.

The basics will be very familiar to anyone who played Rorona or the other Arland games, but Lulua does include some extra functions during synthesis.

Each item has an elemental quality, and pairing them up for the finished product or focusing on specific qualities potentially unlocks an extra, awakened quality for that item. These are in addition to any other included effects, like extra damage or causing a burn.

It's a system that seems shallow on the surface, but quickly becomes addictive. That's ultimately a bonus, because you'll be doing a lot of synthesis. The majority of sidequests involve creating a certain number or quality of items, main quests involve crafting items, progressing forward in general means you — surprise! — have to craft items.

Luckily, item gathering and synthesis form an incredibly addictive and satisfying gameplay loop.

There's no shortage of areas to gather items from in Atelier Lulua either. In fact, you can pretty much gather items anywhere; even towns have some spots Lulua can raid for synthesis materials. Synthesis requires a cauldron, though, so Lulua has to go back to her mobile atelier to make something, which is okay, given the initial cap on how many items fit in the basket.

Gathering can be as quick and focused as you want, or you can drag it out into a lengthy exploration journey searching for hidden treasures and monsters, so long as you've got room in said basket.

It's just another way the game lets you shape how you experience it, and the same goes for the actual synthesis.

Each item you craft has a specific type, and sometimes quality, requirement, but you're completely free to experiment with different quality levels and attributes to suit your needs — or just for the heck of it. Ultimately, there are countless ways to make the same item.

Fight! Well, If You Want...

Combat is equally customizable. Most Atelier games, with the exception of Iris and Escha & Logy, don't make combat a central feature outside of boss fights, monster hunting requests, and getting certain materials as item drops. Since the emphasis is always on crafting, monster fights are sort of just a necessary bump in the road, to be dealt with quickly so you can move on.

In other words, it's very easy. It's even easier once you get support members in your combat party, which happens very early. You can't control support members directly, but they have special skills that activate under certain conditions — for instance, using a specific combat member's skill attack. These support attacks add substantially to the damage dealt and make battles even easier.

It's a bit disappointing, actually. You end up with so many different skills and synthesized items you can use in battle that the lack of big challenge makes it seem a like a missed opportunity. Of course, this isn't unique to Lulua, but it would be nice to eventually make use of the combat variety outside of endgame and DLC maps.

Still, cranking the difficulty up does at least make fights last longer, and since characters' HP doesn't rise rapidly as they level up, extended fights wear your party down more.

A World Worth Exploring

Atelier Lulua might not take full advantage of the PS4's capabilities, but it's certainly a lovely looking game, arguably the best in the series so far. Each environment is vibrant and bursting with color, even more so than the Mysterious trilogy.

That's definitely a good thing, since you spend so much time in them gathering materials, and the simple, yet colorful designs fit with the overall gameplay style to make Lulua a pleasant change from other, more intense games (should you so desire such a change).

There's a surprising amount of detail for such simple environments too, so each feels completely distinct and actually invites exploration. It's a good step up from the open world experiments of some Mysterious games and the rather bland corridors from the earlier Arland games.

Lulua's soundtrack is similar to other Atelier games, but that's not a bad thing. It's full of bright and bubbly tracks to complement each area, and the Atelier Wagon theme is a fun one with some melodic and stylistic throwbacks to Rorona's atelier theme.

A huge portion of the game is fully voiced as well, though the voice track is Japanese only. The feat is impressive, since even shopkeepers' lines are voiced. However, your enjoyment of it depends on your tolerance for the distinctly Japanese style.

The consistently high vocal pitch and over-exaggeration isn't uncommon for anime and Japanese games in general, but it does get old quickly for many, this writer included.



  • Simple, yet addictive and expansive synthesis system
  • Highly customizable experience
  • Good use of returning characters to create a more interesting plot
  • Excellent chill-out game


  • Well-used tropes might not please everyone
  • Definite gap between combat options and difficulty
  • Ultimately doesn't innovate much

Game of the year material, Atelier Lulua is not. However, it does what it sets out to do very well, and criticizing a lack of innovation is difficult because of that. Hopefully, future Atelier games change things up even more, but either way, Atelier Lulua is easily the best Arland game and one of the better, if not best, Atelier experiences in general.

[Note: Koei Tecmo provided a copy of Atelier Lulua for the purposes of this review.]

Logitech G432 Review: Average Just Doesn't Cut It Fri, 24 May 2019 10:38:10 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Ask anyone that knows me, and they'll agree I typically recommend Logitech products. Whether it's gaming mice, keyboards, or headsets, I'm usually effervescent when talking about Logitech gear. Unfortunately, the company's new G432 gaming headset leaves me a little down in the dumps. 

An update to the years-old Logitech G430, the G432 has a lot of things going against it. Its ordinary nature is made more apparent in a space so saturated with other similar headsets. At $79.99, the G432 is already on the high end for most gamers. Considering this is a "mid-tier" headset, there's a lot to be desired in the final product.

In some ways, it feels like a budget set at a mid-tier price. Being compatible with PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices doesn't vault it over the competition either. 

Logitech G432 Gaming Headset front view earcups flat


Despite my misgivings, the G432 actually looks pretty great. The design is somewhat outdated, and some have faulted it for that. However, the color scheme, flourishes, and logos compliment each other well, and I don't see too much to complain about in that regard. 

Aside from the yoke, the body of the headset is made entirely of plastic, which feels sturdy and survived a few significant drops between home and office. Both earcups swivel inward and rotate to rest on your chest when not in use. On the left side, you'll find the bendable 6mm mic, the volume wheel, and the headset's cord (no wireless option here). 

The mic flips down for use and, of course, flips back up to mute. As expected, it's flexible and allows you to move it closer to your mouth for improved use. Since the mic doesn't rest inside the headset, it can be somewhat disagreeable when laying the earcups on your chest. For me, that meant it uncomfortably pushed into my neck on the left side, right up against the good ol' jugular, which wasn't entirely comfortable. 

The volume wheel on the back of the left earcup does feel tighter than the wheel found on the G935. It's also easier to find and doesn't thump inside the earcup when turned. 

The earcups themselves feature leatherette padding and are adequately comfortable. The leatherette can become somewhat warm during use, but that's the nature of leatherette and something you would expect from the design. My primary gripe about the earcups is that they can feel uneven along the jaw if the G432 isn't on just right. It can lead to feeling as if there's a gap at the front of the earcup even if there's not. 

Finally, the headband also features leatherette padding. While comfortable for an hour or two, the headband can exert pressure on the top of the head during extended use. 


As expected, the G432 doesn't have a ton of bells and whistles. You've got the aforementioned flip-down mic, 50mm drivers, and DTS Headphone: X 2.0. It is, as expected, compatible with the latest G Hub software, too. There's no RGB, and there aren't any spiffy "G" keys to be had. 

We'll talk more about the headset's mic, drivers, and DTS capability in the section below. Here, however, let's talk about what you can do in G Hub, which isn't a whole lot. 

First of all, you can only use G Hub on PC. It doesn't work on consoles or mobile devices. Second of all, you can only use G Hub on PC with the headset's USB connection. The G432 also comes with a Y-splitter, which hooks into the audio ports on your PC. However, that won't give you access to G Hub and the headset's best sounds. 

Once in G Hub by proxy of the USB DAC, you can tweak the G432's audio settings through the equalizer. You can also activate surround sound here, too. And... that's about it. 

G Hub is still a fantastic piece of software, but there's not much to drone on about I haven't said in my other Logitech headset reviews.  


This is where the G432s really let me down. The sound is better than the G430. However, it's not difficult to outperform a six-year-old headset with newer technology. 

In-game, the G432s provide various middling results. Although there are multiple ways to connect the headset to your devices, some are certainly better than others. Unfortunately, none are outstanding.

Hooking the G432s to a DualShock 4 via the provided 3.5mm jack means getting raw, unequalized sound. In games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on the PS4, sounds are adequate but uninspiring. Sword slashes are dull, while musket shots are hollow. Directional audio stands out in testing for Sekiro but is more of a pan effect from right to left, not a specific, discernible location. 

Things aren't considerably better when playing DOOM. The id Software logo sequence on the game's splash screen features some small bits of distortion in its louder sections. Guns also feel flat and offer little punch. However, glory kills are nice and crunchy.

In games like Sniper Elite V2 Remastered and Battlefield 5 on the PC, using the Y-splitter makes for an uncomfortable experience at best. Sniper V2's rifle shots crack with piercing treble. Explosions ring empty and subdued. Much of the same can be said for Battlefield 5, where pistol shots and shotgun blasts ring out in uncomfortable tinniness. 

Connecting the G432s to a PC via the provided DAC does make things more palatable. Being able to equalize levels, tweak audio profiles, and enable surround sound adds more depth to the headset's 50mm drivers. Here, directional audio is a highlight, though it's best without surround sound enabled. 

Music is best listened to through the DAC. The same can be said of watching movies.

Using the Y-splitter often results in muddied tones. Listening to bands such as Architects and While She Sleeps without the DAC isn't particularly enjoyable as guitars and higher-end vocals quickly blend together. Tweaking settings through G Hub helps to better separate tones, but it's average at best. 

For less aggressive music, the DAC still provides a superior listening experience. City and Colour's Little Hell rings with a certain vibrancy, while  Dire Strait's Brothers in Arms is able to separate instruments but loses some of its bassier punch. 

Watching John Wick or Mission Impossible: Fallout is best done with surround sound, which provides the most vibrant experience. For a headset in its price-range, the G432 doesn't do too bad of a job here, and DTS Headphone: X 2.0 proves its power. 

Finally, the mic on mobile (a Google Pixel 2) leaves something to be desired as well. Speaking to a colleague, she said I sounded like I was on speaker-phone on the other side of the room. But I was right next to the mic. She said she could hear everyone in the immediate vicinity as well. But those people were having normal conversations about 20 feet away. 

That somewhat changed on PC, though. Speaking on Discord, she said some peripheral sound bled through, but the mic sounded decidedly clearer and "less echoey" on PC. 

  • DTS Headphone: X 2.0 provides solid surround sound
  • Adjustable levels via software allow for audio customization
  • Compatible with PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, and mobile
  • Average to subpar sound quality fluctuates by device and input
  • Uncomfortable for long sessions, and when not in use
  • Mic quality less than stellar on mobile

As much as it pains me to say, Logitech's G432 gaming headset isn't super great. Although it's one of Logitech's higher-priced mid-tier sets, it feels like one that's half the price.  

Almost everything works better using the provided DAC. Even then, the headset's performance is average at best. The problem is, the DAC only works for PC, meaning console players can't take advantage of the headset's most powerful offering. 

I can't help but notice Logitech's own G Pro sounds a touch better than the G432s from stem to stern. It doesn't provide surround sound, but it does provide better overall sound quality in my testing. 

For some, the G432s might be worth considering. There's just a lot holding them back.

[Note: A G432 review unit was provided by Logitech for the purpose of this review.]

Layers of Fear 2 Review: Stunning Scenery But Seldomly Scary Fri, 24 May 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Like its predecessor, Layers of Fear 2 delivers an unforgettable audiovisual experience, but it's similarly lacking in genuine scares. Due to the game's claustrophobic, nearly on-rails level design, rarely is there a sense of actual danger.

This ends up really hurting Layers of Fear 2 as a true horror title, though it does leave it as a memorably dark and psychedelic story worth unraveling.

Find Yourself

Whereas the original Layers of Fear focused on an artist exploring an ever-shifting mansion, Bloober Team's sequel puts players aboard a huge cruise liner where they play the role of an unknown actor. The disembodied voice of Tony Todd of Candyman fame serves as the untrustworthy narrator in your head as players are left to solve puzzles and fall deeper into one of gaming's most gloriously twisted rabbit holes, all the while seeking to "build the character."

The visuals are unceasingly stunning as the game toys with your perception of reality in more ways than the already bizarre original did. Back in the developer's repertoire is a clever use of hallways that change when you look away, but this time their tricks go well beyond that to include other mind-bending effects like regularly rinsing the world of all colors, distorting your view to look like you're living in an old film, flipping your world completely upside-down, and using some supremely effective color palettes that make every room, every hallway, and every scene feel unique.

The audio complements the game's stunning visual style thanks to Bloober Team's spatial, binaural audio that puts players directly in the room (seriously, use headphones). Combined, the audiovisual experience in Layers of Fear 2 is nearly in a league of its own. I took more screenshots with this game than any other during a review period. There were simply so many sights and sounds worth stopping and appreciating. The art department deserves the highest praise.

All Flair, No Fear

All of this high praise makes Layers of Fear 2 a marvelously designed game in some respects, but it fails to make it a scary one. Whereas the first game was more like a horror museum, leaving players safe virtually from start to finish, Layers of Fear 2 plays more like a haunted house attraction one may find around Halloween season. It can be spooky, but it fails to ever immerse players enough to get them to forget the "rules" of engagement. They can't touch you, it's all staged. You're going to be fine.

Layers of Fear 2 is sadly just like that. Even as this time around several fail states can be attained and there are many chase sequences, the game has a way of telegraphing precisely where you need to go to a fault. Whereas the environments can regularly be so disorienting, the game somehow abandons that sense when the pressure is really on and you're being pursued by a shapeless monster. Horror thrives on vulnerability, and Layers of Fear 2 never allows players to feel vulnerable. 

A World Like No Other

The other major tentpole of the game is its puzzles. As this is more horror-adventure than survival-horror, the designers would be remiss not to slow players down with countless brainteasers. For the same reasons the horror moments fall flat, the puzzles actually succeed greatly. You'll always know you're in the right area to solve a puzzle, which eliminates aimless wandering and keeps the pacing perfectly in order.

The puzzles can range from things like finding a lock code to imitating shadows on the wall and much more. They hardly ever repeat, and like the environments, when they are reused, they're presented so differently that they may as well be something new. They're explained just enough to a keen eye without ever feeling too easy or too difficult. It’s detail-oriented and built to support the game's often quite meta theme of the price of creation.

Still Worth Its Admission Price

There's still an audience for Layers of Fear 2 despite its scare factor shortcomings because of not just the aforementioned stellar sound and visuals and enjoyable puzzles, but also the story.

Again, like its predecessor, Layers of Fear 2 happily obfuscates what exactly is going on up to, and even in some respects, past the end credits. Mired in metaphor, shrouded in symbolism, Layers of Fear 2 goes for a sort of high concept art derangement and once again nails it, even more so than its predecessor, in fact. 

How much you understand the deliberately vague story will largely depend on how much you involve yourself in the game's many collectible pick-ups which flesh out the world that existed before your arrival. There are also many homages to past film icons, so even while it's not so scary itself, Layers of Fear 2 does proudly stand on the shoulders of giants such as Nosferatu, The Shining, and even The Wizard of Oz. The story cleverly ties in these subtler nods so they never feel invasive and actually feel like relevant supplementary material. 

No horror game is quite like this one, and while it's sadly underwhelming as a scare tool, it is salvaged by its use of horror concepts and imagery to tell a terrific human story.

  • Superb audio and visual design
  • Puzzles that feel challenging, but never obtuse
  • A story worth decoding which spills out in metaphor 
  • Scares fall flat by feeling too scripted

In the end, Layers of Fear 2 improves on the original in every way, even including its scare factor. But better doesn't always mean good. The scripted claustrophobic scenes of the game make for an awesomely immersive experience — until you have to run from the monster and the game turns to a simple bout of trial-and-error.

Layers of Fear 2 uses horror imagery and themes to tell a story that feels horror-adjacent but is ultimately more concerned, for better or worse, with telling a metaphor-heavy story about creation and destruction. It's gorgeous and memorable in several ways, but fails to elicit more than a single actual layer of fear.

[Note: A copy of Layers of Fear 2 was provided by Bloober Team for the purpose of this review.]

Pathologic 2 Review — A Bleak Game For Bleak Times Thu, 23 May 2019 03:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

Crowdfunding has seen the resurgence of many classic series, from The Bard's Tale and Wasteland to tiny niche excursions like the 2005 psychological horror title Pathologic.

A complete re-imagining of the original entry with modern graphics, Pathologic 2 is about to hit the gamingverse like an atomic bomb. It's destined for controversy as players debate what actually constitutes a "game" versus an artistic experience or social statement and just how unpleasant a game can be before it stops being a game.

There are some superficial similarities in overall gameplay to something like We Happy Few, where you are in a sandbox FPS/horror hybrid trying to solve problems, but make no mistake, what's in store for you here is significantly more messed up in every conceivable way.

For starters, Pathologic 2 teaches you how to use the trading system by having you reach into your chest and pull out your rotting heart to swap it for a healthy one -- after you've beaten a guy into submission to prove you deserve it.

Needless to say, this will be an acquired taste for a niche crowd, and its clear the developers see Pathologic 2 as more as a form of art than a diversion for turning your brain off and gunning down some enemies after work. 

Relentlessly Bleak And Actively Unpleasant

 This isn't Bethesda; you better believe you can kill and rob kids.

Even for people who are going to love the aesthetic and atmosphere, this is a game that's incredibly hard to rate, because while the end product is polished and engaging, it's not particularly enjoyable and that's on purpose. 

This third of the game (and more on that debacle below) has you playing a surgeon arriving back home after a receiving a letter from your father and finding you have 12 days to resolve a plague.

Pathologic 2's story isn't horror in the sense that some demonic creature is stalking you through the halls of an asylum or zombies are chasing you through a mansion. Instead, this is more "true" horror based on the uncaring ravages of disease, fear of the unknown, and a growing sense of the awful things people will do to one another when everyday life gets thrown in disarray.

The story and gameplay are bleak to the point of no longer being entertainment in any sense of the word.

To be clear, I'm not opposed to relentlessly bleak storytelling I authored a black as death grimdark novel myself but combined with the unforgiving survival mechanics, the extremely avant-garde take on storytelling, and the number of hours you'll be investing, this is a game that's hard to play for long stretches. 

That overarching purpose of why you are in the town frequently has no connection to what you are actually doing on any given day. The game's opening half hour is just a straight up fever dream that's meant to be disorienting and leave you with no clue of what is going on.

Things become (slightly) more coherent when you actually enter the city and start the 12-day countdown, but don't expect nearly anything to make literal sense or have a clear cut explanation.

 This is fine, there's nothing out of the ordinary going on here.

Narrative incoherence aside, this is a game that is openly hostile towards you in multiple ways. And by "you," I often literally mean you, not the main character.

A segment during the insane opening vignette really drives that point home as you loot drawers to find items for trading or healing wounds. The more containers you open, the more a series of disconnected voices laugh at you, getting increasingly more raucous as you take items that you're coming to understand won't be in your inventory when the dream ends.

Open mockery is only the beginning of the ordeal you're in for, however, as Pathologic 2 is filled with tough choices meant to test your moral integrity, both in terms of the overall story and even just in the general gameplay.

Some events only take place at night for instance and you'll want to keep working through the night hours to save this city from doom but going out at night is a uniformly terrible idea, since you'll lose out on dreams, be more exhausted, and almost certainly get attacked by raving lunatics.

Even going out in the day as the plague drags on becomes increasingly more of a dangerous proposition, and there comes a point where you ask yourself is crossing this district going to be worth the food and healing items I'll have to use on myself if I can't even help anyone on the other side when I get there?

Having those sort of quandaries baked into the gameplay reinforces the actual story-based decisions as the situation becomes more desperate.

The game opens with the Haruspex having to kill three men in self-defense. Before long you'll have to start asking yourself if killing people for food counts as "self-defense," or if killing people to study their organs and prevent thousands of deaths via plague can be justified in the same way.

Upgrades From The Original

 If they'd called it "The Liver" it would have been much more accurate!

For those who played the original entry, the broad strokes are still the same. Many of the same characters, locations, and plot points are present. Some elements are actually given to you more early on to drive the key points home in your brain.

There are big improvements from the original on the graphics front, however, and much better mechanics coupled with major quality of life improvements utilizing modern UI elements that gamers have come to expect in 2019.

Not everything got an upgrade, though. Manual saving at specific locations is going to tick off people who didn't play the first one and aren't expecting that throwback to an earlier era of gaming.

Some features have been made slightly easier based off fan feedback from the alpha test, but make no mistake you're still in a major fight for your life on all fronts at all times, whether that's from starvation, disease, or an actual knife fight.

 You can't jump up on these rocks and drop down to the area below.

Other than the manual saving, the only real problem with this updated version of the game is that its much less of a "sandbox" experience than the developers have implied. Tiny rocks or knee-high level walls block your path, and districts are heavily segmented from one another.

While the environment is a fairly large city with lots of places to explore and different events occurring at various times and dates, calling it "open world" might be a bit of a stretch. Much of the environment will be closed off at any given point, either because the locals hate you and won't let you in, or because whole districts are too dangerous to traverse on later days.

That being said, Pathologic 2 does an incredible job of creating an unpleasantly organic feel in the town, from the area names to the way the streets and thoroughfares are setup like uncomfortably tight veins pumping you from this section to that section.

Those visuals are propelled by a soundtrack that is absolutely spot on, offering a very weird and uncomfortable soundscape as you explore the city.

So, What The Hell Is Actually Going On In This Story?

 An herb wife making out with a bull skull is just par for the course in this game.

While helping a gang of kids or trying to find people to clear your name for murder, you will come across just flat out insane events and characters.

Giant bulls, women made of clay who may or may not be responsible for murders, a groaning and angry earth, children with no parents who wear dog masks and speak more cryptically than Bran from Game Of Thrones... this is a bizarre acid trip of a game that is open to interpretation.

Even the name Pathologic is clearly meant to be interpreted in different ways, both directly in terms of the physical virus, and indirectly in terms of a mental condition.

So what's actually happening here, and what is the main character doing during the course of these 12 days? I don't think there's meant to be one definitive answer, but here are some best guesses without spoiling too much of the story:

  • It could all be a stage play taking place in the protagonist's fevered mind, and that's a theory propelled by constant theatrical references all across the game.
  • It's also possible the game itself is a statement directly to you the audience, with the bird-headed executors routinely breaking the fourth wall and talking to the player.
  • Conversely, the constant meat, blood, and animal references could mean this is all an allegory for a dying earth and an even sicker humanity.
  • There could be something more esoteric and occult going on and all the Russian folklore elements are meant to be taken more literally.

 Is it all a play going on in your head? Who knows?

I bring up these possibilities because it's important to know ahead of time that you aren't destined to get a satisfying, conclusive answer to anything here.

Honestly, I find it unlikely that even the developers could give anyone a straight answer and explain in sane terms "This is definitively what is actually happening in the game."

I mean sure, there are plenty of people who have come up with theories as to just what in the hell was going on in Eraserhead or Black Swan, but those are just people vainly grasping for meaning in a sea of the bizarre and the meaningless.

The Bottom Line... And A Question Mark On The Ending

  • The atmosphere, visuals, and soundtrack are something you won't find in any other game
  • Moral quandaries here have significantly more impact than in most games
  • The upgrades from the original title are well worth it for existing fans
  • Story and dialog are incoherent to a wild degree
  • Feeling suicidal lately? For the love of everything, don't play this game
  • You only get a third of the experience... and the other parts may never arrive

Here's the thing: if you want a straightforward game with a coherent narrative that goes from A -> B -> C, this isn't for you. If you want a jump scare-laden defenseless horror game, this is also isn't for you. If you want a full open world experience where you can do whatever you want without restriction or timelines, again, this game isn't for you.

On the other hand, if you're willing to try something different and see how gaming can be its own art form just as compelling as film or literature, Pathologic 2 may be worth your time, so long as you can deal with constantly being emotionally drained.

Frankly, anyone suffering from depression, mental illness, or with a history of drug abuse probably shouldn't play this game at all.

There's one other nagging issue here that has to be brought up as well, and that's the big old question mark on how the other two-thirds of the game will arrive.

Wait, what's that you say? The game is missing a full two thirds?!?

Yep, the Haruspex is only one of three characters from the first game. Those other two characters which haven't been implemented yet are necessary to absorb the whole narrative, because you're only seeing the events unfold from one point of view. That limited one character viewpoint makes an already bizarre and non-traditional game basically incomprehensible.

Here's the kicker: the developers haven't decided yet how or when the other two chapters will arrive. We do know that backers of the Kickstarter campaign get them for free. Everyone else may have to buy them as DLC. It's entirely unclear,  and they may never show up at all if Pathologic 2 doesn't sell well.

So here I'm left in an uncomfortable position (which the developers would probably love). This game flat out isn't enjoyable, and it's hard to recommend a game that has a very real possibility of never actually being finished. Even worse, if the other two chapters do arrive, I'm not sure I'd want to return to this awful bleak wasteland and endure the experience again two more times.

Is Pathologic 2 a triumph of artistic expression showcasing how games don't have to follow a formula and can more than you expect? Unquestionably, yes! Do I ever want to load it up again, though? Hell no.

[Note: A copy of Pathologic 2 was provided by tinyBuild Games for the purpose of this review.]

Observation Review: A Good Space Walk Spoiled Wed, 22 May 2019 15:27:14 -0400 RobertPIngram

It's not hard to see the appeal of Observation and get lured in by the promise of its premise. It's an eerie space thriller which turns the traditional trope of an evil AI on its head. You're not running from the AI. Instead, you are SAM, the AI, and you want to help the human who now finds herself adrift in a badly-damaged space station.

Throw in a slick teaser trailer and bring on a well-respected publisher of indie games with a flair for the dramatic and there is a lot to look forward to in Observation.

Now that the game is here, however, does it live up to the possibility it promised?

There is a whole lot to like about what Observation brings to the table. Without diving too far into spoilers, it doesn't take long to notice there is more at play than meets the eye, and the heroine, Emma, may not be able to trust the AI you're playing as.

Because of corrupted data, even you aren't entirely sure why you are doing what you are doing, or how Emma came to be an (apparent) lone survivor.

The game's presentation is excellent. In a style akin to Five Nights at Freddy's, a majority of the game's interactive elements come from switching between and manipulating cameras scattered around the station.

The cameras serve as SAM's eyes, but also to an extent, the AI's hands as well. New data and functionalities are unlocked by locating technology on a camera and reestablishing a link with SAM's mainframe.

After a while, you also unlock a self-propelling sphere which allows SAM to send a functional camera around the station free from the tyranny of fixed positions. Overall, it strikes a nice balance between providing fulfilling gameplay while still using limitations to increase tensions.

Unfortunately, not everything about Observation is so masterfully executed. For every great element or feature which does everything it can to pull you in, there's something else waiting just around the corner to bring you nothing but irritation.

To misquote Sir Mix-a-Lot, I have big buts, and I can not lie.

There's a Great Story Waiting to Be Told

While the overall experience of Observation is often one of frustration, it's not for want of positive attributes. If anything, the signs of a truly great game lurking within only make it more of a bother when things don't come off right. That's because when things are going right, they are going very, very right.

The Station Is Everything You Want in a Space Thriller

When setting the right mood for a game, it helps to start with a backdrop which is well-executed. Observation delivers and then some. The space station's interiors are just cramped enough  and the lighting just insufficient in the right spaces  to make you feel like you're really onboard a failing station.

This is amplified when you gain access to the sphere and can begin moving throughout the tight passageways, and even more so when you get a chance to leave the station to see it floating in orbit.

The Story Telling is On Point

As the plot of Observation begins to unfold before you, it's quickly apparent that a great deal of care went into creating Observation's story. As more twists and turns unfurl, there is nothing more you'll want than to keep progressing forward to see what's waiting around the next corner.

It's easy to get lost in Observation and talk yourself into going just a bit further to see the next piece of the plot.


Progression Feels Like a Chore

For as much as the game makes you want to keep going, too often that is easier said than done.

There is nothing wrong with a game being "difficult." Some of the most popular modern titles rely on steep learning curves and the satisfaction which comes from finally slaying that one big bad that's been haunting you for an hour.

Unfortunately, struggles in Observation rarely feel like the game is laying out a difficult task. Instead, my experience involved several periods of aimlessly hopping from camera to camera, or floating around the ship, in search of a vaguely explained goal.

The Controls Are the Real Disaster

Emma should pity you. Sure, she's the one who finds herself living an astronaut's nightmare but at least she's not the one trying to control things onboard the station. My frustrations with Observation first showed up before I even started playing the game.

The first time I loaded the game up it hijacked my cursor, instantly moving it back to dead center with every new frame. Even alt-tabbing out of the game or force-closing the game couldn't help. I ultimately had to perform a hard restart of my entire computer to break the cycle.

When I booted it back up again, I had control of my cursor, which turned out to be only a minor improvement. The sensitivity was so high that the lightest touch of my mouse or thumbstick sent the cursor flying across half the screen.

When I finally managed to corral it enough times to access the sensitivity controls, it became apparent there were only two options: settle on it being so insensitive it barely moved or settling one notch above, where it was too fast about half the time.

I opted for the latter, but it was still far from ideal. Regularly, I would watch my cursor bounce from below a response button to above it with a minor touch. I was forced to rely on 45-degree angles to keep the pointer from endlessly sliding over the entire selection. 

The control issues continued when I unlocked the self-propelling unit. When it was working, the unit provided an immersive experience as I drifted through the different pods. When it wasn't working, the pod was a nausea-inducing nightmare where overly drifty controls led to bumpy rides aplenty.

Confusion Abounds if You Go Off the Rails

You are often given a strong indicator of where to go when Emma assigns you a new task. As long as you catch the initial indicator and follow it, things can go relatively swimmingly. The problem comes if you make a mistake and miss a step.

Although there is an option to ask Emma what your current task is, her responses only provide a surface-level explanation, and the next step to accomplish that goal isn't always clear.

In one particularly frustrating instance  during my first foray outside of the station  I was tasked with finding a particular pod and repairing its clamps. After leaving the ship for the first time, I took a moment to look around at the truly beautifully designed scene in front of me.

Whether or not I was originally pointing at the right pod before taking in the sights or if I was always doomed to wander I'm not sure. Regardless, the end result was Emma insisting I get to Pod 3 while I looked at the ship with no exterior map to guide me.

Combined with the game's iffy handling, it led to a momentum-killing slog of looking for numbers and trying to follow them to Pod 3. It was exacerbated by piloting a sphere which took my commands as suggestions more than orders. The excitement of my first "space walk" instantly became a source of frustration.

Sometimes More Isn't Better

Minigames abound around the station. From overriding hatch commands to securing the clamps holding different sections together, there are many different prompts and games to follow.

But just how many engaging minigames can you create while still trying to have them feel real within a space station setting?

Fewer than the designers tried to, apparently. Although there are occasional exceptions, Observation's challenges generally fall flat. The problem is only compounded by sketchy controls and often vague — or entirely absent explanations of what you're expected to do.

Converting some of the challenges to simple button presses may have provided "less" gameplay, but it would have provided more enjoyment. 

Too Many Bugs Spoil the Fun

Finally, my experience with Observation felt more like a look at a beta version than a game about to hit full release. In addition to the issues with the center-locked cursor, which occurred twice, I also repeatedly encountered troubles with the rumble feature when using a controller.

Once an event triggered a rumble it wouldn't stop until the controller was unplugged, or I paused the game.

At one point, I located an important piece of technology and added it to SAM's database before I was prompted to do so. When the prompt came, I simply progressed through it to the next segment. It was through the door I had already opened.

Only the message telling me to use the schematic refused to go away. It obscured other important elements until I finally went back into the station and performed a totally useless action on the already-open door.

The Final Frontier

  • The station is beautifully realized
  • Excellent use of lighting and sound builds suspense
  • An engaging story draws you in and keeps you playing
  • Wonky controls make it difficult to navigate
  • Unclear directives can result in wasteful wandering
  • Quantity over quality approach to minigames yields mixed results

Observation is one of the most disappointing games I have played in recent years. It's not just because of the game's failings, but also because of what it does so well.

Playing Observation, I can't help feeling like the game could have been truly fantastic with just a bit more mechanical fine-tuning. Trimming some of the game's more superfluous elements would have helped, too.

While other players may get more mileage out of Observation, particularly players who manage to stay on rails at a higher rate, the risk of hopelessly seeking out the next step remains for any player who misses a step. If you can weather the game's shortcomings to see its plot, there's fun to be had, but that remains a very big if.

[Note: A copy of Observation was provided by Devolver Digital for the purpose of this review.]

Rage 2 Review: A Splattering of Neon in a Bland World Tue, 21 May 2019 13:05:01 -0400 John Schutt

Rage 2 wants to be many things. A living, vibrant open world. A parody of the many FPS cliches we've all come to take for granted. A narrative experience that hooks the player and never lets go. Perhaps most of all, it wants to be 2016's DOOM reboot with all those other things as a part of the package.

Unfortunately, it fails on every count. Its open world is desolate, uninteresting, and bland. In its attempts to be a parody, it goes too far and only ends up parodying itself. The story is underwhelming.

And it will never be DOOM

In short, while the game isn't horrible, it isn't good either, and it reaches much higher than it's capable of jumping. Let's look at why.

Rage 2 is a Shooter

A competent one. Sometimes even a great one. Or I should say, the shooting is extremely fun. Like DOOM, the rush of mowing down hordes of enemies using your ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities never gets old. 

First of all, guns are incredibly satisfying to use. The shotgun has plenty of the meaty crunch you want from a boomstick, and the alternate fire mode turns it into a short-range sniper rifle. I'll admit, I was surprised by how much fun I had picking apart trash mobs with a railgun-fired slug. 

The bigger, badder weapons like launchers and rockets create the kinds of explosions they should, too, and the splat of bone and flesh as bodies fly apart is precisely as it needs to be.

Avalanche Studios also added additional movement options even DOOM doesn't have, including a side dash and a lunge. The overall flow of combat is plenty satisfying without these abilities, but as with the shotgun, I can't say double jumping over a rock, dashing toward an enemy before knocking them flat against a wall isn't some of the most fun I've had with a shooter in a while.

While I'd like to say that there's a ton more to dig into when it comes to the chaos of combat in Rage 2, it just isn't true. While in DOOM and other twitch shooter campaigns the AI forces you to think and rethink your strategy — even if you're going through the same encounter multiple times — in Rage 2, the enemies aren't designed with intelligence in mind.

First of all, they don't move much, content as they are to stand and lob endless grenades your way. Many of your foes are slow even when they do move, and though they're laser-accurate with their shots, lining up a kill shot is almost trivial 99% of the time.

Even in a game like The Division 2, where the shooting is functional at best, you have to stay on your toes, and no two fights are ever the same. You can expect your enemies to flank you, use the environment in different ways, and generally be a nuisance whenever possible.

However, in Rage 2, even bosses don't do much more than stare and beg to be killed. To compensate, even on lower difficulties, it feels like enemy weaponry does an enormous amount of damage. Though you're encouraged to take the fight to your foes, there's little incentive to do so.

And enemy variety needs work, too. Though there are different-looking mobs scattered across the game, they all boil down to just a few basic types. Even when you're fighting a new faction, because enemies are so generic, you might as well be shooting the same things endlessly.

And all that's a shame because some of the arenas where you fight are interesting and create opportunities for emergent gameplay. If the enemy AI made better use of the space or force the player to adapt from moment to moment, there'd be something more here to enjoy.

As it stands, all Rage 2 offers is id Software's patented, quality shooting and traversal mechanics with nothing to test them against. 

Sadly, it only goes downhill from here.

Rage 2 Has a Story

One could be forgiven for thinking Rage 2's story would be worth the time investment the game demands, but it sadly is not. This game's story is predictable, averagely written, and tremendously overwrought.  

I mentioned above that Rage 2 wants to parody many of the tropes that define a AAA shooter in today's market. From the main character as the chosen instigator of all plot to the rampant machismo and badassery, it's all here, dialed up to 11. 

The trouble is, the developers saw 11 and didn't think it was enough, breaking off the dial and considering that fact a job well done.

In Rage 2, you are Walker (no first name given), a regular soldier in training to be more. After deciding on the gender for your character, you are thrust into an attack by The Authority, a race of superhumans and mutant beasts hellbent on wiping regular humans from the planet and starting over.

Over the next few minutes, you gain the Ranger suit — which, coincidentally, also makes you superhuman — and proceed to flow through a series of action movie cliches. Once the introductory sequence is over, you're tasked by your best friend and adoptive sister to use your badass-ness to rid the Wasteland of The Authority once and for all. 

At this point, as with all open-world titles, you are free to pursue the main story at your leisure, though not without the occasional radio call reminding you that you should totally be over there doing the story thing we talked about

And while the story is undoubtedly weird, like so many shooters — most of them really — your job is to go to a place, shoot the people, watch a cutscene or listen to someone talk — usually both. 

The difference here is in the writing. Where in a more competently crafted game the player would find somewhere to identify with the characters they interact with, in Rage 2, the important people are cardboard cutouts from the stock character book.

The old soldier is precisely that, as is the mad scientist and the slimy tycoon, and even the Evil Overlord is exactly what it says on the box. Everyone's defining feature in Rage 2 is that they aren't people: they are plot devices. They are a means by which the plot moves forward.

And I could forgive even that if the game wasn't trying so freaking hard. I don't come into a game like Rage 2 expecting the next Shadow of the Colossus or Bioshock. I want an amusing, well-constructed but fairly standard story that still manages a twist or two to keep me hooked.

Ultimately, the best counterpoint I can think of to Rage 2 is Spec Ops: The Line. I entered both games completely blind, but with the expectations I laid out above. Both of them began how I expected: predictable, slightly humorous, straightforward.

Then one of them went off the rails, forcing me to rethink everything I thought I knew about military shooters, and in some ways game narrative as a whole. The fact the story was an incredibly well-realized Heart of Darkness retelling helped as well.

The other one rarely deviated from what I thought it would be, and at times made mistakes I thought were too obvious to ever make again. For instance, calling your game world "neon-soaked" and then make it mostly empty, brown nothing is a good way to make me rather cross.

Rage 2 Has a World

On that note, I was hoping a series with nine years between entries — and from the creators of Just Cause — would have more to offer in its now completely open-world. I'm sad to say, as with most things Rage 2, it doesn't.

The game's map is frighteningly small, especially for a title with fast-moving vehicles. The various locations littered across the world are equally underwhelming. I found bandit camps, roadblocks, and dilapidated cities so generic and lifeless that I wasn't sure what purpose they served, and the occasional lonely boss mob just waiting to die.

If Rage 2's world is meant to be depressing and decrepit, it succeeds on both counts, but for all the wrong reasons. It is depressing in its emptiness, and it is decrepit in the sheer lack of love given to almost any of its details.

And even if the main cities are meant to be the last bastions of humanity in a world that's all but left us behind, I would be lying if I said they shouldn't be metropolises reaching for the heavens — because there is no threat to them

The "goon squad," the game's name for the clown-faced bandits littering the map, are almost nowhere to be found outside of their camps and roadblocks. Occasionally, they'll drive by in a small group or pop up randomly on the side of the road, but they fail to be more than a blip on the radar.

We're meant to believe this group is the cause of many of the world's problems, with The Authority just being one more weight on the pile. But even that group, more powerful and equipped as they are, never shows up to cause more than a single battle far outside the city walls. 

Perhaps most disappointing of all are the ArksRage 2's lore, which it goes to great lengths to explain in text windows and exposition, states that the Arks are meant to breathe life back into the world, and each of them is filled with the technology of humanity before the fall. Vast troves of advanced weaponry and sciences lost to time and the environment. These are the tools of gods, and only you, the Chosen Hero, can access their full might.

The Arks are single-use character upgrades and nothing more. You walk in, go through a tutorial, walk out with a new ability or gun. That's it. It's a single room with a sole purpose.

It's the biggest wasted opportunity I think Rage 2 has to offer. Make these places mini-dungeons filled with the ruins of old. Make us work for our new kit, let us use it in some crazy new way, even if it's only the one time. Show us that what we're picking up is amazing and will change how we play the game. Tell us the story of the world through gameplay and environmental storytelling.

Nope. Just a simple ability or gun, nothing more.

  • id Software gunplay that's fast, frenetic, and incredibly fun
  • Solid optimization and performance
  • Listenable soundtrack
  • Predictable, poorly written story
  • Flat characters and an empty open-world
  • Wasted opportunities around every corner

Rage 2 feels like a game out of time. If it had come out in 2006, I think it would feel like a more complete game, something worth digging into and mastering, if only for the gunplay. If it had come out then, without so many of the lessons learned from other titles — successful and not — I could see people enjoying it for what it is. 

As it stands, Rage 2 is below average at best, even with the tight, enjoyable gunplay. There is simply too much getting in the way to make this package any more than something you pick up on a deep discount because you have nothing else to play.

[Note: A copy of Rage 2 was provided by Bethesda for the purpose of this review.]

Everybody's Golf VR Review: Clap Hanz Hits A Big Fat Chunk Shot Mon, 20 May 2019 19:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

After a dozen Everybody's Golf titles reaching all the way back to the original PS1, developer Clap Hanz is bringing some tee-off action to the PSVR digital store today.

Sadly, rather than landing an albatross, Clap Hanz chunked it pretty hard.

If you've ever felt like PSVR games are too limited and too often seem like glorified tech demos, this title isn't going to increase your estimation of the current-gen virtual reality offerings.

Re-Learning Golf With a Severe Handicap

If you've spent any time honing your golf game in real life, you'll probably find this setup more frustrating than those who have never swung a club before.

Because of how the single camera setup works on the PSVR (by tracking the light ball on the Move Controller as the direction of the club), you will actually do worse if you try to stand and swing like you would on the range.

Instead, you have to re-train yourself to think in terms of VR mechanics, rather than in terms of form and proper swing technique. For instance, holding the Move Controller with two hands (like you would with any club) actively messes up the tracking and will actually make you less accurate.

Thankfully, you get the option to switch between practice swings and real swings on the fly while on any course. You'll unquestionably need to take advantage of that option. It is far too easy to push your club through the digital ground or hold it slightly too high and miss entirely since there's no solid feel and heft of a club in your hand.

Remember how some of the events on games like Kinect Sports for the Xbox 360 just felt like they couldn't be completed properly because the camera didn't recognize body parts well enough?

That's an issue here, and there's really no amount of practice that's going to make you a master of these mechanics. There's just simply no way (other than sheer, dumb luck) that anyone is ever going to make a hole in one on every single course to get those final trophies.

Immersion, or Lack Thereof

Clubs flickering in and out of the ground is just the start of the immersion-breaking problems that highlight how this round of golf wasn't ready for a full VR game quite yet.

Some objects in Everybody's Golf VR clearly have "presence" they feel like they are actually there while others very noticeably do not. The club, ball, ground, and foliage all feel transparent and weightless.

On the flip side, both the cart and caddy feel like they are there with you in a virtual rendition of the world.

Frankly, it seems like more work went into making the waifu caddy realistic than on mastering the actual golf physics. I'm not complaining on that front, mind you having Riko bouncing around excitedly and shouting words of encouragement is without question the highlight of this game, although that's not exactly a compliment to the developers. 

Aside from how fake the environment feels, there's a lack of overall immersion that makes Everybody's Golf VR pretty unsatisfying. If you want a different club, you just tap a button on the Move Controller to cycle through your options, rather than actually reaching over and grabbing one out of your bag.

This was a huge missed opportunity and an easy way to make a small change feel big. Even small games like Planet Of The Apes VR feature the ability to pick up ammo clips and insert them into a gun, or to swing your gun around behind you to stash it on your belt. Here, the developers didn't even implement a mechanic to look through your club choices and reach over to pick one up.



That's just the start though. Before long, you'll wonder why this game is even in VR to begin with, especially considering that everything is stationary. You tap a button to automatically move to where your ball landed, rather than walking there.

The end result is that you'll never get lost in the experience and feel like you are really golfing. You will be keenly aware at every moment that this is a game, and one that could have used more immersive mechanics.

I've got to give props to the developers for one neat mechanic, however. The ability to swap the camera viewpoint for an overhead look at the course is actually pretty nifty if you want to figure out the best angle to hit the ball and stay out of the rough. 

The Bottom Line

  • I could listen to Riko cheering me on while being adorably cute all day long
  • You don't actually have to go outside and deal with slow-moving old, rich yuppies to play golf!
  • There aren't that many golf VR games right now, so at least there's another option for the PSVR crowd?
  • There is a wild lack of immersion here that kills the experience
  • The mechanics are wonky and don't feel anything like real golf
  • For the price, there should be way, way more to do here

Immersion aside, the biggest issue with Everybody's Golf VR is that there's honestly just not much to do here. There are only a handful of clubs, caddies, and courses to unlock. Once that's done, you've pretty much seen the game. A

couple of random events from the different caddies can be found that offer something a little different every now and again, but that's pretty much it. 

Rather than an immersive golf simulator, this is more of a stripped down golf mini-game with a VR overlay. You will most definitely want to download the free trial to check out the practice range before you drop $29.99 on this game. 

[Note: A copy of Everybody's Golf VR was provided by Clap Hanz for the purpose of this review.]

Sniper Elite V2 Remastered Review: A War Dog Losing Its Bite Thu, 16 May 2019 10:18:50 -0400 Jonathan Moore

In review, a lot has changed since Sniper Elite V2 originally released in 2012. Back then, the quasi-remake of the original Sniper Elite presented a tactical World War 2 experience from the lens of stealth. While other shooters set in the Second World War had stealth elements and infiltration missions, most had become more focused on the terrifying, yet more marketable, front-line violence. 

Sniper Elite V2 slowed things down. Through the lens of the lone wolf, players gained a new perspective into the war's waning days. For some, it was the perfect marriage of games like Metal Gear Solid and Medal of Honor, Syphon Filter and Call of Duty. A more surgical experience, Sniper Elite V2 might have been niche, but it had a firm place in the shooter genre. 

Enter Sniper Elite V2 Remastered. Boasting enhanced graphics and all of the original's DLC, Remastered seeks to rechamber the bullet that started it all. However, it does so with varying effect. This is, after all, a remaster and not a remake

Similar to the Onimusha remaster earlier this year, it's certain that V2 Remastered will be criticized for its "outdatedness." Missions are linear and the save system byzantine. Sniper Elite V2 Remastered is, in fact, an old game with a new skin. 

But in our review of the game, that didn't make it any less fun. 

Karl runs through dark, ruined streets in Sniper Elite V2 Remastered

Players take the role of master sniper Lieutenant Karl Fairburne in his quest to stop the Nazi V2 rocket program from swinging the tide of the war. In propagandistic fashion, the story is trite and cliched, and you'll experience few if any surprises along the way. We've seen this sort of tale before in countless films and video game franchises. 

All you need to know is that Nazis (and some Russian combatants) need killin'. Of course, you're the one to do it. 

Gameplay mostly centers around you and your rifle. As you progress through the game's 10 story missions, you come across several rifles, including a Mosin Nagant and a Gewehr 43. Neither truly seem to provide any appreciable benefits over the other, and you only change between them because the story dictates it.

In addition to sniper rifles, you have access to a Thompson submachine gun and a silenced pistol called a Welrod. The Thompson comes in handy in a pinch, although burst fire is the only "accurate" way of hitting anything, and the Welrod comes in handy during stealth situations but is woefully inaccurate if fired from more than a few feet away from your target. 

As with other stealth games, you can also distract guards by throwing rocks, blow up groups of soldiers with grenades, and set traps with dynamite, trip wires, and mines. 

You have some choice in how you dispatch the enemies in your path, but you won't find the options/loadouts/skill trees provided by most modern games. Even those in Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4 are (unsurprisingly) more robust.  

The X-ray killshot cam is still awesome in this version of the game.

Despite such a small armory, shooting a rifle in V2 Remastered still feels fantastic seven years later. On Cadet difficulty, simply lining up a shot and pulling the trigger often does the trick. That's especially true if you kneel and empty your lungs beforehand. 

However, Sniper truly shines on its higher difficulties. Here, shots are more strategic and tactical. Most require patience and restraint, with all taking windage and drop into account. In these moments, you feel most like the methodical, skilled sniper you're portrayed to be. 

That feeling intensifies when Remastered's X-ray killcam comes in to play. Sure it's old and now a staple of the series, but that doesn't mean it feels any less invigorating. There's nothing quite like the cornucopia of blood and bone that explodes from the backend of a well-placed shot. 

Watching your bullet spiral through the air looks better this time around, too. Gone is the weird-looking airwave spiraling behind the bullet from the original. A small tweak, but one that makes the world just a tad more visceral. 

The biggest "upgrade" in V2 Remastered is, unsurprisingly, the game's graphics. The comparison trailer above does a good job of showcasing what Rebellion's done, but I can't sit here and say the graphics are a huge improvement over the original. 

For the most part, the game looks fantastic. Character models are smoother, although they show their age. Karl's fatigues aren't as muddy as they once were, and thankfully, his hair doesn't remind me of Bela Lugosi's in White Zombie anymore. But these improvements aren't game-changers. 

Guns now have more accurate color palettes, with the game's rifles switching from the original's muddier tones to brighter ones here. Vehicles now look a touch more detailed, with better-defined edges and angles. But these improvements aren't game changers. 

Where the graphics are seemingly most refined, though, are in its environments and lighting. Now, stages have more rubble in the streets or piled against buildings; individual pieces are more easily recognizable, looking less like muddy globs and more like defined shapes. In this version, cobblestone looks more like cobblestone, wood more like wood, and foliage more like foliage. 

Since light and shadow play such integral roles in stealth games, it's good to see those have been improved as well. Street lights cast more uniform glows and lightning illuminates environments in more realistic tones. The most noticeable differences aren't in the game's many fires, but in the night and evening levels, where light creeps over the horizon or through slatted windows. 

Playing an intense game of team deathmatch in game's church level

I never played multiplayer in the original Sniper Elite V2, so I can't make comparisons to Remastered. However, I can say that MP in Remastered is smooth. Servers aren't bustling a day after launch, but finding matches in both competitive and cooperative play is easy. 

Overall, connections are good, load times are adequate, and lag is nearly non-existent. Maps aren't teeming with players, but in a game predicated on stealth and patience, that's a welcome change from the frenetic online battles found in other games. 

Moment to moment, competitive play is some of the most stressful and nerve-wracking I've ever experienced. Playing with a group of like-minded snipers is long and laborious but extremely rewarding, especially considering the game's old-school mechanics. Along with the campaign's higher difficulties, this is where SEV2 Remastered feels the most like a sniper simulator. 

However, I enjoy co-op in SEV2 Remastered the most. I'm a sucker for taking on the A.I. with another human player, so I'm biased here. Playing the campaign and the game's various challenge modes with another player opens up new strategic avenues, and I can only wish local co-op was an option. 

Karl hides from a tank in the ruined streets of Berlin

  • Lighting and shadows upgrades really make the world pop
  • X-ray killcam is still as cool as ever
  • Shooting a rifle feels fantastic
  • Comes with all SE2 DLC
  • While nice, the graphics aren't a monumental improvement
  • Run-and-gun controls still suck
  • No manual save feature
  • Can't skip cutscenes

For those that already have Sniper Elite V2 and its DLC, it's hard to recommend Remastered, especially at the $9.99 upgrade price. There's just not much new here. Running the original V2 at 4K 60fps provides a similar graphical experience; Remastered looks great, but its graphics aren't leagues better. And the gameplay is essentially the same. 

If you already have the game in your Steam library, you're essentially paying $9.99 for a skin upgrade. That changes if you don't have the game's DLC or want to play multiplayer on servers that are bound to live longer than those of the original. 

But for those that have never played Sniper Elite V2, this is the perfect way to experience a classic, blemishes and all. Remastered is a throwback. Having read forums and conjecture on social media, I cannot stress enough this is a remaster not a remake. 

What was "wrong" with the original Sniper V2 is still "wrong" here. It doesn't have the quality of life improvements we've come to expect of third-person shooters — or even the Sniper series after games like SE3 and SE4

That fact alone doesn't make it any less fun, but it does mean it's wise to temper expectations before deploying to World War II Berlin once again.

[Note: A copy of Sniper Elite V2 Remastered was provided by Rebellion for the purpose of this review.]

Looking for more on Sniper Elite V2 Remastered? Be sure to head over to our collectibles guides for wine bottles and gold bars

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest Review — Fluid Combat but Stilted Story Wed, 15 May 2019 10:00:01 -0400 Jonny Foster

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest, the fledgling release from developers Ctrl Alt Ninja Ltd., has a surprisingly robust yet malleable take on the turn-based strategy genre. Unfortunately, its story is largely forgettable, revolving around an Acolyte, a Warden, and a Scout as they seek to end a strange corruption that’s spreading across the forest.

You can name the protagonists, which adds a spark of meaning to their plight, but the tiny embers are quickly snuffed out. Not only is the game packed with backstory and references that it doesn't immediately explain, but it's also guilty of droning on.

Some cutscenes feel almost as long as the missions that proceed them, totally killing any momentum that the fast-paced, fluid combat generates. Within a few hours, I was resigned to holding space to skip the pages of text and get back into the action. The option to do so is a welcome addition that makes the game far more enjoyable.

Even so, Druidstone is lovely to look at, and the cutscenes can present some gorgeous landscapes. The scenery and models during combat are visually impressive for an Indie title, too, though the audio is a little generic and may get on your nerves.

Thankfully, the combat more than makes up for the game’s shortcomings. Each mission starts with a cutscene before jumping into your first turn. You aren't limited to moving before you attack or vice versa, and you can use mobility tools with skills in any order you like.

You can also undo movements, which is exceptionally handy if you accidentally trigger an enemy's reaction attack. Unfortunately, you lose the option to rewind if you change characters, and you aren't able to undo attacks.

This would have been the epitome of user-friendly interaction, but it would also remove some of the finality in the decision-making process, something that makes turn-based strategies so enticing. A large number of spells or abilities will have limited use per mission, and it’s the conservative use of these that will make or break your quest.

Every character can also equip up to two weapons that don't have limited uses, so you have to plan around these. If you’re sloppy and waste the spells where regular weapon attacks would suffice, you’ll most likely hit a brick wall near the end of the level. Be frugal with your single-use tools, however, and you just might scrape through. 

The consequences of your actions are especially punishing in Druidstone, with the game's normal difficulty besting me on multiple occasions until I learned the optimal strategies. There's no shame in dropping the difficulty, which can be done on a mission-by-mission basis, with even easy difficulty providing its fair share of tricky encounters.

The game's higher difficulties generally just threw more enemies at me, rather than making resources scarce or limiting the use of game-changing spells, which was a shame. It felt like it was funneling me to play a certain way, prioritizing the ability to attack multiple targets per turn above anything else.

Once you've leveled up your party and kitted them out with the best gear and weapons, though, you really start to feel like a strategic god, capable of solving any issue that's thrown your way using just your small band of fighters.

There’s a surprisingly versatile set of tools available for your party members, and finding the perfect time to use each one is vital to success. Each mission will have primary and secondary objectives, which reward you with experience, gold, or power gems.  

Between missions, you use these to improve and adjust your party as you see fit. The power gems can be used to boost the effectiveness of weapons and armor, or increase the number of times you can use spells.

The ability to swap these out freely is incredibly useful, especially if a specific mission calls for a certain playstyle; you can easily tailor your builds to that level and try again. On top of this, the missions don’t have to be completed in a set order, allowing you to abandon a tough level and return later once you’ve bolstered your party.

Though there are 35 levels, they aren't all available immediately and some are only short puzzles, so you can't put things off forever. However, there's still plenty of ways to tackle your 10- to 20-hour playthrough. Druidstone did crash a few times during my playthrough, artificially inflating this timer, but the frame rate and performance were smooth throughout.

While the crashes were frustrating in the moment, the game writes to a handy log file that can be sent to the developers. They swiftly patched out a few problems I forwarded their way, and have expressed their strong resolution to keep updating the game.


  • User-friendly take on turn-based combat
  • The intricate modular upgrade system is a joy to tinker with and micromanage
  • Freedom to complete missions in any order


  • Forgettable, lengthy story weighs down the momentum
  • Difficulty can be oppressive, pushing you towards a specific playstyle
  • Audio is derivative and repetitive

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest failed to entice me with its extensive expositions, but the brilliant combat system thoroughly hooked me. There are some stellar tools available to the player, and I really liked how modular everything felt.

You're given a lot of options in Druidstone and what you do with them will shape your success or feed your failure. 

The developer's passion and plans to release modding tools to the community makes this an enticing future prospect.

[Note: A copy of Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest was provided by Ctrl Alt Ninja Ltd. for the purpose of this review.]

Shakedown Hawaii Review: A Repetitive Biz Trip Wed, 15 May 2019 09:36:27 -0400 diegoarguello

How does it feel to run a company on the brink of bankruptcy? In Shakedown Hawaii, you'll find out. Getting your hands dirty to keep cash rolling in and scaring shopkeepers in exchange for protection is all part of the plan.

Developed by Vblank Entertainment, the studio behind Retro City Rampage, Shakedown Hawaii is a new project that follows a similar foundation. The game puts you in the starring role of a messy situation surrounded by dubious characters.

Wrapped in a 16-bit aesthetic with an all-around arcade feel, Shakedown Hawaii is a story about "business" and current trends such as virtual reality, energy drinks, and video games.

Shakedown Hawaii starts on an interesting foot, showcasing a CEO tangled in far too many financial problems. In the midst of the chaos engulfing his businesses, he starts to look for new ways to earn money fast. All of them are, of course, shady at best.

During the game's first few hours, following the main path unlocks more and more things to do. You gain access to new shops that let you customize your pixelated avatar (with great results, by the way!), and you acquire new properties that generate more cash. This includes businesses and smaller shops that you attack in various ways until the owners give up and accept your “protection." The more you obtain and takeover, the bigger your daily paycheck. 

Shakedown Hawaii's story is really fast-paced, and it can sometimes be a bit annoying. I suppose it tries to resemble the stories found in games from the arcade era, for better or worse. However, this micro open-world offers side activities that are fun to find and complete, such as the game's scored challenges.

Missions are often short and easy to complete as well. Whenever you finish one, you’ll usually get a phone call with a new hint or business opportunity. A few seconds later, a new marker will appear on your map, and off you go again.

It’s easy to get stuck in this loop, and the game doesn't stop you either. In a few missions, you'll be introduced to a new type of shop or property to acquire. Even when I didn't have enough money to do so, it let me progress either way. Although I ended up taking a few moments away from the main story to explore and get more shops on my own, it got repetitive fast.

Running around shooting is as fun as ever. Weapons that can be either bought or looted from the ground, and there's a significant variety, from scissors and baseball bats to machine guns or a flamethrower.

As in its predecessor, you can also stomp on folks’ heads for a critical hit in Shakedown Hawaii. Cars can be hijacked immediately, and there’s even a Grand-Theft-Auto-style use of garages to change vehicle paint and lose your current heat from the police.

Killing pedestrians, making things go boom and causing general havoc increases your score. As far as I could tell, however, doing so provides zero in-game incentive; there are no bonuses associated with doing any of these things.

It would have been interesting to see this intertwining with unlockables, for example. But there isn’t much to it, sadly.

If you fancy a short session, you can opt to play the arcade challenges right from the main menu, and there’s a free-roaming mode as well. In Retro City Rampage fashion, there is a number of options to customize the visual style of the game. I don’t tend to mess around with them too much, but using the TV filter when playing on my Nintendo Switch docked was a nice touch.

  • Promising premise
  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Challenges maintain that retro feel intact
  • Pacing feels rushed at times
  • It gets repetitive fast
  • There's not much to do or see

Shakedown Hawaii lives under the shadow of Retro City Rampage, and while it tries to do its own thing, the dozens of references and thematic missions are missed more often than not. The main story leads to some repetitive places, and overall, it's an experience that's fine for short sessions every now and then, but I wouldn't recommend spending more than a few consecutive hours in its world.

You can still find retro pop culture references every now and then, but the humor surrounding missions is more grounded here. Everything in the game is set around businesses, even if it's packed with absurdity. And when missions are pretty much the core of the game, it shows. At times, I missed that Retro City Rampage premise dearly, and I didn't find enough motive to get fully invested in this 16-bit world.

[Note: A copy of Shakedown Hawaii was provided by Vblank Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]

Figment Review: Pure Imagination Tue, 14 May 2019 12:15:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Bedtime Digital Games, the minds behind the quirky puzzler Back to Bed, recently announced their latest endeavor Figment was coming to the PlayStation 4. Well, it's here now, but the question is whether it's worth your time or not.

Spoiler alert: It is.

Figment is a charming adventure built around a surprisingly deep and touching story. It might falter at times, but on the whole, this is a short, snappy puzzler that's sure to keep you thinking in more ways than one.

Broken Mind

Figment begins with a simple, yet haunting narrative scene. The screen is grey with short lines passing by here and there like you'd see if you looked out of a car window as you drive down the highway.

The car contains a child and parents, and the child begins talking about how amazing parachutes are, asking whether the father uses them in his work. After some more dialogue that suggests all may not be well with Daddy, there's a horrible crashing sound, and the screen eventually goes dark.

When you can see again, you find the scene has completely shifted. You're in a strange place. Ultimately, you learn this is the mind, and Rusty becomes the main focus.

Rusty is Courage personified, the defender of the mind and all that is good. At least, he used to be. Apparently, Dusty's grown, well, rusty (surprise). Over time, the once brave hero grew distant from everyone else and focused only on himself, his problems, and his wants.

That's why he lives far away from the rest of the mind in a little bungalow by himself. He's accompanied by a good drink and his scrapbook. He intends to remain that way until the day a Nightmare invades the sanctity of his solitude and steals his drink and his scrapbook.

Rusty naturally wants his things back. However, as he chases the Nightmare through the game's initial screens — and convenient, brief tutorial — he soon realizes he doesn't have any choice but to help the rest of the mind in the process.

That's because the Nightmares have invaded the entire mind, spreading fear and despair wherever they tread, with a helping of disease and plenty of other nasty things as well.

Rusty isn't alone on his journey, though. The mind is full of quirky denizens, even if you don't get to see most of them. They tend to hide in their homes, which range from normal-looking apartment buildings to snail shells and tea kettles.

The real star, other than Dusty, is Piper, his loyal and initially-unwanted bird-friend. Piper comes to request Rusty's help as the game opens, referring to their former glory days of keeping the mind safe from harm.

Dusty and Piper's relationship re-develops over the course of the game, and it's both amusing and heartwarming.

Early on, he's truly unpleasant to poor Piper — nowhere near the level of Cid and assistant from Final Fantasy VII, but still a bit nasty. As the game progresses, Dusty begins warming back up to her, and it's an excellent complement to the game's overall themes of restoration, moving on, and emotional growth.

Heading into Dark Territory

Dusty's journey to rid the mind of the three main Nightmares is essentially a journey of reconciliation and transformation. It's something a lot of people will probably relate to as well, with the universal topic of tackling one's own inner demons (or Nightmares) and understanding how the mind operates when under that kind of attack.

Even Dusty's crustiness is relatable. He's depressed and thinks there's no real use for him in the world anymore, which ultimately makes him not care about interacting with the world. It's hard not to hear Dusty's reactions to a given situation and recognize an echo of oneself in his tone, his words, or his general attitude. 

For one reason or another, it's something we've all experienced at one point in some form.

You gradually piece together why the Nightmares came back and what troubles haunt the mind as you work your way through each area, too. Dusty can come across glowing orbs called Remembranes, and each carries a specific memory — typically unpleasant, always formative.

They range from memories of feeling left out to feeling completely misunderstood and unappreciated by the rememberer's parents. The latter, in particular, make for poignant tie-ins with the game's opening scene, dripping as it is with the problem of handling feelings of isolation within an intimate group.

The World Inside

The game's visuals work impeccably well with the story. There's the obvious fact that the surreal, almost Lewis Carol-like setting is perfect for the brain (which is, itself, quirky and unpredictable).

If you're familiar with Bedtime Digital's other offering, Back to Bed, you know the surreal is what the studio does best. Here, though, it serves a greater purpose than creating a unique identity.

The initial areas, corresponding with Dusty's gradual re-awakening to his purpose, are bright, quirky, and cheerful. That changes quite a bit as Rusty delves further into the mind's problems, though, and as he confronts the worst Nightmares while simultaneously recovering his own identity.

On the whole, Figment is a subtle and nuanced commentary on depression and human relationships of the kind we, unfortunately, don't see often enough in games.

Hodgepodge of Styles

Figment's gameplay combines several different genre mechanics. Essentially, it's point-and-click style puzzles that wouldn't be out of place in a 3D adventure game. These are mixed with simple combat for a unique result that almost always works well.

For instance, the bulk of the puzzles Dusty tackles revolve around finding specific items that go in specific places for specific purposes. Items used vary depending on the area and Dusty's needs, but in general, you'll be finding lots of batteries, gears, and elevator parts, among other things.

But it hardly ever becomes stale, thanks to how the items are used.

Puzzling Encounters

The batteries are a good illustration. Early on, Dusty will need to just locate a battery (sometimes appropriating it from an unsuspecting denizen of the mind) and pop it in the right slot. Easy enough.

Later, Dusty has to juggle batteries around different spots to try and advance beyond a specific obstacle, weighing the pros and cons of seeing what might be in that extra side area that would require even more item juggling to get to it (Hint: yes, it usually is).

Sometimes, these sequences involve multiple item types and the classic "open a path, backtrack, grab the item from a different angle, and use it in that other spot you couldn't reach before the path was open" — and so on.

There are a few standout puzzles that break this pattern, too. Early on, in the mind's creative side, Dusty needs to get a tree with a giant ear to loosen its tendrils so he can obtain a rattle. Luckily for him, there happen to be three instruments right in front of the tree that can be adjusted to different levels.

Each has a "right" level where the music produced actually sounds nice, and the challenge is toying with each to find out where that sweet spot is, then putting it all together.

From a puzzle perspective, then, it isn't anything we haven't seen before. However, it's done so well and is so closely intertwined in Figment's unique signature style innovation isn't a big deal here. The puzzles are part of Dusty's adventure.

Taking Time

That's a good thing for another reason. Some of the puzzles are a bit tedious, especially if you screw up the timing and have to repeat a sequence all over again. Those that require Dusty move around the location are worse offenders in this regard because Dusty moves so...very...slowly.

However, these issues are easy to overlook. Trudging along as Dusty and dealing with some slow or repetitive puzzles is worth it because it means learning more about what is going on in the mind. You're moving one step closer to dealing with those Nightmares — however pokey a pace that step might be.

The combat is very basic. Dusty rolls and slashes, and then repeats until he's safe and his enemies aren't. It works, and it gets fairly challenging at times when Rusty's surrounded by spewing Nightmare spawn, but it isn't necessarily a highlight.

Singing Nightmares

It's impossible to mention the Nightmares without mentioning the soundtrack as well. As we mentioned in our original announcement about the PS4 release, the game's score is composed by Danish screamer-songwriter Stöj Snak. The soundtrack itself is always appealing, utilizing understatement and simple tunes for each area that complement the environments and journey perfectly.

It's the Nightmare's songs that steal the show, though. Each Nightmare sings at Dusty during their conflicts. Some are meaningful, like the first Nightmare's brief-but-telling song about despair; others will probably bring a smile to your face with their silliness, like half of what the Plague Nightmare sings.

Even those seemingly silly lyrics have a point, though. The Plague focuses on fear and disease, spewing horrors throughout the mind and blocking progress with clouds of illness. His song might come ever-so-close to using sh*t as a rhyme and go over-the-top with puke and gas references, but it's ultimately the truth. His success depends on spreading filth and fear everywhere, holding the mind back.

There's nothing like having a person's greatest fears and mental blocks turned into a cartoony rhyming song to offer a new perspective.

Of course, they aren't all silly. However, being confronted by these issues means you, as Dusty, need to confront them too, and it's impossible to escape from dealing with them during the course of the game. It's an interesting, indirect way of addressing these serious themes without being heavy-handed about it.

The Verdict

  • Setting design brimming with creativity
  • Difficult, but meaningful narrative
  • Excellent use of soundtrack
  • Some tedium with puzzles
  • Achingly slow character movement at times

Figment is the poster child for what indie games can do that other's can't. Exploring heavy themes like depression and trauma is tricky territory, but Figment manages to navigate these troubled waters expertly. Combined with tight, if sometimes slow, gameplay, it makes for an engaging and meaningful romp through the mind's darker corners.

Even better, Bedtime Digital just announced there's more Figment to come this fall, with the DLC expansion Creed Valley. Dusty and Piper will travel to Creed Valley, where the mind forms its worldviews, to face even more dangerous, singing foes, with puzzles built around the mind's two states: open and closed.

[Note: A copy of Figment was provided by Bedtime Digital for the purpose of this review.]

A Plague Tale: Innocence Review — A Unique but Uneven Throwback to an Earlier Era of Video Games Mon, 13 May 2019 18:00:02 -0400 Thomas Wilde

A Plague Tale: Innocence is meant to be, above all else, a story of the fraught relationship between two siblings, against the backdrop of war-torn, disease-ridden 14th-century France. The older, Amicia, feels like she had to grow up largely on her own, due to her father’s travels and her mother doting on her unwell little brother; the younger, Hugo, is a sheltered, sickly five-year-old with zero attention span and no concept of personal danger.

It’s a perfect recipe for friction, as they barely know each other and are suddenly thrust into a situation where they’re forced to depend on each other to survive.

The gamble that the developers have taken is that you’ll be invested enough in Amicia and Hugo’s personal dynamic that you’re willing to play through an hours-long escort mission. Roughly two-thirds of A Plague Tale is dedicated to you as Amicia keeping Hugo safe, as you make a desperate run through dead cities, hot zones, and active battlefields.

As these things go, it should be said that this isn’t the worst take on the concept. (That, in my experience, is still 2011’s Knight’s Contract.) Hugo usually stays fastened to your hip whenever you’re actually in the field, he does what you tell him, and most of the time, he's a typical tagalong NPC. He does lose his damn mind and get guards' attention if you get more than about 20 meters away from him, so you can’t just dunk Hugo into a barrel like he's RE4's Ashley Graham, but that’s not much of an imposition.

That said, he’s also the sort of support character who’s not only the center of the game’s plot but is also the source of most of that plot’s major complications. A Plague Tale would be about four hours shorter if Hugo had the basic self-preservation instincts of the average cocker spaniel. His habit of throwing a tantrum and running away on his own at the worst possible time, for the most specious possible reasons, is the focus of not only a couple of different chapters of the story, but forms the lead-up to the game’s denouement.

It’s actually a neat bit of narrative design. Hugo is a sheltered little kid and acts like one, which I have to assume is meant to make the player as frustrated with him as Amicia often is. I can admire the intention and even the implementation, even as it and Hugo annoy me.

That central dynamic is one of a handful of things that are holding A Plague Tale back. There isn’t much else like it on the shelves right now, and a few of its levels are legitimate must-sees, but it’s rough around the edges. It’s worth checking out, if only for the absolute insanity of its final stages, but its first real barrier to entry is your ability to tolerate Hugo.

A Plague Tale is set in southern France, in the early 14th-century, at the start of the Hundred Years’ War. The English army is steadily gnawing on the nation’s borders to back up Edward III’s claim to the French throne, the Inquisition is in full swing, and entire villages are being torn apart by the Black Death.

You play as Amicia de Rune, the oldest child of a retired French knight. One day, following a hunting trip with her father, Amicia’s home is attacked by the forces of the Inquisition. Amicia’s forced to flee into the countryside with her little brother in tow, pursued by religious zealots and bounty hunters, and surrounded on all sides by sickness, insanity, and hostile soldiers.

That’d be enough to hang a game off of as it stands, but shortly after their escape from their father’s castle, Amicia and Hugo run into a larger threat: invading hordes of ravenous black rats. Anyone caught by them is reduced to bones in a few bloody seconds, and the "lucky" ones who manage to get away are likely infected with the Black Plague. The only protection from the rats is to stay in well-lit areas, using torches, lanterns, campfires, and even burning sticks to keep the horde at bay.

Notably, Amicia is a teenage girl, armed with a sling, up against armored soldiers. If anyone gets close enough to draw a bead on or take a swing at Amicia, she’s dead. As such, particularly in its opening levels, A Plague Tale is a stealth game with a fragile protagonist. Most of the time, being detected at all will end badly for you.

You can throw rocks or clay pots to create distractions and slip by guards, hide in tall grasses, and use your slingshot to destroy distant targets. Eventually, you start getting upgrades, such as alchemically-enhanced ammunition, and Amicia can enhance her sling to the point where landing a headshot to an un-helmeted human is a one-hit kill. Stealth never stops being important, however, as it takes Amicia a couple of crucial seconds to spin the sling up to lethal velocity, and it’s a lot harder to hit a target who’s coming straight at you.

More often, when you need to take a human out rather than just slip by him unnoticed, you’ll use the rats. Being a six-foot-tall bastard in plate armor is no defense whatsoever against being pulled down and devoured, and the rats are almost everywhere.

Most of the challenges in A Plague Tale are thus about stealth, finding a way past the rats, or both at once. You can distract the rats with an easy meal, by throwing joints of meat or fresh corpses to them, or get them out of your way with sources of light.

Early on, you get special sling stones that burst into flames on impact, which only annoys a human target, but which can be used to ignite distant torches, embers, or haystacks. Your plain old sling stones can also be used to destroy a human target’s lantern, so if you pick your window carefully, you can get a dead enemy and a rat distraction all at once.

The rats actually impress me quite a bit. Whenever they’re not on center stage, the world of A Plague Tale feels like a sort of interactive documentary, with little of the artificial romanticism of medieval life that you often see in fantasy or historical fiction. The developers, Asobo Studio in Bordeaux, France, set A Plague Tale in its own historical backyard and built its environments without any real sentimental attachment.

The game’s setting is muddy, dark, crudely built, and falling apart at the seams; it’s full of muted colors, untamed wilderness, and people half-mad from grief. The music is mostly acoustic pieces from period instruments, expertly pitched to match the mood of a scene. Even the collectibles are little snapshots of French history, both good and bad, like alchemical trivia and artifacts of the Inquisition.

That makes it twice as surreal when the rats do show up, as they represent the sudden intrusion of a malevolent force into a relatively normal scene. It’s made obvious from the moment they first appear that they’re supernatural; even if they didn’t have a habit of bursting into flames if they’re exposed to too much light, the swarms behave less like a living thing and more like some kind of hostile carnivorous liquid.

In areas where they’ve been able to build nests, it looks like something out of an H.R. Giger painting, full of stripped skeletons and old blood. No one in A Plague Tale is equipped to understand the rats, and no one’s trying. They’re treated like a divine plague, one more bad thing in a bad time, and that’s one of the creepiest things about them.

(I had a conversation with the game’s creative director about it at E3 2018, although it was slightly complicated by a language barrier. He insisted that his studio doesn’t consider A Plague Tale to be a horror game at all, but it’s hard not to think of it as one. It is, at least, highly horror-adjacent.)

It’s all leading up to a conclusion that is worth the cost of entry by itself. The last level of A Plague Tale requires a lot of trial-and-error gameplay, as a nearly-new mechanic suddenly comes to the forefront, but it’s one of the weirdest and most memorable final stages of a game in quite a while. It’s on the same level of achievement as the chapter in Condemned 2 where you’re suddenly being pursued by an angry bear; people ought to be talking about this for a while.

That makes me inclined to be charitable towards A Plague Tale in the final analysis, as it’s nicely strange, with a unique setting and some interesting design choices. It’s still a decidedly flawed product, however.

I’m not even really that down on it for saddling you with Hugo, although that’s likely going to be the most controversial thing about it. If you’re not interested in playing full-contact babysitter to a little French kid who screams at you while you’re saving his life, in the rare event that he’s not actively doing something stupid at the time, then A Plague Tale just isn’t your game. Asobo made a deliberate creative choice and stuck with it despite it being potential market suicide, which is hard to truly fault it for.

The whole game does feel a little under-budgeted for what it is, however. The combat is awkward and clumsy, which makes it feel much worse on the occasions when the game forces you into an open confrontation. It’d make more sense if Amicia had more specialized alchemical tricks that let her avoid a fight altogether, like smoke bombs, or if the Ignifer flame ammo could stun or knock over human targets.

Instead, you have to pop headshots on advancing soldiers like it's a medieval-themed version of Space Invaders, and the game’s systems are not equipped for the challenge. If you made the mistake of not investing in the theoretically optional upgrade path for the sling, a couple of those sequences are damn near impossible.

A Plague Tale’s engine is also not quite up to the task of its design, particularly in levels that involve both giant hordes of rats and player-controlled light sources. I played the game on a fairly beefy PC and still got some dangerous framerate drops in certain levels, as the constant churn of the rat hordes and the dynamic lighting fought each other for a chunk of my CPU. The rest of the game looks good enough, with nicely varied environments and expressive character models, but the rats often come off like a couple of them are somehow gnawing on your graphics card.

It’s also worth noting that A Plague Tale is about 12 hours long, and when it’s over, it’s over. You could maybe justify one or two additional runs for the sake of completing its achievements, but it doesn’t have any real branch points, extra challenges, a new game plus mode (which it really needs, both for finishing off the upgrade-related achievements and so I can mow down the bastard soldiers in the opening chapters), or additional difficulty levels.

In fact, A Plague Tale is one of those games that’s so excited for you to progress through it that, if you take a few seconds too long to consider the challenge in front of you, Amicia or a nearby member of her supporting cast will just blurt out the answer. It’s made for you to get into and out of it in a long weekend, which isn’t much value for a starting price of US$50. You'll remember the trip, though.

  • It's a bloody, picturesque run through a dramatically underrepresented, realistically-depicted period of history.
  • The harsh thwack of your sling stone against an Inquisition soldier's skull is always satisfying, and a testament to good sound design.
  • The wetly organic structures of the rat nests are creepy and compelling.
  • The final stages are something you really do have to see to believe.
  • Melie is a great character who enlivens every scene she's in.
  • The combat is awkward as hell, which makes it awful in the handful of instances when it becomes mandatory.
  • If you're spotted by enemies in a stealth sequence, you have almost no ability to escape.
  • Lots of dynamic lighting and angry rats simultaneously is going to be murder on your system's frame rate.
  • Little replay value.
  • Linear. All stages have one real path and all obstacles have exactly one intended solution. A couple may have additional brute-force options late in the game, but they're not what the developers planned for.
  • Binding the context command for climbing ledges and the dodge move to the same button is pretty obnoxious.
  • Okay, yeah, I spent a lot of the game wanting to throttle Hugo.

There’s a lot about A Plague Tale that I find weirdly refreshing. There used to be a lot of games like this a couple of software generations ago. It’s just a simple, memorable single-player experience, made precisely as its designers wanted it, intended to be enjoyed and definitively completed. It doesn't even end on a sequel hook. A Plague Tale: Innocence feels like the highest-budget B-list PlayStation 2 game ever made, and I assure you, I mean that as a compliment.

[Note: A copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Mordhau Review: Prepare for Battle Tue, 07 May 2019 15:28:10 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Mordhau came out of nowhere, and it has been blowing up Steam and Twitch since its release.

This medieval hack 'n slasher takes elements of your favorite battle royale games and sends them in a new direction with an intricate melee combat system.

As with many games, there are elements of it that don't quite work. However, it's a nice change of pace if you love the thrill of big battles but want something a little bit different than the what's already out there.

Knights in Shining Armor

The central draw of Mordhau lies in its robust medieval combat physics. You can wield a variety of bladed or blunt objects in your quest for supremacy, from lowly rocks and rakes all the way up to two-handed bastard swords. Depending on which of the game's three modes you choose, how you obtain these weapons and how you'll use them will differ.

What will be immediately familiar is the sense of controlled chaos that large-scale deathmatch games bring to the table. Whether you jump into Horde, Frontline, or Battle Royale mode, anyone who has touched Apex LegendsFortnite, or PUBG will feel right at home in Mordhau.

When you first begin, you're most likely going to die quite a bit. Unless you've played something like Chivalry, reprogramming your brain to deal with the intricate combat systems in Mordhau takes a little bit of time. The training mode is essential, but even it doesn't quite prepare you for the full scope of what's to come.

Fancy Sword Tricks

At its heart, the combat system in Mordhau focuses on a system of timing, blocks, parries, and strategic strikes. At first, you'll be focused on reading your opponent, responding in turn, and looking for openings where you can do some damage. As you master the basics, a whole realm of new possibilities opens up.

Throw a smoke bomb and sneak up on your opponent. Change the grip on your sword and bash the helmet off your enemy's head. Fake an overhead slash and rapidly swap into a sneaky forward stab. The system in Mordhau opens up a ton of different possibilities, and assessing the situation to see what would be most effective is a huge part of success.

Already, players are finding even more interesting ways to work within Mordhau's systems. You can unscrew part of the handle of some swords and bean other players with your best fastball. You can parry arrows and other ranged attacks out of the air. You can give up your weapon by throwing it end over end across the battlefield.

The Name of the Game

So, the combat system is impressive, but how does it all fit into the grand scheme of Mordhau? Here's where things go a bit south for the game.

Currently, there are three modes available in Mordhau, and they all play on the same ideas of frantic and massive melee battles.


The signature mode of Mordhau, Frontline pits two teams of dozens of players against one another. Each side controls a fortress, and the goal is to push the other team back and overtake their base without losing their own.

It's a massive game of tug of war that allows for all manner of strategies and techniques. This is where you'll get most of your worth out of Mordhau it's the most balanced and fleshed out mode in the game, and offers tons of opportunities for bombastic, highlight-reel plays.

It's also a way to contribute if you're still learning a lot of Mordhau's systems: you don't have to be a frontline melee specialist to help your team to victory.


Horde mode is the player vs. A.I. mode. In it, a team of players takes on increasingly large and well-equipped groups of A.I. enemies, earning money as more difficult enemies are defeated.

Strewn about the map are supplies: better weapons, armor, and utility items. Between waves of enemies, you will need to communicate with your squad to determine what roles are needed and where the best items are located. It's a lot harder to hide in horde mode if you don't know what you're doing. Teams are small and need everyone to be able to contribute to get far at all.

Battle Royale

Of course, there's a battle royale mode in Mordhau, but it seems like it's (at least right now) a relative afterthought. Due to the game's medieval setting, no one is paradropping or gliding out of a flying bus. The game just starts you on the map in a random location.

More than once, I glanced around to try and find equipment as the map was starting, and instead, I found myself in a relatively enclosed space with three or four other players. A few lurching fistfights later, and it would be back to the queue, hoping to get a better chance in the next go.

The ever-shrinking circle is hard to see, and it kills you really quickly. Orienting yourself is difficult as well, without the usual HUD you'll find in similar games. Essentially, battle royale mode is an afterthought and, if that's all you're looking for, Mordhau is not going to be the game for you.

Military Tactics

Frontline mode is easily the star of the show it allows you to pick different classes, which you can customize from the main menu. Like all class-based objective games, these classes let you take on a variety of different roles: frontline fighters, support characters, ranged combatants, and the like.

Some of the most fun moments I had while tackling Frontline mode came from playing as the Engineer, who can hardly contribute in a fight but can build all sorts of structures to aid your allies and frustrate your foes.

It will be interesting to see what direction developer Triternion takes Mordhau.


There are a lot of positives in Mordhau, but it is definitely a niche game that has quite a bit going against it as well. There's no single player mode, there's no cohesion or "bigger picture" to what is happening onscreen, and a lot of the elements come off as relatively sloppy.

For as impressive as the physics and combat engines are, there is a lot of silliness happening as well. The meanings of "Early Access" and "Open Beta" have been stretched well beyond the breaking point by now, but I was absolutely amazed to discover that Mordhau is NOT listed as Early Access.

Essentially, it feels like some really good ideas in a not quite finished package. The developers reported that it sold just under 500,000 copies in its first week. Hopefully, they're able to continue building on the great foundation and add some more meat onto Mordhau's bones.

Plus, can we get a mode where everyone is on horses at all times? The horses are one of the silly elements in this game, but man are they a blast when you charge an enemy and perfectly take their head off.

The Murder Blow

  • Excellent, unique combat systems
  • Rewards technique and strategy
  • Offers ways to contribute outside of just fighting
  • Pretty horsies
  • Feels sloppy and unfinished
  • Some wonky, silly elements
  • Lack of story and cohesion between modes

Mordhau is a German word that means "Murder Blow," and it is a term for a specific sword grip instead of slashing with the blade, an armored fighter would grasp the blade with both hands and bash their enemy with the pommel. Yes, you can use this grip in the game, but it is also a good summation for what you should want out of your experience with Mordhau.

This is a game about big moments and personal storytelling. If you can find a group of like-minded friends, you could have an absolute blast with Mordhau, especially if Triternion continues to add features and tweak things for a bit better user experience. There's a lot to like here, and the game rewards skill to the point that it's no wonder Mordhau has become a Twitch darling.

For a casual gamer, someone looking for a single-player experience, or someone who needs a reason why their bashing in nameless soldiers' heads, Mordhau probably isn't what you're looking for.

[Note: A copy of Mordhau was provided by Triternion for the purpose of this review.]

Logitech G935 Headset Review: Artemis Spectrum 2.0 Tue, 07 May 2019 13:46:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's newest wireless gaming headset, the G935, is essentially a remaster of the G933 Artemis Spectrum. Dubbed one of the best wireless gaming headsets on the market by reviewers and users alike, the Artemis Spectrum was first released. 

I say first released because the Logitech G935 looks, acts, and feels just like the G933 in all but a few ways. From the design to the size to the headset's high-quality sound, you'd be forgiven for thinking these two headsets were one in the same. 

What's important to note, though, is that the G935s are primarily differentiated from the G933s by way of their 50mm drivers. These larger drivers allow for an improved low-frequency response. This means the G935s are bassier out of the box, something that can be both good and bad for a set of headphones depending on your ear. Additionally, these headphones employ DTS Headphone: X 2.0 technology, which allows for Hi-Res audio recognition as well as, on paper, greater clarity. 

At $169.99, the G935s aren't cheap. However, they are cheaper than the still-available G933s. That's good for consumers wanting to upgrade or for those that want to essentially get a new set of G933s. 

Logitech G935 left-side view with mic


From stem to stern, the G935s look identical to the G933s. Coming in all black, the headset features a plastic frame with metal yoke, rhombus-shaped earcups, removable earcup plates, and leatherette padding. 

Starting at the core of the headset, the overall build of the G935s is fairly sturdy. While the earcups feel a tad rickety, they also tilt inward off the yoke and rotate to sit flat on your shoulders or desk. Both of these are factors contributing to their "wobbliness" when the headset is held by the headband.  

Each earcup is designed to be worn over the ears, and each has leatherette padding around them. The earcups themselves are deep and able to accommodate a variety of ear sizes. However, the earcups did feel a bit tight across my upper jaw, a feeling that persisted after a month of wear. 

The left ear cup is where you'll find all of the G935's buttons, inputs and outputs, and noise-canceling mic.

The back of the earcup has the power switch at the top. Below that are three programmable "G" keys and a mic mute button. Below those is the volume wheel. The charging port and the 3.5mm audio port are on the bottom of the earcup. Finally, the noise-canceling mic is vertically nestled into the front of the left earcup. 

Each earcup also features a detachable outer plate. Removing the left plate reveals a place to house the headset's wireless USB dongle. Removing the right plate reveals the headset's battery. I absolutely love this feature of the headset, specifically the housing for the USB dongle. It's also nice to know that it's super easy to replace the headset's battery if need be. 


As is standard on most modern headsets, the G935s feature RGB lighting. Here, the design is replicated from the G933s; one lightband crawls up the back of each earcup to the top center of each earcup. The new, blockier Logitech logo is featured on the lower back corner of each outside, removable plate. 

The RGB lighting can be finetuned through the refined G Hub software. As expected, you'll have access to a vast palette of colors and a wide array of effects. You can assign one color to the lightbands and one to the Logitech logo, and you can also cycle colors while dialing in cycle rates and brightness. 

The more interesting aspect here is the use of LightSync and Screen Sampler. The former allows you to sync your lighting profiles across all of your Logitech devices, including keyboards and mice. The latter allows you to set capture zones on your monitor. These zones then dynamically change the RGB scheme to whatever is on screen in a particular zone. 

G Hub also allows you to assign actions and macros to the headset's "G" keys. Here, you have options such as increasing bass and increasing treble. However, you can also assign the keys actions such as opening programs or performing keystrokes. 

Lastly, G Hub is where you'll tweak the headset's audio profiles and access its equalizer. You can activate noise removal and enable surround sound. You can disable the headset's sidetone and control mic volume. And you can choose audio presets or more finely adjust frequencies through the equalizer. 

If you've used G Hub or any recent Logitech software, you'll be right at home as not much has changed. 


Before I get into the way this headset sounds, I do want to talk about a few hiccups that impact user performance, specifically the design of the "G" keys and the build of the volume wheel. 

While I was able to get used to the placement of the "G" keys, I wish they were more defined. As it stands, it's very difficult to quickly differentiate between them, even when not playing games. One tends to bleed into the other. 

What's more, I don't (at all) see the use in the mic mute button because simply physically flipping the microphone up mutes it, and it's located between the third "G" key and the volume. The mute button maybe should have been removed and the "G" keys made either larger or more defined in its absence. 

Moving to the volume wheel, it too could have benefited from being larger. It's just too small as it stands. Finding it can sometimes be a pain, especially with the mic mute button placed in such proximity. That's not to mention the wheel feels loose and audibly "thunks" when touched/released. Thankfully, it doesn't make a sound when actually increasing or decreasing the volume. 

Aside from being bassy on its default, out-of-the-box setting, the G935s sound great. Where the Artemis Spectrum is still heralded as one of the best sounding wireless headsets available, the G935 inherits that lineage.  

For gaming, DTS Headphone: X 2.0 seems to improve upon the previous version of the surround sound software. I was able to hear gunshots in Battlefield 1 and Sniper Elite V2 Remastered with great clarity. I was able to pinpoint the exact location of enemies in games like Apex Legends, too. Comparing them to the Logitech G533s, the G935s did seem to provide better clarity in these situations, allowing me to better discern exactly where sounds were coming from. 

For movies, surround sound is fantastic. Movie and television dialog is clear and precise, while action sequences, such as those in John Wick and Mission Impossible: Fallout, are explosive. Interstellar is still, well, stellar in surround sound. 

Although the headset's bass-heavy proclivity means that music can easily become muddy, I do appreciate that the G935s render sound without distortion. Additionally, I very much enjoy how the headset forms the music around the vocals, where vocals always seem to be in the center channel and instruments in the surrounding channels. 

  • Works on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
  • Fantastic directional audio with improved DTS Headphone: X 2.0
  • Clear mic with flip-to-mute features
  • Only works wirelessly on PC and PS4; Xbox One and Switch require the included 3.5mm cable
  • Cramped button layout on the back of the left earcup
  • Bass heavy on default profile; can only change profiles/access EQ on PC

In a vacuum, the G935s are a fairly easy recommendation. That's especially true for those looking to get the Artemis Spectrum 2.0. Many of the pros and cons of that headset apply here. The 50mm drivers and DTS Headphone: X 2.0 technology found in the G935s do make this a slightly more attractive purchase than the G933s at this point. 

While the sound quality of the headset is hard to beat, I can't help but feel the headset's design is just a bit too antiquated. I also still think that the "G" buttons are a bit too cramped, the headset is a tad bulky, and that not having some sort of EQ DAC for console completely removes one of the headset's biggest selling points, and that is hard to ignore.

[Note: A G935 review unit was provided by Logitech for the purpose of this review.]

Close To The Sun Review: Horror, Mad Science, and Exploration On The Sea Mon, 06 May 2019 16:09:10 -0400 Ty Arthur

We're still more than a month away from Stranger Things Season 3, so if you need a good tale of science run amok while things from other dimensions wreak a little havoc, you're in luck with the release of Close To The Sun.

Set on an isolated ship-city under quarantine, Close To The Sun puts you in the role of Rose Archer, who will have to unravel layers of mystery while searching for her sister.

If you don't mind a lack of guns or magic powers and just want to experience a sci-fi horror tale, you should make a point of picking up Close To The Sun... so long as you can overlook one (perhaps not so) little detail. 

Bioshock Goes Epic

Here's the thing we need to get out of the way immediately: yes, this is currently an Epic Store exclusive. I won't bother rehashing that whole debate. You already know how you feel about that, and I don't suspect I'll be changing your mind. Obviously, for some gamers that means they'll never play Close To The Sun (at least until it hits other storefronts).

With that out of the way, everything from the location to the level aesthetic will immediately make you think of Bioshock. As someone who desperately loved Bioshock Infinite and hopes we'll get more someday, I'm perfectly fine with that very obvious inspiration.

Overall, Bioshock isn't a bad place to start with comparisons if you want to know what kind of game you are in for. However, it's important to note this is more of a walking sim horror game than anything involving gunplay. There is no combat at all, so your only option when the dimension-hopping, time-traveling beastie shows up is to run and avoid evisceration.

With the alternate history revolving around technological marvels, there's a tinge of the Prey reboot in here as well, although this game takes place on a massive ship at sea rather than out in space.

Mad Science, Alternate History, and Unrelenting Horror

For this take on the alternate history mad science horror genre, we focus on Tesla vs. Edison, a scientific rivalry that has fascinated history buffs and conspiracy theorists for most of America's history.

In this version, Tesla comes out (more) on top, and takes to the sea on a stunningly massive ship (that's basically its own state). He does to freely invent and develop new tech without government interference.

Of course, those researchers delve into things they didn't quite comprehend, resulting in odd, quasi-supernatural and mythological things going on, but with a weird science backing at all times. From unsettling jump scares to mutilated bodies to a straight up monster, there's plenty of horror to be found.

The most effective part of the scares is easily how the sound and music work to establish the mood, so make sure to play this one with your headphones rather than speakers.

Aside from sound, the visuals during both the investigative puzzle segments and the running horror segments are worth mentioning. For a game from a new-ish (and smaller) development team, this is a shockingly beautiful title.

While it's missing things like the run and gunning that you'd typically see in a big budget game, you could easily mistake Close To The Sun for a AAA title that just happens to be focused more on story and exploration than any sort of combat.

Keeping Players Engaged

 Someone is very serious about their toiler paper supply!

Between free-roam exploration and escaping unkillable enemies, Close To The Sun keeps you engaged without combat through a cast of fabulous characters, like Aubrey, a disembodied voice on the radio who is clearly unhinged but managing to keep his cool.

There's some humor in there to break it all up as well, from jokes about a young Einstein being on board to notes left between employees to remind you all those torn apart bodies were real people.

On the exploration side, the puzzles aren't particularly hard, and are fairly standard concepts: flipping switches, finding access codes and keycards, turning electric on and off, twisting locks to the right combo, and so on.

The only real frustration will come from the chase sequences that are sadly marred by that one recurring issue of defenseless horror games... having to replay the sequence over and over because you missed where they wanted you to go during the frenzy of running and hiding.

The Bottom Line

  • Great visuals and excellent sound/voice work
  • Fun mashup of sci-fi exploration and defenseless horror
  • Interesting characters
  • Very little in terms of replay, especially if you fully explore the first time
  • Fairly short overall experience
  • No combat or gameplay outside of puzzles and exploration

Depending on how often you need to repeat chases or how long it takes you to figure out the puzzles, the full experience here is somewhere between 3 1/2-5 hours.

Replayability essentially comes through picking up any collectibles you missed, as well as finding one hidden area with a secret backstory segment. If you found all that on the first playthrough, then you're pretty well done with Close To The Sun.

The lack of replayability is the one major downside here that might keep the game off your must-play list. It's a well-crafted title, but short and lacking in anything beyond exploration, light puzzle solving, and fleeing enemies.

That being said, if you want to play more games like SOMA or Layers Of Fear but prefer more of a sci-fi Bioshock style aesthetic and story, nothing right now is going to top Close To The Sun.

VA-11 HALL-A Review: A Stylish Visual Novel That Feels at Home on Nintendo Switch Thu, 02 May 2019 15:05:39 -0400 diegoarguello

“Time to mix drinks and change lives,” says Jill every time a new shift begins. She’s a bartender in an obscure joint found in an alleyway of Glitch City, the main city in Sukeban Games' VA-11 HALL-A. 

Set in the distant future, the city is run by mega-corporations, and androids are more than an established part of society. However, both the androids and humans have their fair share of problems, and they all prefer to tell more about their lives with a drink in hand.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual initially released for PC back in 2016, followed by a PlayStation Vita port in 2017. Now, the cyberpunk tale has made the jump to the Nintendo Switch (it also just came out on the PS4). The Switch version, though, includes HD Rumble, touch controls, and the perfect portability that I’ve grown so attached to during my time with it.

The first message you see when you start a new game tells you to get yourself comfortable and grab a drink and some snacks. In my experience, playing in bed wrapped in a blanket made for a perfect match. 

VA-11 HALL-A starts with the basics. Each day in the bar is divided into two stages; there's a break in between for Jill to grab a smoke or get some air, which the player uses to save their game before continuing with the routine.

Almost everything in VA-11 HALL-A happens on the same screen, too. On the left side, you’ll see the characters that show up in the bar, along with your co-workers, and read the dialogue box. On the right side, you have your own bartending mini-game.

There are different ingredients to use, options to make a drink either aged or on the rocks, and a mix button that can lead to two different results depending on how long you shake the drink. Clients come and talk about their lives, and often ask for several different drinks during their visits. Once you get their order, you only need to look for it in a receipt book and follow it through.

Sometimes it gets a bit more complex. People will make general requests that have more than one correct answer, and as long as the drink matches it in some way, you’re good to go. This includes something bitter, or maybe a non-alcoholic drink, while others are even more abstract.

While mixing drinks might just seem like a mini-game that adds some variety to the visual-novel elements of the game, the mechanic is perfectly integrated with the overall experience. Conversations feel natural and all of the characters are equally interesting yet distinct in their own way. And since there’s no heavy penalty for messing up a drink, it feels like a very welcoming experience.

That doesn’t mean that Jill does voluntary work at the bar, though. She always gets a check at the end of the day, which often has bonuses for not messing up any orders. Before and after each workday, you can spend some time in Jill’s apartment reading the news or listening to music on her phone. But you can also buy things in an online shop.

Sometimes she will have something on her mind that wants to purchase, and if you happen to ignore such requests, Jill will have a harder time remembering what the orders were, making it easier to fail them and lose your bonus.

Again, it’s the little touches in VA-11 HALL-A that make for a greater experience. Manually drinking cans of beer while having a conversation with your boss on a balcony, or being able to create your own playlist out of a jukebox before every shift add a lot to your regular visual novel. And that’s what makes this one so special.

Playing VA-11 HALL-A as the developers intended you to, being as cozy as possible, couldn’t be more perfect on Nintendo Switch. I only wish the touch controls were fully integral since you’re likely to use the "L" and "R" buttons to open some menus from time to time. Other than that, it translates perfectly. And you need only to wear your best headphones to enjoy the music and get immersed in the story.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, since there is a main plot that starts to develop during the first days, along with different endings to discover. But the focus on characters is clear from the beginning, being a core aspect that works perfectly. Oh, and there’s a shiba inu with glasses. Really, what else can you ask for?

  • Interesting characters with equally intriguing stories to tell.
  • The bartending minigame adds a lot to the story.
  • Great sense of humor and compelling story overall.
  • Unbeatable soundtrack
  • Dogs wearing glasses.
  • Some parts of the UI don't translate entirely well while using touch controls.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel at heart, but all of the elements surrounding it make for a unique experience on its own. The Nintendo Switch version stands on its own as an excellent way of experiencing this cyberpunk tale, even if it's not completely flawless in terms of controls.

[Note: A copy of VA-11 HALLA was provided by Stride PR for the purpose of this review.]

Days Gone Review: Gone Killin' Thu, 02 May 2019 14:18:10 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

From Dying Light and The Last of Us to World War Z and Resident Evil, zombies have been a fixture in gaming for years. That's mainly because there are always those that fear the undead monsters and find the end of the world a fascinating place.

But given the number of zombie-centric games that have been released in the past 20 years, it can be challenging to stand out amongst the crowd.

Days Gone tries its best to stand out from that over-saturated catalog with its open-world approach to the zombie apocalypse. While it struggles to find new ways to differentiate itself from those that came before and has quite a few noticeable blemishes, it still manages to be a fun, if somewhat derivative, title that has its heart in the right place.

If you have seen, read, or have played anything zombie related in the past ever, you know exactly what to expect from the story of Days Gone.

Deacon St. John (played by Star War's Sam Witwer) is a biker who's lost a lot from his previous life and finds himself forced to take odd jobs from various post-apocalyptic rival camps to survive. Along the way, he brushes arms with a research group that was responsible for the disappearance of his wife.

From there, tropes from the genre abound. From showcasing themes on what it means to be human to examine the definition of the word "monster," you've seen all of this done before and much better. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does take away from the tension of what's going to happen next, as you can guess what's next.

While Day's Gone won't win any awards for originality, it still manages to tell a compelling story thanks to solid writing (save for a few instances) and great acting from its cast. Deacon and the gang might be stereotypes of other characters, but the game manages to flesh everyone out enough to give them likability and intrigue. Though it can get overly melodramatic, Day's Gone manages to engross you in its world for the nearly 20-30 hours it'll take to finish it.

Gameplay in Days Gone is a mixture of hand-to-hand melee combat, gunplay, and driving around.

Main missions have the right amount of variety to keep things interesting. Some have you sneaking around, while others have you driving to catch up to someone. Others are just good ol' fashioned kill-everything-in-sight missions. 

Combat encounters give you a wide variety of methods to take down your foes. You can take a stealthy approach and silently take enemies out, or go in guns blazing. Melee combat is satisfying thanks to a large armory of weapons. From simple wooden bars and metal pipes to hatchets and knives, you'll be happy with the tools on display. Later on, you'll also be able to craft weapons like Spike Bats; however, weapons easily break down, so you'll have to approach combat strategically and make sure there's something for you to use nearby.

Gunplay is mostly serviceable, thanks to positive feedback from your weapons and smooth aiming. The big issue with the game's gun combat is that the aiming reticle can be imprecise, making you lose a few of your shots. Ammo isn't too scarce, but you'll have to manage your ammunition.

Resource management plays a big part in Days Gone, too, as you'll often need to collect things to craft items like bandages to regain health and create weapons like Molotov's to burn enemies alive. Luckily, you won't have to craft too much, and there are plenty of times where dozens of collectible resources are in abundance in a single area.

Along with combat and resource management, a big part of the game is spent taking care of your bike. Seeing as it's your only form of transportation, you'll want to take care of it. You'll need to fix it up when it takes a beating, and you'll need to fill it up with gas. It might sound annoying, but you're given enough resources to keep things from getting too tedious.

The bike has a nice arcade-like feel to it, as well, though realistic physics are still bounded to it. Don't expect to jump high in the air and crash unscathed like other games in the genre. The bike can be a little sensitive here and there, but it mostly controls well. 

As you progress, you'll upgrade your bike from the various camp factions you come across and customize its appearance however you like. You can also purchase new weapons from these places and do different odd jobs.

Doing these tasks will build your trust with the settlers and grant you access to better weapons and upgrades. Some will give you better bike parts while others will provide you with better weapons. You can also send random survivors you meet on the road to specific camps you visit.

While the gameplay is mostly solid, side missions could have been much better. Most revolve around clearing out enemy strongholds, like in Far Cry, burning down zombie hives, or reactivating checkpoint stations. While the rewards, like new craftable weapons and increases to health or stamina, are great incentives, it can't mask the repetition that unfolds while carrying them out.

Graphically, Days Gone is a looker, though it's not without its hang-ups.

The world is meticulously detailed, giving the environments some personality. Each place you visit tells its own story, and even hints of what life was like before this version of the zombie outbreak took place. If you have a 4K TV, the game supports HDR, and it's put to good use, adding some liveliness to this dark and dreary world. 

The biggest issue with the game's presentation is its technical troubles. While none are game-breaking, most will take you out of the experience.  From characters glitching into the environment to spotty lipsyncing and textures not loading properly, it can get annoying.

Another issue has to do with the constant fade to black that happens before and after missions and cutscenes. It's a nitpick, but it does take you out of the experience. 

  • Refined gameplay
  • Solid visuals
  • Entertaining story and characters
  • Technical issues
  • Frame-rate hiccups
  • Overly-familiar

On a base PS4, the game runs well enough. Combat encounters and walking around generally runs at 30 FPS. However, there were some noticeable framerate drops whenever driving around. It's better on PS4 Pro, but it's disappointing. Seeing how well other PS4 exclusives like Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn on both machines, it's sad that playing on Days Gone on base PS4 is a slightly lesser experience.

Familiarity is something to keep in mind when deciding to purchase Days Gone. Almost everything you've seen here has been done in other open-world games and, in some cases, much better.

That said, Days Gone might not do things new, but it manages to do them very well. It presents a well-told story with characters that you slowly start to get attached to and mostly polished gameplay.

It might not break the mold, but it does an efficient job in replicating other titles. If you're not sick of the zombie genre, you'll want to give this one a shot.

Turtle Beach Recon 70 Headset Review: A Thrifty Option for PS4 Owners Mon, 29 Apr 2019 16:32:30 -0400 Thomas Wilde

It's kind of funny how Turtle Beach packages its products. I have a wired Elite Atlas headset, which seems to have been designed for the sake of an unboxing video; you unwrap that thing and you feel like humming the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The cheaper the headsets go, however, the less spectacular the presentation. If Turtle Beach made cheap convenience-store headphones, they'd come in a brown paper bag.

The Recon 70, conversely, is designed as a mid-range, affordable option for your headset needs, priced at US$39.99, with no frills or particular gimmicks. It's the product of a designer who knows the audience; this is a headset for somebody who wants a bargain and has nothing to prove.

You can spend a lot of money on PS4 peripherals without really trying  because Sony  and headsets are no particular exception. After a few days of marathon sessions with the Recon 70, I can say that at this price point, it'd be hard to do much better. It's a durable headset that provides decent sound for the money.

The word "decent" is crucial here, of course. You're paying for "serviceable" with the Recon 70, and that's what you get. The sound is clear, adjustable, and audible. If you're looking for a pair of headphones that'll fully embody the majesty and orchestral flavor of a particularly bombastic game soundtrack, these aren't them.

The Recon 70 also has a trademark Turtle Beach feature, as does the Atlas One on PC: the microphone is automatically muted if you flip it up. I go through a lot of headphones, and I've seen a lot of them that put their mute switch in some seriously awkward positions. (I have a Corsair PC headset where the mute switch is just on the side of the left cup, so it's basically always on. I can't not turn it on.)

With Turtle Beach's cheaper sets, if the mic's out of the way, it's off. It's a common-sense approach that should really be an industry standard, and if you play a lot of games on PS4 with voice chat, it makes the Recon 70 an attractive budget option.

The design is a bit bare-bones in all plastic and synthetic leather, with a master volume dial on the left cup, and it took me a little work before I found an angle at which the headset was comfortable. Once I did, though, I found the Recon 70 easy to wear for long periods of time, which is really all I ask from a headset of any kind.


All in all, it's worth the money. If you just want a pair of headphones so you can play late at night without waking up the house, or you'd rather save your money for one more game, the Recon 70 is a decent all-around option that offers acceptable performance and comfort at an acceptable price.


  • $39.99 gets you a decent wired headset that's compatible with anything that has a 3.5mm jack.
  • Reasonably comfortable, even if you have them on for an entire workday.
  • Decent sound.


  • It does feel a little cheap: synthetic leather, thin plastic.
  • The short cord makes it hard to use for anything besides console play.
  • "It does the job" is hardly a ringing endorsement.

[Note: A Recon 70 review unit was provided by Turtle Beach for the purpose of this review.]

Mortal Kombat 11 Review: (Nearly) Flawless Victory Mon, 29 Apr 2019 14:36:21 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Fighting games are in a weird position. It is tough for many series to dramatically evolve while retaining the core essence of what makes them popular. People who have been around fighting games have an idea what the difference is between the style — of both the presentation and the gameplay  of series like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. This is part of what makes Mortal Kombat 11 such a joy to play through.

NetherRealm Studios threw the kitchen sink at this one, offering up all sorts of ways to reinvent the classic franchise. Through it all, however, Mortal Kombat 11 feels very Mortal Kombat. It hearkens back to some of the silliness in the series' past while still maintaining the extremely brutal violence it is known for.

On the gameplay front, there are still wild juggle combos, frame traps, and a huge amount of styles to learn all while greater emphasis is put on strategizing and the neutral game.

Since NetherRealm slightly reinvented the series back in MK9Mortal Kombat has been a worthy challenger to the other big fighting game franchises. With Mortal Kombat 11, it may have finally pulled ahead of the pack as the one to beat.

Round One. Fight!

Kano smirks in Mortal Kombat 11, one of NetherRealm's finest fighting games.

Most fighting games won't make much of a dent without a rock-solid fighting system in place, and the fighting mechanics in Mortal Kombat 11 have been fine-tuned very well. This is still a game focused on intricate, precise combos and long juggle strings, but MK11 also does a good job of rewarding strategy, patience, and spacing.

There are multiple characters designed around nearly any fighting style you could want to play: rushdown, zoning, keep-away, counter punching, grappling, and more. Even better, there are loads of customization options for every character. Each one comes prepackaged with multiple fighting styles  which swap out some special moves  and you can create your own custom styles, too.

It probably won't be legal in professional tournaments, but it's fun to fine-tune your favorite character to match up to different playstyles that might trouble you.

On top of that, Mortal Kombat 11 also features a robust training mode, possibly the best one I've ever seen in a fighting game. There are options for working on everything from the most basic maneuvers to insanely complex ones but, most importantly, MK11 tries to tell you when to use certain things and why you would do it.

For a genre that's totally unforgiving to newbies, the MK11 fighting experience does a wonderful job of trying to decipher some of the more complex systems in the fighting game community. If you're trying to be a more competitive player, Mortal Kombat 11's training modes would like to speak with you.

Content Overload

Cetrion from Mortal Kombat 11

Regardless of if you want to square off against the CPU, sit on the couch with some friends and trash talk, or go online and train to become the next EVO champion, you aren't going to find a lack of content in Mortal Kombat 11. Outside of standard 1v1 matches against friends, there are tons of ways to play the game.

Mortal Kombat 11's story mode is pretty good, involving a time-traveling baddie who brings back older versions of characters from past MK games. It's pretty fun watching old-man Johnny Cage spar with his neon-clad, action movie star past. The story mode weaves an interesting tale and allows you to play as a variety of different characters, but you will find yourself sitting for five to 10 minutes sometime, wondering if you're playing a fighting game or watching a movie.

There are Klassic Towers, which simulate arcade single-player modes of old. There's the Towers of Time, which is billed as an "evolving" single-player mode, offering big challenges and rewards in an ever-changing landscape.

There's the Kustomization mode, where you can mess around with your favorite fighters. Add new skins, change out their gear, and swap out special moves for one another. Partnered with that, there's the Krypt, where you can walk around Shang Tsung's island (and the evil sorcerer is even voiced by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who played the character in the 1995 film), solving puzzles and opening chests full of loot.

You can even create A.I. setups for individual fighters, adjusting sliders to determine how the CPU will approach battles. You can then send these A.I. creations out to battle other A.I. opponents and analyze the strategy. This, of course, will earn you rewards.

There is A LOT to do. And that's a bit of a double-edged sword with Mortal Kombat 11.


Cassie Cage holds two pistols

The sheer amount of content and, more specifically, how you earn it, is the central drawback in MK11. You earn coins through fighting winning matches, executing long combos, etc. Coins then open up chests in the Krypt, which are entirely randomized; they may contain a mythical skin for your favorite fighter, or they might contain some concept art that will get buried in an options menu and never seen again.

There are also souls, a second form of currency. These are earned only through winning matches and can open up rarer things in the Krypt.

Oh, and there are hearts, which are earned through executing fatalities at the end of fights. Those open the rarest chests in the Krypt.

And there are Time Krystals, too, which you can use to outright buy things like skins and equipment from the store. However, the store is randomized as well; you may find several pieces for your favorite characters, or you may find a bunch of stuff for someone you'll never play as.

That's four different units of currency, earned through different means, which unlock different equipment at varying rates. Each character has dozens of skins, pieces of equipment, and even finishing moves to unlock; yes, each character only has one available fatality when you start playing. Even if you know the button combination for other finishing moves, you can't execute them until you've unlocked them.

And, again, the method for unlocking things is entirely randomized. You can't look up which chest in the Krypt will have which specific item in it because it varies from game to game.

If that sounds infuriating, congratulations. You could play MK11 for hours, looking solely to pimp out your favorite character and find practically nothing for them. Luckily, NetherRealm has already said they plan on tweaking the game's economy so unlocks don't take quite so long, but it is frustrating.

Get Over Here

D'Vorah performs a fatality

None of this — a massive character roster, a huge number of game modes, a gigantic digital wardrobe would be worth anything if Mortal Kombat 11 didn't play well. Thankfully, it does. Animations and transitions don't suffer from any stutter or odd clips, the netcode has offered up consistent lag-free matches, and everything has the gruesome polish you'd expect from Mortal Kombat.

Fatalities are over the top and violent but have a hint of playfulness without becoming overly cute. Certain moves have the impact that we crave in a fighting game, and properties change on the fly depending on if you land a counter hit or an anti-air with certain things.

Combat in MK11 is deep without being too daunting even a relative newbie can grab a controller and start throwing out fireballs in no time. Like any fighting game worth its salt, newcomers won't be taking out seasoned pros any time soon, but it doesn't feel like too steep a hill to climb due to the game's polish, focus on combat mechanics, and excellent training modes.

Finish Them!

Shao Kahn sits on his throne

  • Great polish on characters, modes, and fighting mechanics.
  • A good fit for newcomers and series veterans alike.
  • Tons of ways to play and customize the game.
  • Playfulness helps balance extreme violence.
  • Almost too much four different types of currency, extra fatalities need to be unlocked, and no clear direction what the best way to do it all is.

If you like fighting games, it seems unlikely you'd dislike Mortal Kombat 11. It has an impressive array of ways to play, some well-manicured combat systems, an impressive story, and tons of stuff to do.

Some aspects can get a little tedious and, like all fighting games, it can be tough when you're just starting out. However, an impressive tutorial mode can help teach you the ins and outs of the series and give you a fighting chance.

MK11 should stick around for a while NetherRealm has already announced some serious DLC plans and esports support. If you want some good fisticuffs, solid coach co-op, or a game you can get lost in for a while, Mortal Kombat 11 should scratch your itch.

[Note: A copy of Mortal Kombat 11 was provided by NetherRealm for the purpose of this review.]

Dark Devotion Review: Death Lurks Within Every Pitch Black Pixel Fri, 26 Apr 2019 12:44:59 -0400 Ty Arthur

You'd be forgiven for thinking Dark Devotion is just another Death's Gambit. While the titles do look similar, there's still room in the underdeveloped 2D Souls-like Metroidvania subgenre. And frankly, Dark Devotion is a great addition to that genre's growing catalog.

Rather than a clone or a rehash of the same thing, Dark Devotion serves as an excellent counterpoint to Death's Gambit, revealing how a few changes in design can create a different experience in the same genre.

Simply put, if you love pixel art or like a truly challenging dark fantasy game, Dark Devotion is going to work for you  whether you care about the Souls games or not.

Die, Pray, Die

 The real hero is this guy who tirelessly re-forges my sword when I die

Although the inspiration behind the game's combat style is quite clear, Dark Devotion actually reverses the expected formula in many ways. Rather than losing your experience and skills, you lose your equipment and items on death.

In an interesting take on the genre, this entry follows an NES-style formula where all damage to your character is calculated the same. Getting hit by a sword thrust from a shambling skeleton is the same as getting hit by a swinging ax trap or getting punctured by an arrow from across the screen.

The result is that both combat and trap avoidance revolve heavily around stamina management while dodge-rolling or blocking. Of course, you won't always time everything right, so that's where armor and health come in. Keep in mind, though, these are essentially the same thing since all attacks deplete 1 unit of armor or health.

Your mysterious female Templar starts Dark Devotion with Level 3 armor and a full 3 health, which may erroneously lead you to the belief that this is a Souls-like you can actually play without constantly dying.

 Behold my beautiful gleaming armor and polished sword.
Nothing can stop me!

But of course, that's not the case at all. Get ready to die, and die a lot.

After learning Dark Devotion's mechanics, you immediately get ganked by an unstoppable creature and have to start over at the bottom of the totem pole with threadbare cloth, minimal health, and a pathetic sword that's better suited to slicing bread.

Unlike overly difficult games such as Darkest Dungeon, Dark Devotion is actually fairly generous with healing poultices and armor repair sets. However, it's still pretty easy to die, so don't think this is the dreaded easy mode that Souls fans hiss and boo at whenever it's mentioned.

There is a way you can reduce the unrelenting difficulty of the traps, however; you can turn the brightness way up! Sure, it's completely anathema to the game's design and style since "Dark Devotion" is both literal and figurative. Regardless, the option is there if you're about to smash your screen to bits because you landed in another spike pit or didn't quite see the sharp glinting edge of that spear thrusting down from the ceiling.

Exploring A 2D World (And Killing Everyone You Meet)

While trying (and likely failing) to not get sliced, hacked, or burned to death, there's a large world map to explore in Dark Devotion, which is a bit hampered by the game's odd checkpoint system.

With this system, you can link any one single shrine back to the main game hub. The catch it that you can only link one at a time.

When you find new shrines, you have to decide which one to keep linked for teleportation and which one to unlink. In a way, it sort of adds another tactical element to the game, but it will also result in frustration if you get tired of constantly dying while trying to link a different shrine.

In a callback to the Souls style, the main game loop consists of finding bits of lore, learning how to progress through current parts of the map, dying, and doing it all over again.

The world map is static, but loot and rune drops are randomized. This means you'll often get different equipment and, consequently, have to try out different tactics on each run while memorizing trap and creature locations.

While all enemy attacks do the same amount of damage, the reverse is not true. You'll constantly be on the hunt for weapons to increase your damage output. Well, before you die and have to find new ones all over again.

Different play styles are accommodated by varying weapon types like the sword, scythe, flail, two-handed claws, and bow. Personally, I'm a fan of the giant two-handed swords, which slow attack but provide slightly longer reach.

To avoid a constant RNG-fest where you never know what you will be using, some weapons, armor, and even consumable items show up at the smithy and can be re-equipped each time you die. Unfortunately, it is very unclear which specific items remain available at the Smith after dying and which ones don't.

At the moment, I still have no clue how that system works. Based on some of the game's forum posts, it seems like other players are scratching their heads over this one as well.

Shambling undead, giant monsters, and elite armored creatures make up on half of the obstacles you deal with while searching for better equipment. 

In proper 2D style, Dark Devotion adds an array of devastating and dastardly traps that revive the truly challenging platforming qualities found in games of the SNES/NES era  but minus the jumping.

There's an important reason to ditch any sort of jump animation: stamina is more crucial than health, both in combat and in puzzling out the moves needed to get past a trapped hallway.

Constant death also ties in as an important mechanic here. If you've jumped down a ledge to a lower area, for example, there's typically no way back up, forcing you to move forward. 

Measuring The Souls Effect

Constant death, no jumping, memorizing attack animations: this all sounds familiar, and it should.

As you might expect, the bosses are also incredibly hard and utterly vile (but in a good way). 

From huge fetus monsters abandoned at bloodstained altars to a giant who has been flagellated to shreds and chained to the wall (whose arm rips off when he drops to half health so he becomes disgustingly mobile), you are going to see some things in this game, that's for sure.

Overall, the bosses are more interesting in terms of aesthetics and design than Death's Gambit — other than perhaps the out-of-left-field robot sniper battle in that particular game.

Personally, I'm in love with the variety and the design of bosses, and I love the way they connect to the lore, even if some are going to strain your patience to the breaking point.

When there's no jumping, limited stamina, and a restricted field of view brought on by the game's constant darkness, throwing action RPG style boss encounters at you feels flat out unfair.

When a boss spawns multiple enemies for you to deal with and flings unseeable bullet-hell projectiles from off-screen, it's less an issue of "git gud" and more an issue of "How many times are you willing to re-try this boss before you murder someone?"

Finally, there's one other source material analog worth mentioning. As with most of the Souls style games, there's no pause option available. It simply comes with the territory but frankly, it's a design decision I don't really understand. There is no multiplayer element to this game, so there's no reason not to be able to pause. You can pause in Sekiro, for God's sake. 

For me, it's not even an issue of needing a breather to re-think my strategy it's an issue of having a toddler who frequently pulls me away from a game so I can't always just stand there waiting to be murdered by wandering monsters and lose all my progress yet again. 

Dark Devotion: The Bottom Line

  • Smooth controls
  • Excellent dark atmosphere
  • Great twist on the Metroidvania/Souls-like/Rouge-like style
  • There's hard and then there's unfair; sometimes Dark Devotion is the latter
  • The relentlessly dark aesthetic sometimes gets in the way of the gameplay
  • The checkpoint system is kind of annoying

Whether Dark Devotion is meant for you will likely boil down to whether you like the visual flair and dark aesthetic of the game.

As a fan of grimdark fantasy where there are no good guys, I found the atmosphere to be absolutely spot on. From prayer acting as a profane and selfish act to the prevalence of fatalistic and evil Templars, Dark Devotion's tone feels right.

The control scheme might also play into your decision here, as these 2D throwback titles can feel really clunky when they try to emulate an earlier era of gaming. Luckily, that's not an issue here. Even with very limited controls and mechanics, the dodge rolling, blocking, and attacking all feel very smooth.

There's one caveat on that front, however — there were major controller support issues ahead of launch, such as buttons randomly remapping for no apparent reason. They have largely been addressed with a day-one patch, although it's not 100% fixed yet.

In terms of overall length, Dark Devotion ends up a fairly long experience for an indie 2D game expect 12 or more hours if you are awesome at this style, or even up to 20 if you're still trying to git gud.

When you add it all together, this is a killer entry in the 2D genre, although some the insanely difficult bosses and map checkpoint design may temper your enjoyment.

Pathway Review — A Pulp Adventure Without The Feeling Tue, 23 Apr 2019 16:17:10 -0400 Jason Coles

The word "pulp" used to be shorthand for cheap magazines printed on cheap wood pulp paper. It has since become more directly associated with the kind of adventure that follows along with games like Uncharted and films like Indiana Jones.

It's the kind of thing where a group of plucky protagonists (or just one) take on an evil empire (Nazis and cults) and emerge victorious. 

Pathway, from Wargroove developer and Stardew Valley publisher Chucklefish, attempts to capture that feeling and setting, and distill it into a turn-based strategy RPG game. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag. 

Set in the 1930s, Pathway has you making your way through a huge desert. You move through five different adventures, each trickier than the last, and fight through hordes of Nazis, zombies, poor, defenseless dogs who just want to play, and other things that want you dead.  

You begin by forming your team, choosing from the characters you've unlocked so far. Each of them has their own weaknesses and strengths, things like being a great shot but also being very slow. They can also only wield certain weapons to begin with, so you have to balance who you choose with how you like to play.

They do level up as you go, each time gaining access to one of a few passive buffs or abilities, but none of them are particularly interesting. The characters do have concrete progression, so if a character has leveled up in a run, they will always be that level when you choose them. 

Once you've chosen your characters, you then get to mess around with the game's difficulty sliders. One controls enemy health and damage, the other dictates your starting fuel and ammo. Difficulty sliders are a great way to tailor the experience to whatever you need from it, and this is one of the best things about Pathway

After you've done all of this, you set off across the desert on a map full of nodes. You go from one node to the next in a nifty little jeep and use up one unit of fuel as you move. Each movement has a lovely animation of the jeep driving and your team getting out of the vehicle, all of which great character to the game.

However, this sequence quickly becomes incredibly annoying when you are going back to already-explored nodes; you can't set a path, and instead, you have to go through them one at a time. It almost makes exploring feel like a chore, which means you end up being punished for your curiosity. 

This is not the pulp way. 

Some of the nodes have events on them, some are random, some have nothing, and some are indicated as special by an icon. You might come across a tomb filled with riches, or you might come across a village that is occupied by Nazis and in desperate need of saving. In the random encounters, there are usually options, such as running away or continuing the fight. 

While these moments often shine as memorable and lots of fun, where Pathway starts to feel like a choose-your-own-adventure book, a lot of them, unfortunately, just come down to two choices: fight or flee.

So after a run or two, these start to lose their luster, too. 

The fights are incredibly vanilla affairs. Each unit can do a small handful of things. You can attack, move, hide, or use special things like Medkits. Each battle has you placing your team during the planning phase, then moving individual members of your team and attacking the enemies, all before waiting while you hope to avoid the incoming bullets or zombie strikes. 

You can also perform special attacks. The trouble is that the special attacks don't feel very special. It's not like Final Fantasy Tactics where you do more damage if you attack from behind, or something where you have massive summons. There are just some guns and grenades here. You shoot, they shoot, you heal, they shoot.

It all works fine, but it has no snap. No crackle. No pop. Just a general feeling of "this is fine". 

At the end of the day, the entire game feels a lot like that. Aside from the difficulty sliders and the rather excellent soundtrack, the game is just kind of... fine.

There is nothing wrong with fine  not at all. It just makes it hard to commit to when we are all constant adrift in a sea of excellent games. Finding time for Pathway when you could be playing something else just feels impossible. 

The individual ideas here are all interesting, but the execution always feels as though it is lacking. It doesn't have the soul of a pulp experience in the same way that other games do. It just doesn't have the special something and it results in a game that is fun, but not memorable, nor essential. 

  • Interesting ideas
  • Lovely soundtrack 
  • Nothing really stands out
  • Why do I have to kill the dogs?
  • Frustrating movement on the map 

[Note: A copy of Pathway was provided by Chucklefish for the purpose of this review.]

World War Z Review: Left 4 Dead Formula is Alive But Shambling Mon, 22 Apr 2019 10:56:07 -0400 Sergey_3847

If you've been following the development of World War Z, then you probably noticed, like many other gamers, just how similar the gameplay looked in comparison to Valve's own Left 4 Dead franchise. Its playerbase even coined the term "Left 4 Zed," reflecting the feelings of the community.

Of course, it's not a direct rip-off, but there are many things in the gameplay that just scream L4D. Fortunately, there are plenty of original ideas, too. In case you've played the Valve's zombie shooter sometime over the past several years and miss that same vibe, then World War Z should help you get that fresh but not-so-fresh nostalgia fix.

So let's take a closer look at this new cooperative survival game from Saber Interactive and see if there is more to it than just a fancy title.

Story and Setting

The main campaign in World War Z begins in one of the four global locations: Moscow, New York, Jerusalem, or Tokyo. You must survive the swarms of the undead zombies and complete the mission by moving from one designated point to another.

You carry several types of guns and pick up ammo on your way to the finale. In the process players must fight different kinds of zombies, most of which don't pose a real threat and are easy to kill. But they usually attack in huge numbers, so at times it can get really hard.

Besides your typical swarms you will encounter special zombies that will make your life difficult. Fortunately, you won't have to fight them alone as there are always teammates on your side. Players can help each other by communicating voice messages and exchange information on the locations of healing items, better weapons, and ammo.

By the way, you don't have to worry in case you have no friends to play in co-op mode. The game is ready to provide you with three AI players who will do their best according to the chosen difficulty level.

Probably the best part about these AI companions is that they will respond to damage like actual players asking for help. This will prompt you to look after them, provide them with healing items and such. So it is quite fun either you're playing alone or with real friends.

Roaming through the streets of the four big cities is really exciting, as the locations are quite realistic and the level design is excellent. For example, when playing in a snow-covered Moscow, you may at times feel like you're playing one of the Metro games, which is famous for its realistic depiction of the post-apocyliptic Russia. But other cities look just as cool and all have their own distinct features.

Gameplay Mechanics

PvE Co-Op Mode

The very first thing that sets apart World War Z from the rest of zombie shooters is the location of the camera. In this case it is fixed behind the character’s back, or simply in a third-person view, which allows you to be more aware of your surroundings.

Before launching a mission, you will need to select the character and its class. The character selection menu offers how your character looks in the game with no customization features. But when it comes to selecting your class, things can get rather complicated.

The cooperative and multiplayer modes have their own separate class selection menus, where each class has its own separate skill tree. The game offers six main classes in co-op.

Players can earn XP points by completing missions, and in this way they can unlock different levels of the given skill trees. Each class has 31 skills in co-op mode, among which 27 are regular and 4 are unique.

At the end of each mission players get both class and weapon XP points. In World War Z each class has its own special abilities that determine their starting weapons. You can then use the weapon experience points to unlock additional attachments in the corresponding menu, and thus improve your basic firearms.

Each player has a primary and secondary weapons, which can be found during the missions. Usually, they are much better weapons than the ones you start with, such as heavy assault rifles, advanced SMGs, and even a chainsaw.

Besides the personal weapons players have the chance to use stationary machine guns, mortars, automatic turrets, etc.

PvEvP Multiplayer Mode

In PvEvP mode or PvPvZ online multiplayer mode two teams of four players fight against both zombies and players.

There are 10 classes in this mode, where each class has 13 skills to level up. Instead of cooperative missions like in PvE mode, here you have access to several different multiplayer modes:

  • Scavenge Raid
  • Vaccine Hunt
  • Swarm Domination
  • King of the Hill
  • Swarm Deathmatch

In this mode players don't get to choose their weapons, and you simply choose your starter kit, and get to run with it all the way through.

Some players may not like this kind of approach, but it reduces the amount of time you have to put towards  on weapons and class customization since the multiplayer modes are a lot shorter.


  • Swarms of zombies look impressive
  • Levels are very well designed
  • Huge pool of weapons and attachments
  • Left 4 Dead nostalgia fix


  • Missions are repetitive
  • Gameplay, although fun, gets boring rather quickly
  • Some network bugs and lags

In the end you can expect World War Z to be quite entertaining with all its large-scale glory, good graphics, and abundance of classes. However, the game is rather limited in terms of gameplay variety, and the only really fun to play it is with your friends.

Currently, there are only four available missions and that's just not enough for a full-fledged game. Of course, you could try to complete all the missions at Insane level of difficulty, so that you would have an incentive to improve your class and weapons. But other than that it can get boring rather quickly.

In any case, if you have a bunch of friends who like to play online, then you can have short and fun gaming sessions in World War Z for sure. Just don't expect too much from this zombie shooter, and you will not be disappointed.

[Note: A copy of World War Z was provided by Saber Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Katana ZERO Review: Modern Beauty Fri, 19 Apr 2019 10:57:59 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Katana ZERO is what you get when you mix '80s aesthetics with a story-driven and visceral 2D action/puzzle game.

I love it.

I've been familiar with developer Askiisoft for a decade now, thanks to their brilliant first release Tower of Heaven. At the time, it was passed around the internet as a mindblowing flash game. The platforming was floaty, but its Game Boy-era graphics and surprisingly catchy soundtrack paired with... well, you should just check it out. It's still very playable.

Askiisoft's later free releases, such as Jump Ahead and OverPowered, have all had a similarly compelling combination of aesthetics, music, and confusion. They have a particular style, no one can deny that.

Katana ZERO is the small studio's first full paid game, anyone aware of their previous work would know this one would be something special. A bigger, better, and more surprising Askiisoft game than ever before and you know what? It really is just that.

You spend most of the six or so hours of Katana ZERO working as a hitman with some serious problems. The world is dystopian and grimy, and the player character is very clearly mentally ill. That's all right, though. He's got a special power and is sort of open to taking his medicine.

That "special power" is his ability to manipulate time, which manifests in a few different ways during gameplay. You can manually slow time to dodge hazards like giant rotating fan blades, and your rolls warp time (Is it warping time or is he just that smooth?) just enough to keep you safe from damage or to get by other particular hazards.

However, the way his power manifests most for the player is the simple fact that when you get hit, you restart the stage. That's a rough way to manipulate time.

Each hit (assassination) you have to take care of has clear instructions. Sometimes it's not to talk to the target, sometimes it's to not kill anyone at all. The restrictions are varied and there are consequences to not performing as instructed.

Image source: Steam

The controls in Katana ZERO are buttery smooth; taking out grunts and bounding between rooms is an absolute delight. Slash, roll, wall-jump, whatever. It's all smooth as silk and incredibly satisfying to not only strike your enemies down, but to block-dodge their attacks and even their gunshots using your deft agility, trusty katana, and even environmental items.

You're not just trying to survive the human element in each stage, though. The targets you're after are high-profile and have similarly effective security measures you'll have to roll, sneak, and time-slow your way through to get in and out without breaking the contract's rules.

The thing is, though: You don't have to follow the instructions on the contract. There are consequences, but you can easily go your own way in most situations. It just may not be worthwhile for you to do so.

There are more choices than how you want to approach your missions, though. Between jobs are psychiatric appointments and story-driving dialogue scenes, both of which can be outright bizarre and do a fantastic job of portraying the gaps in one's memory, and how memory and imagination can blur with such ease.

The story doesn't trudge forward, it sucks you into its spiral void. To move things along, you talk on the phone, with your psychiatrist, and even with certain NPCs, but you can always decide what they have to say isn't worth your time by cutting them off mid-sentence. You can do this through pretty much all of the dialogue in the game if you're so inclined.

The flexibility between how you can complete a stage and how you interact with the game's other characters adds a very personal touch to the game. You're certainly playing as a character, but you make the experience your own.

I honestly really love Katana ZERO, but I'm pensive to spoil some of the experience here in this review.

From its gorgeous pixel graphics and snazzy music not too far from vaporwave to the incredibly satisfying gameplay and intriguing story, there is certainly a chunk of the gaming community that would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving Katana ZERO a fair shake.

It is absolutely worth it, and more than worthy to be Askiisoft's first full release.

  • Dreamy tunes to kill to
  • Intriguing and uniquely presented story
  • Fair but challenging hack n' slash katana action that's very satisfying
  • Gorgeous pixel graphics
  • The ending and story leave you hanging and left wanting a sequel

[Note: A copy of Katana Zero was provided by Askiisoft for the purpose of this review.]

Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission Review: Its Own Anomaly Thu, 18 Apr 2019 14:44:12 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission is an entire game, including story mode, based on a Japanese card-based arcade game.

It sees you combine decks of cards representing countless characters from the Dragon Ball franchise, then take on various opponents, either in the game-world of Super Dragon Ball Heroes or against other human players.

The combat system it uses is much more detailed than it initially appears, and it ends up being a well-crafted, engaging affair.

However, the rest of the game suffers from some issues, including the story mode, which should have either received more attention or just been cut out completely.

Yet for series fans or those willing to overlook its blemishes to enjoy the meat of the game, there's still a good deal of fun to be had here.

Gameplay Basics

Super Dragon Ball Heroes, as you may have heard, is a tactical card game. That probably brings to mind games like Yu-Gi-Oh or even the Pokemon Trading Card Game. However, SDBH takes a rather different approach to the tactical card genre.

For one thing, you don't pit one super-powered card from your massive deck against your opponent's equally powerful or more powerful card and let their various stats, attributes, and hidden bonuses determine the outcome.

Instead, Super Dragon Ball Heroes sees you build a deck of seven cards, each representing a different character or form from the expansive Dragon Ball franchise. These cards are all on the playing field at the same time, and the main action involves each side pounding the sand out of the other until one team loses all its energy or a set number of rounds has passed.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it isn't.

On the Battlefield

The battlefield is divided into four horizontal sections — the front three for attack, and the bottom blue one for support and recovery.

Your attack power each turn and who gets to go first are determined by your Power number. That itself is a metric that depends on the power of your chosen cards and where you place them. For example, putting your cards further up on the field boosts your Power number.

That's good for another reason, too. For every extra 3,000 points added to your Power meter, your Hero Meter increases by one. The Hero Energy meter is what your cards draw on for their special attacks. Each card has one, and the Hero Energy required for each varies; as you would expect, it's higher for stronger attacks.

However, units in the support area actually lower your Power meter. Instead, they are there to recover their stamina after it's been depleted, and many cards have special skills that activate in the support area to provide bonuses of another kind to your team.

Stamina is an important factor in SDBH, because once it's gone, your team can very easily be incapacitated. You usually start each battle with about one or two bars in your Stamina meter, and it depletes after each round.

If you fail a Charge Impact sequence (more on that in a minute) or you've completely depleted your stamina meter, that card is prone to being stunned, which means it can't attack or do anything and has to be placed in the Support area.

All of this is what you take into consideration before actually engaging in combat, and you get about 30 seconds to make your movement choices.

As much as it seems like loading all of your heavy-hitters onto the front-line would be a good idea (since it means lots of Hero Energy, which leads to everyone landing a special attack), it's not a very good idea after the tutorial missions.

For one thing, if you don't manage to K.O. the opposing team, you're left with an exhausted set of cards that won't add to your Power meter on that turn. Why? Because they're all already on the front, and if you move them back, then your Power meter actually goes down.

Oh, and some enemies automatically reduce your Power Meter to 0 at the beginning of every turn, completely screwing up your planning and forcing you to think on your toes.

What you've got, then, is a tactical shuffle dance where you determine which cards should go in what row for the best effect, always with an eye to what might happen on the next turn. It's more addictive than it initially seems, and battles rarely last so long that the system wears itself out, but it is a lot to take in.

Into the Fray

Like with most strategy games, combat itself is out of your direct control. Once you have your cards in the (hopefully) right places, you confirm your choice, and off they go.

Cards are divided into specific tiers, denoting rarity and power levels as well as four classes: Hero, Elite, Berserker, and Special.

Hero cards are the sort of bread-and-butter of the game, dishing out the most damage and being fairly resilient.

Elite cards are weaker in terms of power, but their ki attacks can damage enemy Stamina or stun foes, while Berserkers are more powerful and have a wider range of unique abilities.

Special cards are, well, special. They don't necessarily contribute to your offense directly, but they do offer a range of potent benefits, from preventing Stamina decreases for a set number of rounds to giving some kind of Charge Impact boost or tripling your Power meter level.

Fights play out in the spectacularly over-the-top fashion series fans know and love, with plenty of ki energy balls, earth-shattering punches and kicks, fighting robots, demon monkeys, and pretty much everything in between.

However, you do have a series of Quick Time Events, called Charge Impacts (CIs), to contend with for each attack and defense phase. Win these events, and you deal extra damage to your opponent, decrease their Hero Energy meter, or open the door to one of your team member's special attacks. Lose, and you do less damage or, during your defending phase, your opponent can launch a special attack.

There are items and abilities that influence the CI meter, making it slower for you or faster for your enemies, or the other way 'round, but the main CI event just relies on timing.

Other Quick Time Events play out during certain special attacks or transformations — the Great Ape's special attack, for example, or Z-Power (not Pokemon) attacks. These might require you to trace an infinity symbol, quickly slide sideways, or repeatedly give long slides up and down the screen.

There's what looks like a leftover bit from the game's arcade origins with some of these events, too, since it tells you to "slide the card," which... you can't do. SDBH's card system is completely virtual.

Some have noted how awkward these events are on PC. However, it feels completely natural on the Switch, and it's nice to see the touchscreen put to good use.

Other battle events include fusing and transformations, and they also play a role in your deck strategy. Certain cards, like Gohan, have the ability to change forms (Super Saiyan in Gohan's case) or to fuse with others, like the Xeno set of Vegeta, Goku, and co.

Apart from looking good with the flashy and dramatic changes that take place, they're quite useful. These changes give a power boost and usually come with a one-time special bonus to one metric or another, like Power or Stamina and can sometimes turn the tide of a battle.

And in case that wasn't enough, you can equip your cards with accessories to boost their power, HP, and other stats as well. Each card can equip up to four different accessories, and you purchase those with Zennie in the Hero Town shop. You also have capsules you can add in your Super Hero Robo to be distributed at certain points in battle.

Card Acquisition

As mentioned, there are over 1,000 cards to collect in Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission, spread out across more than 10 different sets.

Cards are acquired via a gacha-type system, where you spend tickets on a vending machine to acquire a card. Normal cards have a chance of producing rare cards, and, unsurprisingly, rare tickets get you rarer cards.

However, it's not pay-to-win, and the game is pretty generous with normal and rare tickets. You get a chance of each after every battle, and you can go back and replay story battles to earn more if you're primarily interested in single-player mode.

Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission isn't exactly a bone-grindingly difficult game anyway, but it still requires thought and planning.

That's why you'll want to spend your tickets. After the first chapter, you really need to start thinking about what cards you're using and how they work with each other. That's where the deck builder comes in handy since you can create multiple decks and easily swap between them depending on the battle.

The card system is most certainly designed with fans in mind. You can have an entire team of Gokus or Gohans from every age bracket, or a fourth-wall bursting mix combining villains like Towa the demon, the dark lord Beerus, and Vegeta and his cronies with the series' heroes.

The more invested you are in the series, the more you'll get out of it.

Some Negative Points

If this all seems overwhelming, with meters and CI and items and capsule-flinging robots all expecting you to know what you're doing immediately, well, the game doesn't actually help ease you into it all that much.

Where many modern games get lambasted for including lengthy tutorials spread out over the early hours, SBDH really needed that kind of tutorial.

After the opening story sequences, where you're sort of told what to do and then shoved along regardless, your avatar has to complete a set of training missions at the Hero Lab.

These cover the basics of abilities and the various meters, but it moves very quickly and doesn't really give you a chance to try it out on your own. More importantly, the cards you use for the training missions aren't the ones you actually have and end up using for a while. The abilities and everything you learn about are, thus, completely different.

By the time you're done and are ready for the first main story battle, it's very much a case of flying by the seat of your pants and hoping for the best.

Two other issues compound that problem.

This was the result of hitting the capture button a split-second too late.

The item and ability descriptions that pop up during battle are gone in a flash. Your humble writer is a fairly fast reader, but some of them disappeared before it was possible to read the whole thing.

Gradually, you learn them and don't really need to worry about it, but until that point, it's a hassle, especially for slower readers.

The other issue is that you can't see your cards' details during battle, so hopefully, you have a photographic memory and studied each card's abilities carefully before going into battle.

The level of detail in the battle system, and the fact that you choose from such a huge pool of cards, means most players probably will carefully consider abilities and skills before committing a card to a deck. Yet sometimes, particularly depending on the play environment, it's difficult to give the game that level of focus.

Like the item and ability descriptions mid-battle, it does get easier the more you play the game, but it's counter-intuitive for a game based around strategy to hamper the player's planning.

Tangled Threads

The story gets mentioned late in this review for a few reasons.

For one, it's not necessarily the main focus. There are other gameplay modes where you can just enjoy card battles without having to progress through the story.

For another, the story is built as if you are expected to enjoy those other modes the most, which isn't bad in itself, though it isn't handled the best.

There isn't much to the story on the whole. You live in a world obsessed with the card game Super Dragon Ball Heroes, or more accurately, you live in one city called Hero Town.

Your character learns he can use the Hero Switch and enter the game world via a special avatar, and he and his new friends must do so in order to stop the Anomalies in the game world from spilling over into Hero Town. These Anomalies are basically events in the Dragon Ball timeline that happen out of order or where characters or enemies meet each other and never should have.

The whole thing is really just a setup for a lot of fanservice, and series fans will definitely get the most out of it. Newcomers like this writer will more than likely be a bit bewildered from time to time, but you get the general idea.

Story mode has a lot of story sequences, and unfortunately, that's actually a drawback.

The writing lacks substance, and while you don't go into a game like this expecting stellar writing and dialogue, it would be nice if characters actually felt distinct from each other or there was consistency in the style and vocabulary each character uses.

On top of that, the dialogue doesn't take its cue from the well-paced battles and seems never-ending in each story event.

It makes up for that with extra content. There's actually a lot to do in story mode if you're interested in pursuing it. Aside from the main fights, there are rifts in space you can enter if you achieve Ultimate ranking in certain battles (done by meeting a set condition).

These are based on some of the plot points that get left in the main storyline and offer more of a challenge than those main story segments. More importantly, there are many more missions in these than in a regular chapter, even if you do have to sit through more dialogue before your fight starts.

Visually Good, Audibly Annoying

SBDH World Mission uses a heavy cel-shaded style for everything, which is to its benefit. Sure, it won't win accolades for graphical greatness, but the style doesn't age either, and it conveys the franchise's signature look and feel perfectly.

The music is suitable for the settings, though more BGM tracks would certainly have been welcome.

The voiceovers are a problem, though. The commentary in each battle and every time you get an item or card is enough to make you keep the volume off permanently, because like the dialogue, it never ends, and it's incredibly grating for that.



  • Multilayered tactical battles
  • Engaging card mechanics
  • Almost overwhelming number of options and cards
  • Tons of content


  • Very bad tutorial pacing
  • "Meh" would be generous for the story and writing
  • Some QoL problems that drag things down

Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission is an anomaly itself, at least from a review perspective. If you're playing it solely for the multiplayer and arena battles, you'll mostly see the game's better sides.

If you're looking for a good single player mode, you're getting what seems like two games: one, an engaging card battle game, and the other a bit of a mess in terms of presentation and care.

If you can overlook these issues, you'll probably still have a blast with the game anyway, just because of the sheer amount of content and customization.

[Note: Bandai Namco provided a copy of Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission for review purposes.]

God's Trigger Review: Earn Your Way into Heaven with Ultraviolence Thu, 18 Apr 2019 11:22:39 -0400 Thomas Wilde

My first impression of God's Trigger, unkindly, was that it was a co-op Hotline Miami clone. It has a similar initial feel, replacing the drug-soaked Florida psychedelia with angels, demons, and a surf-rock soundtrack straight out of a Robert Rodriguez movie.

You’re up against a small army of murderers, crammed into a top-down maze with you, and neither they nor you can take more than one hit. It’s full-contact rocket tag, where nobody just dies when they could ragdoll to the floor spraying blood from at least two severed limbs. Everybody in God’s Trigger is basically a water balloon filled with chunky salsa. Backtrack through a stage after you’ve cleared it, and it’s a messy giallo hell of broken bodies and empty guns.

When you die – and you will, easily and often – you’re back into the game again in seconds, starting from your most recent checkpoint. You’re graded on style and efficiency, using any means necessary to kill and survive. It’s even got that move where you can throw a stolen blunt object across the room to stun somebody, then crush their skull against the floor before they can recover.

Once I got a few levels into God’s Trigger, however, it started to change things up on me. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the better-paced games I’ve played lately, once I figured out what the game actually was.

When At Least Three Sub-Genres Love Each Other Very Much...

The thing about God's Trigger is that at its core, it's a twin-stick shooter. It reminds me of nothing quite so much as Total Carnage or Smash TV (I'm old, okay?), but with a few extra levels of complexity on top.

The Hotline Miami comparison’s still valid, but it becomes less accurate with every level you clear. You've got a lot of options and extra tactics in God's Trigger, especially once you have a few levels and perks under your belt, which means you have a surprising amount of control in any given situation.

There are always going to be rooms and encounters that simply come down to how fast and accurately you can move and shoot, but with forethought and exploration, you can keep that to a minimum. The best fights, after all, are the ones where you have an unfair advantage.

More importantly, God's Trigger has a lot of faith in itself. It introduces new challenges, gimmicks, and mechanics at a healthy rate, but never departs too far from its original formula or lingers too long on a new idea; it’s got enough confidence in its central gameplay loop that it isn’t in a hurry to break it. Even the obligatory turret section is A) over with quickly and B) treats the turret as a red herring. (If you actually use it, somebody will toss a grenade and that's all she wrote. Any tactic that involves standing still is not a winning move in God's Trigger.

Gotta Go Through Bullet Hell to Reach Bullet Heaven

In God’s Trigger, you play as Harry and Judy, a renegade angel and an Earth-bound demon, who are on a mission to track down and deal with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All four are involved in potentially world-ending schemes, with an army of possessed humans at their sides, but dealing with them is just a useful consequence. The Horsemen are part of a conflict that started in Heaven, and Harry’s out to fight his way back in.

In single-player, you control both Harry and Judy, switching between them on the fly with the touch of a button. They both have unique skills, abilities, and primary weapons. Harry can charge ahead, which breaks down weak walls, while Judy can teleport short distances, which can take her to the other side of fences.

Between them, the dash and the teleport open up a lot of new avenues of approach in each stage. They’re often used for simple puzzle-solving, but there are a lot of side passages and back entrances that you can open up with Harry and Judy’s powers. With that, stolen guns, explosives, and the level design, God’s Trigger walks an impressive line between leaving the stages open-ended and never making it too difficult to figure out where you’re supposed to be going.

The Demon's Better At Hurting People, Go Figure

Each enemy kill charges a special meter, which can be spent to set up a short slow-motion effect, or burned all at once to use a particular super move. At the start of the game, Harry can turn invisible to get by enemies without a fight, and Judy can mind-control a single target for a few seconds, which instantly turns him against anyone nearby. As you level up, you gradually unlock more special moves, like illusionary duplicates that attract enemy fire, but I never found any of them as useful as Judy’s mind control.

In fact, that’s probably the biggest problem with God’s Trigger: Harry is ostensibly the protagonist, but there’s no reason to use him when you could be playing as Judy. Her teleport’s more useful than his dash and has a short stun baked into it by default. The dash is almost useless as an ambush move (I never managed to burst through a wall to gank a dude; more often, the guy would just turn around and shoot me before the dash’s animation finished), and her primary weapon has a lot more range than Harry’s sword.

Harry eventually gets a few useful skills, like adding a shockwave effect to his standard weapon swing, but Judy’s just plain better than he is. In a single-player game, it’s kind of goofy; in co-op, it’s actively detrimental to the experience.

Harry could use a couple of basic quality-of-life offensive buffs to bring him up to Judy’s level. The intention seems to be that he’s more defensively oriented, but God’s Trigger is the sort of game where the only defense you need is to kill everything that moves. There’s no reason to burn meter on Harry’s shields or slows when you could use the same meter as Judy to depopulate some or all of the next room.

There are some fun possibilities in co-op, where Harry can cause a diversion while Judy comes in from another angle and murders everyone, but that adds an unnecessary extra step to your go-to plan. You don't need to be complex about things when, win or lose, everyone's only one hit away from death.

For all your options, neither Harry nor Judy ever get any ability that gives you extra health. You can eventually get a perk that gives you a single point of armor against incoming gunfire, but that’s often gone before you know it, and it doesn't come back. In practice, you need to stay mobile, scout your approach, and cheat like hell.

You can toss grenades into a room ahead of you as a distraction or for crowd control, vaporize unaware enemies with a stealth kill from behind, knock an enemy out by kicking a door open into his face, or use one of the comically overpowered sawn-off shotguns to exterminate an entire area code. I really don’t know why any enemies are carrying weapons besides shotguns. Whenever you see a guy with one of them, you need to treat him like he’s a hostile nuclear power.

There are a lot of cheap deaths and incidental nonsense in God's Trigger, and I spent a fair bit of time shouting at the screen, but it's all worth it for when everything ends up going your way. When you manage to take an entire room without being detected, or skate through a whole stage without getting killed, it's a nice kick of satisfaction and adrenaline that reminds you why you enjoy action games in the first place. You earned that momentary bit of smugness.

'Course, then the next enemy crushes you like a grape. Cycle of life, man.

  • A gory new-school-meets-old-school action game.
  • A nice surf-rock soundtrack.
  • Unforgiving, but reasonably fair. You'll usually know why you died.


  • It takes a couple of levels before it starts to grow on you.
  • Nobody’s going to want to play as Harry.
  • You know, I’ve beaten the entire campaign, and I have no idea what the hell “God’s Trigger” is.

I ended up liking God’s Trigger a lot more than I thought I was going to. I don’t think it’s entirely “fair” a lot of the time, but naturally, that’s part of the design. It could use a few more mid-fight checkpoints in the boss battles, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to start with, but once you’ve got the hang of it, the game plays surprisingly smoothly.

I did get frustrated every time I managed to style on a roomful of eight guys, only for a ninth to stroll in from just offscreen and blow my head off, but again, that’s just the kind of game it’s meant to be. 

[Note: A copy of God’s Trigger was provided by Silver Dollar Games for the purpose of this review.]

One Finger Death Punch 2 Review — Laser Focused Kung Fu Mon, 15 Apr 2019 09:47:58 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Despite its apparent simplicity, One Finger Death Punch 2 provides hours of entertainment and absolutely maximizes the successes of the original game.

Before each round of One Finger Death Punch 2, the game informs you how many enemies you'll be squaring off against. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of foes headed your way in later rounds, and that actually is better than the alternative. A low number usually means you're facing off against difficult enemies, rather than a steady supply of cannon fodder.

Your weapons in One Finger Death Punch 2 are your left and right mouse buttons. There is no way to move, no way to jump, no way to dodge. Like the climactic battle in any good kung-fu movie, success depends on reading the situation, timing your attacks, and having lightning fast reflexes. 

In so many words, this is a good fighting game. 

Wax On, Wax Off

One Finger Death Punch 2 revolves around a simple premise your character is a kung fu master, and people want you dead. They charge you from both sides and when they are in the range that appears on the bottom of the screen, you can attack and kill them. You click the left mouse button to attack left, and the right mouse button to attack to the right.

Then things start to get more complicated.

Some enemies take multiple hits, and they dodge from one side to the other. Weapons occasionally drop that you can snatch up with an attack, extending your range. Enemies throw color-coded projectiles at you: one color you can snatch out of the air and throw back, one you can duck and it will hit enemies behind you, and one you immediately send flying back in the direction it came from.

There are "balls of death" that you can send hurtling across the screen, instantly killing anything they touch. A variety of passive skills trigger after a set amount of time, unleashing mystical kung fu powers that wipe out multiple targets.

Essentially, for such a simple game, there is a lot going on. And it does an excellent job of introducing each new concept, letting you master it, then building something even more difficult on top of it.

The Crazy 88s

Screenshots don't really do One Finger Death Punch 2 much credit. When things aren't moving, it looks like a web-browser Flash game.

However, if you can ever find time to actually pay attention to what's happening around you, it actually features some beautiful animation and art.

Your character has a seemingly infinite number of martial arts moves at their disposal, switching between stances and attacks with every click. And it's through these little touches that you start to appreciate how much thought actually went into creating this game.

It's actually a rhythm game when you really get down to it. One Finger Death Punch 2 forces you to feel the beat, even if it isn't music you're aligning your reflexes with.

Instead, it's sweet, sweet kung fu murder.

This is one of those games where you find yourself just getting into the zone. The more you think about things, the worse you do. It's all about feel and rhythm, and it's immensely satisfying when everything clicks into place.

As you effortlessly mow down wave after wave of enemies, One Finger Death Punch 2 perfectly captures the feel of a climactic kung fu battle in all those low-budget movies.

Put Up Your Dukes

The presentation adds to that epic battle feel. The music alternates between stereotypical "Music of the Orient" and epic, operatic battle music. Two very stereotypical kung fu voices, a "sensei" type and an "evil masked villain" type, welcome you into nearly every level with some nonsensical quote.

There's no real story, here either. It's just a vague connectedness as you move across a map and battle your foes.

The game tells its story almost entirely through its style, and it luckily nails that aspect. The background collapses around you, your passive abilities trigger without any hitches, and the game occasionally throws in random events, such as a power struggle over two clashed swords, a slow-motion kill, or an overpowered enemy called a "Nemesis" that will take several hits more than an ordinary foe.

All of these aspects combine to make you feel like you are re-enacting scenes from a Bruce Lee movie. Everything in One Finger Death Punch 2 is seamless and just feels right.

Button-mashing gets you killed, and the sense of panic that builds as the game speeds up and its complex patterns start to emerge will test your cool and challenge even the most hair-trigger of gamers.

Boards Don't Hit Back

The dynamic difficulty in One Finger Death Punch 2 also helps gamers of all skills master its systems.

As you start to learn and perfect your abilities, the game will start to move faster. This, of course, awards you with more points. However, lose on the same level a few times — or even squeak by close to death a few too many times  and it will pull back that speed to keep things close.

As such, you will rarely find yourself getting blown out of the water by extreme difficulty spikes. Likewise, once One Finger Death Punch 2 has essentially figured out your skill level, you will have a tough time getting through any level unscathed.

There are other ways to play the game besides just the regular mode, as well. 

One Finger Death Punch has some pretty in-depth challenge modes and a survival mode where you can compete with friends and strangers to see who can kill the most faceless enemies as speed and intensity increases.

There is also a variety of customization options:

  • You can manually adjust speeds if you want things to be easier or more challenging.

  • You earn skill points as you progress through the game that you can use to make your favorite passive abilities trigger more often.

  • You can even add small customization flourishes to your character (like shading or angry eyes) to help certain things stand out.

It may seem like a bit of a one-trick pony, but One Finger Death Punch 2 does that one trick really well.

There's a lot of content here for such a simple-looking package. You could sink hours into any one of the modes without touching the others, but it definitely rewards you for playing through each way. Unlocking skill points and perfecting strategies are easier to learn in the regular mode, which will translate to getting higher scores in survival mode.

Finish Him

  • Excellent difficulty scaling
  • Strategic and difficult without being too complex
  • Captures the feel of kung fu movies
  • Not much beyond the central gameplay if it isn't your style, there isn't much else to find here

One Finger Death Punch 2 is not a perfect game for everyone, but it does execute its game plan to perfection. It takes a lot of skill without being infinitely complex. It is difficult without being infuriating. It is stylish without being a load on your GPU. It works equally well in small doses or in marathon sessions.

Best of all, it makes the player feel good. It hits that zen-like sweet spot that so many games strive for, and it rewards you for being able to quickly strategize and use the skills you've learned.

There are not many people that I would not recommend this one for. One Finger Death Punch 2 is beautifully designed, and it takes all the positives from the original game and draws them out to their logical next step.

[Note: A copy of One Finger Death Punch 2 was provided by Silver Dollar Games for the purpose of this review.]

Outward Review: Slow and Steady Wins the Race Sun, 14 Apr 2019 09:00:08 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Just to be upfront about the whole thing: survival games are not usually up my alley. I haven't played a ton of them. However, splitscreen co-op games are almost always up my alley. Thus, Outward found its way into my PlayStation 4 collection mere hours after release, and now here we are some 17 days later.

While I've played a fair amount of the game solo, most of my time with Outward has been spent in local multiplayer. It's rare to come across any sort of third-person title with local splitscreen these days that isn't something like the alien-shooting action of Earth Defense Force.

But unlike EDF, Outward is a slow game. In some ways I consider it a little too slow, but despite its drawbacks, my co-op partner and I have kept slithering back to it in an effort to conquer it and be able to say we finished the adventure.

Some may try to convince you Outward is an RPG, but if you go into it with an RPG mindset, you're going to be disappointed.

At the start of the game, you're tossed into a sticky situation: The ship you were on capsized, and your fellow villagers demand you pay back the debt of blood. Because that's just how they do things in Cierzo, you have five days to pay off that debt.

This is the first of a handful of quests in the game, and it doesn't give the greatest first impression. Five days to pay 150 Silver or get a Tribal Favor and pay off the debt? Right at the start of the game? Ludicrous.

But as with many things in Outward, there are many ways to complete this task. You can seek out a Tribal Favor (which is actually very easy) or make the 150 Silver, it's up to you. You can even ignore the obligation completely and just let them take your lighthouse and the stash within. Again, it's up to you.

That's because there's a great deal of freedom to the game. You can seek out marked spots on your map for loot, or you can stick to the tasks quests set you to do. Outside of mainline quests, you can do just about anything in any order you would like.

After paying your blood debt, three characters in town tell you they are leaving and where to find them, and you can choose whether to prepare for the long journey to get to one of the cities they're traveling to and join a faction or just, well... Do whatever you want.

It pays to go straight for joining a faction so you can hit the Ley Line and get mana to learn and use spells, but you certainly don't need to do it to explore the region of Chersonese or even other regions. 

Players are granted freedom in Outward in many regards. You can learn basic skills for every class on one character (and specialize in three classes), you can explore just about anywhere as long as you're prepared for fight or flight, and you can get yourself killed in any number of new and exciting ways.

You have to manage your character's hunger, thirst, health, mana, temperature, and tiredness. On paper, that sounds like a lot, but managing them rarely gets overwhelming in itself. You might die from a disease once in a while, but more often than not, Outward's primary stress-inducer and death source is combat.

A game with all these things to keep track of should have a number of ways to keep a character healthy, and that's true here. A variety of food and drink await, many with beneficial regenerative or defensive effects; and armor and clothing have a heavy impact on character temperature resistances. There's a lot of flexibility within these three facets.

Sleep is another issue, however. More often than not, you'll be sleeping to heal your burned health and stamina rather than your character getting tired. If you have a bedroll or tent (you should), you can set it up and have a rest for as long as you need. You set how long you want to sleep, repair, and stand guard when you interact with a resting spot. Standing guard is a must in most areas, otherwise you risk being ambushed.

These systems all fall in line with what one expects from a survival game. You're basically three steps away from manually breathing, although it's not as complicated as something like SCUM.

With all of the above in mind, you spend a lot of time wandering around lost in Outward.

You have a map with the region's big notable areas marked, but no marker for where you are. You have to learn the land by way of landmarks to get around without getting lost. I like this middling option, since the map as it is helps just enough to figure things out.

Even ignoring the lack of player marker on the map and how it affects exploration, it's still easy to get lost. There are nooks and crannies everywhere, tiny little caves with loot or mini-dungeons sprinkle the landscape.

Dungeons themselves are difficult to navigate; don't be surprised if you end up wandering in a circle in most of the dungeons you wander into, because that's just how it is.

The game makes it very clear to anyone playing that their character is not special. Most new players die to the hyenas outside Cierzo more than a couple times.

Combat in Outward is slow and grueling.

As you might expect from this sort of game, it has a dodge and block system. You can perform these actions as long as you have stamina, though you need at least a weapon equipped to block.

When blocking, you can be hit a certain amount of times to be staggered. An impact meter at the bottom of the screen indicates how much more you can take before an enemy can knock you back. You can see that very same meter above their heads, and you can stagger them in kind.

Dodge rolling, blocking, and circling your enemies is a huge part of combat in Outward. If you do not do these things, you'll die. It's as simple as that. You have to do it, and it is rarely a fast process unless you've got some stellar gear and are whacking on a relatively weak enemy.

The game's backpack system, which enforces more inventory management than you might be comfortable with in itself, also makes you unable to dodge quickly with most backpacks equipped. They're pretty heavy, you know.

Luckily it's possible to quickly drop your backpack before you initiate or even mid-combat from a safe distance, though picking it back up is a slightly longer animation.

As you explore, you'll come across NPCs who will teach you new skills. Many are class-specific, though the best are tied to classes. Skills and spells (should you go that route, you can specialize in three classes at once) are your key to survival and make combat less grueling, but you will almost always have a challenge. It's the nature of the game.

You will probably die in Outward, maybe too much for comfort. I think you have to be a certain sort of masochist to really enjoy yourself here, particularly on console. Impatient players need not apply.

The PlayStation 4 version of the game has some real trying load times, particularly on the base console (not the Pro). Load screens so long you'll wonder whether it's intended to wear you down. It's not, it's just an unfortunate aspect of the game on console.

I've heard base Xbox One players have similarly long load screens, and also that they're really not all that bad on PC. There's also such a huge graphical jump between PC and console in Outward. If you want proper lighting, go with PC.

Despite the load times on PS4 and how unimpressive it is to look at, it's still one of few options on the console for a comprehensive local two player experience that isn't an outright action game.

Outward is by no means a perfect game. It really shows that a mere 10 people worked on it, but they really worked their asses off, and that shows, too.

While some small dungeons or caves may be mostly pointless, while the world isn't the most populated or interesting, while the load screens may lead to 30+ second-long awkward silences between my co-op partner and I... It's still a fun time, especially with someone else.

Outward looks and feels like an older RPG without the RP elements. Some may shy away from that description, but it works. Things you might take for granted in most other games feel satisfying here. Learning new crafting recipes, saving up for and getting that nice heat-resistant top, or just not dying to giant mantises all feel rewarding because you know you worked for them and are a clear indicator of how your character has grown.

Even games that are a little lacking can be engaging and fun, Outward is one of many titles that prove that is very much the case. Though ultimately this is one best played with a partner rather than on your own.

  • A large number of areas to explore and items to discover
  • Lots to manage, but it's easy enough to do so
  • Totally skill-based combat
  • Rewarding in the most base of ways, and that's not a bad thing
  • Defeat scenarios are cool and make every "death" a gamble
  • Frequent long load times on some platforms
  • A bit too much inventory management between your equipment, pocket, and backpack
  • Some noticeable bugs
  • Perhaps a bit too obtuse in some ways
  • Combat might be a little too slow for most
Weedcraft Inc Review: Familiar But Robust Foray into the Weed Business Sim Genre Fri, 12 Apr 2019 11:48:07 -0400 Ashley Shankle

I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole "weed culture" thing, but it would be disingenuous to claim I'm not a part of it. Life is weird. The end. 

I've been sitting on Weedcraft Inc for a while. Well, not sitting. Playing it on and off, and I've come away feeling that it's a familiar formula. Players of games like Hemp Tycoon and Hempire, as I've been through the years, will find themselves right at home with Weedcraft Inc's bud growing and selling.

If you've ever been interested in a weed-growing or weed-selling game and so far stayed away, it's surely because of hyperbolic million-years of waiting and the dishwater taste of dirty microtransactions.

That's always what chases me away, for pretty good reason: The F2P formula for these games sucks.

Weedcraft Inc is very familiar in a lot of ways, sure, but it's not because it skins the player of their hard-earned cash and even more valuable time. There are no microtransactions for upgrading your grow room (or anything), and in-game time is adjustable. You can wait for your plants to bloom into beautiful nug mini-trees or you can just crank the speed and get it done in a fraction of the time.

I mention these things first and foremost because the "weed growing" subgenre of time- and general-management games is generally so predatory. That's not the case here; it's important to make that distinction.

You pay for the game to avoid the bull.

Getting to Business

If you've played this sort of game before, does this sound familiar?

You don't have a job for whatever reason and you have a sketchy relative or friend who introduces you to growing and selling leaf because you need the money.

Yeah, it does. Luckily this game isn't a story-driven experience, so it doesn't really matter.

In the first and "basic" scenario in Weedcraft Inc, you begin your efforts from your own home in an area where marijuana is illegal. You've got to stay low and avoid getting in trouble with the police while selling your bud at one of the local spots.

At the start, these tasks are easy. The first police officer you have to regularly deal with isn't exactly hard on growers and, with a little ego-stroking and casual compliance, he'll let you off the hook more often than not. Competing dealers don't start moving in for a bit, and you only have a few strains to work with. All is well.

Things do get interesting when the other dealers start moving in, though.

Dealing with your competitors can be handled with a two-pronged approach. When you sell in a spot where there's a competing dealer, their influence on that spot diminishes. You can also take it straight to another faction's head honcho and get one of your employees to spy and dig up dirt on them. You can use this info to either befriend or blackmail them into leaving the spot or giving you a strain they have.

This system can be turned back around on you as well. Other dealers can push you out of selling spots, forcing you to reinvest in it to set up shop once more.

The Day-to-Day

You can hire employees in each city you set up in to handle the day-to-day of your blooming weed dealing business. Don't like manually tending the buds? You can hire someone to do that. Would you rather spend your time tending than selling? You can hire employees to get out there and hock your wares, too.

Actually taking care of your plants should be familiar to anyone who's played a game focused around marijuana cultivation. You can trim them to increase their quality, water them to increase their growth rate, and install new equipment to alter your crops' quality and yield.

Do it right, and you may just figure out the right combination to get your strains into Rare-quality. Do it wrong, and you may make your crop barely worth the baggies its sold in while also increasing the police vigilance in the spot to a dangerous level.

You have to balance the dealing, growing, rival growth, and police awareness levels in your day-to-day. If you do it right in one city, you can leave your employees to handle it and move onto the next to do it all again in a different flavor.

Between everything, you have a lot to do during your time in Weedcraft Inc. Getting your strains just right takes a lot of trial and error, and keeping under the radar requires planning carefully.

In areas where marijuana is legal, you don't have to worry so much about the whole police thing. The sorts of people and your sales venues are a different sort of affair in legal cities, not to mention you swap front businesses for advertising. 

Managing multiple cities does get to be a headache after a while, especially if you are playing the game mostly at max speed. It just feels like a lot to deal with at a certain point, which in turn may make you slow it down and play the game like its F2P brethren, though honestly, that's just less fun.

Too Similar or Just Similar Enough?

Weedcraft Inc is easily the most fleshed-out and expansive of the weed business games I've played, but it perhaps could be something a little more. Developers Vile Monarch may have set out to just make a game like Hempire and its ilk that's just not a skinner box, and in that, they've succeeded. It's basically exactly what someone who enjoys these sorts of games would want.

However, that very adherence to the norm is its biggest weakness. Weedcraft Inc doesn't try anything truly new or exciting, most of what you can find here can be found in games that cost $0. It's difficult to justify the purchase of this sort of game when you may get almost the same experience from something for free.

Weedcraft Inc certainly has an audience in those who already enjoy weed business titles and are sick of tossing money at them to continue without waiting a lifetime. I do enjoy them and find them relaxing from time to time, so I do fit into that demographic. Waiting as much as you do in most of these games, frankly, blows.

People who aren't interested in these types of games probably won't have a good time, though. Even with the dynamic speed options, it's still fairly slow as you're mostly just hold-clicking buttons to finish transactions and trimming plants. It keeps you busy, but it's not exciting busywork.

At the end of the day, Weedcraft Inc is the most expansive title of this sort. You literally will not be able to find a weed business sim with more features and freedom. That's all a huge plus, but this one won't make you suddenly love the genre if you've tried these games before and came out disappointed.

  • A full weed business sim without any IAPs
  • Plenty of things to keep track of and tend to as you progress
  • Probably the best in its genre
  • Good soundtrack
  • Not a cakewalk
  • Lots of ways to modify your strains and their crops
  • A little close to mobile and social games of the same genre for comfort
  • The scenarios are sort of free-form but you can basically play yourself into a wall and have to restart (manually save often)
  • Dealing with employees, rivals, and the police is just a bit too predictable and tedious
  • Having to hold to sell or perform some other actions gets tedious fast

[Note: A copy of Weedcraft Inc was provided by Vile Monarch for the purpose of this review.]

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Review — Polishing Out the Absurdity Thu, 11 Apr 2019 03:15:01 -0400 Jason Coles

Earth Defense Force is a true cult-classic series. It's one that has always felt like a playable Starship Troopers game filled with strange political messages, over-the-top weapons, and pure absurdity. A lot of what makes the series so enjoyable is the level of jank, its lack of polish, and that feeling of playing a roughly cut diamond. 

Well, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is different.

It has a level of shine that EDF has just never had before. As a series veteran, it's almost unnerving to see everything looking so, well, clean. The graphics are better than they have ever been, everything looks good. Shocking stuff. 

The story of EDF: Iron Rain is much the same as it has ever been, though with a more overtly serious tone than before. Aliens have invaded Earth, things have gone horribly awry, and here you are, the only person who can stand against it. 

You fight the good fight and actually repel the main ship before falling into a coma for several years. Upon awakening, it seems that your efforts were in vain. The bugs are still absolutely everywhere and humanity is not winning. Most of the planet has been turned into No Man's Land, while those who remain alive are the sponsors of the EDF itself, only they get full protection against the Ravagers.

A fairly dystopian tale if there ever was one. 

Combat is the same as always. You take your loadout of weapons into missions and shoot your way through waves of enemies. It isn't full of nuance, but it doesn't have to be. EDF has always been one of the most entertaining arcade shooters around, and blowing enemies up with a triple-barrelled grenade launcher is still wonderfully cathartic, even if there are fewer enemies than before. 

You still have multiple classes to choose from, though this time they unlock as you go. In fact, the whole game feels a bit more like an RPG than it has in previous iterations. Normally, you just collect dropped items in order to get health upgrades and new weapons at random.

Again, EDF: Iron Rain changes things up.

As you fight through missions, you get gold for completing them and collect various different Energy Gems in the missions to spend on new items and upgrades. You can use these to upgrade your maximum health, buy new weapons, or invest in consumable items to make the alien shooting gallery as fun — or as difficult — as you desire.  

The health pool in EDF: Iron Rain is the same no matter which suit you are wearing. Weapons can be used by any class as well, so it is more about choosing the right tools for the mission ahead than the coolest suit.

The items are compelling, too. They range from simple things like grenades to more complex things like tanks. Unlocking them may cost special currency, but after that, you simply get charged for each use in gold. Balancing buying new items with using old ones is an intriguing aspect of the game, though it usually just means going back to an earlier mission to get some more money.

Iron Rain feels a lot like what would happen if capitalism had to run a war against another planet. Sure, the logical thing to do would be to just focus all the resources on surviving, but why shouldn't you try and make a quick buck?

The economies of scale don't necessarily dispell that, either.  

Finally, the classes are interesting this time around, too — although to be fair, they always have been.

You have your basic soldier, the flying unit, and the heavy unit that uses a shield. The brand-spanking-new class, the Prowl Rider, is one that summons a bug to ride around on. It also uses Attack on Titan style wires to zip around cities with ease. It is a blast to use, but it's a shame you can't use your Overdrive ability more. 

Overdrive for other units allows them to fire faster, reload quicker, and use their unique ability infinitely for a set time. For the Prowl Rider, it summons in the gigantic beast that you can then hop on and control. It's fun sure, but a one-shot unless you use items to refill your Overdrive. 

  • The best looking EDF in the series
  • A surprisingly emotional story
  • Attack on Titan movement
  • Without special weapons, the classes don't feel as unique
  • Fewer enemies on screen than EDF 5
  • Classes feel less well-defined

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is fun, but not quite the same level of over-the-top action that the series is known for.

The weapons aren't quite as crazy, and you never feel quite as unstoppable. The enemies are brilliant and there are some wonderfully ridiculous missions, but everything just feels a bit like something has been lost when the game was polished.

Iron Rain is still a worth checking out, especially for series fans; the new systems work well, it says some interesting things about capitalism, and riding a giant scorpion is awesome. It just feels like there could have been a bit more absurdity to it all.

Often, with a series like this, we revel in the lack of rhyme or reason. Here though, there is more reason than is reasonable for a game all about shooting giant ants.

Iron Rain is a good game, there's just something missing that other series entries have captured so well. 

[Note: A copy of Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain was provided by D3 Publisher for the purpose of this review.]

Vaporum Review: Not Quite BioShock or Grimrock Wed, 10 Apr 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Your character, an amnesiac, stumbles across a huge tower near the ocean. Inside, you locate a world of gears and machinery, a powerful suit that grants you abilities, and all sorts of mechanical baddies. Your abilities are akin to magic, but they actually stem from impressive technology instead of mana or midi-chlorians. 

Would you kindly stop thinking about BioShock?

We're talking about Vaporum, a throwback to the dungeon crawlers of yesteryear, set in a world that looks remarkably like Bioshock's Rapture.

The game originally released on PC in 2017, but it has found its way onto the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It's got some appeal to a certain type of gamer, but it won't speak to every type of gamer, even those that have played it on PC. 

Towers in the Ocean

Vaporum is a love letter to a bygone genre  the grid-based, first-person puzzle game. Legend of Grimrock also fit into this style, and both of these games hearken back to classics like WizardryEye of the Beholder, and the original Might and Magic. 

Even though it looks like a typical first-person view, your character can not move about freely. Instead, you are locked into a grid; pressing forward will move you into the next box, just like moving spaces in a board game. This puts the focus much more on puzzle solving and positioning rather than elaborate combat.

That's not to say that Vaporum lacks in this department, though: you will fight a lot of enemies in your time with the game. However, those fights play out with much more strategy and careful planning (you can stop time in combat to plan your next move, for example) than frenetic action.

Unfortunately, Vaporum's combat never really captures the essence of what makes that great. By the end of the game, you'll most likely have realized that the best strategy for beating your repetitive foes is to just max out your character's "Integrity," which is increases how much damage you can take.

Switch and Block Puzzles

It's unfortunate because a lot of Vaporum's combat ideas seem strong. Your character has access to ranged and melee attacks, as well as a series of gadgets that function like magic spells (or plasmids, if we're going to stay on that track). However, there aren't too many situations where you'll be forced to approach combat differently once you figure out your basic strategies.

That would be fine, as the exploration and puzzle solving aspects of Vaporum are pretty strong. There's quite a bit of thought put into the many different levels you'll encounter, and puzzles rarely overstay their welcome. There are secrets to uncover, huge swaths of the game you can skip entirely if you don't want to deal with them, and a large number of customization options to help make Vaporum as old-school as you want.

Part of the appeal of this classic genre was keeping a notebook beside you, drawing maps and making notes as you went. Vaporum will let you do that as much or as little as you like you can turn on or off the mapping feature, for example, or check another screen to see how many secrets you have left to uncover on your current floor.

This customization helps address one of Vaporum's biggest issues.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but there seems to be a good reason that this style of game mostly died out as hardware improved: a lot of these systems are convoluted. Drawing your own map to compare with your friends was great, but now we have the internet to take care of that. Without that level of personalization, there just isn't that much to do in a game like Vaporum.

It could be saved if the combat were better, but it gets repetitive early and never really recovers. It could also be saved if the story kept you engrossed, but it's fairly tired and predictable. The voice acting is... well, it's certainly there. Without some other compelling aspect to keep you driven to explore, you're just wandering around a bunch of boiler rooms.

This is also a genre that just doesn't feel right on consoles. The grid-based mechanics are definitely designed for keyboard play. Tapping forward on the analog stick is a very imprecise action — more than once I would blunder into a trap that I knew was there because my character moved forward two squares instead of one.

Couple that with the absolutely useless "look" button, and you are left wondering if maybe you should load Vaporum up on Steam instead of your console.

For Specific Tastes Only

  • Lots of customization options
  • Solid puzzles
  • A strong tribute to a lost genre
  • Doesn't fit well on consoles
  • Combat gets repetitive
  • Story and voice acting are not impressive

That said, Vaporum certainly is not a bad game. It is just targeted at a very specific audience, and the console port is there just to, well, grab some extra bucks out of a completed game?

If this is a genre you remember with fondness, Vaporum is certainly a solid throwback. If you want to slow things down a bit and enjoy a change of pace with your games, you could do a lot worse than booting this one up.

Overall, however, the way to play a game like this is on a PC if you have the option. There's good stuff here, but there is a much better way to experience it.

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

Mechstermination Force Review: Fun, but Flawed Fri, 05 Apr 2019 11:47:33 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Bertil Horberg and Horberg Productions are known for the Gunman Clive games, quirky platformers set in the Wild West. Horberg Productions' latest game, Mechstermination Force, shatters that mold completely.

Despite being set in the same universe as Clive, Mechstermination Force utilizes completely different mechanics and setting. In every sense of the phrase, it's a boss rush set in a post-robot-apocalypse world.

At its core, the game is based on a solid foundation, and the combat is wild and fun. However, it's all bogged down by some questionable design choices and mechanics that work against the player as well as the game's own design.

The End of the World?

There isn't a whole lot to say about Mechstermination Force's plot. That's because it's only meant to serve as a backdrop for the action.

Late in the 2000s, giant mechs attacked the world's major cities, including Paris and Washington D.C., simultaneously wiping out the centers of power and threatening all of humanity. The world's only savior is a small band of warriors. Only, most of them don't do much, so the world's only savior is basically you.

Players can choose one of four characters before they start their adventure, but each plays exactly the same, and Bertil Horberg mentioned they were only included as avatars to make co-op play possible. That said, there is some diversity on show here, with a female choice and a person of color as well.

However, that's about it as far as narrative goes. You'll get some extra bits of information through random dialogue with your fellow force members in between battles, things like how the energy cores in the mechs could save the world. But the emphasis is firmly placed on the action.

Robots Not in Disguise...

Mechstermination Force is a boss-rush game, which means the action is centered entirely around large-scale boss fights. In between, you can relax in a hub area that contains some NPCs and a shop (run by the aptly named Mr. McShopkeep), but it really is just a place to buy gear and move on to the next fight.

Large-scale really does mean large-scale here, too. The bosses are massive and dwarf your chosen character.

There are more than a dozen bosses to challenge, and after the first couple of fights, you can choose between three different challenges; there's no set order to tackle them in. Progress and in-game rewards or events don't change regardless of the order you choose.

It's a Mega Man-type setup, without the Mega Man rewards, since it seems like the only reason to choose a different boss is if you've reached your tolerance limit with one and need a break.

Fight Progression

The idea behind these bosses was taken partly from the original Shadow of the Colossus. The vast majority of weak points on each giant 'bot is somewhere out of reach — under the head, in a little nodule in the center, and other, similar tucked-away places.

Your goal, then, is to find out how to reach those weak spots. It usually involves some measure of platforming, and you get some additional gear later in the game that varies how you approach each challenge in some interesting ways.

There are two primary types of weak spots as well: yellow and red. You have a standard weapon you can use, plus a melee weapon that deals more direct, smashing damage.

The red cores are the main target, and they can only be damaged with your melee weapon. These vary in size and can take anywhere from one hit to three or more, depending on how large they are. In many cases, destroying one will open up the path to another or forcibly eject you from the mech's body so you have to repeat the process.

The yellow areas damage the mech in some way, sometimes making bits of it fall off or cutting off its capacity to attack in a certain way. Even though the NPCs don't give them as much attention, you still have to destroy all of the yellow cores on some mechs in order to finish them off.

The yellow ones are also more deviously hidden at times, for example, under the armored plating on the giant centipede mech.

Obstacles in Your Path

Of course, each boss has a range of attacks meant to stop you in your tracks, including turrets mounted at key points, electric charges, and energy shots; some even have mobile red cores that act as a sort of mini-boss, impeding your progress.

Most of the mechs require varying levels of platforming to reach their weak points, making Mechstermination Force's similarities to games like Contra easy to see and feel. It also means there's a lot to pay attention to in each fight if you want to stay alive.

Each boss is cleverly created as well. Some are obvious callouts to Horberg's Gunman Clive games. Others, like Mechbeth, combine a mix of off-the-wall design with fluid, well-planned progression that makes completing the fight feel natural and very satisfying.

You get access to a variety of weapons to help take down each fiend, from the generic blaster-type weapon to a scattershot version of it, a flamethrower, a bouncing laser beam, and more. Some, like the laser beam, are just plain fun to use, alongside being incredibly useful in battle.

However, these cost in-game cash. A lot of cash.

You get a hefty cash reward for clearing each boss fight the first time, more if you clear it quickly and earn a higher rank.

The ranks go from no stars (worst, of course) to three stars, and naturally, the rewards are lower for the lower ranks. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell what time you need to clear to get which rank, nor is there a visible timer to clue you in on whether you should restart and try again or keep going.

The Grind

That leads to one of the issues holding Mechstermination Force back: grinding.

You get the option to replay boss fights for more cash and to earn a higher rank, but the cash reward is fairly low. Upgrades, including health upgrades, are expensive. You'd need to clear two or three main fights or multiple replays to earn one weapon upgrade.

It's a shame because these upgrades make it more likely that you'll earn a higher rank in the main battles too, so it's a somewhat self-defeating cycle.

That impression is made clearer by the boss's attack patterns, though. Some, such as the second boss and the one pictured on the game's logo art, go randomly go through a series of attacks. However, a weakness is only exposed through one of those attack patterns, and it can take three or more repeats to finally get to the series you need.

If you're grinding for better ranks, it's very frustrating, indeed, to have higher ranks and more cash blocked off from you because of the enemy design instead of your own skill.

Clearing the game with no upgrades is certainly doable, but if you want to unlock everything or give yourself more of a fighting chance, it's going to take a mix of luck, skill, and lots of replays.

It isn't a problem for all of the bosses, but it is for enough of them to make replaying more of an issue than it should be.

That's doubly true when you consider Mechstermination Force was created in part with speedrunners in mind.

Design Issues

There are some other drawbacks as well. Mechstermination Force is a difficult game, and that's not a bad thing. There's a feeling of accomplishment that comes from mastering a boss's attack patterns and learning how to deal with the challenges it chucks at you.

Some of the challenge feels artificial at times, though.

Take the Mechscargot for example. The level of attention the game requires is usually a good thing, since it keeps each fight feeling tense and provides incentive for completing it.

However, at times, there's too much going on at once, making it impossible to avoid taking damage. After destroying a red core for some bosses, you're sometimes chucked back across the screen into other hazards still at play, and you can't actually dodge them.

It'd be easy to say that's part of the plan, forcing you to think on your feet and make the best of a bad situation. But there shouldn't be a situation where you can't overcome a challenge on purpose, particularly when it just means you have less health to take on a boss's second or third forms and end up having to replay the entire thing again. And again.

There are some issues with how you take damage, too, namely with how projectiles come in contact with the character.

Normally, you would see a red ball of energy coming at you and think touching it would hurt you somehow. That isn't always the case in Mechstermination Force. It seems like the center of an object has to touch you to cause damage, and it's even more visible with larger projectiles like MechaMan X3's energy shockwave. You can get hit by the beginning, top, and end of the wave and not take damage.

It might not seem like much of a problem. After all, not taking damage is a good thing. However, the game is built around precise and timed action.

It's almost second nature to time a jump so you avoid an incoming obstacle. However, when you have to try and guess that timing because of funky object programming, it both makes you more likely to end up hitting something else coming your way and takes you out of the experience.

Platforming Problems

The platforming feels off at times, too, especially where the magnet gloves come in. There were plenty of times when jumps had to be repeated again and again because the magnet gloves didn't connect to the metal surface for some reason. When they did connect, the difference in space between where the character was at first and where he was when it finally worked was seemingly infinitesimal.

And there are some times when the jumps are just screwy in general. This is one example.

You need to jump over that ledge to reach the next metal part for the magnet gloves to connect. Jumping up doesn't give the right momentum, and left just makes you fall. There are a few times when the robot's movements make it easier to complete the action, but like with the random sequences mentioned earlier, it's random when it happens.

Another involves the chimp-bot, better known as Mechstructor ZC. You have to jump up its extended arm to reach the red core, but there's a very, very specific window of opportunity for it. Jump a millisecond too late, and the monkey punches you across the screen, even when your feet have cleared the hand.

Under normal circumstances, these wouldn't be issues that warranted too much attention. But these boss fights are the entire game; there's nothing to distract from the problems.

Graphics and Sound

There's no denying Mechstermination Force looks good, though. It utilizes a rich cel-shaded style that makes each aspect of the mechs and environments stand out, even the more generic environments like the snowy base ones.

The soundtrack is serviceable, but not really noticeable. There are two main ways you'll likely experience it: ignoring it because you're absorbed in a fight or turning it down because you're tired of hearing it for the 25th time you challenge a boss.



  • Engaging combat
  • Clever boss design
  • Fun upgrades


  • Loose and self-defeating design
  • Slipshod platforming at times
  • Over-reliance on grinding

Mechsterimniation Force works well when it does work. And make no mistake: there's a definite audience for it. However, the platforming quirks, contradictory relationship between timed battles and random attack patterns, and playing the same fights again and again (and again) make it a difficult game to easily recommend.

[Note: A copy of Mechstermination Force was provided by Horberg Productions for the purpose of this review.]

MLB The Show 19 Review: Another Season of Your Favorite Show Thu, 04 Apr 2019 13:49:11 -0400 RobertPIngram

The days of true parity in the realm of sports games is long since past for most in the genre, and baseball is no different. MLB The Show 19 is the latest entry of the lone ace left standing on the mound, and on a broad level, it mostly delivers more of the same.

This is not entirely a bad thing. In past years, The Show established itself as the most accurate simulation of the sport available. Part of this can be chalked up to the nature of baseball, which features fewer interacting players at any given point, with most plays needing only a few players behaving correctly. That's compared to something like football, where a single snap features all 22 players making a contribution.

However, credit is also due to the minds behind The Show, who have fine-tuned their game throughout the years in order to deliver such a realistic experience.

The latest edition comes with more small tweaks to gameplay, though players familiar with prior editions will likely find that there’s not much to relearn. Although work has been put in to improve the feel of playing in the field, ultimately, this is The Show that you’ve come to know.

New players, on the other hand, can take advantage of a comprehensive but well-integrated tutorial system. Rather than bombarding you with a series of screens showing the different controls for different phases of the game, MLB The Show 19 instead puts you right in the action and begins to teach as you play.

While this can make your opening innings feel like the kind of stuttering, long-dragging experience the MLB is working to remove from the real game, it’s a welcome offering if your last baseball game experience involved a single button to pitch and a single button to swing.

The game even responds dynamically, holding off on tutorials until you naturally encounter a need for them, rather than forcing situations on you, or teaching something you will then have to remember for a while before you use it for the first time.

Pace of Play Improvements

One of the major drawbacks of playing a baseball game is that the nature of the sport can make it a marathon endeavor. At minimum, every full-length game needs to see 51 batters put away, let alone additional bats if the home team needs their ninth inning, and for every runner who gets on base.

Even with video games allowing you to cut out some of the downtime between pitches, as more realistic features have been added through the years that also meant expanding time between pitches. Compared to a game of FIFA or Madden, the average The Show contest simply takes longer.

This becomes even more complicated when it comes to playing out an entire season. Even if you play only a fraction of your team’s schedule, that still leads to many more games than your average season in the NFL.

Enter the newest addition to the franchise, March to October.

This mode is perfect if you’re looking to live the thrill of a full campaign, but lack the time to commit to an unabridged version. In March to October, you play out only the key moments of your chosen squad's season.

This limits your time commitment in two ways. First, you don’t take part in every game. Second, you don’t play the full nine innings when the time comes to take the field.

Instead, you are dropped into the middle of the game, usually in the late innings, tasked with seeing it out. You may control the entire team, down late, or an individual player, like a pitcher holding onto a no-hitter with all of his might.

The better you do in these games, the better your team will perform in the simulated games between then and your next key moment. String enough successful games together and your team will catch fire, going on a tear through your simulated games.

In between games, your progress is tracked through a stripped down menu. Rather than pouring over league stats and standings, you are instead faced with a simple win projection, as well as the number of wins you need in order to hit certain milestones of postseason positioning. Over the course of the year, your progress is tracked by the changing of those projected numbers.

While more hardcore players may not enjoy the abbreviated games, it’s an outstanding mode for any player looking to play out a year without having to play the game all year. And the game makes it easy to move the team over to a full franchise season after you complete it if you want a deeper dive.

The Big Dogs are Back

If you’re looking for something more demanding than the abbreviated games in March to October, don’t worry. Both Diamond Dynasty and Road to the Show are back for another year.

The online Dynasty mode has its fingers in most of the other modes you may choose to play, with new unlockables earned even when not taking part in the Dynasty mode. It also features the Risk-like conquest mode where you battle over hexagonal-grid maps.

Like Risk, you earn fans, the game’s answer to armies, based on the area you currently control, and you can use them to conquer neighboring regions. What you can also do, however, is win territories through baseball. The better your numerical advantage in the tussle, the more options you have for your opponent’s difficulty. If you’re even, you may be forced to face off with a full-strength opponent, but come in with a significant numbers edge and you can take them on in a Rookie-level challenge.

Road to the Show is also back for more, with minor tweaks which have varying effectiveness for keeping things fresh. The addition of personality types, like Maverick or Captain, offers the opportunity to unlock special abilities for your player. These traits are leveled up by regularly behaving in a certain way regularly. Answer questions like an egotistical star and watch your Lightning Rod rating level up.

While the skill tree is fun in practice, it makes your social interactions feel less real. The responses are a bit overwritten in order to meet the specific archetype, leading to unnatural responses. The game also adds new challenges for your player, which allow you to speed up your development by satisfying specific goals in a game or at bat. The harder the goal set, the more rewards waiting for you if you succeed.

Not So Momentous Moments

As an added feature on top of the game’s more traditional modes, it’s hard to complain too much about the new Moments mode, but it’s also easy to wish there was just a bit more invested in it, as well.

In Moments, you take over in a series of predesigned scenarios, with moments coming in a variety of modes. The Innings Moments are a series of time-sensitive challenges played out with your Diamond Dynasty team against MLB greats. The debut features Andruw Jones, Ty Cobb, and Goose Gossage, with players tasked first with besting the legends. They're then offered challenges playing as them if they succeed.

The game also introduces four legendary series of Moments, with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, the 2016 Cubs, and Bryce Harper’s rookie season highlighted.

As enjoyable as some of the Moments can be, the mode is not without its flaws. Playing as Ruth drops you into a black-and-white world, with Ruth’s shuffling run reproduced wonderfully — but your opponents are generic cookie cutters. Other challenges see recent but retired legends squaring off with the players of today. It’s not game-breaking, but it is immersion breaking.

The shorter challenges also suffer for drama. While a situation like the one presented in Bryce Harper’s Philly debut — down a run, bases loaded, and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning — represent as high of stakes as there can be in a real game, they fall flat in Memories.

Your task is a success or failure immediately after one at-bat, meaning that with the very quick reset times following failure, you’re presented with a task which simply amounts to taking a series of at-bats until eventually, you get the desired hit. When your total time investment prior to almost recreating Babe Ruth’s famous called shot was one button press, it’s hard to be that bummed at failure.

All told, Moments is still a pleasant addition to the game, even if the quality varies greatly from one to another. As a style of mode which dates all the way back to recreating Super Bowl classics in early 2000’s Madden games, it’s a wonder why more sports titles don’t still offer similar modes.

Calling in the Closer

  • Lifelike simulation of a real major league baseball game
  • March to October makes a full campaign more accessible than ever
  • Road to the Show remains a premier sports solo campaign mode
  • Gameplay changes feel minimal if you already own The Show 18
  • Some memories fall flat
  • Microtransactions hang over Diamond Dynasty mode

So, should you buy MLB The Show 19? That depends on which of three camps you fall into.

Players who are used to picking up every edition with the knowledge there may not always be massive overhauls to gameplay can make their purchase confidently. This is still the same excellent baseball game you know and love, just a little different, and a little better. Similarly, anyone who has not bought a new baseball game for several years should consider giving the latest, greatest edition a try.

Where things get complicated is in between the two. If you’re not inclined to automatically make the switch every year, and have The Show 17 or 18 sitting on your gaming shelf already, you can give this a pass. It’s a fine game, and you would enjoy your time with it, but the same can likely be said when MLB The Show 20 drops, only you’ll probably enjoy that one just a little more.

We. The Revolution Review: Social Strategy on a Guillotine's Edge Thu, 04 Apr 2019 10:23:13 -0400 RobertPIngram

They say you can't please everyone all of the time, and "they" have clearly been playing We. The Revolution.

The latest release from independent studio Polyslash, We. The Revolution puts you in the shoes of Alexis Fidèle, a judge during the French Revolution. You're tasked with hearing cases and deciding the fates of a series of ne’er do wells, hooligans and, frankly, rather innocent sounding citizens.

No one is safe from a date before your bench. Some cases feature common folk who are just trying to have a laugh, while others feature the French royalty, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

On its face, We. The Revolution is a relatively simple premise. You read over basic court documents and use them to identify potential lines of questioning. Once you have done your research, a clue-finding mini-game lets you use the information to locate the connections you need in order to unlock questions pertinent to the case.

Using the questions, you can begin to piece out the case and come to a conclusion. Set the defendant free, sentence them to jail, or have their head. The decision is yours.

But if it was only that simple.

If there is one theme which runs throughout We. The Revolution, it’s that there is always more than meets the eye. From the particulars of the cases and intrigues before you to the mechanics of the game itself, rarely is We. The Revolution entirely devoid of at least a little bit of uncertainty.


The Delicate Balance of Politics in a Revolution

The first place you’ll notice that things are not so straightforward is in the sentencing process. Things aren’t as cut and dry as simply finding out if the defendant actually did what they’re accused of and then ruling accordingly.

France is in turmoil, and the warring factions all have their own wants and desires from your judge. Your family, the commoners, the revolutionaries, and the aristocracy all have their own opinions on what should and should not be happening in your courtroom — and you shouldn’t count on them agreeing.

While each ruling is not always a direct trade-off, where you gain as much from one party as another, there are always pros and cons to every option. Doing the “right” thing doesn’t immunize you from ill will from parties who oppose your decision, and keeping those parties happy is important. Push one a little bit too far and it may be your neck lined up beneath the blade next.

If that wasn’t tricky enough, there’s also the jury and your case reports to worry about. Each case comes with a series of questions your superiors want answered regarding its particulars. Then, each is heard before a jury with its own opinions of the accused’s guilt.

You don’t have to listen to the jury at the end of the day, but failing to do so comes with a cost in the form of your damaged reputation with all parties.

All of this comes together to create an interesting blend of factors to measure.

I approached the game with a general view of being a man of the little people. Then I ruled against the Revolutionaries once too often and lost my head. Armed with the knowledge that a faction on the brink cannot be ignored, I progressed on, always being sure to rule in favor of anyone making a direct threat on my life. Priorities.

From there, everything went smoothly until a case required me to find a judgment which was severely lacking in supporting details.

Every question you unlock shows if it will move the jury toward a verdict of freedom or death, and I had only a few questions open to me if I wanted the jury on my side, and my head on my shoulders. None of them answered the questions in my report. Suddenly, I was faced with many choices, and none of them were good.

Ask the questions and then ignore the jury, and lose face with the people? Hand in a poor report and earn a reputation as a judge who doesn’t care? Upset the revolutionaries? No thanks, I’d seen that last play before.

Ultimately, I opted to get the jury to agree with what the Revolutionaries wanted to see, then wing it on my report. I still am not sure if that was the best decision, and that’s why We. The Revolution is so intriguing.

More Systems Lurk Beneath the Surface

Just as each case in the court has hidden depths of strategy to consider, the game also unfolds an ever-growing series of interlocking systems to manage the further you progress.

Shortly after you wrap up your first case, you are introduced to the judge’s complicated home life. Two sons, your wife, and your father all wait for you to come home, and how you spend your evenings with them will determine how they look at you the next day.

Just as no one verdict will please all factions, no nightly activity will please everyone. Some will anger everyone, however, so at least they can agree on something.

Outside of work and home lies the hierarchy of political power. Fidèle begins on the lowest rung but soon begins to plot his way into the upper reaches of society. Intrigues are played out over several days and nights, with your choices in a series of key events determining the success, or lack thereof, of your encounter with a political rival.

The districts of the city are also in play as you square off with a foe who, in the beginning, you can’t even attach a name to. Allies are gained and used as pawns in the battle, being sent from district to district to calm the people in your districts, instill anger in his, and win over control of as many as possible.

You continue down the path in later stages with the game’s chess-like, turn-based battles. Choosing the right strategic approach is essential in your troops coming out on top. You can charge full-on or lay down suppressing fire, but there's always a consequence. 

While all of the systems are sufficiently unique in their own right, there remains interplay between them as well. Devoting more time to winning the city or trying your next case makes success more likely, but it's at the cost of your family’s happiness. Allies earned through intrigue can help you to claim more territories on the map, expanding your power and importance.

Every system is original and mostly separate from the others, but never entirely.

A Captivating Story with Compelling Mechanics

  • Engrossing plot of competing interests
  • Multiple systems, each with their own unique challenges
  • Unique and eye-catching graphics
  • Questioning system is frustratingly shallow at times
  • Persuasion grows wearisome as you progress into the latter stages
  • Not for players opposed to long passages of text

We. The Revolution is not a perfect game. As engaging as the game’s various systems are, there are also minor flaws which will emerge as you put in some time.

The cases are not always as full as one may like, with some featuring lines of questioning which would seem to offer interesting storytelling if only it was possible to head down them. The system of persuading crowds before an execution, or political figures over to your side, grows repetitive quickly.

What holds We. The Revolution together, however, is the story.

The plot unfolds quickly into a world of secret schemes, assassinations and other illicit behaviors which catch your attention and pull you on through the game’s acts. It also contains enough twists and turns to deliver the occasional sucker punch which will have you completely unable to stop, save, and come back at a later date.

All told, it comes together to make a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a narrative-driven game, and don’t mind doing a fair amount of reading, We. The Revolution has what you’re looking for.

[Note: A copy of We. The Revolution was provided by Polyslash for the purpose of this review.]

Logitech MX518 Review: The Greatest Gaming Mouse is Still Pretty Fab Wed, 03 Apr 2019 10:44:14 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's G5 was my go-to gaming mouse for almost a decade, so it makes sense I never used the original MX518 when it released in 2005. Because of that, this review won't examine the direct correlations between the 2005 version of the MX518 and the 2019 version of the same name.

From what Logitech tells me, the 2019 model is essentially the same today as it was then. Except for a few key improvements. 

The TL;DR is that the biggest differences between the two models are twofold. First, the new MX518 does sport upgraded materials. Second, it has Logitech's new HERO sensor under the hood.

While there's no RGB, the mouse also works with the Logitech Gaming Software (LGS), allowing for a bit of customization and reprogramming.

From my time with it, the MX518 is a damn good mouse, even by today's standards. 

What's New in MX518? 

If you've not used a modern Logitech mouse, you might not know about the company's HERO sensor, the MX518's biggest upgrade. Standard in many of Logitech's newer gaming mice, HERO is capable of reaching 16,000 DPI at 400 inches per second. Per Logitech marketing materials, it does so "with zero smoothing, filtering, or acceleration."

While most gamers won't ever need 16,000 DPI, the MX518 allows for customization from 100 DPI to 16,000 DPI. It comes fitted with five presets out of the box:

  • 400
  • 800
  • 1,600
  • 3,200
  • 6,400 

The modern MX518 still has the same eight buttons as before, but now they're fully programmable. Using the LGS or Logitech G HUB, you can reprogram any of the buttons to anything you'd like, including macros and shortcuts, media functions and system actions.

Inside the software, you can also change the mouse's native DPI settings. Any changes you make can be saved to the mouse on any of its five profiles, and your default DPI can be recalled at any time by pressing the DPI Shift button on the mouse. 

Of course, profiles can be taken from device to device without the use of software. This makes the MX518 essentially plug and play out of the box or directly after you've made your final tweaks through Logitech's software. 

The two primary switches in the MX518 have been upgraded as well. Both the Left Mouse Button (LMB) and Right Mouse Button (RMB) have been outfitted with 20-million-click Omrons. Each is as responsive as expected and can be clicked all the way back to the DPI reset switch, which is about halfway up the main body of the mouse.  

Lastly, the MX518 is a bit sleeker in 2019. The finish has been upgraded to a nicer "Nightfall" color scheme. While eerily similar to 2005's MX518, this new finish looks less messy (read: less smudgy) than the previous "bullet-hole" model.

And, of course, the Logitech logo has been refined over the years, bringing a more modern and elegant look to the main body of the mouse. 

  • Comfortable, ergonomic design
  • Hero 16K sensor; 16,000 DPI
  • Fully programmable with five on-board profiles
  • DPI-up switch awkwardly placed
  • Mousewheel a bit skinny
  • No RGB capability

The MX518 is a no-frills mouse, harkening back to gaming's earlier days. In many ways, it embodies the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." 

The mouse is still curvy, still built for righties, and still best used with a palm grip, although it will allow for a claw grip. The palm rest is high compared to many other offerings out there right now, but it's comfortable and ergonomic. Since the mouse is relatively lightweight at 101g, it's easy to quickly move across a surface for kill shots or rapid map movements.

Unlike some lower-profile mice, I found that the MX518's tall build and lightweight design compliment each other well. I don't feel like the mouse is going to fly out of my hand even with the swiftest of movements. 

My only real complaint with the mouse is that I'm not a huge fan of its DPI buttons. I often find that DPI-up button is just too far away from DPI-down and the DPI reset buttons. If you're like me and don't switch DPIs all that much, it's easy to look over. However, I can't help but feel some will find it a small, if grating, nuisance.   

At $60, the MX518 is one of the cheaper mice in Logitech's line. And since many mice in the company's current catalog are slimmer and shorter, it's specifically for those that want a girthier rat in their mitts.

The mouse won't speak to everyone, and those hoping for wireless or RGB should look elsewhere. But as a what amounts to a killer throwback, the MX518 proves that older is just as good as better.  

The Logitech MX518 gaming mouse is available on Amazon for $59.99. 

[Note: Logitech provided the MX518 unit used for this review.]

SteelSeries Stratus Duo Controller Review: Hard to Put Down Wed, 03 Apr 2019 10:21:07 -0400 Jonathan Moore

When considering the best controllers for PC, it's damn near impossible to beat the Xbox One controller or the DualShock 4. Microsoft and Sony pretty much have controller design down to a science. 

From a PC gaming standpoint, that puts SteelSeries' $59 Stratus Duo gaming controller in a bit of a hard spot. While the controller is just as good as those from Microsoft and Sony, it doesn't stand out from them by way of a killer feature even if I would recommend it for the platform. 

The controller also reportedly works with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR, although we weren't able to test it with either platform. However, VR is still a relatively niche technology. For many gamers, VR compatibility probably won't be a valid selling point. 

Despite all of that, the Stratus Duo does stand out as one of the best mobile controllers currently available. Although SteelSeries has pushed Fortnite fairly hard in the Duo's marketing materials, the controller works well with a number of other mobile games as well.

In every way, it renders those pesky on-screen mobile gamepads almost completely obsolete. 


The Duo is shaped much like Nintendo's Pro controller, though there are two exceptions. The first is that the analog sticks are side by side like a DualShock 4. The second is that the directional pad placed on the middle left side of the controller, opposed to the lower-left configuration found in the Pro and Xbox One controllers. 

On the right-hand side are your standard AXBY buttons, and you'll find the bumpers and triggers along the top. There are also three buttons in the middle of the controller for going back, forward, and home. Above those is a segmented lightbar that shows the controllers' current charge level if using in wireless mode. 

Along the top of the Duo, between the left and right bumpers, is a series of buttons and switches. Here you'll find the power switch, the battery-indicator button, a pairing button, and a Bluetooth/wireless switch.

In the middle of those buttons and switches is a Micro-USB port for charging or using the controller via wired mode on PC. 

It's worth noting that the bumpers and the triggers are both uniquely designed. The bumpers are flatter and larger than both the XB1 Elite and the DualShock 4. As well, the triggers are a tad more curved near the back than the ones found on those controllers.

This allows for more surface area on the bumpers, while also alleviating slippage on the triggers. However, both were uncomfortable at first and took some getting used to. 

Features and Performance

Connecting the Stratus Duo to a computer is super easy.

For wired mode, just plug in the included Mico-USB cable or the 2.4Ghz wireless dongle and switch the connection mode to wireless. There's no software to use, so everything is plug and play. 

To connect via Bluetooth, simply switch the connection mode over to Bluetooth and pair it with the desired Android device.

I don't have a Bluetooth receiver in my desktop, so I wasn't able to test the Duo's Bluetooth capabilities there, but I was able to test it in both wired and wireless modes. Playing Far Cry New Dawn, Killing Floor 2, Skyrim, and Hotline Miami, the Duo was responsive, performing just as well as my Xbox One Elite and DualShock 4 in both modes. 

Moving over to mobile, the Stratus Duo performed exceptionally as well, making a gaming experience I typically consider a chore something of a delight. Playing Fortnite with the Duo felt just as good as it does on console or PC.

Of the handful of other games I tried, Altered Beast, Stardew Valley, and Unkilled proved fickle with the gamepad. Some games recognized certain inputs, while others would not. However, the problem lies in the games, not the controller.  A quick search on each of the game's forums proved I was not the only player experiencing issues. 

Other games, such as Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5, worked perfectly with the Stratus Duo.   

  • Comfortable, ergonomic design
  • Effortless switching from wireless to Bluetooth
  • Plug and play; ability to charge while gaming
  • Doesn't work on all mobile devices (Android only)
  • Doesn't come packaged with SmartGrip mount
  • Only has 20 hours of battery life

I haven't tested SteelSeries' other controllers, the Stratus XL and the Nimbus, so I can't directly compare the three controllers. 

However, I can say that the Stratus Duo is comfortable and well built. All of its 17 buttons are firm and responsive. The gamepad's body feels sturdy in your hands.

The bumpers and triggers might take a bit getting used to coming from an Elite or a DualShock, but after an hour or two, they should feel mostly natural.  

I'm not a huge fan of SteelSeries breaking its mobile-capable controllers into two camps: the Duo for Android and the Nimbus for iOS. Separating functionalities isn't a deal breaker, but it's something to be aware of when buying either product.

I would have also preferred that the Duo use USB-C technology instead of Micro-USB. I also would have preferred to store the wireless dongle on or in the controller itself. Now, it's far too easy to misplace the dongle when not in use. 

However, despite my small qualms with it, the Stratus Duo is a fine multi-use controller. Seamlessly switching from PC gaming to mobile gaming is a cinch — and it even works with normal phones commands, letting you navigate your menus, texts, call logs, and more without having to put it down. 

If you're a PC gamer, the Duo is worth a look, too — especially if you're in the market for a new gamepad that effortlessly works with Steam and Big Picture Mode. 

It's just too bad the Stratus Duo doesn't work with console. But then again, I guess we can't have everything.

The Stratus Duo is available for $59.99 on Amazon. The SmartGrip is available for $9.99 on Amazon as well. 

[Note: SteelSeries provided the Stratus Duo and SmartGrip models used in this review.] 

ATOM RPG Review: A Fallout Clone That Never Takes Itself Too Seriously Mon, 01 Apr 2019 11:09:52 -0400 Sergey_3847

ATOM RPG, developed by AtomTeam, an indie developer from Russia, is a spiritual successor to the original Fallout games. But it isn't your typical gruesome post-apocalyptic fare. On the contrary, ATOM RPG possesses some witty humor and a healthy dose of self-irony.

"Russian Fallout," a title coined by ATOM RPG players, has been in development for many years. It gathered over $30,000 on Kickstarter, which was twice two times its development budget.

Despite that relatively small investment, the result is quite impressive; in the end, AtomTeam managed to create a really decent game.

Story and Setting

ATOM RPG takes place in an alternative universe, where 1986 marks the end of the USSR and the Western bloc, as both get destroyed in a nuclear war.

The main protagonist of the game is an agent of ATOM, a secret organization sent to explore the Soviet wastes in search of a special squad, which disappeared during the investigation of the mysterious bunker #317.

The wastes are incredibly dangerous and filled with gangsters, mutants, stalkers, and other nefarious survivalists.  The player's role is to become one of them and work through a variety of quests, gaining authority and ultimately finding the rest of the ATOM agents.

The game starts to show its true colors through the characters you meet on your way; they are some of the most surreal and bizarre people you've ever met. But in a post-nuclear-war world, meeting the truly strange is par for the course.

Not only have the characters lost everything they once held dear, but many have also lost their minds along the way. Like the isometric Fallout titles that came before it, ATOM RPG takes this idea and runs with it, producing some truly curious situations and eccentric dialog. 

Of course, the developers also make room for some more serious gameplay; players do get the chance to complete consequential quests, raid bunkers, help drug addicts, hunt for slave traders, and do other exciting things.

Gameplay Mechanics

The Fallout aesthetic permeates every facet of ATOM RPG, right down to the interface, the color scheme, and of course, the gameplay mechanics. Veteran Fallout players will have a strong sense of deja-vu here.

You can travel across the map either by foot or in a vehicle, which appears later in the game. As usual, the combat is turn-based, and the skill tree puts a whole galaxy of abilities is at your fingertips. You can invest your experience points in communication, hacking, pickpocketing, technology, crafting, survival, melee, and so on; all skills you would expect to find in a survival RPG.

Your progression level is reflected in numerous dialog choices and quests. For example, strength allows you to threaten NPCs, charisma and communication give you the power of conviction, and agility provides certain advantages during combat.

Additionally, quests can be completed in myriad different ways. Each will provide you with several options, testing your moral compass. You can be good or bad, diplomatic or aggressive. 

The best part, though, is that players can forget about the plot completely if they choose; players are free to explore the wasteland, attack caravans, wreck havoc inside brothels and casinos, and blackmail all sorts of NPCs. Here, player choice is the primary focus. 

However, the number one enemy in ATOM RPG is probably the wasteland itself. You can die from radiation, hunger, and poisoning; aside from worrying about enemies, you'll need to carry supplies, medicine, alcohol, and other consumables that can temporarily improve your condition.

It all becomes a little easier when you start bringing companions along, but you can't control them; in and out of combat, the AI does the job for you. Unfortunately, it doesn't do a very good job, either, and you will often notice that it puts your companions in the wrong positions, and does a poor job in general, when it comes to damage dealing.


  • Addictive gameplay
  • Freedom of choice when completing quests
  • Some really funny characters and dialog
  • Fallout nostalgia


  • Terrible AI
  • Clunky interface
  • Outdated combat

ATOM RPG is not perfect by any means; it has some of the clunkiest interfaces in all of gaming, some truly weak A.I.a, and outdated combat. That's not to mention all of the bugs that you will encounter.

Despite all of this, the game is addictive, just like the first two Fallout games. If you're one of those nostalgic gamers that's tired of seeing Bethesda failing to deliver good Fallout games, then ATOM RPG is a good alternative.

Don't expect a mind-blowing experience, but instead expect familiarity, which is like coming back home after a long, tiresome trip.

And although the humor in ATOM RPG is a little trashy, it still holds some value in the current market, which is oversaturated with games and developers that take themselves too seriously.

[Note: A copy of ATOM RPG was provided by AtomTeam for the purpose of this review.]

Yoshi's Crafted World Review: Crafting a New Classic Sun, 31 Mar 2019 19:01:09 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

E3 2017 teased a lot of future Switch titles, but one intriguing one that captures people's imaginations — and social media attention — was titled simply Yoshi. Almost two years later, the finished product, Yoshi's Crafted World is here. But does it measure up to the hype?

The answer is yes and the some.

Yoshi's Crafted World might not innovate as drastically as Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild, but it sets a new standard with its devotion to high-quality content (and a lot of it) throughout. Seamless gameplay design and attention to even the smallest of details make this an absolute must-have for Switch owners.

Wish Upon A Gem

Yoshi's Crafted World stars Mario's famous sidekick apparently before he met up with the capped baby for their chronologically first adventure together in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. The story opens on a bright and peaceful day. The Yoshis are gathered around the Sundream Stone, a mystical item said to make the user's dreams come true.

If you've played a Yoshi game before, you know something bad happens anytime Yoshis gather. Crafted World is no exception. Kamek and Baby Bowser (not Bowser Jr., though they look almost identical) show up and try to steal the Stone.

The Yoshis try to stop them, and in the process the Dream Gems — shiny stones set in the Sundream Stone — burst out of the Stone itself and scatter across the island.The hunt is then on to reclaim those Dream Gems before Kamek and Baby Bowser find them first.

Yoshi's Islands

Crafted World takes place in, well, a crafted world. It's a paper, cardboard, DIY-version of Yoshi's Island strung out over different islands. Yet despite being set in that familiar location, you certainly won't recognize any of the themed areas Yoshi visits.

There's the usual lava, cave, and wintery settings, of course; but these are coupled with pirate coves, bucolic train stations, a garden shed, scenic camping trails, a stage infested with demonic clowns, and many, many more. The sheer variety of settings in Crafted World is one of its major strengths because there's always something new to see.

This time around, the island is set up a bit differently too. Whereas other Good Feel games, including Yoshi's Woolly World and Kirby's Epic Yarn (and Extra Epic Yarn), have distinct worlds with multiple levels grouped around a specific theme, Crafted World doesn't.

Instead, the island consists of multiple smaller regions themed around a set diorama. With a few exceptions, each diorama will have two or three levels, but even then, the levels vary drastically in form and style.

For example, the Origami Gardens diorama has two levels. The first is a regular platforming level stuffed full of secrets. The second is a mashup of a platforming level and an arcade-style game where you have to defeat as many Monty Moles as possible to earn the highest Smiley Flower score.

It's a theme repeated throughout the game, with every level offering something new. The desert diorama has one level where you use a dino-skull to plow through enemies and obstacles, and the mechanic isn't repeated for the next level. That one sees Yoshi fleeing from a giant, re-animated dinosaur skeleton  while still gathering as many extras as possible.

Not only does that mean Crafted World contains the biggest variety of gameplay mechanics of any Yoshi game, but it also means that level and environment designs don't wear out their welcome.

Each level throws its best at you, and as much of it as possible, because that's the only chance it has before it's time for you to move on and see what surprises and delights the next stage has in store.

The order in which you choose experience these levels largely depends on you as well. After you obtain the first Dream Gem, the world map opens up with branching paths. Completing the Origami Gardens diorama lets you choose between the Dino-Desert and the Pastel Pathway, and the pattern repeats.

It's not exactly open world, but it's a nice measure of non-linearity — and to a greater extent than we even saw in  Super Mario Odyssey.

Crafty Designs

Each stage certainly does have delights and surprises to show you, whichever path you choose to take. The basic theme is crafts, but like crafty things themselves, there's near endless variety on offer in each stage's design.

Take Poochy's Tape Trail for an example. It borrows the paper-craft aesthetic of the Paper Mario games and multiply it exponentially, with intricate paper vines, flowers, leaves, and snowmen set against a changing backdrop of construction paper and cardboard clouds, all meant to represent the passing seasons.

Mousers and Magnets is yet another example of the game's clever design. Among other things, Yoshi uses an air pump to inflate a balloon cat and scare Mousers out of the rafters of a cardboard camping hostel because they're playing catch with magnets.

These magnets are how you climb up the soda can cliffs to make it further through the level, but the Mousers quickly flee back up the bendy-straw pipes with their loot.

In place of your usual moving platforms, you get something unique to whatever themed area you're in. In Origami Gardens, for instance, you get metal flowers that burst into bloom and shrink back down again. And almost every platform in Yarrctopus Dock's Pirate Pier is made of ropes, which makes them bouncy platforms and changes how you time your movements over the stage's obstacles and enemies.

There's even a nod to Woolly World and Epic Yarn in Pastel Pathway's first level, though it must be said, Crafted World's version does trump both in terms of detail and color.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, though. It's difficult to determine which to appreciate more, the overall design or the incredible attention to detail, both large and small.

From windmills made of cups and cardboard and paper plate hills with Shy Guys bouncing on platforms just for fun, to toilet paper roll trees and plate fishes on sticks with platforms and their SKU codes still showing underneath peeled paint, Crafted World is absolutely stuffed full of charming touches that make it stand out from the crowd.

Seamless Gameplay

A fantastic aesthetic and attention to detail wouldn't save a game if the actual gameplay in each level was flawed, though. Fortunately, it isn't.

Yoshi's Woolly World was more platform-intensive, similar to a Yoshi's Island game. Crafted World combines platforming with basic puzzle solving and wraps it around levels designed to encourage and reward exploring every possible nook.

There's a total of 16 themed areas, with 39 levels and 5 boss battle levels. There's also a hidden world unlocked after the credits roll with three extra stages and another boss battle.

Yoshi has his classic repertoire of moves at his disposal, including the flutter jump, ground pound, and egg tossing. Only this time, egg tossing takes on greater importance.

You can aim at objects in the foreground and background, many of which hide coins or Smiley Flowers. If you can't seem to find a few Red Coins, there's always a possibility a group of Shy Guys is hiding out behind a prop somewhere, holding the coins you seek.

In other cases, you can toss as many eggs as you can at an object to earn more coins based on how many hits you land.

Like almost all Yoshi games, the purpose of each stage is to reach the goal.

But this is a Good Feel game, which means there's a ton of items to collect along the way. Unlike Extra Epic Yarn's beads, soundtracks, and medals, there are fewer types of item in Crafted World, but they all have a specific purpose directly related to gameplay.

The primary items you'll gather are Smiley Flowers (with tiny, crinkly paper petals) and Dino Coins. There's the regular variety of coin, and Crafted World also includes Red Coins and Blue Coins.

Each level contains a set number of Smiley Flowers for you to find, ranging from 5 in the early stages on up as you progress through the Island. There are conditions you can meet to earn bonus Smiley Flowers as well: 1 for reaching the goal with 100 coins or more; 1 for collecting all 20 Red Coins; and 1 for reaching the goal with 20 Hearts (a full health meter).

Finding the Red and Blue coins or even all the Smiley Flowers in a stage isn't always easy, as Crafted World rewards players for paying attention. An enemy under a platform might seem like something you can just ignore and be on your way, but defeating it might make a question mark cloud appear, which could gift you with coins, Red Coins, or even a Smiley Flower.

The same applies to other, out of the way areas you might come across. Dead ends aren't always dead ends, and Crafted World often makes good use of Super Mario Bros.'s World 1-2 trick of hiding something important just above the screen's reach.

The Flip Side

The other component of Crafted World's levels is the Flip Side. The Flip Side has Yoshi play through a stage starting at the end point and from a behind-the-scenes perspective.

The objective here is to find all three Poochy Pups. Each rescued Pup grants you a Smiley Flower, and if you manage to bring them to the goal in a certain time, Poochy offers you a bonus Smiley Flower.

In theory, it's easy. In practice, you'll likely find yourself taking advantage of the Retry option to start over. Some of the Pups are well hidden indeed, and a few stages are trickier from the opposite perspective.

Playing through each level from behind the scenes offers more then just a backwards playthrough, though. You actually end up seeing a whole new world.

If you've watched the trailers or played the demo, you've already had a taster of how that works — seeing the Shy Guys hold up props or noticing more of the crafted element that really makes it feel like you're playing behind the stage where no one was meant to see.

But the attention to detail here is just as remarkable as in the normal side of the stage. For example in Pirate's Pier, you usually see a seaside village in the background, but on the Flip Side, you realize why the stage has its name.

The Flip Side shows you the rest of the stage, in this case, another side of the harbor that's full of Shy Guy pirate ships.

Mousers and Magnets is another good example. The normal stage has a definite hiking-and-camping vibe to it, and on the Flip Side you see Shy Guys chilling out near a tent, enjoying the view down the mountain.

Each stage has a story to tell from the other side, whether you want to take the time to see it or treat it as a speedrun and see how fast you can finish it.

Souvenir Hunting

After you finish an area, you have the option to play through stages to find souvenirs for the crafted robot that opens each area for you.

Some are in the normal side of the stage and some are only in the Flip Side. Chances are, you've seen and interacted with them in your first playthrough: Milk bottles, a paper airplane, a plate flatfish, and so on.

Each souvenir earns you a Smiley Flower, and you don't have to finish the stage completely once you've found them, which is a nice bonus.

However, if you just want to casually play through each level or speed through it as fast as you can without heeding the hidden, the game lets you do that too.

A set number of Smiley Flowers is required to open each new area, but just through the course of normal play you should obtain enough to progress with few problems. (Unlocking the Hidden Hills might be another matter, as you need 140 Smiley Flowers total.)


That open-ended approach makes it perfect for a wide range of gamers and helps deal with one of only potential issues in the game: backtracking.

The Flip Side is essentially the same stage, though with a different approach to how you play through it. Plus if you want to obtain all the items in a stage, chances are, you might have to play through a few times.

That won't sit well with everyone, but the good thing is, you aren't punished if you don't want to do it, and you don't miss out on anything overly vital to the overall experience.

It's a remarkably astute design approach that maximizes how much each player can get out of the game based on their playstyles and preferences.


Another thing that's bound to appeal to a variety of gamers is the costume subsystem. There are hundreds of unique costumes to unlock in Crafted World, from milk cans to paddle-boats, trash cans to cat costumes, and everything in between.

They're easy to unlock as well. Each area has a capsule vending machine and a board showing which costumes are available.

For 100 coins (more in later areas), you get one capsule. Capsules are ranked as normal, rare, and super rare. Because you'll get so many coins over the course of each level and there are no repeat costumes, this is gacha at its mildest. The payoff is always adorable regardless of its rarity.

Each costume has a durability ranking as well, showing how many hits Yoshi can take before the costume breaks. Normal can take three hits, rare takes four, and super rare can take five. The costume doesn't disappear once it breaks (you can use it again in the next level), and it's a good way to preserve hearts to get that bonus Smiley Flower at the end.


With the exception of a few Yoshi's Island games, Yoshi games aren't known for providing a huge challenge. Crafted World is no different in most regards, but it takes a different approach to challenge overall.

While the game's early areas aren't particularly taxing, later ones do require an element of precision and certainly require you to pay attention to what's going on. As a whole, it's designed to be playable for everyone.

Mellow Mode lets Yoshi hover and fly higher, gather more hearts, take less damage, and employ a Flower Tracker to find hidden Smiley Flowers. You can change modes at any time, but Classic Mode balances some tricky platforming with accessibility, meaning it shouldn't present too many issues anyway.

Like with Woolly World and Epic Yarn, the main challenge is finding everything there is to find. 

That doesn't mean level design takes a hit, though.

Nintendo's other recent platforming hits like New Super Mario Bros U and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze require precision timing and platforming mastery as you hurtle through each flawlessly designed stage and marvel at how each move flows beautifully into the next.

Yoshi's Crafted World has that same philosophy in level design, where everything falls into place, but invites you to take your time and see exactly how perfectly each level was designed while you enjoy the sights at the same time.

Sights and Sounds

The game is certainly worth looking at. Fans heaped praise on the Wii U version of Woolly World for its fantastic textures, but Crafted World takes that to another level and is easily one of the better looking games on the Switch.

Every item used for crafting looks legitimate, like you could touch it and it would feel like the real thing. From the plastic-ness of the coffee creamers to the crunch of cardboard and the crinkle of foil. The Yoshis themselves strongly resemble styrofoam crafting balls (though some claim it's wool).

The environments are fantastic as well, thanks to a mix of detail and lighting that create a definite atmosphere for every stage. The deserts feel arid, Pastel Pathway is like a giant cozy quilt, and a combination of faded coloring and slightly harsher lighting make the Big Peak stages look like something that just popped out of the Western US

The game's soundtrack is a delight as well. The tune you hear the most is the theme encountered at Sunshine Station and in most of the trailers. Like the crafting materials themselves, though, it's noteworthy how one basic thing can be used in so many ways.

The area pictured above is one example. It uses a sped up version of the theme, with whistles instead of the recorder sound, and it really adds to the overall camping, outdoorsy vibe.

Slow it down and throw in some elements akin to Super Mario World's underwater theme, and you've got a perfect aqua theme, adding in some xylophone effects and staccato creates a desert theme — you get the idea.


Yoshi's Crafted World suits the Switch's design philosophy very well. There are very few, and hardly noticeable, differences between handheld and docked mode. Some comparison videos show handheld mode being blurrier, with objects less distinct as well.

That isn't something that stood out to this reviewer, though. Chances are you can't tell which of the images included in this review are from handheld or docked mode without looking very closely.

The HD Rumble is used to good effect as well. Unlike some earlier Switch games that implemented Rumble with as much subtlety as a train wreck, like Xenoblade Chronicles 2Crafted World uses it as a nice supplement.

There's a slight rumble with every landing; a drawn out, low rumble for flutter jumps; and, amusingly, an initial short rumble followed by a bigger, louder one when Yoshi consumes an enemy and produces an egg.

The short, strident rumbles that accompany Poochy Pup barking are both very fitting and very helpful in letting you know where the lil' critters could be.

It's not the most innovative use of HD Rumble, but it fits smoothly and perfectly with every element of gameplay.



  • Tons of content
  • Varied gameplay
  • Lavish attention to detail
  • Suited to multiple playstyles
  • Excellent level design


  • Backtracking might not be for everyone
  • Lack of direct challenge might turn some away

Yoshi's Crafted World is an absolute joy to play, a rare game that puts a smile on your face from the title screen until you power it down.

The lack of challenge and the backtracking requirements to get to 100% might turn some people off.

The fantastic visuals and attention to detail, combined with skillful, clever level building, and an unending barrage of new content and ideas make this not only the best Yoshi game in a long time, but also a masterpiece of design on par with the best the Switch has to offer.

[Note: A copy of Yoshi's Crafted World was provided by Nintendo of America for the purpose of this review.]

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review: A Masterpiece in Every Sense Fri, 29 Mar 2019 10:29:26 -0400 John Schutt

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is probably the best game Hidetaka Miyazaki has ever made.

Its design is hyper-focused, its combat visceral and surprisingly deep, its world vast and mysterious, and most of all its narrative straightforward if gutwrenching.

And while all of this is true, one thing stands above it all: this is not a Souls game. It's better.

A World as Wide as it is Deep

Sekiro will not win any awards for phenomenal writing, but it doesn't have to. As with any other game in Miyazaki's portfolio, the world tells a much better story than any tome or character can.

At its core, Sekiro is a tale of revenge and sacrifice, and it constantly asks the question, "What are you willing to lose to achieve something greater than yourself?"

As a Shinobi known as the Wolf, you have been tasked with protecting a young boy called The Divine Heir, whose mysterious bloodline makes him a target of the ruling Ashina clan. You will start your story by rescuing him, losing your arm to the leader of the Ashina — Genichiro — and shortly after that, you'll awaken far from your master, hellbent on vengeance. 

The narrative of Sekiro is divided into two parts, and the second is far stranger than the first. Rarely during the first segment are you asked to question your assumptions about the world, though there are plenty of head-scratching moments that won't make sense until much later.

As you reach the end of the (shorter) first act, things will start to muddle. Oddities and inconsistencies will begin to show themselves, and a larger world will become clear to you. Clearer too will be the purpose of your revenge, and that achieving it doesn't quite have the results you were hoping for or expecting.

Sekiro's second act is by far the longest, and in typical From Software fashion, you will go from the top of the world to its deepest depths to accomplish your mission. Along the way, you'll learn — primarily through the environments and bits of lore — the history of the world you're exploring. 

You'll probably have as many questions as you find answers, many of which could take multiple playthroughs (or a few YouTube videos) to solve. 

The characters you meet will try to answer what they can, and few of them are exactly as they first appear. You're likely to suspect something of almost all of them, though whether those suspicions are well-founded varies from case to case.

That said, all of the characters in the story feel like actual people. They all have desires and secrets, or at least some peculiarity that sets them apart from being flat or uninteresting. 

And as I hope I've established, the world itself is anything but uninteresting.

Unlike the Souls games, there's a distinct lack of interconnection between each area, and progression, story-wise, is particularly linear. Each locale has its own personality, of course, but you probably won't find much of a reason to return somewhere once you've gone through it and found most of the interesting bits.

Just don't expect to find everything your first time through. There are lots of little nooks and crannies hidden in plain sight, or truly hidden. However, because almost every area of the game is mandatory to complete most of the primary endings (see our Ending Guide for more on how to achieve them), you're forced to explore almost everywhere the game has to offer.

That exploration will yield many more tidbits about how the world of Sekiro came to be in its current state, and you'll achieve new perspectives on characters you've met and places you've been. 

All told, while I wasn't captivated by Sekiro's story the same way I might be by a game like The Witcher or Final Fantasy, I was nonetheless bewitched by the mysteries that surrounded me, even if I knew there was no real way to solve them.

Combat: A Masterclass of Design

There is nothing like combat in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Few other action games ask players to stay close to their enemies at all times, and even fewer encourage them to not dodge. 

At its core, combat in From Software's latest is a chaotic, in-your-face affair that demands players learn almost every move for most enemies in the game. Only by mastering Sekiro to such a degree are you guaranteed success.

The reason is simple: you will not defeat powerful opponents through damage alone. Instead, you will need to build up their Posture meter until it breaks, creating an opening for a Deathblow that will instantly drain any health they have left and make you the victor.

For the minor enemies that litter the map, this is often true. The caveat is that only the weakest opponents will Posture-break quickly. For many of the foes you'll face, you'll need to learn the timing of their attacks, execute a number of Deflections (or what might also be called Perfect Parries), and wear your enemies down over time.

Your sword skills are your primary means of accomplishing this, but because of the need for another button to use the Shinobi Prosthetic (described below), the only "attack" button is the right bumper or R1. There are a surprising number of combos you can execute with just a single input, but there are, of course, limits on your creativity in this department.

If you aren't attacking, you'll be Deflecting, which calls for hitting L1 or left bumper at the precise moment your enemy's attack would otherwise deal you damage. With different sound and visual cues for successfully pulling off a Deflection, you'll quickly learn when and when not to go after Posture damage. 

It's a deep system because you have to wager that you can pull off every Deflection or risk taking half your health in damage for your failure. You do, of course, have the option to dodge, but unlike the Souls games, your invincibility frames are incredibly limited, making split-second timing even more important.

I love this system, because it forces new and veteran From Software players to learn — or relearn — aggressive habits and demands a level of mastery and execution unlike almost any other game on the market. More importantly, reaching that level of skill happens organically whether you succeed or fail.

And when you fail, it is almost always a good idea to rethink how you approach the encounter. This focus on constant learning is intrinsic to any Souls-like, but because Sekiro makes its players face danger in the most direct ways possible, they have to constantly weigh their skills against the capabilities of their opponents and their willingness to actively seek death.

In the absence of any other mechanics, combat in Sekiro would be complicated enough, but with the addition of the Shinobi Prosthetic, whole new avenues of gameplay open wide for players to play with.

The prosthetic is not, however, a replacement for your sword. Rather, it acts as a supplement to the core gameplay, giving players a number of new choices that enhance the use of the sword, avoid or deflect damage, break Posture, apply status effects, or otherwise provide you an advantage in battle.

My main gripe with the Prosthetic is how certain tools are far more useful than others. Quick tip? Use Firecrackers. Almost every enemy in the game will stun at the bright flashes and loud cracks. As fun as many of the damage dealing options are, because you take so much damage from almost every source, you're better served only using them occasionally. 

Unless you want to challenge yourself, I think the utility options are almost always the best choice. Thankfully, there are a lot of them.

If, for some reason, you don't want to face your enemies head-on, you have the choice to use stealth, but in many cases, stealth is situational. You'll avoid trash mobs easily enough, but bosses aren't so easily fooled.

That's not to say you can't take them down with a well-placed stealth attack, but more often than not, any enemy that requires multiple Deathblows will see you coming if you're not extremely careful. Clear their arena if any minor foes are hanging around, but be prepared to face the big guy at his strongest.

Combat in Sekiro is incredibly satisfying, but only when you can execute it. I sometimes ran into occasions where the slight input delay would feel inconsistent enough to get me killed, but as long as I accounted for it, I was rarely caught off guard. 

They Don't Make Bosses Like These Anymore

Combat in Sekiro might always shine, but it truly comes into its own when fighting the myriad bosses the game has on offer.

Bosses come in two varieties: mini world bosses that reward players with Prayer Beads (the basic currency of leveling Health and Posture) and Boss Bosses that award Memories (the basic currency of increasing Attack Power). 

I have far more to say about the boss bosses, primarily because I found the mini-bosses to be more annoying than they are fun to fight. All bosses deal immense amounts of damage, but the mini-bosses felt disproportionately strong for where you fight them in the game.

Perhaps worse, they are mechanically uninteresting, acting as bigger, beefier versions of enemies you might fight anywhere else in the game. Even when I ran across a mini-boss with an interesting gimmick, I was often turned off because said gimmick got in the way of the fight rather than enhancing it.

Mini-bosses usually, though not always, had a number of trash mobs helping them, and because they are hard enough on their own, I was frequently frustrated having to deal with additional distractions when all I wanted to do was learn how to fight the darn boss.

The story bosses, on the other hand, are all masterclasses in boss design. Every one of them demanded vastly different strategies. They are all aesthetically unique (save for one repeated boss that still managed to be mechanically unique in each iteration), and I was always surprised by their variety of moves and phases.

Interestingly, even bosses with only one health bar often had multiple phases within that bar, and if the designers are particularly cruel, they are lying about how many Deathblows you'd need to use, as the boss would simply come back with a new bar, ready to go another round with a whole new set of moves to learn.

Later bosses especially turned up the difficulty by forcing players to grind through one moveset before turning the tables with a new one, breaking the rules previously established in the fight. Sometimes, these first phases are easy enough, really only acting to soften you up for the main event. 

Said main events are always worth the price of admission. Even if the opening portions of the fight are somewhat lackluster, designers would find a way to turn its later stages into an epic duel between demigods. Or, well, actual gods

I won't lie and say that some of these fights didn't have their frustrating parts, but I could rarely find a reason to be angry that wasn't somehow my own fault. Either I was misreading a tell, making the generally wrong decision, or not having any knowledge of the attack that killed me.

I also won't say that there are some mechanically annoying things that get in the way of enjoying the epic fights in Sekiro. For one thing, I've always felt that hitboxes in From Software games need work, and this is still the case here. Attack tracking and homing can be aggressive as well, and if you aren't careful, an attack that should deal damage will kill you.

Still, there wasn't a single mainline boss fight in Sekiro I look back on and hate. They are all so artistically and mechanically unique, so demanding that the player dedicate themselves to learning, and so very enjoyable to overcome that even the ones I dislike the most only serve to make the ones I like shine brighter.

  • One of the most difficult yet satisfying combat systems on the market
  • Boss fights you'll remember forever
  • A fully realized world filled with wonder, mystery, and strangeness
  • If you're looking for another Souls fix, this isn't it
  • Mini-bosses that feel out of place in a game with otherwise such great boss encounters
  • Sometimes inconsistent controls

I wasn't sure if I'd rank Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice above Bloodborne as my favorite Miyazaki-directed, ultra-hard action game. I think, in this case, the clear focus on a single-player experience and clarity the designers gained from working with a single character class — Ninja — made the gameplay the best its ever been. 

I think too that a real-world historical setting, with plenty of mythological bending, was the right move. There's something grounding about the character motivations and the general feel of the world that feel more believable, more understandable.

Lastly, the game's conceptual similarity to Souls and the many, many, changes made to ensure Sekiro was its own game are quite the handful to get used to, especially with thousands of hours in the former series. However, I think this could set the stage for a new franchise. There's so much good stuff here, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

[Note: A review copy of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was provided by From Software for this review.]

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel Review — Play The Hits Tue, 26 Mar 2019 19:23:57 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

You could be forgiven if you'd never heard of the Legend of Heroes video game series before now. Much more popular overseas than it is here in the States, it's a 30-year old franchise that is incredibly rich and deep, spanning multiple different story arcs that are all carefully weaved together so that they fit into a single narrative.

Now that the PlayStation 3 is long-dead, and the Vita is on life support, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has gotten a rerelease on the PlayStation 4. So is this re-release of a 2013 JRPG worth a look (or second look?) Well, if you're looking for a beautiful time-suck of a game crammed full of side quests and a bunch stuff to do, the answer is yes.

Get Schooled

The most jarring thing about starting this game as a newcomer to the series is that, like many role-playing games, it drops you into the game in media res, with a full party and a ton of abilities already learned with the implication that you should be at least somewhat familiar with the game's many, many complicated combat, equipment, and social systems.

You'll see meaningless words like "sepith" and "orbment," and the screen will be filled with nonsensical icons. Random words and status effects will pop up during battle and you won't know what anything means. It's stressful, and can make you feel like you'll never really get to grips with the game.

Dropping in like this is overwhelming, but don't fret. The opening scene of the game operates somewhat like a sandbox, allowing players to get comfortable with the game's advanced systems without any explanation before getting a tutorial later on. 

It's a smart and interesting way for a deep game like this to help players learn its complicated battle systems. Sure, it's a bit scary and it's a tad frustrating when the opening sequence ends and you're back to level 1 with 80% of your battle and menu options locked until you complete a tutorial. All this really means that once the game introduces a system to you, you'll have some limited experience with it already and won't be completely confused.

And hoooo boy, are there a lot of systems to master in this game. 

Turn-Based Innovations

Image via Omegabalmung on YouTube

Battles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel crib elements from other role-playing franchises, all to great effect. Like in more strategic RPGs, positioning during battle is incredibly important. You'll be aiming area-of-effect spells while trying to spread your party to avoid getting hit by them yourself. 

You can also elect to skip your turn entirely to move freely around the battle area. Many tougher fights will necessitate this, as you'll want to retreat and heal up as characters get low on health or unleash a powerful spell or attack. (Hilariously, the game's systems for magic and special physical attacks are called Arts and Crafts respectively.)

There's also a link system that allows party members to follow up on other characters' normal attacks depending on the type of weapon they wield and the opponent's vulnerability to said weapon. Get what I mean about the complex nature of this game yet? 

Altogether, this makes battles feel more akin to Dungeons and Dragons encounters than they do to other JRPG battles. It's fresh (weird to say for a game that first came out 6 years ago) and makes battles more satisfying when you surround a particularly tough baddie and are just able to wail on them. The way your team has to coordinate attacks is reminiscent of Persona 5which is high praise given that that's my favorite JRPG of all time.

Extracurricular Activities

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is the first in a story arc that takes place in the Erebonian Empire, and if you haven't played any of the other games in the series before, be prepared for a game that is extremely lore and politics-heavy. The main, overarching story is one of political rebellion and the trickle-down effects of that rebellion to the cities and towns of the empire. 

All this is to say that the main story of this game could be a turn-off, especially for folks who are just being introduced to this world. The game seems to expect a certain amount of familiarity with the lore, and it makes the barrier for entry, at least story-wise, pretty darn high.

That said, the overarching macro-level story isn't what most folks will gravitate to. The most rewarding parts of the story revolve around the relationships that the main character, Rean, has with his classmates. 

You see, Rean, as well as a whole bunch of other high-school-aged kids, have been admitted to a military school as part of a special class of problem-solvers. The most engaging parts of the story revolve around this class, how they clash with each other and their instructor, and how they all grow and mature together.

To be clear, it's full of the requisite amount of JRPG/anime tropey-ness: there's a classic tsundere character who spends the first few hours of the game mad at the main character over an accident, the tall, dark, and handsome tank, the haughty noble and the fiery revolutionary, the Serious Business Swordswoman... you've met all these characters before if you've watched a, adventure anime or played just about any other role-playing game.

And though it's a bit disappointing that so many of these characters are a bit cliched, it really is a joy to use some of your free time to get to know them and increase your social links.

Like the Persona games, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel follows a gameplay loop where the player has "free time" between missions and quests. During free time, players can do odd jobs, explore, and crucially, to choose which characters to further a relationship -- which in turn, affects what bonuses you'll receive in combat. It's a well-worn mechanic, and it works to great effect here to throw some of the dense macro-level lore into relief.

  • Immensely satisfying and complex combat
  • Dual audio means if you hate the English VO, you can just use the Japanese one
  • The interactions between classmates are often legitimately charming
  • The overarching story assumes familiarity with the world, making it difficult for newcomers to feel engaged
  • The visuals are lacking
  • Classmates can feel trope-y and shallow at times
  • The game ends on a cliffhanger, so be aware that if you get invested, you'll be in for the long haul

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is as classic of a JRPG experience as I could imagine, from its dense intertwining systems to its 50+ hour play time, to its inexplicable inclusion of cooking and fishing mechanics.

And when I say "classic," I mean that in both a good and bad way.

The visuals, although upgraded from the PS3 version to support 4k monitors, clearly come from a previous generation. A fast-forward turbo function (available throughout the game, even in cut scenes) is a great touch to help blaze through lower level encounters, though it's a bit of a heavy-handed option since it literally just speeds everything up. It can make the controls a little difficult.

The game's well-written and the voice acting is passable, but you'll find the occasional typo. Some of the side missions are pretty great in terms of scope, and some require you to get cold medicine for a priest too lazy to get it himself. It's a mixed bag, like most of the best JRPGs are.

By this point, you likely know whether or not The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is for you. If you're not a fan of JRPGs, look elsewhere. There's not much here for folks who don't love the genre. But if you do, this game will scratch an itch you didn't even know you had.

[Note: A review copy of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was provided by Nihon Falcom for this review.]

Ape Out Review: Crushing Guns Set to Crashing Drums Fri, 22 Mar 2019 10:05:35 -0400 RobertPIngram

Sometimes the best ideas are so basic you wonder how it took so long for them to come to pass. The developers of Ape Out answer a very simple question with their top-down escape game: wouldn't it be fun to play a game where you're an angry ape exacting righteous revenge on its cruel captors?

Yes. That would be very fun.

There's a little bit more nuance to be found in Ape Out, but not much. The game promises an ape trying to get out, and that's exactly what it delivers four times over.

The end result is a joyous game which you can breeze through in just a single setting, yet offers just enough replayability to keep you coming back for more.

If you're looking for a fun, inexpensive addition to your catalog, Ape Out more than justifies its modest price tag.

Simple Doesn't Have to Mean Basic

There's no tutorial to be had in Ape Out. Instead, you're thrown right into the mix, with all the instructions you need printed out on the floor of the opening stages in block letters.

Fortunately, there aren't a whole lot of controls to learn. Use the left trigger or mouse button to grab, the right trigger or mouse button to throw, and try not to get shot while you do it. There are some minor tweaks which show up from time to time, like punching through barriers or pulling off doors, but for the most part, that's all there is. Grab. Throw. Kill. Escape.

It would be easy to assume that such a basic control system would go flat after just a few levels, but that's where the strong design of Ape Out shines through. By slowly, yet consistently introducing new elements as players progress from stage to stage, the game manages to keep things fresh without overcomplicating the matter.

New enemies are introduced, with different weapons or defenses to require varied approaches. Removable doors which become shields offer you the ability to gain some much-needed defense, which is still more than capable of providing a dose of offense, too.

Everything comes together to make for a deep playing experience despite the shallow controls and goals. Getting through the green door which marks your safe exit never feels like just more of the same, and it gets no less frustrating to find yourself gunned down when you were so close to freedom.

Catchy Music Helps to Drive You Onward

In many games, it feels like the soundtrack is more of an afterthought than a part of the game, but there's no mistaking the importance of sound design in Ape Out.

The game is carried out with a constant jazzy beat as you progress through the various stages, but the true flourish comes in the crashing cymbals which accompany every crushing kill your ape scores.

There's a special satisfaction which comes from stringing together a series of timely kills to create a chain of crashing cymbals as you beat a bloody path to your destination. This is definitely not a game to be played on mute while you listen to your own music or a favorite podcast.

Every Level Carries its Own Twists

The other way that Ape Out gets a lot out of so little is in the way each new level changes the game just a little bit. No change is so severe that an explainer is required, but also not so small that it doesn't add a new element to worry about. In total there are four levels, each represented as its own album, and each carries unique tweaks to match its theme.

The first area you'll notice the game-changing is the enemies you face. In the beginning, you'll only have to deal with simple, easy-to-kill riflemen and shotgun-wielding enemies with the added protection of body armor. As your ape progresses, however, more and more foes enter the field, with everything from automatic weapons to flame throwers. There are even exploding enemies who must always be thrown far away when killed to avoid dying in their explosion. 

The bigger changes come in the form of the levels themselves. Each represents an ape imprisoned by a different captor in a different facility.

You begin in a testing facility, where your primary elemental concerns come from elevators delivering new groups of baddies. Fleeing a rich collector in a skyscraper exposes you to elite troops ziplining in, or sniping you through the big windows.

The jungle dictator has heavily armed troops and leads to a desperate escape through missiles dropped by the ruler's enemies.

Finally, the ape who makes its play for freedom from storage on a ship gets to run roughshod while playing hide-and-seek in the ship's many shipping containers.

Each album's unique elements make the play through a more charming experience, and keep you on your toes throughout the game.

Time Flies, For Better and Worse

One of the game's strengths may also be one of its biggest weaknesses. Between the relatively short levels and the upbeat tempo of the music keeping you pressing forward, the pace of Ape Out is outstanding. There's no time to get bored as there's always another enemy waiting around the corner, and every death just means a quick respawn to the start of the level. While a game which makes you want to keep playing is great, it does highlight a drawback in the form of the game's short playtime.

With only four base levels, each of which can be completed in under a half hour if you're on your game, you can find yourself at the end credits before you know it.

There are, however, worse things to say about a game than acknowledging you got to the end and didn't want to put it down.

Arcade and Break-In Add Life

It's clear that Ape Out's team knew players would be wanting more when their ape made a final successful escape from the freighter, and that's where Arcade mode and Break-In come into play.

Arcade is a simple mode which turns your progression through the game into a scored endeavor. You earn points the more kills you make and faster you progress, all while avoiding a run-ending death at the wrong end of a bullet. With local and global leaderboards, you can challenge friends or the world as you try for the best score.

Break-In doesn't offer just more trips down familiar territory, however. Instead, it turns the game on its head. Your ape is not trying to get out, it's trying to get in to rescue its child. That means that first, you have to beat a path through a new facility styled after the opening stage, but also that once you get there, you have to turn around and make it back out with your offspring on your back.

Although it is just one new level, the large size, difficult enemies, and need to double back makes it a challenging one which can provide a great deal of additional play.


  • Engrossing gameplay despite minimal controls
  • Easy to start but with growing challenges
  • Fantastic soundtrack drives you on
  • Short play time for the campaign
  • The random generation of enemies occasionally leads to runs, which seem unfair

There's a lot to love about Ape Out and not many glaring flaws to point to. It's important to come into the game understanding what you're getting. If the idea of a game which occupies your time for just a few gaming sessions before you move on doesn't appeal to you, this likely is not the title for you.

If you're seeking something fun and fresh to give you a new challenge, however, then Ape Out is an excellent option.

It may be a simple game with basic controls, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still provide a challenge which rewards sound, strategic play. There's depth to be found in learning enemies' habits and plotting routes through each level.

Ape Out is not a game which is likely to still be on the top of your playlist several months down the line, but for an inexpensive short-term romp, it delivers.

[Note: A review copy of Ape Out was provided by Devolver Digital for this review.]

The Division 2 Review: The Best Looter Shooter in Years Wed, 20 Mar 2019 11:51:47 -0400 John Schutt

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is the best looter-shooter to release in years. It has a full, well-worth-playing campaign, a satisfying progression system, solid combat mechanics, and a varied world to play in.

It does almost everything right, and where it fails, it does so gracefully. It is not a game that will live on any single idea, nor will it die on any one of its missteps.

And even if The Division 2 is essentially just more, better Division, the way Massive Entertainment built on that strong foundation is something to be commended. 

Loot Worth Looting

The cardinal sin of any loot-based game is not having any reason to, well, loot. And you want to have a loot progression that lasts hours upon hours — so many hours that it all can't be done in less than a week or two of incredibly hard grinding.

Unless you're a streamer or someone with a lot of time on your hands, this is the experience The Division 2 offers. The campaign is roughly 20-30 hours in length if you stick to the main story and mandatory side content, and at no point did it feel like I was either wanting for loot or that I couldn't be making meaningful progress toward some goal.

Progression is a subtle thing in The Division 2. Yes, it essentially boils down to numbers-chasing, but until the endgame, the only "number" that matters is an item's level. 

That is unless you're planning a build. With the implementation of gear "brand" sets, even the greenest uncommon gear has bonuses and perks you can work toward.

This new system doesn't give you nearly the synergistic potential a fully kitted endgame character might have, but it allows players to start thinking about how they play and, more importantly, how they like to play.

By the time I entered World Tier 1 at the end of the main story campaign, I found myself confronted not by a "you must play this way or that way choice," but instead with some empowering options that complemented the choices I was already making.

It was a refreshing twist but probably had a bit to do with luck as well. And luck is something you'll need a bit of in The Division 2, only because you will rarely get the loot you want on the first go around. And sometimes you'll be stuck with that one piece of outdated gear you just can't seem to get rid of.

Or that would be the case if crafting, recalibration, and merchants didn't exist. In The Division 2, there's is almost always a way to ensure you have the loot you need, if not the loot you want. 

All of this would not be possible without what I think is the most critical part of The Division 2's progression: the sheer amount of incrementalism involved. A player will always, always feel like they're moving upward. It's something you can feel, not only because loot is plentiful, but the means to acquire loot are even more plentiful. 

From world events to side missions, strongholds, roaming enemies, world bosses, refreshing loot chests, replayable missions with multiple difficulties, bounties, the Dark Zone — the list goes on an on — there's plenty to do and plenty of loot to get.

It's a big world, and there's a lot in it.

A Lively Washington

The open-world of Division 2 is bustling with things to do, though not all of them are satisfying to repeat endlessly. The world events are perhaps the most tedious of loot opportunities, and because they're so frequent and so quick, the stuff that drops is rarely worth the time after a certain point. 

World bosses, on the other hand, are usually a pleasant surprise, especially if you run into them randomly. A moment free of loot instantly becomes a chaotic mess with the promise of something juicy on the other side, and I was more than once distracted for an extended period by a sudden boss appearance. 

You can, of course, control how your bosses spawn through the use of bounties, and while in many cases these bounties don't offer the level of gear you're looking for, they do provide a nice bit of optional, unobtrusive content.

Where Division 2 shines is in its core mission content and the Dark Zone, but I also have serious problems with both. 


Almost every mission in The Division 2 blows the previous game's best content out of the water. The first thing I love about them is how varied the level design is in each, both from an aesthetic and gameplay standpoint.

Every mission takes you to a new and memorable location. There's very little shared visually between the various story missions, and I was consistently surprised by the variety and creativity on display with both the setting and aesthetic. 

Gameplay-wise, there are only so many directions you can take cover shooting, but many of the mission areas incorporated verticality, close quarters combat, and lots of unique sight lines to make encounters feel unique.

I never felt like I was fighting the same way twice, even if I had to replay a portion of a mission a couple of times because of some stupid mistake.

Which brings me to my issue with the missions: because they're unique, that "newness" is bound to fade over time until each mission becomes a grind for gear.

On its own, that's not a bad thing, but missions take a long time to complete even on normal difficulty because every encounter has multiple waves of enemies, some of which take a ton of damage to put down.

In a game like Destiny 2, I can speedrun a strike in a couple of minutes if I need to grind for something. Bosses have specific melt strategies I can use consistently, and in the time it would take me to do one hard-mode Division 2 mission, I might have gone through 10 strikes in Destiny 2.

The difference in loot amount notwithstanding, grinding in other loot games is more fun because it rarely becomes a slog. I'm seldom dreading a lengthy session doing the same quest again and again because, in most cases, I'm not dedicating my entire night to it. I might do that for a raid because they're supposed to be long, but a single story mission? No, thank you, I'm good.

The Dark Zone

The Division 2 continues the series' exploration of human greed and aggression, this time with three separate Dark Zones, each appealing to a different aesthetic and play style.

Much about what I loved about the first game's DZ is present: tension, difficulty, atmosphere. And as with everything else in The Division 2, there's a lot of expansion here.

Verticality makes itself known quickly in ways the first game never used. The dilapidated, more verdant environments offer new ways to engage. The chaos of a fight against a roaming boss can quickly descend into a fight against other Agents, which can then escalate further into a manhunt for the Rogues who went on a killing spree.

The Dark Zone is nasty in the best ways, but there are a few changes that irk me.

First, "Going Rogue" is more than just a conscious choice. It takes a button press now. You won't instantly be on everyone's hit list because of a few stray shots. You have to want to be the bad guy, and with escalating tiers of Rogue, you have to really want to be the bad guy to get the most out of the status.

But see, the system in the first game made more sense. Sure it could be unfair, but that was kind of the whole point. Mistakes were punishable, and the well-meaning became the murderous in less time than it takes to blink. 

Now, while intent is emphasized, an element of randomness is not. Division 2 thrives on a little bit of control to every encounter, but the Dark Zone is supposed to throw all those rules out the window. To impose law on the lawless is the worst possible crime.

Also, I don't think it was the wisest decision to split the Dark Zone into three pieces. It's the same complaint people have about DLC dividing the community. Until a specific Dark Zone comes out as "the place to be," I feel like it will be harder to get into those tense moments. 

How it Feels to Shoot

None of what I've talked about above works without guns to shoot at the things that drop loot. And while The Division 2 does a serviceable job of providing shooty fun, it is not Destiny or Call of Duty levels of smooth. 

That said, the different gun types do feel different, and each has its place in your loadout. But on the whole, the guns all fail to do the kind of damage that one-shots a boss mob or single-handedly clears a room.

Your best option, as of right now, is a good LMG and Sniper Rifle combo. One for the more mobile enemies, the other for the slow and stationary ones.

The cover mechanics are decent as well, if a little glitchy at times. Your character is particularly sticky to any wall within a single zip code, and moving in and out of cover in the middle of a firefight can and will get you killed. Not because you're out of cover, but because you're still in it and some guy has flanked you

I also found myself experiencing some significant input delay, though this was inconsistent enough that I chalk it up to me flooding the game with inputs in a panic.

Still, there were times out of combat where I'd ask the game to do something only to have it comply half a second after I asked. In a game where several milliseconds can be the difference between life and death, having to deal with several hundred milliseconds is irksome.

Like, say, if I wanted to activate my healing drone only to find my character stare blankly at the floor. I need the healing drone because it's saved my life more times than I can count.

What hasn't gotten me much use are almost any of the other abilities. Overall, I think the equipment in Division 2 is lacking. There are eight total on offer, and only three — the Chem Launcher, Shield, and Turret — are must-run.

The support equipment, the Drone and Hive, have their uses, but at the higher levels, their effectiveness begins to wane.

All in all, the combat and gunplay in Division 2 does its job and little else. That's fine for a game like this, but I had hoped they'd push their mechanics a little further.

Final Verdict

The Division 2 is an improvement on the first game in almost every way. Its mission design is superb, if a little long in the tooth. Its combat does exactly what it means to, enabling a lengthy and satisfying loot grind that even after forty to fifty hours I can't find any reason to stop playing.

The open world, too, is well worth your time. Settlement expansion is a little thinner than I'd like, but I'm a sucker for hub area progression and a bit spoiled by the Assassin's Creed series.

World events, bosses, and traversal are all fun, and the map isn't so large as to be overwhelming, especially with fast travel points.

I didn't talk much about the endgame much only because it's an expansion on the core game, just at a higher difficulty and with a new enemy faction. This faction, the Black Tusk, offers enough variety and mechanical challenge that they're worth getting to the endgame on their own, not to mention all the hidden secrets and easter eggs snuck across the after-campaign world.

In summary, Tom Clancy's The Division 2 is worth your time whether you're new to the series or a veteran of the New York outbreak. It won't convince you to love looter shooters, nor will it convert series detractors into advocates, but if you like a good, fun grind to while away your hours, this is the perfect game for you.

  • One of the most satisfying progressions systems in a loot game to date.
  • Varied level and mission design that allows for many different avenues of attack.
  • A lively, engaging open-world with too many activities to count.
  • Loot worth grinding for that allows for a variety of builds and play styles.
  • Bog-standard third-person combat.
  • Lackluster abilities that add little to the overall combat meta.
  • Lengthy mission times that could get in the way of enjoyable grind.

[Note: A copy of The Division 2 was provided by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review.]

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 trends to treble as 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.