Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Bloody MP-60R RGB Mousepad Review: Waterproof but Sinkable Fri, 16 Nov 2018 17:10:27 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Despite advancements in mouse tech, mousepads are still a necessary component of every gaming setup. If you're a serious gamer, you already know rough surfaces, glass, and chip-ridden desks aren't ideal even if mice have evolved from balls to lasers. 

For gaming, mousepads have a lot of upside, but with the market ostensibly flooded with dozens of variations, grading mousepads really comes down to subjectivity and preference. 

On the surface, Bloody's MP-60R is an average pad; even its RGB functionality doesn't help it stand out from the likes of the QCK Prism or Enhance LED.

Not "standing out" or being "unique" doesn't make a mousepad bad. However, there are a few things to consider before you buy. 

The MP-60R is one of the thinner pads on the market. Measuring in at 354mm(L) by 256mm(W), the pad is only 2.6mm thick. Compared to the QCK and Enhance, the MP-60R is both lighter and more flexible, although neither matter all that much if you don't plan on carrying the pad from desktop to desktop. 

Its angular, hard-cut corners give it a futuristic look that's intensified by the thin RGB light-rail that runs along the edges of the pad. Although super thin (thinner than the 2.6mm of the pad itself), the light-rail powerfully emits light from the full 16-million color spectrum in a lateral plain when turned on, which keeps in-game distraction to a minimum. In contrast, the QCK emits light upward, which is more noticeable during play and might affect certain users differently.  

At the top of the pad, located directly in the middle, you'll find the MP-60R's polygonal interface module, where you'll find the lighting switch and micro-USB port. When you plug the pad into your computer, you'll have access to its 10 onboard preset lighting effects, which you can toggle using the fat, responsive switch located on the right side of the module.

However, since the module is placed at the top of the pad, its bulky height tends to get in the way if you have a wired mouse. There were dozens of times my mouse cord got caught on the edge of the module, either impeding my mouse movements or, in extreme cases, torquing my wrist sideways. It happened so often that the issue forced me to dock the pad a full score, from an 8 to a 7. 

The cloth surface of the pad is meant for speed an accuracy. Comparing to the QCK and the HyperX Fury S Pro, which is my everyday mousepad, The MP-60R didn't feel more accurate or speedier. In fact, it felt slower in some respects, specifically to the Fury S Pro.

One thing I can say for sure is that the fabric feels better on the fingertips than the fabric found on the reversible QCK. It's noticeably softer and less scratchy. That's something to keep in mind when you're buying an RGB mousepad for aesthetic and feel.    

Another interesting tidbit about the MP-60R is that the surface is waterproof. I tested the efficacy of that claim by dumping a cup of water on it and the QCK. Water immediately beaded of the sides of the MP-60R, with several ounces pooling in the middle. The water on the QCK simply pooled in the middle. 

After a full 90 seconds, I wiped the water off of each mousepad with a dishrag. The MP-60R showed zero signs of spillage, while the QCK was left with a large, damp stain in the middle (you can see a comparison in the image above).  

The Verdict

For the most part, it's hard to complain about the MP-60R. Its colors are vibrant, its fabric is smooth and water resistant, its non-slip rubber backing keeps it from sliding around on even the slickest surfaces, and the braided cable doesn't get tangled. That's not to mention the deep Illumine software that lets you essentially design and assign your own effects and color presets, storing it on the pad's 160Kb onboard memory. 

My biggest gripe is that the interface module at the top of the pad is bulky and inconveniently placed. If you have a wireless mouse, it won't be an issue at all. However, if you're one of the many who has a wired mouse, there's a significant chance the module will get in the way. 

Lastly, although the Illumine software is surprisingly robust, it's also extremely difficult to navigate and looks like a remnant of the Netscape era. While the latter is just a personal peeve, the latter can make assigning custom effects and color combinations an unnecessary pain in the rear. Add to that you won't be able to sync your creations across other Bloody products, like its mechanical keyboards and mice, and the MP-60R pushes itself out of the eighth position. 

You can buy the Bloody MP-60R Mousepad on Amazon for $29.99. 

[Note: Bloody provided the mousepad used in this review.]

RocketsRocketsRockets Review: Pick Up, Play, and Get Wowed Thu, 15 Nov 2018 15:14:15 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

How many games can you name that offer you their entire experience in under 5 minutes? I'll be honest, many don't come to mind. RocketsRocketsRockets by Radial Games for the Nintendo Switch is certainly one of them, though. But is this shmup-party action game as fun as it's name implies?

Functionally speaking; Rockets plays like most shmups. Unlikely most, it's not a vertical or horizontal stage scroller. You play throughout the entire space of stages of varying size. You can play on a number of maps against AI or up to four friends. The goal is simple: survive. Survive until you're number one.

What's In A Name?

Rockets isn't deep, everything you need to know is right in it's name. This is in no way a knock against it. To win, you just need to blow up everyone else guessed it, rockets! It's a quick pick up play title with a few modes: quick match, zen, and tournament. 

The game's ships, missiles, and rockets are all very fast. Speed is key to victory. As you zoom by opponents you can try to blanket foes in explosions like a fireworks show. The keyword here is that you can try. You can take advantage of the various map layouts and fly into your opponents or trap someone in a corner to chip away at their life and lead yourself to victory. There's so many things that you can do to win. All of it can happen in mere minutes.

It's a great reminder of what games can and should be. They all don't need to be grand sweeping theatrical events. They can still be like the arcades games of decades past, something fun to play for five minute or five hours. There doesn't have to be much of a driving force outside of beating your friends or AI. RocketsRocketsRockets isn't just a nice distraction, it's an enjoyable experience that doesn't request much commitment to get pulled in.

That Sure Is Pretty

You miss it during all the frantic gameplay but Rockets is an audio-visual treat. For example, parts of the stage pulsate in sync with the beat of the song that's playing. 

Along with the pulsating stages, your ships also leave streaks of color in space. If you pause the game you'll notice they also glow, which looks great in its own way. Using your shield also lets off small, colorful particles and unleashing your missiles explodes in a rainbow of colors. It's honestly a color feast for the eyes.

Of course, a game like this needs the right soundtrack. The music is a mix of high tempo electronica, chill synthwave, and thumping techno. Not many games have audio that fits perfectly, but RocketsRocketsRockets is one of those few. The music and visual pairing brings it all together into a cohesive package that is hard to pull your eyes (and ears) away from.

Quality Time

A lot of detail has gone into creating this game and it really shows. Personally, I think the best example is the game's Zen mode.

Radial Games decided to add a little quality of life feature with Zen mode. Weapons are deactivated and you can just fly around stages enjoying the music. Alternatively, you can just pick your favorite song and leave the game on as you just relax -- more games need to do this!

A Word of Criticism 

I had trouble thinking of some criticisms, but the few I have lie in how this game diverts from the standard shmup formula.

One is the lack of a proper arcade mode from stage to stage. I like testing my skills set by the via an arcade mode. Also, not having a highscore tracker seems odd. I think it would be great to know how well I'm doing.

Again, not having these doesn't devalue the experience in anyway. These are ultimately small qualms.

One Last Hurrah 

Had a long day at work or school? Do you want to just jump into some mayhem and blow off some steam? Rockets is the game for you. 

Perhaps you're not sold on that... that's fair. Do you just love games with impressive physics and utterly colorful explosions? Then by all means, you should definitely play RocketsRocketsRockets. It's fun for the whole family.

Fans of shmups, indie games, and or arcade games can find RocketsRocketsRockets available on the Nintendo Switch eShop Today.

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of RocketsRocketsRockets used in this review.]

Crusader Kings 2 Holy Fury DLC Review: High Praise Mon, 12 Nov 2018 15:06:38 -0500 Fox Doucette

Some of the highest praise I can give a game is when it blows me away with how good it is that only the little “due in 24 hours” reminder email I get sent to me ahead of my deadline can drag me away from it for long enough to do my job.

And while Crusader Kings 2 is usually like that, the new Holy Fury DLC goes above and beyond even that lofty standard.

Put simply, this is the best DLC for Paradox's six-year-old, ever-evolving grand strategy masterpiece since The Old Gods came out back in 2013.

For one thing, pagans are back with a holy fury. After being effectively nerfed in Sons of Abraham and Charlemagne, and by getting stripped of feudal government by the tribal system introduced with Horse Lords, the men of the north get a big dose of power with the Swedish pagans, forged in Valhalla by the hammer of Thor.

For example, new “warrior lodges” give pagans what essentially amounts to the Companions from Skyrim, which in turn grant questlines that allow a ruler to massively improve his or her military skill, army morale, and all that other fun statistical stuff that makes the gods of the random number generator favor their generals in battle.

A ruler can duel other characters for honor and glory (governed by a brand-new Personal Combat modifier), and as they rise up the ranks, they get all kinds of other fun toys to play with like gaining a commander trait of the player's choice, choosing to turn into a berserker (which, keeping up the Skyrim analogy, is only slightly less overpowered than turning into a werewolf), and appointing a shieldmaiden to lead armies. You'll be first to the battle, first to the feast.

Great warrior heroes of all faiths get to found legendary bloodlines. Some of them are included in the historical rulers in-game like Charlemagne, Ragnar Lothbrok, El Cid, and their ilk; others can come from that nobody you built in the Ruler Designer, starting a no-name dynasty in some far-off corner of the map.

Want to spend way too much time, money, and effort getting your spouse to love you? In-game, I mean.

Well, that's where the new “Sway” and “Antagonize” mechanics come in, perfect for making friends and enemies to shape the diplomatic landscape in your part of the world.

There are even new sainthood rules and coronation rules for the Christians, giving them that much more historical flavor when they're getting knocked around all over Europe by the newly-beefy Vikings.

Oh, and the game even takes names so your berserker king can keep a list of every single one of his kills.

And did I mention that it's not just the Norsemen who get to have a lot of good pagan fun at the expense of the Christians in this DLC? If you want to not just revive the Roman Empire (which has been an option for years in CK2) but really bring the Classical era back, there's an entire event chain for Hellenism.

But all of the above would just relegate this DLC to another case of “depends on your playstyle” but for one mighty, overwhelmingly awesome feature that makes it an absolute must-buy:

Shattered Worlds

Want every county in the game to start under the independent rule of a one-province minor in a massive free-for-all where nothing is predetermined except the religion and culture of certain parts of the map? Buckle up, buttercup;  that's exactly what you get. And it's awesome.

If you like an aggressive game where you have lots to do in terms of claiming titles and building up your power at the expense of your neighbors in the earlygame, this is the game mode for you.

Want to raid your Christian neighbors but don't want to wait for the Viking Age event in 793 when you're playing the Charlemagne early start? Norse culture coastal provinces start with shipyards so you can make with the looting and start in on your ambitious building projects sooner than you normally would in the basegame.

Tired of having Europe bottlenecked by you being a vassal of the real movers and shakers in the world, waiting for a big realm divide before you can take advantage of the chaos? This is the game mode for you.

And if all one-province minors isn't your thing, there are even game options that create a randomized world. Same basic flavor as a historical start, but with a wildly different setup of counts, dukes, and kings than you'd normally expect to see, giving you a truly different start every single time you play.

I want this in Europa Universalis IV without having to use the Shattered Europa mod. Hopefully Paradox learns a thing or two from trying it out in CK2.

But Shattered Worlds? That's why only the unpleasant reminder that I actually have to earn the free review copy of the DLC that Paradox sent me by writing this review could drag me away from playing it.

That's some of the highest praise I can give a game. If you play Crusader Kings 2, buy this DLC. I can't make it any simpler than that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go spend every free moment I have for.. oh, about the next week or so.. playing it.

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

Steel Rats Review: A Misaligned Destruction Derby Mon, 12 Nov 2018 14:21:40 -0500 Thomas Chiles

Indie studio Tate Multimedia has taken the concept of physics stunt driving often found in games like Trials HD and Trials Fusion and redesigned it for console and PC gamers who want a little more action.

Steel Rats, the culmination of that distillation, is a 2.5D action platformer where you drive a motorcycle hellbent on destruction through a retro-futuristic city overrun by killer robots -- or in this case, JunkBots. You'll control one of four members of the Steel Rats biker gang (which you can switch between) as they fight their way through Coastal City across 28 levels and five unique districts.

Riding through the second district, Halcyon Isle.

Familiar Gameplay Gets Advanced

If you have played any game from the Trials series, you will be familiar with the physics-based motorcycle gameplay Steel Rats is built upon, such as flipping your 2D bike through the air during both precarious and non-precarious jumps. But Tate Multimedia didn't stop there as Steel Rats has turned that concept into a fully fleshed out 2.5D experience, complete with a progressing storyline, unique level design, and unlockable upgrades.

Despite all of that, though, the game still plays like an arcade game at heart — each level is short and can usually be completed within a few minutes. No moments of lengthy exposition here.  

In fact, it's really all about gameplay. 

Your motorcycle’s front tire is equipped with a glowing red saw, which helps you destroy the many enemies and obstacles in your path through the city. Hands down, this feature is one of the game’s coolest — activating the saw has different uses, too, such as receiving a speed boost and clinging to walls and ceilings, both vertically and horizontally. 

Not only does it do that, but it also helps you destroy cars, debris, and JunkBots that get in your way by holding down the blade's activation button.

Although each character’s motorcycle handles the same, each of the four has a unique attack. For example, Toshi has a small, flying robot that shoots lasers, while the front of James’ motorcycle slams down like an energy hammer. You can also unlock different upgrades for each character as you progress through the game, adding a bit of variety to the overall gameplay. 

When it works, driving through Coastal City at full speed is when this game is at its best. Each level has moments where everything transforms into an eclectic playground full of high-speed stunts and destruction. Unfortunately, you aren't always going top speed — you'll sometimes find yourself stopping to fight JunkBots, complete short puzzles, or navigate through impossibly slow, tight turns. 

While each level is short, they are not always linear. Sometimes you will have to complete a task, such as powering up generators in a specific order, before backtracking to proceed through the level. This sounds OK and does add variety to the gameplay, but it also slows down a game that's built around speed, and for some players, this anachronism will stand out.  

Hard-to-Master Controls

All of that aside, the main issue with Steel Rats' control scheme is that it’s not intuitive. Even after playing for a while, you may find yourself thinking about the next button you will need to press instead of just intuitively reacting. 

Holding the right trigger/bumper accelerates your motorcycle while pressing "circle" (PS4) or B (XB1)performs a U-turn. Since the game is on a 2.5D plane, pushing up and down on the joystick moves you up and down along a horizontal track. Pushing left and right on your joystick rotates your bike forward and backward while in mid-air, akin to mobile motorcycle stunt games like Trials.

However, controlling your motorcycle can feel “floaty” and loose at first. For example, your first instinct may be to turn the joystick the other way to get your motorcycle to turn around, but that makes you tilt back.

"R2" and "RT" is throttle and holding "X"/"A" activates your saw blade, which means you will most likely be holding both of these throughout most of the game. But with "triangle"/"Y" being jump, it can be awkward to let go of your saw blade to reach all the way up to jump.

"R1"/"RB" will cause you to dash forward, which means you end up holding down three buttons on one hand. If you could change the controls for Steel Rats, it would greatly improve the overall experience, but as of right now, you can't. 

Getting used to Steel Rats will test your patience and your true gaming ability. You most likely haven’t played a game with controls like this before. And if you have, it has never been this demanding.

Don't make a mistake will riding the vertical walls of the Coal Mine.

The Verdict

In the end, great sound design and a creative concept carry this game far. The sound of driving your motorcycle is immensely satisfying, and the idea of driving a destructive roadster through a robot-infested city is just plain cool -- and the gameplay has some great arcade elements that help it stand out. 

However, there are a few aspects of Steel Rats that could be tweaked or changed completely, especially in the controls department. If a future update includes button configuration, Steel Rats would become a completely different game. Couple this hiccup with the game's weak enemy design, where basically every Junkbot is a smaller or larger version of the last, and the experience can devolve into arduous repetition at times. 

If you get frustrated with difficult-to-master or awkward controls, you should skip this one. But if you love a real challenge, Steel Rats is an easy purchase.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Steel Rats used for this review.]

Hitman 2 Review: Engineered Rampages Have Never Been so Fun Mon, 12 Nov 2018 10:57:30 -0500 Tim White

Hitman 2 is more like the biggest expansion pack of all time than a truly new game. That's not a bad thing, as long as you know what you're getting into. It's essentially a half-dozen (enormous) new missions for 2016's Hitman; you can play those original missions right in Hitman 2, even if you don't own the original.


Most fans of the Hitman series have probably never been drawn primarily by the writing. It's never been bad—it's just not the central focus or main appeal of the games. Agent 47 is usually either working for or running from one super-secret international shadow organization or another, and it's no different this time around.

You'll unravel hints of a new conspiracy in the first mission and gradually learn more about it through five more that will fill 47's (fake) passport with stamps from Miami, Columbia, and several other beautiful locations.

I'm essentially not factoring the story into my rating of Hitman 2, for better or worse. It serves its function as a reason for 47 to move from one location to another; that's about all it's good for.


The main reason the Hitman series has been so successful is a simple one: it's really, really fun to find a hundred different ways to kill somebody. The 2016 Hitman reboot took lethal creativity to new heights, turning players loose in some of the biggest and most intricate environments the franchise had ever seen.

If you thought those levels were big, you're in for a real treat this time around.

Let me describe the sheer size of Hitman 2's missions this way. I write for a living. I've written dozens, if not hundreds of game guides since the PS2 days. I've got a pretty efficient system for writing guides for games as I'm playing them—it doesn't take me all that much longer than simply playing the game for enjoyment.

This morning, I spent six hours exploring a single mission, taking notes and screenshots. When I decided to wrap it up for the day, I'd discovered 17% of the content in that mission—in six hours. The sheer volume of stuff to find and do is staggering. As long as you find it entertaining to set up elaborate assassinations, sneak around in disguise, or simply blow everything up, Hitman 2 will keep you busy for a long time.

Within the first three missions, assassination opportunities include but are not limited to: sabotaging vehicles, shoving targets off rooftops and balconies, crushing them under ludicrously heavy objects, feeding them to hippopotamuses, feeding them into heavy machinery, feeding them to piranhas, burying them alive in wet cement, and programming killer robots to shoot them.

This list barely scratches the surface, and these are just the unique opportunistic kills—you can always shoot, blow up, choke, stab, or poison anybody at any time. Completing assignments skillfully (i.e. smoothly and quietly) will unlock new weapons, gear, disguises, and insertion points, giving you even more options for next time.

Don't get me wrong, the core gameplay loop is really fun and enormously satisfying. But in a way, Hitman 2's greatest strength can also be its biggest weakness. There are, after all, only so many ways to kill people.

There's a real risk that Hitman 2 will overstay its welcome before you even finish all the missions, especially if you're a completionist reluctant to move to the next level until you've fully cleared the current one.

I recommend not doing what I'm doing (completing every single challenge in every level), at least not the first time through. It'll eventually get old for all but the most die-hard fans. Play each mission two or three times, try out a handful of assassinations that look the most fun to you, and then move on. If you're still hungry for more after you clear each mission, you can always replay them later.


Almost every game has some sort of multiplayer component nowadays. Frankly, I don't think it belongs in Hitman games, but I gave it a whirl anyway.

As of right now, there's only one mode, called "Ghosts." To be blunt, it's dumb. You and one other player race to kill the same target using limited weapons and equipment.

The first one to kill the target scores a point, but if your opponent also kills (a different version of) the target within twenty seconds, they cancel out your point. What all this means is that you both spend a very long time canceling each other's points and keeping the score eternally at 0-0. It's not worth spending any time on.


Hitman 2 is quite pretty to look at, especially considering how gargantuan some of the maps are. IO Interactive easily could have phoned it in and copy-pasted the same areas over and over, making only minor changes, but no two areas of any map are even close to identical.

From lush jungles to packed race tracks to the markets of Mumbai at sunset, the game's settings are just as diverse visually as they are mechanically. Though Hitman 2's gameplay might eventually get boring, its artwork never will.


Sound & Music

Hitman 2 is a quiet game. I assume that's intentional; it's easier to track moving targets, sneak effectively, and stay focused on a dozen different things if you're not bombarded by noise. The music during stealth/non-alert sections is intense but mellow, creating a sense of mild urgency without panic.

I can't comment extensively on battle music or on many of the weapon sound effects—I strongly prefer to take Hitman games slow and steady, so I rarely found myself in open conflict. On the few occasions when I found it unavoidable, I appreciated the deep, sharp crack of unsuppressed gunshots and the dramatic soundtrack that accompanies them.

Most of the voice acting is grade A, with only a few minor characters giving performances bad enough to be distracting. 47's usual deadpan monotone is the same as always, but in a few scenes, he steps it up considerably in order to impersonate someone or bluff his way past some guards. It's a shame that these scenes are so uncommon; an assassin of 47's skill would surely be a social chameleon, and it would be nice to hear him take on a wider variety of personas.


Hitman 2 is exceedingly well optimized, particularly in light of the fact that we live in a time when many developers seem content to release unfinished games and patch them later—if ever.

The game consistently maintained frame rates of 70+ on Ultra settings while running on a GTX 1080 and an i-7700 Skylake processor. This level of performance is even more impressive when you consider that most of the maps have hundreds, maybe even thousands of NPCs, all of whom move around and do stuff even when you're not close to them.

The load times are superb, never running longer than about five seconds on a Samsung 1TB solid state drive.

Unfortunately, it's not all good news. Like its predecessor, Hitman 2 requires an active internet connection at all times. This is, in a word, obnoxious. Your save data is effectively held hostage; you can't access it while offline. I understand that it's an anti-piracy measure, and I fully support content creators protecting their work, but there really are better ways to do it.

Verdict: 8/10

The Highlights

+ Excellent level design
+ Tons of enjoyable assassinations
+ Top-shelf optimization and performance

– Always-online requirement for single player
– Almost too much content, might get boring
– Lackluster, boring, tacked-on multiplayer

When sequels are described as "more of the same," that's usually a bad thing, but not in this case. Hitman 2 is really just season two of Hitman, but it's so big and interesting that I didn't mind. Fans of stealth, exploration, and jaw-dropping violence will find a lot to love here—as long as the clumsy DRM isn't a complete deal-breaker.

Note: the reviewer received a copy of this game for free from the publisher.

Check out our Hitman 2 guide hub for in-depth guides and more content!

Grip: Combat Racing, A Generous Throwback with a Lack of Style Fri, 09 Nov 2018 10:34:04 -0500 William R. Parks

As the scale of console games continues to grow, so do our expectations for the depth of their content.

It is not uncommon to spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours scouring the latest RPG, and many fans of multi-player gaming expect their first-person shooters, MMOs, and battle royales to provide nearly endless entertainment.

The racing game is certainly not exempt from this expectation.

At the beginning of October, Microsoft released Forza Horizon 4, an open-world racing simulator, and it is the perfect reflection of this current paradigm as it is applied to the racer. Featuring hundreds of cars, a dynamic weather system that alters gameplay, and a player-driven route creator, Forza 4 is massive and the fastest-selling game in franchise history.

But what about the racing simulator's stripped-down brother, the arcade racer? While franchises like F-Zero and Wipeout are revered for their adrenaline-pumping action, they are not exactly known for their depth of content.

Can a game with the goal of minimizing everything but the heart-racing thrills that come with driving at insane speeds thrive in a landscape where developers answer fans' resounding call of "more, more, more"?

Grip: Combat Racing, a spiritual-successor to 1999's Rollcage, says "Yes," and it is extremely generous with the features and content it provides.

However, after spending some time with Grip, I wonder how much of this throwback anyone actually needs.

Grip is a fast-and-furious arcade racer that lets players drive up walls and fly across ceilings, all while launching missiles and firing gatling guns at their adversaries. It is a a jacked up Mario Kart in a futuristic setting, and before starting Grip, the classic Mario Kart 64 was likely the last racing games I spent any significant time with.

After jumping into Grip's mammoth campaign mode (which can provide hours of predefined playlists spanning a majority of the game modes available), and crossing the finish line last in the first handful of races I joined, I feared that my time away from the genre had ruined me. Had I found my video game kryptonite?

Fortunately, Grip never made me feel inadequate. On the contrary, the game continually rewarded me with additional vehicles and cosmetics (through its XP-based unlocking system), and the campaign continued to advance, keeping me engaged as it introduced new tracks, game modes, and weapon types.

There are 23 race tracks (which can be played mirrored), 5 combat arenas, and a bevy of unlockable vehicles and customization in Grip, and the game was not going to let me miss its vast array of content just because I was bad at it.

This generosity made my time learning Grip's mechanics not only palpable, but fun (despite all of the losing that I was doing). While I certainly wanted to improve my racing prowess, active progression kept me playing even when I was at my worst. Soon enough, I was bringing home the gold and slaying foes in the battle arena.

If all advancement had been locked until I was winning races, I am not confident that I would have lasted long enough to ever be able to do so, and it is a boon that Grip is careful not to alienate a neophyte like myself.

It is important to note that some success on the track is required to proceed to the end of Tier 3 of the campaign, but Grip builds gradually, and what it requires of you never feels out of reach.

Regarding the gameplay, there are two primary ways to play: racing and arena.

Within the category of racing, there are several types that vary from straightforward non-combat races to those that consider weapon damage when determining your final position. This variety is appreciated, as it gives players a chance to find a racing type that they are suited for. Struggling with the Speed Demon races? Perhaps you will find your legs in the Ultimate Race.

The races themselves are exciting, and I often have a head rush after a play session. However, they operate on a very small margin, especially at the higher difficulties. You always feel one error away from last place and one well placed missile away from first. The exception is the Ultimate Race, where combat damage matters, and you can find yourself in the middle of the pack even with subpar lap times.

Living on the razor's edge can be exhilarating, and it is a large part of why Grip's gameplay is so addictive - "If only I had not missed that boost," I say to myself as I fire up the race again, looking for a better finish.

That said, it often leads to feel-bad moments where a late-race crash takes you from first place to last. I find myself frustrated and restarting races often, though the fact that Grip can keep me repeating "one more time" after so many failed attempts is a testament to the success of its gameplay.

However, there is a shortcoming in Grip's gameplay, and it is often the culprit for these race-ending crashes: its unintuitive aerial handling. The easiest way to put yourself completely out of a race is to get stuck against a track's terrain following a big jump, and it is even preferable to go out-of-bounds and get reset on the track. As a result, my strategy is to avoid aerial maneuvering as much as possible.

This is a major misstep for a game attempting to provide a gravity-defying experience, and it is Grip's biggest failing.

The other category, arena, does not suffer from these problems. This is an all-out battle in an enclosed space where winners are decided exclusively by damage dealt. Driving prowess means little, and, as a result, it is the game type I am best at.

Unfortunately, it is the least fun. Simply, the default timer is too long, and instead of engaging in frenetic combat, I am often looking at the clock, waiting for the minutes to tick away.

This is an apt distillation of the problem at the core of Grip -- while it it is packed to the gills with content, I am not certain that an arcade racer needs to offer endless play. For fans that cannot get enough of speeding around tracks and blowing up vehicles, Grip can easily supply hours and hours of gameplay through its massive campaign and robust single and multi-player options (which allow full customization of all of the game modes). For the rest, the novelty of the gameplay may wain quickly.

Instead of the glut of content Grip provides, the game would be served much better by addressing the non-gameplay aspect that is holding it back: the lifelessness of its assets.

While the tracks are serviceable, they are bland. The garage provides an array of vehicles and customization, but none of it feels particularly exciting.

Grip is indeed intended to be a throwback to a bygone era of arcade racing, but its aesthetic feels trapped in the games it references. While this is not a question of fidelity, as the audio/visual components feel quite clean and sharp, I would be hard pressed to offer my favorite track or vehicle, as none stands out in particular. This drabness is further solidified by the stock drum and bass that comprise Grip's soundtrack.

Here is where the genre has an opportunity to enter the modern age, with mesmerizing visuals that transport you to a future of combat racing and a blistering soundtrack to match the ridiculously high-speed competitions you are engaged in. Unfortunately, Grip is not quite able to find a style that is compelling enough to elevate it.

All-in-all, I have had fun with my time in Grip, and I appreciate just how much it offers. But, unless you can only find joy when ramming another vehicle at 400 miles-per-hour, it is hard to imagine it being much more than a passing distraction.

[Note: Writer was grated a copy of the game from the publisher.]

HellSign Early Access Review: Hard-R Supernatural Meets Shadowrun Fri, 09 Nov 2018 09:00:01 -0500 Ty Arthur

There's no question about it -- the indie development scene is where you want to go to find the best in horror these days.

Up and coming developer Ballistic Interactive is hoping to draw your attention away from Call Of Cthulhu and news of the impending Layers Of Fear sequel with the early access launch of HellSign, an investigative / action RPG hybrid.

What should you expect from this isometric mashup of gaming styles? Indie darling Distrust sought to provide gamers with a playable version of The Thing, while HellSign seeks to expand that inspiration out into a game version of essentially all horror movie tropes.

From disappearing puzzle boxes to pig masks to poltergeists, you're in for a "monster of the week" romp! 

'80s Aesthetic Meets Modern Monster Hunting

Somehow it's always a dark and stormy night in the HellSign universe, with every other house the recent site of a ritualistic murder probably involving  cryptids or even more obscure occult monstrosities.

There's a very specific hard boiled '80s synthwave vibe to locations your amnesiac monster scout visits on his quest to decipher the meaning of the sign tattooed on his back. 

What you get is essentially a cross between Shadowrun, as you seek out jobs from a fixer, and a hard R-rated Supernatural or Fringe. The term "horrorpunk" really applies here on the aesthetic front.

When you leave the bar behind and head out to investigate the sites of various awful events, the occasional screen scan flickers are a brilliant touch, making the exploration sections feel like an old VHS copy of a movie.

Those little visual touches are matched by absolutely top notch music and sound that evoke the right mood. In terms of overall atmosphere, HellSign absolutely nails it.

The gameplay itself is another matter...

Early Access Jitters

This is an Early Access launch, so obviously as an unfinished game there are some kinks to work out, like the super long load times to start each job.

For the most part the methods to find various clues in haunted houses are intuitive, but sometimes the blood splatters and so on don't seem to lead to any objects that actually yield clues.

There will be times where you'll end up just randomly clicking everything until you figure out what the game wants from you.

The randomized nature of each location also means that sometimes the clues don't really fully make sense or jive with their surroundings. Despite that randomization, HellSign can get pretty repetitive and overly similar quite fast, and that's the main issue that will need to be addressed as development continues.

There's one other nagging issue dragging HellSign down, and that's the ranged combat.

Never mind the AAA titles out there, the combat here can't even compete with other indie action RPGs, and it needs a big overhaul and a lot of polish. The gunplay reminds me of a slightly sped up version of the SNES Shadowrun game, and that's not a good thing.

Learning to time a dodge roll to avoid skittering monsters is critical to survival, but that whole system is marred by the collision detection, as its easy to get stuck on doors and other objects.

I'm not sure if this is a bug or an intentional design, but the giant centipede enemy can move through closed doors for some reason (maybe he's wiggling underneath it?), which is truly obnoxious when the player is already underpowered in every way at the start of the game.

Of course, combat becomes less of an ordeal as you upgrade equipment so you can more easily tackle the lesser threats and move onto bigger beasties for extra money.

Besides better firepower, your investigator can combine skills and clues to gain damage reduction and other benefits over the local supernatural population, but overall the combat is just a mess of jump rolling and frantic firing without much precision in the controls.

It may have interrupted the fast paced flow of kicking down doors and investigating rooms, but I can't help but feel turn based combat would have been a much better route to go here. That design would have worked better with the RPG elements and given more uses for skills.

The Bottom (But Very Early) Line

HellSign may be flawed and in need of polish, but that's exactly what Early Access exists to handle.

Overall you get a solid game here with a mix of finding and deciphering clues, interacting with rough 'n tumble characters, shooting at beasties, and running the hell out of a haunted house before you die and lose 66.6% of your earned loot.

A half dozen hours in and I'm officially intrigued, wanting to learn much more about the nefarious entity that wants our sunglasses-at-night wearing, monster hunting badass to stay alive for reasons unknown. The Early Access version only offers up the first chapter at the moment, so there's plenty more to this story to unravel still.

Its fabulous to see more indie horror coming down the pipe, and I'd easily recommend HellSign as one to earmark and watch during Early Access to see if the finished product manages to become the classic game it could be.


[Note: Writer was grated a copy of the game from the publisher.]

The Elder Scrolls Online: Murkmire DLC Review Tue, 06 Nov 2018 15:21:53 -0500 David Jagneaux

The Elder Scrolls Online has quietly become one of the very best MMORPGs on the market. Earlier this year, the brand-new Summerset expansion introduced a new crafting tree and delivered one of the richest and most beautiful MMO zones in any game to date.

Ironically, the Black Marsh is essentially a polar opposite in the vast continent of Tamriel.

Swampy Goodness

The Murkmire DLC brings players to the titular zone with all of its swamps, crumbling ruins, and reptilian scenery, nestled down in the far southeastern corner of the map. With it comes a brand new, very difficult group arena in the Blackrose Prison, a handful of delves, a new player home in the Lakemire Xanmeer Manor, and two new world bosses.

That's all on top of the typical assortment of quests, including a main quest line focused on the recovery of lost Argonian relics.

While it doesn’t have as much content as Summerset since it’s only a DLC pack and not a full-blown expansion, the new zone alone makes Murkmire a worthwhile purchase.

One of the biggest draws of ESO has always been exploration. There are plenty of merchants and questgivers peppered across the world to keep funneling you toward content and keep you busy, but it’s a remarkably playable game if you just turn off the HUD and go for a walk. These swamp lands hide a unique beauty that’s all their own.

Since I play an Argonian Warden, Murkmire was a special piece of DLC content for me. I felt out of place wandering the picturesque locales of Summerset and didn’t fit in with much of the base game’s content. Life as an Argonian is a life of exclusion and being labeled as an outsider. It was nice to see the tables turned for once.

ESO swamp creatures

Cyrdoilic Collections

The main questline for Murkmire begins in the starting city of Lilmoth near the southeastern coastline of Murkmire. After speaking with Famia Mercius, you join the Cyrodilic Collections’ expedition to track down lost Argonian artifacts.

Before starting Murkmire, you can even complete some prologue quests back in Shadowfen (for free) to get in the mood for the storyline. Once it gets going in Murkmire itself, it’s all got a very “Indiana Jones gone bad” vibe as you quickly end up having to help rescue lost expedition members.

The set-piece moments are very well done and the quality of the writing and voice acting is right up there with the best of the rest of the game. This is one of the few MMOs that I usually don’t skip dialogue in because everything is voiced so well.

All told, the main quest for Murkmire is about seven individual quests long and can take a few hours to complete. After that, there are tons of side quests, repeatable daily quests, and the other world content to dig into. This isn’t a DLC that will keep you occupied for months on end; you can probably finish everything in this zone in a week or two depending on how often you play, but the addition of a new end-game focused Arena is a welcomed inclusion.

Bethesda’s attention to detail with their world building is second-to-none and Murkmire does a great job of continuing that legacy.

If you take the time to speak with NPCs and really dig into the dialogue and listen to what they have to say, you’ll pick up on variations in accents and phrases. For example, I noticed one female Argonian refer to her biological family as her “egg-family” and it just made me smile.

Tamriel has such a rich culture that it’s great to see it continuing to be expanded more and more. ESO feels like a living, breathing history book.

Murkmire map

Coming off of the geographically massive expansion that was Summerset, Murkmire feels a bit more reserved. The content that is there is very well done, but it’s important to understand the difference between a large expansion release and a smaller DLC pack.

Along with Murkmire comes Update 20 as well, which does introduce some changes to the open PvP zone in Cyrodiil, holiday-themed furnishings, and improved home editing to round out the content offering.

The Murkmire DLC for The Elder Scrolls Online is available now for PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for free to all ESO Plus users or for 2,000 crowns in the in-game shop. A premium edition of the DLC costs 4,000 crowns, which also includes five 2-hour 50% boost crown experience scrolls, a swamp jelly non-combat pet, and a shellback warhorse mount.

Alternatively, Murkmire is also being given away for free as a daily login bonus -- this is the first time a paid DLC pack has been offered this way. All you have to do is log in to ESO at least 24 days in the month of November, which means if you haven’t logged in yet this month, you need to every day in order to earn it.

Murkmire is worth it, trust me. 

[Note: This review is based off of the retail version of Murkmire after it launched on PC. The reviewer is an ESO Plus monthly subscriber and received the Murkmire DLC content for free as part of his subscription.]

The Quiet Man: Uninspired and Boundlessly Baffling Tue, 06 Nov 2018 14:56:45 -0500 William R. Parks

In a time where vast open worlds offer increasingly boundless opportunities for exploration, VR experiences transplant players into new bodies, and elaborate role-playing games facilitate playthroughs that are custom tailored to the individual, "immersion" is a buzz-word frequently used when discussing the latest and greatest of video game art.

Each year, it seems we come ever closer to the holy grail of fully immersive gaming, and titles like The Elder Scrolls V: Skryim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Red Dead Redemption 2 give us the chance to truly lose ourselves in the characters and universes that are so meticulously constructed for us.

However, the scale present in these games is not requisite to creating an immersive experience. A focused, small-scale approach can serve just fine when attempting to put players into someone else's shoes.

Enter The Quiet Man, a new interactive movie co-developed by Square Enix and Human Head Studios (the developers behind Rune and Prey) with a high concept: silence.

The Quiet Man is a game without audible dialogue, and I can only assume that this emphasis on soundlessness is an attempt to allow players to inhabit the reality of the game's deaf protagonist, Dane. Unfortunately, The Quiet Man's execution is so painfully muddled that any of the developers' lofty goals have been completely obscured.

The Quiet Man is filled start-to-finish with scenes of characters talking, and while our protagonist is able to read lips and communicate using American Sign Language, the information he is privy to is never translated to the player. There are no subtitles or visual indicators making sure we are on the same page as Dane. Instead, we are left only to glean the broad strokes of the game's narrative while watching extended sequences of muted dialogue.

If a gross understanding is all we are intended to extract from these scenes, there are endless possibilities for conveying that information without requiring players to stare confusedly at unhearable talking heads. For a game so focused on storytelling, this misstep is a major failing.

Ultimately, The Quiet Man puts us in the position of a deaf spectator trying to make sense of dialogue-centric narrative. The protagonist also happens to be deaf, but there is no immersion here, only confusion and alienation. This is not to suggest that The Quiet Man's narrative need to be made crystal-clear. Rather, we should enter the game through Dane's perspective, unraveling the game's mysteries alongside him.

There are plenty of opportunities for Dane's deafness to impede an immediate and comprehensive understanding of the game's plot. However, that should not be achieved by making it impossible for players to decipher what is being communicated to him on screen.

That said, while increased clarity may make The Quiet Man more comprehensible, I am not certain that the game's narrative is salvageable even if the information Dane receives was being transmitted through an amplifier turned up to 11.

Note: A plot description and heavy spoilers follow.

The Story

The Quiet Man is an FMV game with heavy emphasis on its live-action narrative passages. However, from what I can piece together, the story of The Quiet Man is tenuous at best.

Here is my attempt to outline the game's action:

When Dane was a child, his mother was shot by a boy that is trying to get a pair of shoes back from a bully -- the perfect setup for an accidental homicide.

Dane-as-child seems to be friendly with the boy that fired the gun, and there is the indication that Dane believes that the bully was actually the one to pull the trigger (and that he was affiliated with a gang called "33").

It is hard to imagine why he would think that, as he seems to have been a direct witness to the shooting, but it is easiest to assume that Dane is confused about who killed his mother as, years later, he is still close with the boy responsible for her death.

After the shooting, Dane is understandably devastated, and a police officer (who is either his father or a concerned citizen) takes him to a psychiatrist where young Dane draws a picture of birdman standing (atop a pile of bones) next to a woman.

Flash forward to where the action of the game begins.

Dane is a young man now, and his first task is to infiltrate the 33 gang's hideout, recover a briefcase filled with cocaine, and promptly deliver it to the now grown executioner of his mother (Taye).

Taye hands Dane a letter that suggests a woman (very much resembling Dane's dead mother) is being targeted by someone, and, sure enough, the woman is taken captive by a man with a bird mask that evening.

Now it is time to lay waste to everyone standing between you and that woman.

This takes you through the ranks of the 33 gang, to the bully that you believe shot your mother, to Taye (who apparently has his hands in the kidnapping as well).

My understanding of this The Crow-esque revenge spree is hazy, but, at some point, the police officer from your past assists you in reaching Taye and provides you with a bird mask that seems to give you supernatural strength and the ability to resurrect.

What happens after your confrontation with Taye I cannot say, as The Quiet Man broke irreparably, refusing to trigger a cut-scene that would advance the plot further. I am simply unwilling to replay the section leading up to the encounter in order to see the game's conclusion, but I do not believe I would be remiss in assuming that the finale is just as nonsensical and uninspired as the story leading up to it.

I also tell you all of this because I seriously doubt you will make past the first few minutes of the game anyway. 

The Gameplay

On the topic of The Quiet Man breaking, the gameplay is simply a void -- a barebones and glitchy experience with the minimum amount of features required to call it a game. No tutorials, no UI, no interactive objects, no moveable camera.

The fixed camera has to be the game's worst offense. The Quiet Man plays like a beat 'em up, but attempting to kick, punch, and dodge enemies in 3D space without being able to adjust your viewpoint is, plainly, painful.

Combined with an unresponsive combat system, some of the later encounters feel excruciatingly challenging on the harder difficulty setting. Actually timing a dodge properly in The Quiet Man felt so uncommon that I expected a statue to be erected in my honor every time I managed to land one.

Fortunately, one of the game's few strengths is that the loading time after you are defeated is quite short, getting you back to the action quickly.

The only moments when combat feels passable are when you are fighting a single opponent, which minimizes the need to alter your focal point, or the game's playspace flattens into a side-scroller. While the combat would still feel wooden, The Quiet Man could be a serviceable brawler just by eliminating its third dimension.

Due to these immense shortcomings, I could never find a combat strategy that felt effective. There was no sense that I was ever improving, and I relegated myself to spamming a special move that made me temporarily invulnerable, clicking buttons, and praying that I would come out the other side alive.

The problem with this approach, beyond its obvious failings as a compelling combat system, is that it was the cause of the game's critical failure.

As I neared my encounter with Taye, The Quiet Man's camera was no longer able to handle my power-up move. When it was active, the camera would float in some liminal first-person space, never focusing on the action until I performed a finishing move that would end my invulnerability.

However, after fighting Taye, I put on my bird mask and went full Super Saiyan. The camera never recovered, and I was forced to quit out of the game.

All of these elements felt on the level of PlayStation 1-era shovelware, and this blankness translated to the drab and detailless environments and enemies I engaged with.

If so little effort was going to be made outside of the live-action sequences, I wonder why the developers would not just let the action occur within the live video in the way of Quick Time Events.

This would have kept The Quiet Man out of the realm of filmic dialogue, which it certainly does not want to be part of, and saved players from its inadequate gameplay experience.

The Verdict

The Quiet Man is an opportunity squandered.

A game that puts you in the place of someone with a hearing impairment could potentially be compelling in the right hands, giving players opportunities to problem solve in ways they may never have before, but these developers lost their way.

Was the original idea to make a game with a deaf protagonist, and, in a misguided attempt at immersion, all communication was extracted? Or did they want to make a soundless game and used deafness as a half-baked justification for doing so?

In either case, there is no cohesion between concept and execution in The Quiet Man, and the complete lack of attention to creating an acceptable gameplay experience pushes it over the line.

This is not a game to be enjoyed for how bafflingly incompetent it is in almost every category. It is simply bad, and you should stay away from it.

[Note: The developers provided a copy of The Quiet Man for review.]

The World Ends With You: Final Mix Review Tue, 06 Nov 2018 14:12:55 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Released back in 2007, The World Ends With You quickly cultivated a cult fanbase thanks to its unique anime, urban-street-culture presentation and original use of the DS touchscreen.

Since then, TWEWY has been released on iOS and the characters have made an appearance in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.

I was one of the many people who missed out on the JRPG when it originally released, and I thought it was a good time to see if it still holds up now that it's on the Nintendo Switch. The World Ends With You: Final Mix edition touts itself as the definitive version of the beloved cult hit, complete with HD graphics and a new control scheme.

After playing it, I can say it's one of the most difficult to talk about games I've ever had to review. 

TWEWY puts you into the shoes of Neku, your typical angst-ridden, anti-socialite. While Neku starts off as a wet blanket, seeing him grow from hateful misanthrope to (somewhat of a) paragon is at the core of the story -- and it's mostly well done.

The cast of colorful side-characters helps liven things up and make endearing Neku's anti-social personality worth the trip. The writing can expositional and it runs into cliche story beat's you've seen in countless anime, but it's still a decently-told tale.


What TWEWY does do well is embrace a unique style and presentation.

The streets of Shibuya are oozing with urban culture and the citizens that inhabit the city give life to this virtual re-creation of Japan's version of Time Square.

Tetsuya Nomura, known for his work on Kingdom Hearts, not only produced TWEWY but was the art and character designer. His work is on full display and mixes well with the street-art style that TWEWY is known for. Colors are a bit more muted than in other games in the genre, but that only adds to the game's overall immersion.

The final mix version adds more detail to the backgrounds and models. Characters, in particular, look less like 16-bit sprites and more like hand-drawn models, similar to what you see in a manga or comic book.

The environments also look much crisper and less pixelated than past versions, giving a game with tons of personality even more. 

There's still no game that matches TWEWY's sense of urban fashion and, even on an HD TV, the game still looks great despite its age.

Adding to the game's presentation is the fantastic soundtrack. From hip-hop to bits of J-pop, the game's music is almost 100% vocal and never feels out-of-place. It's so good, you might just want to get it on iTunes (it'll be stuck in your head for a week. You're welcome).

The final mix contains a remastered version of the original soundtrack, with updated tracks and melodies, that are even more pleasing to listen to. But, if you prefer the original version, you can always opt to change it in the options menu, which is a nice touch for returning fans.

Combat in TWEWY  takes place in real time, and will make use of either one of the Switch's Joy-Cons when docked, or the touchscreen when in handheld mode.

Either control style you choose will have you swiping, moving Neku and his partner via pins you collect. These powers can range from simple melee slashes to various forms of kinesis. You'll set enemies aflame, zap them with lightning, or even throw objects on the field. You can only switch between three pins powers in combat, but you can change which ones you want while in the pause screen.

Combat starts off basic, but slowly ramps up. Mixing and matching pins to your playstyle is generally a good time thanks to the flashy feedback you get. It all makes for a unique combat system but one that's begging for either a traditional control scheme or one that makes use of a stylus.

In my experience, it's better to not use the Joy-Con at all. The docked control scheme is just awful, as the Joy-Con's Gyro-sensor just isn't that responsive to keep up with the hectic action.

There's no way to turn off motion controls, so you're stuck with them whenever you're playing on the TV. Constantly flailing your arm to emulate a stylus just doesn't work and makes the game nearly unplayable. It's a shame that for a system that has the moniker, "you can play anywhere", gaming on the TV is a pain.

Fortunately, you can play with the game's touchscreen -- and it works well. The game will occasionally misinterpret one touch for another, but that never becomes too much of a problem.

What can be problematic, though, is the disconnect between story and gameplay in the exploration sections. An early mission, for example, will have you looking at a statue and trying to figure out what's wrong with it. You'll know what you have to do with it, but the game won't let you interact with it unless you search for a thought bubble that tells you what you already know what to do.

Despite these nuisances, TWEWY is still a fun game to play -- even after all these years. There are very few games that contain the style and gameplay that has yet to be re-created and it's easy to see how it gain such a strong cult following.

However, it sits in this weird state where it's both the best and worst version of the game. It's a hard deal to accept, especially at the $50 price tag. The game looks better than ever and plays well, so as long as you keep out of docked mode.

If you only have a Nintendo Switch, it's worth picking up. Just beware of some tacky choices here and there.

Review: Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard Mon, 05 Nov 2018 09:44:56 -0500 ElConquistadork

Apparently it doesn't take long for Corsair to improve on an already good thing.

This summer, we covered the original Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 keyboard. It was sturdy, customizable, and a perfect enough combination of form and function that we gave it a 9/10.

Now, almost half a year later, we're investigating its newer, quieter, and yet almost identical twin brother, the Corsair K70 Mk.2 Low Profile. So what exactly is the difference, and is it worth the upgrade?

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sold on the hardware when I first unpacked it. At first glance, it seemed identical to the original K70 Mk.2 in almost every way. It wasn't until I actually sat the two next to each other that I got a full handle on the main design difference: this new keyboard is lean. Lean as in 29mm tall.

With a lower frame and keys, the Low Profile edition lives up to its name. Factor into that whisper soft typing, and you've got exactly the sort of keyboard you want when you're looking for mechanical reaction time coupled with something that doesn't sound like an old typewriter. 

It's possible that it's just in my head, but this sleek layout even made me feel like my reactions were quicker, whether I was gaming or just typing.

Of course, this keyboard is fully equipped with everything that made the original K70 my favorite keyboard of the year (until now), including Cherry MX Keyswitches, full key rollover, and an onboard memory system to keep your personal customization options at hand no matter where you plug into.

The fully programmable lighting system is still brilliant, and iCUE remains one of the most reliable pieces of software out there for keyboards, with incredible options for RGB lighting, macros, and synchronization with any of Corsair's other compatible peripherals.

The differences might seem skin deep to some, but it remains that Corsair has heavily improved on an already brilliant keyboard for gamers of every stripe. For a mere extra $10, this is an upgrade worth getting.

The Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard is available on Amazon for $169.99.

The Colonists Review: Getting to the Nuts and Bolts Fri, 02 Nov 2018 16:48:04 -0400 Victoria B.

While many games set in the future might focus on the dangers AI consciousness poses to humanity, The Colonists makes robots just too cute to fear.

In this settlement/strategy/building game, you must help a spaceship full of adorable little bots escape enslavement on Earth so that they can build their own robotic society in the stars.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to achieve bigger and greater accomplishments to expand your city in various environments. You must help the bots maintain energy while avoiding running out of resources.

The game has a lot of fantastic characteristics, but there are also a few things to consider before you buy.


Art Style

There are some quirky and lovable qualities to this game because of the art style and robotic citizens. Each of your bots has individual names that you can change, and it can be fun watching them bustle about the city to complete tasks and build monuments.

This is part of the charm to the game that separates it from other builders. Each bot has a specific task and different build to indicate their role in the community, making them easy to track and keep an eye on.

Track Efficiency

The Colonists, while cute, also has complexities and fantastic details when it comes to tracking the functionality of your new society. You can view statistics on the production of resources, efficiency, building upgrades, and research.

Despite all the amount of detail, anyone can easily pick up this game and play. It isn’t overly complex and tutorial pop-ups follow you along the way to explain mechanics and provide advice.

Goal Oriented

To keep you goal oriented with the development of your city, The Colonists provides simple objectives and tasks to work up towards. For example, one of your first tasks is to build a monument.

Once you review the requirements for such a job, you realize that you must conduct research and collect new resources. The goals are easy to follow but sometimes require a bit of time and strategizing to complete.


The style of gameplay is relaxing and a time burner that I enjoyed playing in between work or when I wanted to avoid work. It is perfect for a casual player looking for a bit of stress relief during the day and can be a great way to unwind. I became engrossed at times thinking about the next task I wanted to complete.


Better Suited to Mobile

However, it is the causality and ease of the game that causes it to have some downfalls. This is perfect for casual gameplay, which makes me think it would work best if it was a mobile app rather than only a PC game. While a player could still hop on their computer and play, it feels more suited for a mobile or portable device that I could pick up in my downtime.

I can imagine how it could be even more addictive to let your city build while you’re at work and hear a notification when your building or research is completed. There are plenty of building apps that are successful in this platform because of the game always being in the players pocket and accessible anywhere. The casual gameplay is great for this style and genre but could reach a wider audience on different platforms.

Conflict and Stakes

While I enjoyed how calming the game could be, I also craved a bit more tension or stakes. Unlike many society building games, there are no huge threats to your city other than when you eventually must fight other bots to conquer new territories.

For the most part, antagonism players will face is the lack of energy, resources, and space. This makes the game accessible and easy to play for anyone, but it also lacks a bit of challenge to drive the player forward. The goals do provide players with something to strive for, but it can be easy to forget to check up on your city when there are no significant or immediate threats to it other than running out of materials.


Not all casual building games need significant conflict to keep players interested though. In fact, many of my favorite builders I spent hours on as a kid didn’t have the threat of another player attacking my city or the loss of territory. I think back to classic builders such as Roller Coaster Tycoon or Sim City.

Similar to The Colonists, players had to use a limited space to build resources that help the production of a city or must acquire more land to expand. However, unlike these classics, The Colonists has a bit less customization options. You can upgrade your buildings, which changes the appearance and efficiency of the town, but there are no options to change the look of the buildings or the bots themselves. Most of the customization decisions will apply when choosing which locations, you would like to build and where you want to place them.

Overall Thoughts

I did enjoy playing this game in my downtime and found myself attached to the adorable little bots as well as the cartoonish art style. But, it currently does have some limitations and player retention concerns.

If you play society building games and find yourself perfecting your city, you will likely enjoy The Colonist and appreciate ability to track every element of productivity. However, the game could have a greater potential on a mobile device, and as a player, I would have been more invested if there were a bit more customization options or stakes to my success.

My Hero One's Justice Review: Not Quite Quirky Enough Fri, 02 Nov 2018 13:20:20 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

My Hero Academia is, without a single doubt, one of the most successful anime franchises here in the West. The show instantly found an audience thanks to its strong writing, insanely likable characters (like Ashido and Kaminari, the best characters in the show don't @ me), and honest, gut-wrenching emotion.

Oh, and all the awesome superpowers and fights. Those are good, too. 

With all of that behind it, there was bound be a video game adaptation. A 3D fighting game in the vein of One Piece: Burning Blood or Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm seemed to be a slam-dunk affair. Unfortunately, although the game itself is fun, My Hero One's Justice takes too many liberties with the source material to be truly successful.


All Might and Eraserhead fight Shigaraki on the street

When you boot up the game for the first time, you'll find a variety of different single and multiplayer modes to explore -- a story mode that pretty much takes you through most of the show's second and third seasons, a mission mode where you pick characters and run them through a gauntlet of missions during which your health doesn't regenerate, both online and local multiplayer, and a classic arcade mode that was added in a day-one patch.

There is a fair amount of content to sink your teeth into, whether you're a fan of the show or just a fan of fighting games. If you're one of those folks who needs a game to give you at least 50 hours of gameplay in order for it to be worth a buy, you won't be disappointed. 

The gameplay itself is actually fairly simple, and will be familiar to anyone who has played Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, or Pokken Tournament.

You have one button that will launch you into a normal melee combo and two buttons for "quirk attacks" that take advantage of your character's abilities -- for example, Midoriya's Delaware Smash or Momo's Creation. There aren't any complex inputs here, and the key to stringing long combos together in My Hero One's Justice is figuring out which quirk attacks chain into others and then linking them together by dashing toward your opponent. 

Deku kicks at the camera while in the air in My Hero One's Justice

The set dressing is perfect, too. The characters look just like they do in the show -- the jump to 3D is natural and doesn't in the least venture into uncanny valley territory.

Buildings crumble as you run into them, which is a bit silly, but it adds to the feeling that your blows carry weight, while visual effects and camera shifts make heavy hits feel impactful, especially when you knock your opponent so hard they fly right into a wall and launch an intense, gravity-defying combo. It feels great.

This makes battles feel a bit like they do in Dragonball FighterZ, a game that has become the gold standard for the anime fighter genre. Unfortunately, My Hero One's Justice falls short of that bar by a fair amount when you dig a little deeper.

Lost In Translation

Not everything is pitch-perfect, though.

One of the first problems you'll encounter in the English release of the game is that there are no subtitles. This could easily be patched in later, but at first blush, it's jarring. Sure, it might not seem like an issue since this is a fighting game at heart and the story mode pretty much follows the arc of the show exactly -- but this lack of accessibility feels like an oversight.

Making matters worse, certain elements of the game aren't easy to understand because they aren't in English.

For example, loading screens. Here, the game will brag about how you can customize your character by equipping custom mottoes that change based on who you're fighting. This is a great feature, especially for a game that's based on a show that, at heart, is about the relationships between the characters and how they change over time. Unfortunately, if you don't know Japanese, you'll miss out on all of that.

Again, this wouldn't be an issue if the game were captioned, or if there was an option for dubbed voices, but as it stands now, it feels like a whole section of the game is walled off for folks who aren't bilingual. 

Roll Call

Deku and Bakugo fight All Might

The roster for My Hero One's Justice is respectable, even if the developers at Bandai Namco committed the ultimate sin in excluding Mina Ashido, the best character in the show.

Bandai Namco really did a good job balancing the need for lead characters (Iida, Uraraka, Shigaraki) while also adding some more minor fan favorites (Kaminari, Jiro, Asui, Toga). It speaks to their knowledge of their audience, and it's very much appreciated.

It's also good to know that they also plan to expand the roster through DLC -- Shoot Style Midoriya, Endeavor, and Inasa Yoarashi have already been confirmed, and one can only assume there'll be even more to come. I just hope they add Ashido (and Best Jeanist) down the line.

And despite what I said about the mottoes, there is a whole lot of fun to be had with the game's customization features. I spent hours unlocking and accessorizing my favorite characters in completely ridiculous ways, then editing together a splash screen so that whenever I fight someone online, Denki Kaminari poses while the words "PERFECT BOY" flash behind him.

That alone could be good enough to justify the game's purchase for some.


So all that sounds good, right? You're probably wondering why I gave this game a 7 and compared it so unfavorably to Dragonball FighterZ, and that's a fair question to have. Because yes, the game plays well! The roster isn't balanced, but no fighting game roster is. 

The biggest issue that the game has is that My Hero One's Justice just doesn't feel like My Hero Academiano matter how much it may look like it.

For example, regardless of a character's actual abilities, everyone gets two jumps and an air dash -- which aren't visually tied to the character's quirks in any way. Having movement options that don't feel character specific really flattens the game and makes the characters feel generic. Uraraka can fight in the air very well, sure, but she can't really hover. Asui can't climb up walls. Bakugo doesn't have any explosion-based movement.

Gran Turino fights Nomu in My Hero One's Justice

This problem extends to the characters' fighting moves, too; characters don't fight in the unique and creative ways that they do in the show. Stain's Bloodcurdle quirk is completely absent -- he's just a generic swordfighter. Eraserhead only has one move that revolves around sealing his opponent's quirks. Momo only creates very limited items, and most of her combos just revolve around her smacking fools with a spear. 

A big part of My Hero Academia's draw is that all the quirks feel so unique, and the show spotlights how all of the heroes and villains use their specific abilities to find creative solutions to big problems. My Hero One's Justice's true unforgivable sin is that this key element of the show didn't cross over. 

You'll end up playing each character more or less the same way, using a projectile move to close the distance, chaining that into a combo, and finishing off with a flashy super move if you're lucky. All the flash in the world can't make up for the fact that the spirit of the show is lost when all the characters largely feel similar.

It might be too much to ask to have Asui surprise other players by climbing up walls, where Momo can set traps for opponents, or where Bakugo can have acrobatic explosion-based dodges, but these are all key elements of the show. It's really a shame, because a My Hero Academia fighting game seemed like a no-brainer, and everything else about the game is pretty much spot on. But for now, this game just feels generic.

Fun, yes, but generic. 

And maybe that's enough for you! If you're a fan of 3D fighters like Pokken Tournament and Naruto Ultimate Ninja StormMy Hero One's Justice will admirably scratch that itch. The combat is satisfying, the game looks wonderful, and there's tons of content for fans of the show to sink their teeth into.

Unfortunately, when it's judged specifically as a My Hero Academia fighting game, My Hero One's Justice leaves a lot to be desired.

Looking to take your My Hero One's Justice play to the next level? Check out our Beginner's Guide, as well as our Character Guide and Tier List! PLUS ULTRA!!!

[Note: Bandai Namco provided the copy of My Hero One's Justice used in this review.]

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review: How The West Was Fun-ded Through Murder And Mayhem Thu, 01 Nov 2018 10:07:30 -0400 Ty Arthur

Eight years separated from its predecessor and delayed twice ahead of release, Red Dead Redemption 2 stands out as easily one of the most anticipated games of 2018.

There's been much said about this foray into the grit and grime of the 1899 American West, but in their rush to get reviews to print, many outlets didn't take the time to fully absorb all RDR2 had to offer before making their analyses. 

We've been playing for nearly a week now, so it's time to take stock and reflect on if Rockstar's latest open-world epic was worth the hype.

Immersion Through Minimalism

Arthur Morgan cooks meat over a fire at a campsite in Red Dead Redemption 2

There's one key element of this vision of the lawless old West that everyone needs to know about before galloping into its 60+ hour story.

Red Dead Redemption 2 may seem very familiar at first, but it's important to note that Rockstar is offering up a very different take on the open world formula, one that goes well outside the established norms.

As aging rough 'n tumble outlaw Arthur Morgan, you aren't going to unlock a chain of god-like skills that will help you conquer the Wild West. You won't become emperor of the lands west of the Mississippi, or even come close to saving the world (or what you know of it).

The game is easily defined by the extremely minimalist take on hand-holding, which bucks many open world trends. There are rarely on-screen prompts taking you to the next location, and Arthur isn't expected to collect everything in each area of the map.

Every system or mechanic that reminds you this experience is actually a game is kept as low key as possible, and sometimes actively hidden from view.

The developers clearly worked hard to maintain the gritty old West feel in all aspects of the game -- there aren't easily recognizable giant arrows pointing you toward an objective. When trails are visibly leading you somewhere, they are faint, hard to follow, and give off the feel of old-time Collodion photography.

Every system and mechanic that reminds you this experience is actually a game is kept as subtle as possible, and sometimes actively hidden from view.

While there are bonuses for completing missions in specific ways, they don't flash across the screen -- you have to go into a menu and find them yourself, making sure immersion breaks only if you want it to. 

The end result makes it feel as if you are living the character rather than completing a checklist for upgrades or marking quests off a to-do list. 

RDR 2's gameplay is more about living in the world than conquering it, and much of the game is spent staying out of the spotlight, not lording over it.

And for the most part, that's a very good thing. But the slow pacing that results from that design may not be to everyone's liking.

There are times where you will be wandering aimlessly about the world, not sure what to do or where to go (although you'll find plenty to engage with along the way, such as injured travelers or prisoners asking for help). You'll also find times where you will have to walk at a snail's pace because your horse died and you are out of stamina.

You could even play the whole game without realizing there is a limited form of fast travel to unlock. I only discovered it because another writer at GameSkinny mentioned it; otherwise, I would have finished the whole story without having the slightest clue.

Living The Outlaw Lifestyle

Arthur Morgan leads a horse across trains tracks

While going through that slow-paced exploration of the Wild West, you'll get to know a ragtag group of murdering, thieving ne'er-do-wells who believe they are superior to all the other murdering, thieving ne'er-do-wells because they are occasionally nice to each other.

A surprising amount of story springs from that setup, with strong themes popping up, such as civilization versus the wild, freedom versus conformity, and chaos versus order.

Despite centering around robbing people and outrunning the law on your trusty steed, RDR 2 features a fantastic range of main story missions that help you get to know the characters populating the world.

Even outside of the quests and dialog, there's a stunning breadth and depth to this game that centers on a frankly insane attention to detail.

From wandering about shops looking at items on the selves to day to day life around a ludicrously lifelike camp, every aspect of outlaw existence in the West is meticulously crafted. Horses get dirty, alligators eat corpses left near waterways, heck, your beard even grows.

You will constantly discover new gameplay elements while exploring, and I could spend 2,000 words alone just listing all of the different mechanics in the game. For brevity's sake, I'll keep it short with this brief (if wildly incomplete) list of things to do outside story quests and open world events:

  • Horse bonding/leveling
  • Horse brushing
  • Modifying saddles
  • Modifying guns
  • Cleaning your gun
  • Shaving
  • Bathing
  • Eating and gaining weight
  • Writing in your journal about American flora and fauna
  • Upgrading your camp
  • Crafting
  • Hunting
  • Playing dominoes
  • Solving bizarre puzzles out in the middle of nowhere
  • Watching full vaudeville acts (yes, some are more than 10 minutes long)
  • Listening to prostitutes sing tawdry songs
  • Discovering dinosaur bones

The list goes on and on -- and there's always more to discover. For me, one of the most surprising moments was when I tried to gallop full speed up a steep embankment to avoid going around a cliff.

My horse ended up falling down and broke its leg as I tumbled away while cursing loudly, which was unexpected and another instance of attention to detail. I didn't have anything to revive my horse with, so my only option was to put him out of his misery. That simple moment, where I have to put down a horse I'd been bonding with for a good 10 hours, impacted me more than most of the people I'd murdered up until that point.

While finding all those unexpected moments, Arthur will traverse a wide range of landscapes, such as snowy mountains, muddy livestock towns, oil fields, cave systems, large metropolitan cities, and even swamps.

RDR 2 has an absolutely massive open world to explore that easily rivals or beats Skyrim or The Witcher 3. This is a game that is absolutely begging for a PC release so it can stay alive for decades due to mods.

How The West Can Go Wrong

A horse tumbles over a rock in Red Dead Redemption 2

It can't be all whiskey and working girls though, and sometimes it's gotta be stale coffee and horse shit. While Red Dead Redemption 2 is a triumph in many ways, it does fall short in others.

There are times where the lack of explanations or on-screen prompts leads to baffling results. At one point, while lost after a hunting trip, I shot a guy to take his mount and try to get back to camp faster.

Suddenly, the screen switched to a view of the open sky and I re-spawned at camp for no apparent reason. Turns out, someone I couldn't see witnessed what happened and it counted as leading enemies to the main camp -- but there was no way I could have known that ahead of time.

Apparently, there's also a maximum distance you can get from certain mission objectives, but no indication of where that distance is or when you are nearing its boundaries. The mission just ends if you go too far.

It can't be all whiskey and working girls though, and sometimes it's gotta be stale coffee and horse shit. 

The exploration, dialog, and relentless attention to detail will all keep a player interested, but the controls deserve mentioning for their exceptionally clunky nature.

Figuring out how to properly ride the horse takes some serious effort, and the uninspired gunplay is easily the game's weakest link, taken so heavily from Rockstar's other major franchise, GTA

For all the unique elements at play, there are parts where it's crystal clear Red Dead Redemption 2 is basically a hacked apart GTA with a Wild West coat of paint.

The horse, for instance, often behaves very much like a car in Los Santos or Liberty City, with some small objects behaving like impenetrable brick walls and others thin tissue paper that can be blown through. There's a whole wild, hilarious world of high-speed horse mishap videos out there that are well worth perusing.

While the game tries hard to stay grounded, there are more than a handful of truly ludicrous elements that will pull you out of the experience, like trotting up to the post office and paying a fine as a "whoops sorry" for murdering a bunch of people in broad daylight.

Shopkeepers you shot in the head will helpfully clean up all the blood and happily trade with you after you sit outside the law's sphere of influence for a few minutes and let the heat die down.

Sometimes, those ludicrous things can add more charm rather than they take away, however, especially if you prefer the style of other Rockstar games.

For instance, you don't actually need a bow or gun to hunt. If you like high-speed chases, your horse is all the battering ram death machine you need to take down animals (or people). 

The Bottom Line

There's some bad but a whole lotta good in this gritty law-breaking adventure, and it's worth noting that RDR 2 looks flat out amazing for an open world game.

Beyond just the graphics, the entire experience is absurdly cinematic, and you could spend hours just watching the gang canter through untouched valleys or interact with locals at the bar.

The purposefully slow pacing and clunky controls may tank the game for some, but I suspect for most, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be a breath of fresh air in the open world genre.

There's no question this is going to be a contender for game of the year, and this is a story every gamer should make a point of playing.


If you're looking for tips and tricks for this Wild West epic, head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 for review.]

Spider-Man: The Heist DLC Review -- Too Purr-fect to Pass Up Wed, 31 Oct 2018 12:07:39 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

Just over a month after Marvel's Spider-Man launched to universal acclaim, the webslinger swings back into action. After saving the city from near disaster, the Peter Parker's latest adventure see's him jumping back into the red spandex and taking on New York's most persistent criminals.

This time, things get complicated with his long time frenemy, Black Cat.

The Heist DLC hasn't changed much in the way of gameplay, but it's solid refinement of the base-game stands out, and it tells a great Spider-Man/ Black Cat story, one well worthy of the comics it takes inspiration from. 

When we last met Felecia, she stole back her suit and gadget, while leaving a new outfit for Spidey to play around with. Now, Ms. Hardy is in deep trouble as she's looking from something that Hammerhead, another member of Spider-Man's rogues gallery, stole -- and, of course, she needs help from Spider-Man to get it back. I won't spoil what the major plot point is, but just that things aren't that clear when Black Cat is involved.

Overall, the story offers a fun new take on the Spidey/Black Cat dynamic, while still staying true to the duo's roots. While the climax is a bit predictable, it does do a good job in setting up the next batch of DLC stories that are due later this year.

The pacing is great, as the nearly 3-4 hours it takes to beat never drags once. 

Spider-Man hangs upside down in front of Black Cat

Along with excellent storytelling, combat has been spiced up to keep things fresh. While you don't get to play as Black Cat in The Heist, later sections have you teaming up with her while both beating bad guys to a pulp and stealthily sneaking past them. These sections aren't as refined or as interesting as the sections in Arkham Knight where you team up with Robin, but they're still handled well enough to keep things unique. 

Enemies are all the same from the main game, but the new brute enemy type does make for some interesting battles. You can't just web them up, as they now feature Gatling guns that'll do a ton of damage. It makes for a fun shake-up to battles, even if most enemies will still go down with a few punches and finishing moves.

Black Cat pins Spider-Man down

Challenge Missions, from the main game, return with a twist, too.

Screwball, the social media fiend from the main game, makes a return by offering up some optional challenges to partake in. Some, like having to web up some generators in the right order, are fun new additions, while others can be considered throwaways.

Meanwhile, returning Taskmaster missions are relatively unchanged, but are sprinkled with a new photo mechanic that let's you gain extra points to spice things up. 

Lastly, with Black Cat on the scene, it's only fitting that The Heist's new collectibles involve stolen pieces of art. You'll be chasing them down, much like the backpacks in the main game, and you'll get more info about Black Cat's history, particularly that of her Father, the original Black Cat (it's a long story). 

Close up of Black Cat against city skyline

The only real complaint I had were some various glitches that popped up throughout my time. Some are small, but others will force you to reload the last checkpoint. None are game breaking, but they could of been ironed out. Hopefully, we won't see them in future releases. 

Overall, Spider-Man: The Heist adds enough new content to justify its price. The story is short but sweet and, once you wrap up the main quest, you can unlock 3 new costumes that you can use in New Game+.

Top that with some new challenge missions and you get an addition that's just too purr-fect to pass up.

MapleStory 2 Review: MMO or Fast Food? Who Knows, It's Tasty Tue, 30 Oct 2018 16:36:43 -0400 Ashley Shankle

I'm not sure if there's a term for it, but I'm one of those people that bounce from one MMORPG to the next after a month or two. I'm not proud of it, but that's what happens.

For full transparency, I held off on reviewing MapleStory 2 for three reasons:

  1. I wanted to play the game for a prolonged period over several classes to get a real feel for it
  2. I wanted to see how Nexon approached the game post-Founders' head start
  3. I did not want that "new MMO smell" to taint my review

If you've played Korean MMORPGs before, you can probably understand the first two points. Generally, in Korean-developed MMOs, you get to some heavy enchantment grinding at endgame and, regrettably, run out of PvE content fairly quickly unless you are just set on grinding enchants.

As for the third point, well... I've been having a great time with MapleStory 2 and I wanted to make sure I was actually having a great time and not just whiffing on those new game fumes.

What is MapleStory 2?

At first glance, it's an action combat MMORPG. As a dedicated player, it's a social MMO with action combat.

MapleStory 2's primary focus is hanging out with other people, which can be done in any number of ways. You can run dungeons, farm world bosses, or grind a map with friends -- you know, the normal stuff -- but it goes deeper than that.

It's very easy to find yourself spending more time messing around with what would normally be considered "optional" in other MMORPGs.

You may get wrapped up in multiplayer minigames, perhaps even hosting your own to play with friends. You may wander into a lower channel for the performance map Queenstown and end up chatting while other Maplers play music. Heck, you may even decide to play some music on stage yourself.

The amount of activities found in MapleStory 2 is a little staggering, especially if you installed the game to get your regular grind on. There's a big difference between rushing through Epic quests for levels, and running around every map you come across to complete "Exploration Goals", such as hitting enemies with widget trees or finding chests just to get more attribute points.

Since everything you do (just about) grants XP, you don't have to level via Epic quests. Playing music, gathering, playing minigames, crafting -- almost every activity you get yourself into in this game grants XP. This means you never have to level two characters the exact same way, though Epic quests are easily your best source of XP up to level 50.

There are also several PvP maps in the game, though at the time of this writing there isn't much incentive to wail on other players. Some Epic quests near the end of MapleStory 2 send you into a small handful areas, but you can channel hop your way to safety and just get the objectives done without the stress.

Merets and UGC

You can't talk about this game without talking about user-generated content. And you have to bring Merets, the cash shop currency, into the discussion when you get to the nitty-gritty of it.

One natural assumption is that a Nexon game is going to be a little demanding on the wallet if you want to get serious with it; however, that is not the case with MapleStory 2.

I'm not going to lie and say there's nothing to be gained from spending money on the game in a gameplay sense. The in-game cash shop, the Meret Market, has some gameplay-affecting items such as the badge that automatically gathers for you when near nodes or the ability to send messages in the World chat channel, but as it stands, that's about as far as it goes.

You'd be surprised how big you can make your house and how many items are available without spending a cent.

This doesn't mean you're not going to be spending money on MapleStory 2, though. Oh no. Instead, it means you're going to want to throw tons of money at cosmetics, both official and those made by other players.

In Maple World, players are able to create their own cosmetics for use as character clothing and items or blocks used in player housing. There's a whole pile of templates to work with, and skilled UGC creators roll in Blue Merets, one of the two cash shop currencies, as UGC can be sold to other players in the Design Shop.

Creating cosmetic UGC costs Red or Blue Merets when purchasing the template. Red Merets are granted via events, meaning even free players can dive into the UGC pool and make Blue Merets on the Design Shop.

There are other venues for UGC in the game, too, such as scheduling images to display on signboards for Blue Merets or playing your own music via an instrument at only a Meso cost. But these are less notable than the use of the Design Shop or simply making your own clothes.

The Trail to and Making Camp at Endgame

I don't think I mentioned it yet, but leveling in MapleStory 2 is incredibly easy. So easy in fact, that you could hit max level in a single day just by pushing yourself through the game's story via Epic quests, then throwing yourself at level 50 world bosses (Heartless Baphomet keeps dinging me) to hit 60.

If you want to skip the typical MMO progression treadmill, you can do any number of other things to level. The best AFK leveling method is to auto-perform music, and fishing is basically only good for trophies until you max it out.

Everything in MapleStory 2 happens very quickly and simply, sort of like MMORPG fast food.

None of the classes (but thief) are all that hard to play, with most class strats coming down to spamming one or two skills with the others being situational. This doesn't make the game less fun -- dungeons are short and relatively easy, requiring players dodge their way to safety on a regular basis -- but it's notable if you're looking for a more hardcore game.

At the time of writing, endgame boils down to running dungeons to get good enough gear to push your gearscore up to 2100, after which you can run Hard mode dungeons -- and will probably just grind Fire Dragon until Chaos difficulty arrives.

You can only do so many dungeons in a day and in a week, with that limit being raised in November. Currently, players can only run 10 dungeons per day on a single character, and 30 total a week on a character. After the next big update, players will be able to reset the weekly limit on one character per week.

You can get around the dungeon limit by making alts, which is very easy, and grinding out the limits on them as well. If you get serious about the game, you're going to be doing this to try to get Epic-tier equipment. Epic equipment, by the way, has an incredibly low drop rate, so good luck.

Aside from dungeons, you'll also be doing daily quests and fulfilling 18 Daily Missions, which grant a whole host of necessary items and should ideally be completed each day. Daily quests are a separate entity and found in Queenstown.

All this together builds a not-entirely-interesting endgame but MapleStory 2 is more about the journey than stats. You can rush your way to endgame if you want, but you can also take your time and just explore your way to max level if you want.

Like Fast Food, It's Addictive

I said before, MapleStory 2 is sort of like MMORPG fast food, and that's something I've felt since I started playing. It's easy to get into and tasty, but not filling.

The best way to spend your time in MapleStory 2 is to join a guild that you get along with and just have a good time.

Nothing in the game is all that pressing, and it's built with so many ways to just relax and socialize that it almost feels mandatory to spend some time with other players.

Don't believe me? Go hang out in Queenstown on Channel 1 or 2 and start a conversation with others near the stage -- you may be surprised. Or even just go to a relatively populated area and start performing -- if the song is good or familiar, you may get other Maplers commenting on it.

Now, I will say that your time with this game will be short if none of the classes click with you. You have to try them out, maybe read some guides. When you're making characters, the previews don't give a great idea of what they play like, but they play (see: spam) differently enough that it makes a huge difference. I did not enjoy my time with MapleStory 2 as much before Runeblade came out, but after? Yeah, I'll play this for a few hours at a time. Why not?

MapleStory 2 didn't do too hot in South Korea, so only time will tell if the game can survive globally. If Nexon can keep events rolling to keep the game fresh,  global may have a bright future. If not, well...

As it stands, MapleStory 2 the perfect "between" MMO. One you can come to after you're tired of raiding in WoW or getting mad at Black Desert Online and just want a game you can still get that little endorphin and adrenaline rush, without the stress or pressure.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of MapleStory 2 for this review.]

Apparition Review: There and Gone Again Tue, 30 Oct 2018 11:00:02 -0400 Zack Palm

Indie horror games tend to pull players into their odd worlds and force them to search about for clues, all the while facing a nameless threat we can only hope to outwit and outrun.

The developers behind Apparition try their hand at this formula by giving players the role of a paranormal investigator working a case at a small campground called Green Creek. The player chooses what tools the investigator takes with them to learn about the spirits haunting the area, and a few them provide protection.

The big downside about Apparition is the game mechanics because the investigator can leave the site at any time to return later. This effect discourages players from taking substantial risks in favor of earning more of the game's currency, leaving the area, and then returning with new, updated equipment they can receive with little effort.

An Investigator's Tools

The story begins with the paranormal investigator breaking down the basic story of the game -- they've learned about Green Creek's rich history for many years now. During the early 2000s a murderer known only as Plague had been killing many people in the area, and many tourists who visited who were once believed to be missing are assumed to have become the killer's victims.

Though, our investigator is not convinced. They plan to document any strange phenomena in the area, record it, and then return to sell it for a decent amount of cash.

At the start of the game you choose from a list of various tools to take with you. These items vary from a camera, lighter, Ouija board to speak to the dead, helpful guidebooks, a crowbar, lockpick, and much more.

You can only carry so much on you, and each item comes with a predetermined weight. You have to choose wisely, and you won't acquire all of the evidence in a single run. 

Cumbersome Gameplay

After you've chosen the tools you want to take with you, your character arrives at the camp area, and it's your job to explore it in the middle of the night. Your goal is to communicate to the dead, and the only way to do that is to take your Ouija board, a required item, and bring it to the single campfire in the area to speak to any spirits that may be nearby.

Though, to speak to the board, you have to locate small sheets of paper scattered throughout the area with questions written on them. Already this game mechanic feels like a forced way to have you run into any dangerous foes that are lurking in the shadows. Because who needs to find sheets of paper to think up questions to ask an Ouija board? Unfortunately, it's how you progress. The more questions you ask, the more evidence points you receive.

To accurately record the evidence you need to have brought along the tripod and camera, which your character sets up with the Ouija board. Every time your character asks a question and you receive an answer, you collect evidence points. These act as your currency, granting you access to higher quality equipment, such as a camera headset that contains unlimited battery life and records everything you see.

There are more ways to capture evidence. When you're first starting, you'll only have access to a simple camera. If you catch a spirit or suspicious figure in the distance, take a picture of it, and you'll document the find. You'll find that this way is more troublesome, and undoubtedly dangerous, as some of the figures you see are not the most friendly. Also, some of the stuff is too dark to catch on camera making the Ouija the best source for evidence points during most of the game.

Gaming The System

The game feels like a lot of trial and error. Your character can stay for however long the like, collect what they need, and then leave. After you leave, the evidence points you receive go to you to use to purchase new equipment. You then return to the main menu and start all over again. However, any new tools you unlock with evidence points remain unlocked, and when you're back at the campsite, you'll still have all of the sheets of paper you collected from any other game session.

For a player, this means you can rush to the Ouija board location, set up the tripod, ask as many questions as you feel comfortable, and then leave, over and over again. It's a great way to acquire as many points as you want to aim for the higher quality items and continue the investigation. Because you can leave immediately, any threat the monsters may have goes away, especially when acquiring the better items becomes as simple as having a high amount of patience.

Because you have a weight system to consider each new round, you won't be able to directly complete everything you need to do in a single run. You're motivated to leave the area and return. During my playthrough, I only perished once, and it was because I was curious what a demon was going to do if it caught me. 

Another major problem is there's no apparent end goal. While my character routinely captures these creatures on camera and shows their presence to the world, they return to Green Creek over and over again, as if he waiting for something new to happen, when there's not much there.

Little Frights and Jump Scares

While you use the Ouija board, you're likely to hear various sounds in the distance. Distinct growls, moving bushes, and many other noises during the pitch-black night.

What you need to remain aware of are footsteps. These immediately give away anything coming at you, and if you hear those, you have the option to record and collect evidence about whatever is about to get you, as you run to your car. Again, having the ability to leave at any time downplays all of the horrors going on around you.

One thing that the game does do well is with jump scares. Every so often you're bound to be briefly visited by a ghostly figure that appears in front of you for a single second, followed by intense music and your character's pumping heart, but that's about it.

As soon as you grow accustomed to seeing the figure and you know what to look for when an enemy is approaching, all of the horrors washes away, and you're able to focus on acquiring evidence points. If it were not for the scary music, the dark environment, or their odd shapes, they'd be more akin to dangerous creatures you're trying to capture on camera than supernatural forces you have no practical idea of how to handle.

There's also a small crafting system in the game you can use to lure demons to your location, capturing them on camera with more advanced equipment.  There was an obvious intent by the developers to create a unique horror experience, but they missed their mark due to the shallow and repetitive gameplay.

The Verdict

The Apparition had the potential to become a popular Indie horror title with the interaction with demons and the Oujia board. But it turns out it's a slow, shallow game with little to offer, except for the same thing over and over again. There's no apparent end goal, except to find as many scraps of paper as possible and communicate with the dead, or demons, who haunt the empty campgrounds.

The game doesn't even make for a good Halloween game to pass around to your friends at a party.

[Disclaimer: The developers provided a copy of Apparition for this review.]

Call Of Cthulhu 2018 Review: The Stars Are Right For A Battle Between Truth And Reality Mon, 29 Oct 2018 19:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

The stars are finally right! We mythos fanatics have been waiting a long, long time for a new, proper Call Of Cthulhu entry, and it's finally here courtesy of Cyanide Studio.

Consistently making our lists of most anticipated horror games over the years, the official video game version of Chaosium's classic tabletop RPG is a worthy successor to the name.

Based on chatter across the web, it's clear that horror gaming fans think they know what kind of game they are in for, but, like any assumption about the true horrid nature of reality, they are all wrong.

This first-person investigative adventure game has a little bit of everything wrapped up into a unique, sanity-blasting package.

Just What Kind of Madness am I Descending Into Here?

Let's clarify this first: CoC 2018 is most definitely not a remake of Dark Corners Of The Earth, and it is not a re-telling of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, although that's the impression the imagery and trailers may have given off.

The game's Steam forum is jam packed with people assuming this is going to be Amnesia or Outlast with tentacle monsters, and that is not even close to the case.

While there are three segments during the game where you are hiding and sneaking past enemies you can't kill, that isn't the focus here. Those sections are more like their own one-off puzzles, rather than the bulk of the gameplay.

Call Of Cthulhu is primarily about investigating. It's about getting into places people don't want you to go so you can find information they don't want you to have.

In all the ways that count, Cyanide's new entry into cosmic horror feels like a CoC tabletop campaign, revolving around an investigation into the death of a brilliant painter. Since this version is based off the tabletop material, it's, of course, set in 1920s New England.

During the course of the game's 14 chapters, Detective Pierce delves deep into a unique mythos story that draws on familiar concepts and creatures -- like dimensional shamblers and Cthulhu itself -- but presents them in a different way than you may be expecting.

A few new entities make appearances as well, such as a cosmic being who  serves a similar role to Nyarlathotep in many mythos tales, drawing humans into something awful and trying to enact the will of the Old Ones while they slumber.

Some unique twists and turns pop up across the story you may not be expecting either, which for me, was a huge plus since the mythos is so familiar at this point. Characters who seem like straight up villains may be doing evil things for altruistic or sympathetic reasons, while those who seem innocent may be the biggest threats to humanity's continued existence.

Uncovering The Awful Truth

Our anti-hero, Pierce, is a rough and tumble PI and a hard drinker living during the Prohibition era. Despite his trappings, it is entirely up to you decide whether he delves into the insane truth of the cosmos or instead holds onto cold rational reality.

Truth versus reality is a constant theme and the central struggle -- more so even than against gibbering, multi-limbed things from beyond the stars -- because in this game, those two concepts are not even close to the same things.

Unlocking the truth or embracing the reality of any given area is where you'll see the pen and paper aspects converted into digital form. In general, CoC 2018 stays true to the core concepts of its Chaosium inspiration.

You can't physically kill the awful things from beyond the stars. You won't be saving the world by blasting monsters with a shotgun. Instead, Pierce has to rely on his skills to spot hidden items, uncover deception in conversations, pick locks, notice an important clue by drawing on his knowledge of medicine or the occult, and so on.

The detective recreation scenes are a highlight of the game and where your skill choices really come into play, as Pierce tries to determine what exactly happened in different crime scenes.

Dialog plays a huge role as well, and as you reach the later chapters of course there will be low sanity conversation options available if you go too far into the truth side of the game.

The locations for each chapter are all fantastically varied, and they all nail what you'd expect from a tabletop campaign. You'll explore a secluded island filled with secrets, caves beneath the sea, an asylum, an art collector's gallery, an old bookshop focused on the occult, and so on.

While most of the game focuses on our haunted detective, you get to swap viewpoints to a few different characters at key points, which keeps things fresh and lets you explore other areas while Pierce is getting chased by monsters or locked in a cell.

Unfortunately, you don't get to control the stats on these characters, which left me hungry for a more robust implementation of the tabletop rules featuring a full party of investigators to be messily devoured or go screaming mad.

Something's Fishy... And It May Not Be The Fish Guts

If your'e wondering, yes, there are places where Call Of Cthulhu is absolutely rough around the edges. In particular, the graphics outside of cut scenes... aren't fabulous. Some of the textures and character models are low-res enough to be noticeable, but not so bad they'll distract you from the story or gameplay.

Unfortunately, not all of my concerns from the two hour preview were addressed either. While you have plenty of skills to pick from, there are times when it feels like they should have implemented more ways to utilize those skills.

Strength, for instance, seems pointless overall. It lets you break into a tiny number of objects, and then at the very end, it is used to hit enemies with a gun. Since you pretty much automatically kill with the gun anyway, there didn't seem to be much point to focusing on that skill in my playthrough.

In terms of overall design, there was only one puzzle toward the end of the game that had me feeling like I was battling the mechanics rather than figuring out a solution, and honestly, that's better than I was expecting. That issue can be patched out, and the rest of the gameplay is quite solid.

Oddly enough, my biggest complaint with Call Of Cthulhu is actually with one particular section where the screen rotates and shakes after something unpleasant has happened to Pierce.

The shaky camera movement after being injured is a staple of first person games, but the problem here is that this segment goes on for about 5 straight minutes -- and there's no way to turn the effect off.

By the end of that chapter, I literally had to look away from the screen and tap the movement button blindly to avoid spewing my lunch, hoping to finally get anywhere to end the shaky camera.

There's no question that Cyanide needs to way, way, way tone that section down in the first post-release patch.

The Bottom Line

Call Of Cthulhu consists of 14 chapters, which I was able to beat in about 12 hours. There is some replay value to try out different skill sets or achieve multiple endings, as there are various unhappy fates to await either the world globally or just Pierce locally.

In terms of overall style, CoC 2018 mixes together the main elements from nearly every kind of modern horror game. You get investigative recreation segments, dialog-heavy gameplay, a variety of puzzles, defenseless sections where you have to hide from the unkillable monster, and a relentlessly creepy atmosphere.

While it could use a graphical overhaul and a few tweaks here and there, the end result is a solid 7/10 for any kind of horror gamer, and probably more of an 8/10 for the Cthulhu mythos fanatics.

Honestly, even the low points didn't turn me off to the game, though. Rather, they just had me hoping this isn't going to be a one off title. This implementation of the tabletop rules worked well, and I want to see more, whether that's set in the '20s or some other era.

There are plenty of time frames to pull from on the tabletop side, with both Cthulhu Dark Ages and the (hilariously now incorrectly named) Cthulhu Now in the '90s being prime candidates for another adventure into madness to follow Pierce's investigation.

LEGO DC Super-Villains Review Sat, 27 Oct 2018 15:31:38 -0400 Zack Palm

What does the DC Universe look like when all of the superheroes vanish, and we only have the worst of the worst? The best of the worst rise up to make the most of a bad situation. In Lego DC Super-Villainsnotorious evil-doers from the DC Universe take center stage against other villains attempting to take over the world.

Though there were a handful of hiccups along the way, the game's concept gets expertly executed, and the story keeps you invested until the credits roll. For those who were disappointed by the Suicide Squad movie, this is the game for you. Plus, it gives us more of Mark Hamill's fantastic Joker, which remains a shining light throughout the experience.

The True Star -- You!

Within the first minutes of the game, there's a scene of Commissioner Gordon driving a prisoner transport to Metropolis' prison. There, he unloads an unknown individual and asks for their expertise on the latest super-villain. This villain is none other than you, and at this point, you can start making your unique character!

You can spend hours in the game's character creation, choosing from dozens of different unique designs to make your new super-villain stand out from the notable characters you're bound to meet. These choices expand the further you get into the game as you acquire additional power-ups and unlocks.

How detailed is the customization? You can choose what arm your character holds their weapon of choice. That's a great little detail to throw into any character creator. When you gain a new power you can choose from a handful of different styles to make it stand out from others you may run into that have a similar trait.

For those who don't want to spend too much time during the character creation, there's plenty of preset choices to pick. These characters could have used a bit more time under the light of a watchful creative designer, but they're great if you want to jump straight into the story.

The Story

Once you're finished creating your character, you realize the mysterious prisoner Gordon brought in was Superman's sworn nemesis: Lex Luthor. Your super-villain shows up shortly after with one of Luthor's companions in disguise. The three of you escape, letting out nearly half the prison. Superman shows up with the rest of the Justice League soon afterword, attempting to put an end to this. All of the good-doers show up, except for Batman, whose dealing with Joker at the time. 

There's plenty of chaos happening, and the Justice League seems outmatched. That is until the Justice Syndicate shows up to lend a hand. To many, they look like a ripped-off version of the Justice League, like Ultraman, Owlman, Sea King, and so many other twists on the standard names. They describe how they're from an alternate Earth, known as Earth-3. For those who know the DC Universe well, alternative realities is a convenient plot device.

They later announce themselves as the Justice League's replacement, while the original heroes deal with an unknown threat elsewhere. Our group of super-villains soon become suspicious of these replacements, and when they visit the Justice Syndicate's Earth, they learn that they're known as the Crime Syndicate. Now, it's up to the super-villains of the original Earth to do something right.

Standard LEGO Gameplay

For those who have played a LEGO game recently, plenty of the features in this game may feel familiar to you. When you destroy certain objects, you're going to acquire studs throughout the entire game. You may have to destroy several objects to recreate something else to advance further in the level. It's fun to see a super-villain you're controlling using their powers while they build, but it becomes stales quickly.

The combat doesn't stand out too much, either. You're still using a single button to attack your foes, watching them explode after you've hit them enough times. 

You're never afraid or timid to go into a fight, either. There's the patented LEGO protection of knowing you don't have any lives to worry about because if you die, you wait a few seconds and then your controlled character respawns, giving you the chance to try once again immediately. You'll deal with a bit of trial and error, but nothing takes you too long.

The secrets in the game don't prove too challenging. If you're looking for everything in a level, it only takes a bit of running around and having a keen eye. Once you notice anything, it's just a matter of time before you acquire it and you're moving on to the next secret.

Your Character Is The Star -- To A Point

The start of the game immediately presented you with the opportunity to make your own super-villain, and when you're standing alongside so many iconic characters you've known for years, it can feel a little intimidating. What deflates this potentially amazing prospect is how little impact your character provides for the overall story.

Most of the time you're given control of one of the more prominent villains and tasked to head to a notable location in the DC Universe. Because the more notable superheroes are nowhere to be seen you're left to deal with some of the smaller heroes, Nightwing or one of the members of the Teen Titans. While the actors and encounters employ quite a bit of fun, some of it falls flat due to the how powerful the superheroes were during the start of the game.

If your character had a more significant part in the overall story, it'd feel like a great addition to the game. Due to you showing up to provide support to the main villains and hearing them always refer to you as 'Rookie,' your first introduction feels wasted.

The Voice Acting And Characters Steal The Spotlight

For those who grew up watching DC cartoons and the vast array of animated television shows they had during the 2000s, you're going to feel right at home. Many of the voice actors have reprised their roles and bring a fantastic dynamic to the crazy Lego backdrop happening all around you. 

You have phenomenal talent like Kevin Conroy behind the caped crusader, Mark Hamill laughing it up as the Joker, Clancy Brown as charismatic Lex Luthor, Tara Strong as the ever-loving Harley Quinn, and so many others thrown into the mix. You'll find yourself tripping over the nostalgia during every scene. You may forgive the game having you repeat the same tasks every so often.

The Verdict

Overall, Lego DC Super-Villains has a fun time giving you some standard Lego gameplay, while also attempting to throw in a few new features that don't quite hit their mark. There's plenty of repeated features that will feel stale for anyone whose recently played a LEGO game in the past few years as many of the gameplay mechanics get reused.

Though, for those who grew up watching DC cartoons for the past decade, you're going to find significant interactions between all of the actors knowing they had as much fun performing as you did watch them work.

[Disclaimer: A copy of LEGO DC Super-Villains was provided by the developer for this review.]

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales Review -- A Fun Way to Learn Gwent Fri, 26 Oct 2018 10:58:40 -0400 Sergey_3847

This time CD Projekt Red killed two birds with one stone. The famed Polish developer of The Witcher series of games released two games in one day: Gwent: Homecoming, which has finally left the beta testing phase, and Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, a single-player isometric RPG set in The Witcher universe.

Gwent card game is already super popular and is one of the few competitors to Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering. Thronebreaker, on the other hand, was most likely made as a means to promote the card game even further, although it does have a few merits of its own.

Thronebreaker incorporates Gwent in more than one way, and if you want to know why this is more of a companion piece rather than a fully realized game, keep on reading our review below.

Story and Setting

Queen Meve of Lyria returns home from a long trip when Nilfgaardians invade and steal her possessions. On top of that she learns that some of her closest servants betrayed her. Now she must find a way to free her native land from foreign invaders and treacherous traitors.

As a result Meve travels across her own lands and the lands of other rulers with her small army. On her way she gathers resources, such as gold and wood, and recruits new units for her army. And this is the point where Gwent overrides the idyll of this beautiful isometric RPG.

Units are represented by cards with varying powers and abilities. When the battles begin you see an already familiar Gwent playing board with two rows and a handful of cards. At this stage you almost forget that you were playing Thronebreaker, and fully devote yourself to the game of Gwent.

Fortunately, Thronebreaker has a few surprises and distinct features that make it a worthwhile investment of a few dozens of hours. For example, there's a lot of compelling dialogue, during which you must make decisions that will influence the rest of the game.

The map is filled with hidden treasures and puzzle battles, which is a new look at the Gwent mechanics, where you must follow a different set of rules rather than your typical "win two rounds and move on." But eventually you don't want to play a card game, eventually you'd rather just play the RPG that is called Thronebreaker.. but it doesn't exist, at least not without Gwent all in your face.

Alas, the game was developed by CD Projekt Red that is more interested in promoting the card game more than anything else at this point, which is totally understandable. The market share of CCGs is huge nowadays making it one of the most profitable in the video game industry.

Gameplay Mechanics

Your task in Thronebreaker is to collect as much gold, wood and recruits as possible. All these resources are required to build and upgrade your Workshop and Tents, where you train your recruits and craft new cards. The army in the game is represented by the deck of Gwent cards with a leader Meve, who is the main protagonist.

The only difference from Gwent is that the developers designed 250 brand new cards for Thronebreaker. However, the deckbuilding still feels a lot more constricted in comparison to what you can do in the actual Gwent card game. This means that veteran Gwent players will feel completely unchallenged even on the hardest difficulty. But it can serve well to those, who are completely unfamiliar with the game and wish to learn how to play it well.

In any case, if you lose or win your Gwent battles or make certain decisions during dialogue scenes, your army's morale will reflect on the quality of your cards. Some of your units will start losing their power points if you make bad decisions, and at times you may even lose some of the units entirely.

With all that said, apart from your typical card battles, Thronebreaker offers something completely new that may interest even the most experienced Gwent players -- the puzzle battles. These are special Gwent games with their own peculiar sets of rules. You can read more about puzzle battles in our Thronebreaker combat guide.

Puzzle battles can be really exciting and this is undoubtedly the best feature of the game. It is both familiar and innovative, and that's exactly what makes it so great. You will find these puzzles everywhere and some of them can get really complicated. But when you do find the solution, the result is extremely satisfying.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a fun little game despite its actual long length. It has excellent writing and a few interesting RPG elements, but ultimately everything boils down to a game of Gwent.

This means that long-time players of CD Projekt's battle card game won't get much out of it except the puzzle battles, so Thronebreaker may be more along the lines of a 5/10 for hardcore fans of Gwent. Newer players may enjoy it much more, though. As it stands, the rating is a 7/10 -- the middle-ground between what I feel to be a new player and a veteran's enjoyment of the game.

If CD Projekt Red focused on making an original RPG based on The Witcher universe with its own unique combat system that has nothing to do with Gwent, then it would be a 10/10. For now that's just a fantasy.

[Note: A copy of Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was provided by CD Projekt Red for the purpose of this review.]

There's Playing & Then There's Winning -- A Reigns: Game of Thrones Review Tue, 23 Oct 2018 15:45:05 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Season after season, the Game of Thrones opening theme just gets longer and longer, and the franchise just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The HBO show may be winding down soon as the cast finishes filming its final season, but there's no end in sight for George R. R. Martin's fantasy behemoth.

Current news has him back-burnering the sixth book in favor of releasing a Targaryen prequel instead, fodder for another upcoming HBO GoT spinoff show. 

On the gaming front, the landscape is similarly explosive. There have been a few small games (e.g. in-browser and mobile games) and a few major releases (most that fared rather badly, like Atlus' 2014 Game of Thrones), including the much-talked-about cancellation of Telltale Games' Game of Thrones: Season 2.

In nearly all of these cases, the system in place seems to be akin to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. 

Telltale Games' take on GoT may have been the only piece of spaghetti that's really managed to stick -- its distinctive choose-your-own-adventure story-telling model may have lost its momentum after so many IPs, but every game has somehow managed to retain the charm of its source material. 

I mention the above because first and foremost, Nerial's Reigns: Game of Thrones attempts to walk in similar shoes, putting the choices of the mighty into the player's hands.

And somehow, even when these very familiar HBO TV show characters have been reduced to flat-featured, expressionless cartoons jabbering in a close approximation to Simlish, they somehow remain the people we've learned to know and love.

Who is destined to sit the Iron Throne?

No one is. That's the point.

Forging the wrong alliances, trusting the wrong people, and making the wrong choices will doom even the strongest Dragon Queen to exile, never to set foot in King's Landing ever again -- and leaving new bodies ample access to that paper shredder of a metal chair. 

Following in the path of the first Reigns and its sequel Reigns: Her MajestyReigns: Game of Thrones is at heart very similar to a Twine game with a royal adviser/strategy twist.

The super-simple mechanic of swiping left or right to decide who lives or dies allows the standing ruler to decide whether to commit to a course of action or not, always striving to balance the church, the people, the military, and the wealth of their kingdom. 

In this sense, the "Tinder meets Telltale game" format of the Reigns game style fits perfectly with the wheeling and dealing of Game of Thrones' rampantly ambitious political houses -- a constant carousel of new, familiar, and old faces in the struggle to hang onto the reins of power. (Already sounds like a familiar story, doesn't it?)

The first person who manages to sit on the throne may not be the one who stays there, and the first face that you know and recognize may not necessarily be the one who holds onto the throne for any length of time. 

And yet...

Does the format work? 

I asked myself this constantly while I played through.

Was it enjoyable? Absolutely.

Was the music a beautiful, perfectly playable soundtrack? Well, the titular GoT theme definitely made the budget cut, and the rest of the music holds up to that high bar. 

Were the characters really them? Not just names and familiar faces on cards, but sounded, acted like them? 

Well... yes and no.

Where the experience begins to unravel a little is that this particular world and this kind of game setup perfectly gears the players up for role-playing. You aren't just taking part in the action as in, say, the Lord of the Rings games; you are actively making the decisions that will make or break these people.

If you are playing as Tyrion and are faced with the decision to either send men to the Wall to back up Jon Snow's desperate fight against the White Walkers or to keep them at hand to buttress the Gold Cloaks' inability to control the seething crowds of King's Landing (they still don't like the Imp very much, even in Reigns, alas), you want to make those decisions as Tyrion.

If you are advising the movements of the army as Jaime Lannister, you want to be the one ordering them on in the face of poor odds, not tell everyone to sit back and let 'em eat cake.

(Note: For the sake of journalistic transparency, you don't actually get to tell everyone to eat cake as Jaime Lannister. But you get the point.) 

However, allowing yourself to role-play and make these characters act like themselves doesn't really do you any favors in progressing very far, much less allowing you to win.

And there's the rub. What's the fun of a game you either can't play as a Game of Thrones game -- or you can't win if you do play it as a Game of Thrones game?

Do I have to have watched Game of Thrones?

Also asked in this vein: do I have to have read the "Song of Ice & Fire" series in order to play this game properly?

Probably not.

After all, there's a give and take here. None of the characters will be familiar to you. The names "Daenerys Targaeryen, Dragon Queen" and "Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the King" will float along your consciousness with about as much meaning or significance to you as the Captain of the Gold Cloaks will. 

Will it be playable? Absolutely. You could arguably play it better than the average GoT fanatic because the role-play element won't be nearly so prominent. You'd probably still enjoy making Daenerys bellow "DRACARYS" at her snoozing dragon, but you likely won't insist on making her help out Jon Snow because who the heck is this guy sitting around on a wall anyway? 

But would it be worth it if you approached this game with no prior Game of Thrones knowledge whatsoever?

Sure, it's a fun game with an easy premise and no small amount of strategy involved. It's an excellent little time waster, regardless of whether you feel any personal connection with the characters you're playing. 

But why would you? You could just as easily play the original Reigns instead, which is slightly cheaper on both Android and Steam PC platforms, with far less branding. 

Repeat after me

Even for the most intrepid fans, be warned: there is a fair amount of repetition here; there are tons of branching story lines and the game employs a "collect 'em all" kind of approach. This is where I feel like the format lends itself better on mobile, where reading text and swiping around between decisions is just easier to do when you're on the go.

(Note: I played this on PC. I still liked it.)

You will also start to feel like many of your decisions are almost arbitrary. There were a few times where I just simply tried out how long I could last if I just only swiped left or right to see how long I could keep it up for, which turned out to be quite a long time.

But it's worth it, right? 

Yes. Yes it is. Who cares what winning is in a story-based strategy game? It is not deep enough to tug at your heartstrings like the Telltale games were crafted to do, and then crush your feelings into dust over the consequences of your decisions.

No, Reigns: Game of Thrones lets you move onto the next character who has a chance at holding onto power. After all, maybe this time, they'll fare better.

You can purchase Reigns: Game of Thrones on Steam for $3.99. You can pick it on Android on the Google Play Store for $3.99. And on iTunes for $3.99. 

[Note: A copy of Reigns: Game of Thrones was provided by the publisher for this review.]

Cities: Skylines Industries DLC Review -- A Fantastic Addition Mon, 22 Oct 2018 19:30:42 -0400 Fox Doucette

Every so often, a great game gets a great expansion DLC. In even fewer instances, that DLC improves so well upon the promise of the original release that from that point onward, it's hard to recommend new players buy the game without immediately including the DLC in their order.

Think Modern Times in Tropico 4, the downtown nightlife expansions in the Sims series, or Brave New World for Civilization V. They're indispensable parts of the games they add to because of the new mechanics they introduce.

Industries, the latest DLC for Cities: Skylines, joins Mass Transit on that must-have list.

A vast expanse of oil fields with red and white conning towers emitting steam, reaches toward the city downtown

As the name implies, this DLC completely overhauls the game's industrial system, taking mechanics that will be familiar to anyone who's already familiar with the game's districting system and using them to finally bring some real value to the four natural resources that have been part of Skylines maps since the game launched in 2015.

What's New in Industries

Before, you could put down an industrial district on fertile land and rely on the game to create farming industries. The same was true of trees and forestry, ores and mining, and oil and...well...oil.

With the expansion installed? You'll have a far greater level of control over the production chains those resources previously handled offscreen.

For example, if you build a forestry district, you'll first have specialized buildings -- and they're not standard industrial zones; they're actual buildings like the venues in Parklife, Skylines' previous DLC -- that create “forestry products”, which is to say logs.

Once your forestry district levels up -- and this, too, is a direct pull from the way the parks level up in Parklife, dependent on resource production and profitability -- you can start producing “planed lumber”, otherwise known as boards.

Those boards can then be transported within your city, influencing the classic zoned industry.

Trucks drive down dirt roads in a forestry district in Cities: Skylines

And Colossal Order has built a complete tycoon game into this new supply-chain mechanic. It's reminiscent of the resources in the Cities XL series or even the production chains in the classic Capitalism 2.

There are also plenty of other industry buildings -- warehouses, cargo airports, and even a post office system to turn mail into an industry unto itself -- to completely change the way the industries work in the game.

And because of the way these systems level up over the course of the game, they're not only usable out of the box, but it's actually better to plan your entire city's growth around just that eventuality. This is a DLC that scales from early- to late-game and can have a place in a variety of different city plans from the moment you're choosing a map and looking at what resources are available on it -- all before ever putting down your first building.

Another plus? Where in the past industry was something players tended to (typically) evolve away from in terms of employment options for their citizens as soon as office zones unlocked, you can now create actual prosperous industrial cities that aren't polluted disaster areas.

The high-tech production chains have profit potential that puts even the best office-and-education strategy to shame, but it comes at a cost of the game expecting players to put a lot of effort into the building and maintenance of their industrial production.

A dirt road cuts through farm land with trees on one side, green and brown crops on the other

If you are any kind of Skylines enthusiast, you're going to enjoy what this DLC has to offer. Your cities will have more variety since those resources on the map will finally be worth something in terms of actual interesting gameplay options.

In addition, managing those production chains is a game within a game that makes Skylines an even deeper and richer experience than it's ever been before.

If you're the kind of person who turns off the advanced options because Skylines is already a little too complex for you out of the box, this isn't going to be your cup of tea. It will break your brain if you're not careful, and if you just don't want to have manufacturing be part of your city's economy, you can still play without it.

The Verdict

This is an absolute must-have DLC for Cities: Skylines enthusiasts. It's one of the best expansion packs to come into gaming itself in years, and it brings Skylines closer to being the ultimate only city-builder you'll ever need.

The way industrial zones will change the way your cities function and serve as the focus of a powerhouse economy turns one of the biggest albatrosses of the late-game into an integrated part of the game's overall strategy from small town to metropolis.

If you own Skylines, get Industries. It's that good.

You can pick up the Industries DLC on Steam for $14.99.

[Note: A review copy of this DLC was provided by the publisher.]

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Review: Come Back for This One Sat, 20 Oct 2018 11:02:17 -0400 John Schutt

Many players, myself included, put the Call of Duty series on the backburner a number of years ago. Other games came to take much of the FPS community's attention. That doesn't include the myriad other genres vying for our collective time.

The list of worthy distractions would fill an article twice the size of this one, and when I saw my first few glimpses of Black Ops 4, I was skeptical.

I played the beta and stayed skeptical. It was fun, sure, but would it capture my attention like the older titles did? I was willing to give Treyarch one last shot of saving an aging giant, if only for the purposes of this review.

Then I played my first full release multiplayer match.

I was hooked. The claws were back, and I couldn't stay away.

If you've been hesitant about diving back into Call of Duty, now is the time to put those reservations to bed. 

Black Ops 4 is worth the price of admission.

The combination of multiplayer, Zombies, and Blackout ensure hundreds of hours of fun, frustration, and if you can get a group together, friendship-powered destruction.

Multiplayer Review: The Bread and Exotic Butter

Of the three modes in Black Ops 4, multiplayer is probably the weakest part of the triple crown. There's nothing revolutionary about Black Ops 4's iteration on a classic, though the removal of regenerating health and an increased health pool does create the opportunity for hero plays we've not seen in a long time. At the end of the day, everything about multiplayer works, giving players everything they could want.

The gunplay is the same kind of crisp you'd expect from a Call of Duty title, and the recoil on most guns is minimal. The meta right now is mostly based around assault rifles, as their overall time to kill is shorter than almost every other weapon class at any range. They're easy to use, super consistent, and...well... there aren't many downsides, really.

I would be remiss not to mention sniper rifles because at least on PC, they seem to be the easiest to use. The one-shot kill hitbox is generous and the maps offer plenty of sightlines for players to hold down. The number of times I've lost a good streak to a sniper in a power position has a value I cannot properly name.

Submachine guns and shotguns got something of a shaft as of writing, as they take six hits to kill at close range and half of them don't shoot fast enough to make up for the damage discrepancy. It also felt like their hip fire, even with laser sights equipped, is still somehow outdone by a base AR.

There are a couple shotgun builds that make them at least passable, but in almost any situation you're better off using something that works at closer than point blank. The LMGs, by contrast, are all usable, and there aren't any bad options, kitted out or not. 

The scorestreaks are all effective, fun to use, and while I think they take a little too much to earn in non-objective game modes, each of them has a noticeable effect on the flow of a match.

I found the new maps to lack the creativity and variety present in some of Treyarch's earlier work. They stick to the three-lane model too closely and don't present enough ways to move between lanes, leading to map flow that's predictable to the point of mundanity.

Many of them are pleasing to the eye, which is more than can be said for some of the other recent entries in the series, but beyond their aesthetic, I wouldn't call them genre-defining. 

The remastered maps — Jungle, Firing Range, Summit, and Slums — are a welcome return, but they speak to the larger problem I have with the multiplayer portion of Black Ops 4: it's clear Treyarch had to drop everything to chase the Battle Royale craze and at the same time remove the advanced movement systems in favor of a more "boots on the ground" take on combat.

Class customization took a hit too. Weapon variety is fairly limited, with many classes having four or fewer options to choose from. Even though the assault rifles and SMGs boast five unique choices, that pales in comparison to the series' heyday where there were almost 10 you could equip, all of which had their own character and personality. 

Then there are the Specialists, which you can read about in detail in my Specialist guide. To sum up, all of them have a use and each of them presents plenty of new and exciting ways to play, but so many of them are returning members of Black Ops 3's cast that it's easy to see where the corners cut are. The new specialists are perfectly usable and offer some of the most powerful options in the game, but it would be nice to see more new faces.

It's a tough nut to crack because I'm a multiplayer guy at heart and I hate to see my favorite mode relatively gutted in favor of the more timely options. I understand why they did it, and I think there' still plenty to love about the classic Call of Duty experience, so don't disregard it in favor of Zombies or Blackout.

Zombies: Complicated, Crazy Fun

The Zombies story is a tangled mess of plot threads long and short, the mechanics progressively more arcane, and the maps more multilayered and overthought with each iteration. 

Black Ops 4's additions are no different, though there's only one truly "new" map to play: IX. The other three are re-imaginings of Zombies experiences from the three previous entries in the franchise, one of which is locked behind a paywall.

Even with all the new bells and whistles, the core conceit of Zombies remains. You want to find a good gun, probably off the wall, load up on perks, find Pack-a-Punch, and run in circles for hours shooting hordes of the undead. Everything else is just there to get in the way.

The maps themselves are twisting labyrinths with multiple levels, mechanics, and secrets to find, and I think IX is one of the most interesting takes on the mode since Shangri-La.

It's obvious the Zombies team put a lot of time and effort into making the Greek arena feel unique among the forest of high-quality maps. There's just enough variety to take the formula in a new direction, as the area is primarily claustrophobic hallways and strange sights and sounds punctuated by the grand facades of Ancient Greece. 

The other three maps: Blood of the Dead, Voyage, and Classified (it's Five from Black Ops 1) have each received a facelift, and though the mechanics are familiar, there are enough changes to make each experience fresh for the first couple runs at least.

What stands out to me about Zombies, however, is not the maps or new their mechanics, but the sheer amount of options for how to approach character customization.

  • Treyarch rewrote how weapons work, adding progression to each and every one of them.
  • They rewrote perks — Juggernog is gone, for one — to correspond to a player's choice, designating each with a type rather than keying them to a map.
  • Players have more health to compensate for Jug's absence.
  • Even Pack-a-Punch got a makeover. Now you can increase the damage up of your weapon by reusing the machine a set number of times while you roll for the most advantageous new weapon perks. 

Then there are the elixirs, some of them default and plenty of them rollable in a loot box system funded with an in-game currently that's likely to cost you real money. Elixirs provide powerful bonuses for a period of about five minutes or until their ability's expended, and the good ones can turn the tide of a bad round.

Probably the worst part about the whole Zombies side of Black Ops 4 is how Five (I'm not calling it Classified) is locked behind the Black Ops pass. Right now, it's the only thing that makes the pass worth even a quarter of its asking price, and we don't know what kind of support Blackout's going to be receiving via the Pass.

The little side gifts they give you don't even come close to justifying another $50 of your money, so unless you play the game and know you just have to have everything, I'd hold off.

Blackout: The King is Here

To start: yes, I believe Blackout is better than PUBG, and I don't think the comparison to Fortnite is worthwhile. The only things Blackout and Fortnight Battle Royale share are guns and the fact that you must shoot other players to win. Everything else, from aesthetics to mechanics to game flow and target audience is far enough apart to make them equally worthwhile experiences.

But if I had to crown a BR king, I would give Black Ops 4's take on the genre the big and fancy hat. Everything about it works.

  • The gunplay is multiplayer smooth.
  • Looting and loot spawn logic are almost exactly where they need to be.
  • The map provides just enough cover and the zone rarely puts the final few engagements in a boring location.
  • It even opens up long range engagements in an otherwise close range title.
  • Best of all, the matchmaking functions as intended, keeping people in the match and parties of friends together so they can take on the world as a team.

There are a few wrinkles, of course.

Armor is incredibly powerful, and an absolute necessity for the late game. You will win — and lose — gunfights you shouldn't because one person has armor and the other doesn't. Sniper rifles remain the workhorse weapon class, and ARs are a distant second choice. Bad luck quickly snowballs into terrible luck, and I've lost more than one round based on a single wrong decision.

The biggest problem with Blackout right now is its stability. Crashes are far more frequent than they should be, and most don't seem to have any rhyme or reason to them.

There are a number of error codes ranging from a simple mode disconnect to full on fatal errors. I haven't heard anything about a full system lock up, but judging by the sheer number of problems I've heard reported, I wouldn't be surprised if they happened.

It's still early days for Blackout too. One of Fortnite's biggest strengths is in how it keeps people coming back through its Season content. The core game doesn't change, but everything around it does.

Mysteries, community involvement, plenty of skins and challenges to chase, and the sheer amount of ways you can play with just one new weapon in the pool make it a juggernaut even Call of Duty will have trouble taking head-on.

Blackout needs continuous support in the same way, but there are barriers. Adding new guns has a high probability of upsetting balance, and Treyarch might feel obligated to put new weapons into multiplayer. There are a couple Zombies weapons in Blackout that aren't in MP, sure, but they're rare enough to not really make a dent in the current meta. 

Then there's the fact that BR content is locked behind the Black Ops Pass as well. People are far more willing to spend $10 on a Fortnite Season, even if they only play once or twice. It's just a 10-spot, after all. But 50 bucks? That's an investment without a guarantee of quality.

Plus, as far as we can tell, the Pass will be unlocking characters from previous Treyarch titles without much of the flair you'd find in something like Fortnite. And if there's one thing people want, it's the ability to show off. A generic character model in a different coat isn't going to ring any alarm bells no matter how many kills the player gets.

All that said, if you want one of the best, most polished Battle Royale entries ever produced, Blackout might be worth the price of admission into Black Ops 4 on its own. If Treyarch can keep it interesting with customization and new content, I don't' see the Blackout mode losing steam any time soon.


Final Verdict

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 provides players a content triple threat that's hard to beat in today's market. Hundreds of hours in classic multiplayer modes won't make you a Zombies expert, and being able to massacre the undead won't get you any Blackout wins. This is a game that could truly suck thousands of hours from everyone who picks it up, even those who've been on the fence about the series for years. 

Without the proper care, the opposite could be true. There are enough rough edges to Black Ops 4 that one wrong turn could kill it before it really hits its stride, and though many people are happier with this entry than they've been in years, there's plenty for Treyarch to do to keep people hooked.

Multiplayer weapon balance and spawn logic needs adjusting. Crashes need fixing. There needs to be plenty of new, quality content. There are too many other big titles on the horizon for anything less than Treyarch's absolute best.

If they pull it off, we'll be seeing a new Call of Duty title every year for many, many years to come. 

Soul Calibur 6 Review: Much More than a Fighting Game Wed, 17 Oct 2018 12:09:57 -0400 Synzer

The latest in the Soulcalibur series has arrived and has brought some interesting and refreshing changes. Soulcalibur 6 has the same gameplay that fans love, but much more in terms of story and overall content.

I'm going to talk about Libra of Souls a lot in this review because it was by far my favorite thing about the game. Now, let's get to everything that's great about Soulcalibur 6.

What is Great?

Fighting Mechanics

The familiar gameplay of Soulcalibur is back, and is as good as ever. Guard Impacts are back to not costing any soul gauge, but my favorite thing is the new Reversal Edge mechanic.

soulcalibur vi reversal edge

This allows you to attack or counter, then puts you in a rock-paper-scissors showdown with your opponent. If you chose the superior attack, you hit your opponent and get free damage. Choosing the same attack will cause the hits to bounce off and you try again.

This brings even more depth to the gameplay by adding a new risk/reward mechanic. Plus, having even more ways to counter opponents is always a good thing in fighting games.


This is something that most people don't care about in fighting games, and is usually not a big focus. Soulcalibur VI actually has two story modes and they tie very nicely together.

The Libra of Souls game mode follows the story of a character you create specifically for that game mode and tells the main story from their point of view. The best part is that you will come across this created character in the main game's story mode!

There are also extra details you can gleam from each story mode that you won't see in the other -- combining to make a sophisticated story that I was genuinely interested in experiencing.

Libra of Souls also has many side stories that you can follow. Some even take place over most of the game and I found myself very interested in seeing what would happen next. Speaking of Libra of Souls...

Libra of Souls is an amazing new addition

I enjoy fighting games just for the sake of the fighting, but I love it when they take it a step further. Libra of Souls does this very well. You start by making a character, then follow that character's story.

You choose a weapon/fighting style just like normal character creation, but you can switch at anytime before a match. 

Although the missions are still fights, they sometimes have special conditions to change how battle works. Your character can also level up gaining experience after finishing these fights. This increases your max health and allows you to equip stronger weapons. Your weapons can also have special effects added to them.

soulcalibur vi libra of souls quest

Another thing that makes it stand out is player choice. You will make multiple dialogue and impactful decisions throughout the course of the story. This will also tip the scales of your soul to either good or evil, which in turn affects some of your weapons.

Overall, there is a lot you can do to power-up and customize your character as you progress through Libra of Souls and brings even more variety to the game.

What is Lacking?

Load times are Abysmal

It is mostly likely better on PC or on the advanced versions of consoles, but they really are horrendous on a normal Xbox One. I would often wait 10 or more seconds to load my weapons menu in Libra of Souls. Sometimes I found myself wondering if I actually pushed the button or not.

While in character creation, most items aren't displayed in real time, which caused me to select each item, then back out to load it. This was very frustrating and added unnecessary time.

Cheap Fights in Libra of Souls

Now Libra of Souls is not supposed to be fair like the rest of the game, I know this. However, some of the fights are really cheap and cause a lot of frustration.

I remember one fight in particular that really frustrated me. The enemy could not be staggered by normal hits and the A.I. difficulty was really high/aggressive, which is the opposite of fun.

It doesn't take a lot away from the game, but it is still something that can sour your experience.

Character Creation Options

I know they are adding more with DLC, but I would have liked more options in the base game. I remember seeing most of the available options in the previous games.

soulcalibur vi character creation

Final Thoughts

Soulcalibur 6 offers a lot of story/extra content I was not expecting in a fighting game. Libra of Souls has so many missions and is worth getting the game for just for that.

The fighting is just as smooth as ever, and the new reversal edge mechanic is a great addition that keeps things fresh and exciting.

Fans of the series and fighting games should definitely pick this one up. Those unfamiliar with this or other fighting games should still check it out simply for Libra of Souls.

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

Sinner Sacrifice for Redemption Review: Falling Short of Greatness Tue, 16 Oct 2018 10:16:45 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Difficult, gut-punching games have always existed. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts n' Goblins. In countless ways, these classics and others like them have undoubtedly led to millions of broken controllers over the years. Employing complex gameplay elements and punishing design, these games have served as predecessors to the catalog of games that make up the masocore subgenre. 

Masocore titles pride themselves on kicking you in the teeth and taking your lunch money for fun, making it perhaps the most radical gaming subgenre because it is often -- and quite literally -- painful to play. 

Over the past nine years, the now infamous Souls series has taken masochism to popular new heights, focusing on unrelenting enemies, unforgiving environments, and, at times, seemingly unfair boss battles. The grandiose nature of the series, coupled with exploitative feedback loops, have fetishized the grandiosity and pleasure of triumph against all odds. 

While it is one of the most rewarding subgenres in gaming, masocore's not for everyone, that much is certain. In fact, it's a genre that often spits in the face of fun, taking players to the brink of utter madness. 

Such is the case with Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption. Employing the most masochistic parts of the Souls series and amplifying them, Sinner is a gauntlet built solely to test your patience and resolve. It doesn't give a damn about your expectations, much less your feelings. 

If you're a fan of the difficult games, this probably sounds enticing. It was for me. The only catch is that while it downright nails certain aspects of the Souls formula -- emulating them almost pixel for pixel -- Sinner also stumbles in important ways, leaving the light of its greatness to die slowly in the shadows. 

Adam on stone platform at base of stone stairs looks up to warriors holding spears and Yordo in the middle in a ray of light

A Landscape of Mixed Emotions

On the surface, Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption shares the darkly brooding atmosphere of the Souls series. Much of its world is obviously inspired by it. But pay closer attention and it becomes clear that there's something anachronistic about the design. A Dark Souls: Kawai, if you will.  

It's telling that my first reaction to the game was "This is what Dark Souls would have looked like had Nintendo developed it first." There's a strangely cutesy vibe ingrained into the character design that doesn't quite mesh with the macabre surroundings and dire narrative. 

While that's not in itself a damning statement, it is a detriment when you realize the inexact tone rumbles on throughout the game, seemingly unaware of its own imprecision.

Aside from a few truly ghastly moments, Sinner doesn't seem to understand the missing link between what it aspires to evoke with its aesthetic and what it actually portrays. The tonal schism is only exacerbated by bland, un-engaging environments juxtaposed to the serious grandiosity promised by the initial set up and subsequent narrative.  

One of the only true caveats to my dismay comes in the form of Lustful Chanel, an initially uninspired boss design mirroring blueprints from the Souls series. However, it's one that quickly descends into terrifyingly appropriate nightmare fuel, warranting a response that can only be summed up by this picture made entirely of Shia LaBeoufs.

There are good things to be found in the environments, such as Angronn's anxiety-inducing lava arena that slowly breaks away as the boss gets angrier and angrier; and the swampy, phallic-rock filled poison pit that is Faiz Talus' stage. 

The start screen is also well done, seamlessly transitioning into the game at the press of a button. It's a small detail but one that works effectively at drawing the player in from the beginning. 

Close third person perspective on Adam as he enters the main nexus area; in front of him are glowing stones

Utterly Unforgiving, Ultimately Unfair

If it's not obvious at this point, much of the gameplay found in Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption plays out exactly as it would in a Dark Souls game -- right down to the game's lock-on mechanic. 

Rolling and parrying are important mechanics that require quick mastering. Light attacks deal small but stinging bits of damage, while heavy attacks dole out more severe punishment at slower intervals. Of course, you can block, but the mechanic is largely irrelevant as soon as you find it has little positive effect when fighting most of the game's eight bosses (pro-tip: rolling is just that much more efficient). 

When you start the game, you'll go through a quick tutorial on all of the mechanics at your disposal, fighting specters along the way to Sinner's level hub. Since this is a boss battler, the tutorial is one of the very few times you'll actually fight any mobs in the game, save for a very (very) small handful of bosses that have minion waves, so take the opportunity to brush up before moving forward.  

Eventually, you'll come to a place very reminiscent of the nexus found in Demons' Souls (and one that made me initially exclaim with optimistic delight). However, the portals here that lead to each of the boss stages act as nothing more than loading screens between the hub world and the boss arenas -- there are no stages to go through, there are no obstacles to overcome, there are no enemies to defeat beforehand.

Simply, you're tossed into the arena like a weary gladiator forced to face Goliath after Goliath. 

It's obviously something you might expect from a boss battler -- giant slayer is practically in the name after all. But the rote repetition of spawning right at the boss becomes an issue when you're not properly rewarded for your efforts, something that makes pushing through fight after fight more and more exhausting with every attempt. 

I had initially been excited with the prospect of tackling something with the opposite "grind" of Dark Souls maps, but not having the option to defeat enemies for rewards prior to facing the ultimate goal quickly felt unfulfilling. 

Giant boss Angronn holds his arms wide and roars as he stands in lava and Adam holds a great sword waiting to attack

And that feeling is tied up in one of the game's core mechanics. 

When you select a boss to fight from the initial nexus, you must sacrifice something to access its arena. Some sacrifices nullify your health regeneration, while others diminish your attack power or remove important items from your inventory.

These sacrifices stack from boss to boss, making the game harder and harder with each victory. You can't remove them, either, if you're planning on fighting the final boss; reclaiming sacrifices re-spawns bosses, and you need to defeat them all (and keep them that way) to unlock the final confrontation.

In some ways, Sinner is a lot like Mega Man, where there's an optimal path from one boss to the next. But unlike every other boss battler or masocore grind fest I've ever played, Sinner doesn't give you a damn thing for all your efforts. After each victory, your overall health increases. That's it.

There are no other weapons to get. There are no other armor sets to get. There are no other items to get. You don't receive more stamina and you don't receive any special buffs for your fights against other bosses. This, as plainly as I can say, is the most disappointing part about Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption.  

There are negative feedback loops and then there is the Sinner feedback loop, one in which you'll feel unjustly rewarded time and time again. As the debuffs stack, the only thing you'll gain is pride in saying "I beat them." Even Mega Man, Cuphead, and Dark Souls reward you with new weapons, abilities, items, and armors as you play. 

Sinner literally gives you nothing. If you get stuck on a boss, it's very easy to lose all motivation to forge ahead. 

I may sound like a big, fat whiner, but it's so demoralizing that only the most hardcore will make it through to the end -- if they can get past the crushing difficulty of the later bosses stacked with removable debuffs and without a single ounce of help. 

Adam holds a great sword standing on ice as the gigantic and fat Camber Luce walks toward him


As much as I've opined about the design of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption, it's not all bad. It does feel good to learn the quirks of each boss and finally beat them, the opening area is adequately gloomy, and the music is mostly memorable. 

On top of that, the controls are tight and responsive, and aside from a few differences, mostly familiar for Souls veterans, making this a pick-up-and-play title for the most part -- and one that truly masochistic players will truly enjoy. 

Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption isn't a bad game, but instead one that doesn't quite feel finished -- or, more accurately, one that doesn't live up to its potential. With a certain polish missing from the whole that bleeds over into its various parts, Sinner feels like an average -- if unforgiving -- boss battler cashing in on the popularity of From Software's juggernaut.  

The initial hook is there, but it never digs in to really snag its catch. I want to love this game, but the more I play it, the harder that becomes. For Souls fans and masocore aficionados, Sinner is a seven- to 10-hour scratch for that incessant hardcore itch. But after that, you'll find yourself still yearning for the real thing. 

Be sure to check out our extensive guide on how to beat each of the bosses, and stay tuned for a complete guide for beating the last -- irritating -- boss. 

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption for the purposes of this review.]

Mega Man 11 Review: The Blue Bomber is Back Mon, 15 Oct 2018 16:15:30 -0400 Lee Forgione

My love for the original Mega Man series runs deep. It has simple yet challenging gameplay, awesome music, and surprisingly deep lore for a run and gun franchise.

The formula hasn't changed since the first game launched on the NES in the '80s, and the newest entry is no exception.

However, despite its familiarity, Mega Man 11 does take a few steps toward modernity. A new graphical style and the new Double Gear System adds some pizzazz to the design.

Unfortunately, it ultimately falls just short of really expanding upon what fans have already come to expect. You still fight eight commonly themed robot masters, take a trek through several stages in Dr. Wily's castle, and then hang up your Megabuster. There's really no march into uncharted territory, either with its story or otherwise. 

A Mesh of Art Styles

The original Mega Man series hasn't ventured from its 8-bit roots -- save for the seventh and eighth installments, which brought Mega Man into the 16-bit and 32-bit eras respectively.

But Mega Man 11 offers an entirely new aesthetic for the Blue Bomber -- a 2.5D look. The crisp HD graphics coupled with a smooth frame rate makes this one of the best looking games in the series, that's for sure.

With that said, the art-style does vary from stage to stage.

For example, Block Man's stage offers a beautiful Aztec-style backdrop with golden temples and old crumbling ruins crawling off into the distance, while Acid Man's stage is a sprawling chemical lab full of spewing pipes and scientific mystery.

However, Bounce Man's stage, for example, is mostly devoid of anything particularly interesting. It's like an amusement park minus the amusement. It just doesn't have the same pop. 

Thankfully, it's only one of a small handful of stages that aren't up to snuff. 

As for Mega Man's visual upgrade, the changes are subtle yet noticeable for any fan of the series.

The most notable tweak is when Mega Man acquires a new power from a boss. Instead of simply swapping color palettes like in previous titles, Mega Man now changes his costume to better reflect the boss he just beat. 

It could rub some fans the wrong way, but ultimately, it's a nice change of pace, adding more variety to Mega Man's look. 

Familiar Gameplay with Some Tweaks

Gameplay mostly remains the same.

In classic sidescrolling platformer fashion, you'll run from left to right navigating pitfalls and traps until you reach the boss at the end of the stage. Avoiding pesky enemies and shooting them into oblivion is key, and unlike the Mega Man X series, there are no secret paths or hidden upgrade capsules to find, keeping the action front and center. 

However, there are a few quality of life improvements from previous games.

Mega Man's dog buddy, Rush, returns with his famous Rush Coil and Rush Jet features, which allow you to spring high in the air and travel over pits and enemies. But instead of having to switch between them in the game's pause menu, they are both mapped to single buttons for easy deployment.

Switching between different powers Mega Man acquires has also received an upgrade. You can now use the right analog stick to open a rotary menu for quick switching between powers. 

Double Down on Double Gear

The biggest addition in this entry is the Double Gear System, which alters your speed, power, or both with the press of a button. It adds an extra layer of strategy to boss encounters and how you navigate certain areas; knowing when to use it is critical for getting you through some of the game's tougher spots.

For example, when you run into enemies too fast to keep up with, it's best to use the Speed Gear, which slows down enemy movement and allows you to pummel them with a barrage of shots. The Power Gear is best used to take down baddies by giving you rapid firepower and a boosted charge shot. 

While using these skills, a meter will slowly start to fill up and when it reaches its max capacity, your power will fizzle out and require a cool-down. However, if you pay attention to the gauge above your head while using the Double Gear System, you can disengage the power, allowing it to recharge faster than if you had maxed it out. Doing this also allows you to reactivate it while it's recharging. 

This new mechanic doesn't change gameplay too drastically, save for putting a strategic element on boss fights. But if utilized creatively, it can help you blast through areas of a stage with ease if you are someone who enjoys speed-running through games.

Double Gear Isn't Just for Mega Man

The eight new robot masters can also utilize the Double Gear System during battles. Some of them will use the Power Gear to transform themselves into towering monstrosities, while others will take advantage of the Speed Gear and fly circles around you while they rain attacks from above.

As with every other Mega Man game to date, defeating bosses grants you special powers that give you advantages over other bosses. So, as always, figuring out the right order in which to defeat each boss will make the game much less frustrating. 

And as usual, the powers obtained from each robot master are a mixed bag, ranging from dull to exciting. There's the Acid Barrier, which basically puts a shield around you and lets you spit acid pellets; then there's the Tundra Storm which will wipe out any enemies nearby with a giant icy tornado.

Each of these powers can be enhanced by the Power Gear, allowing them to mete out massive damage but at the cost of a ton of weapon energy -- so it's best to use the Power Gear sparingly with special powers.

A Mega Man for Every Skill Level

Mega Man 11 also caters to newcomers and longtime fans alike by adding different difficulty options, ranging from "Newcomer" to "Expert Mode".

"Newcomer" will grant you near invincibility, letting you freely enjoy the game and not get bogged down by the more challenging modes. 

If the main game feels too short, there are also several challenge modes that can keep you busy. These include Time Attack, Boss Rush, and Dr. Light's Trial, which involves navigating through 30 enemy-filled areas with one bar of life. Finally, if you're the competitive type, there are also leaderboards to put your skills to the test against players around the world. 

In With the Old, Out With the New

Ultimately, Mega Man 11 may cater a bit too much to classic 8-bit fans, and while there's nothing wrong with going completely old school, the game does take away a few additions that Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8 brought to the table.

There's no intro stage, no mid-game stage that takes place after defeating four of the eight robot masters, and Mega Man and Rush's rivals, Bass and Treble, are missing. It would've been great to see the return of those two as they're some of the franchise's most liked characters.

Did I mention Proto Man doesn't even make an appearance? It's like Capcom completely forgot that all of these characters exist.

Mega Man 11 is a decent, if not game-changing addition to the series. Although it takes some bits away, it balances itself out by including a few fun changes in gameplay.

It may not be revolutionary by modern standards, but it doesn't have to be. Mega Man is time and time again a simple and fun, pick up and play series -- and Mega Man 11 paves the way for future entries.

Let's just hope that Proto Man, Bass, and Treble make their way back in Mega Man 12.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ the Golden Country Review Thu, 11 Oct 2018 11:41:57 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Nobody is comfortable buying a pig in a poke. However, in recent years, with the enormous upswing in season passes and "Ultimate" editions, that's pretty much what you're putting money down for when it comes to DLCs and expansions. 

Luckily, there's no pig to found here. With Torna ~ the Golden Country, fans of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 get exactly what they wanted -- and I daresay it's a whole lot more than they ever expected.

When Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles 2 released on the Nintendo Switch late last year, it was the final jewel in the year's long necklace of hits for the console, following in the sparkling trail of instant classics like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2.

The majority of critics praised it to the stars, although all conceded that there were a number of frustrations marring it, particularly the battle system's high learning curve alongside muddled, unrepeatable tutorials, poor graphics quality in handheld mode, and inconsistent voice acting quality. 

The standout voice of dissent was from Kotaku, panning it almost entirely aside from the environments and the music. 

I note all of this right from the beginning because I didn't play Xenoblade Chronicles 2. (I know, it disappoints me too.)

So what did I do instead? Well, it involved a hell of a lot of YouTube.

I know what you're thinking. It is 100% completely not the same thing, and I absolutely agree. But I didn't want to walk into this game completely blind.

Did it help? Yes, and no. 

The story of XC2 is incredibly vast, multi-layered, and built on the back of virtually hundreds of hours of gameplay (if you're into collecting every last Pokemo -- sorry, Blade). I was barely scraping the surface.

Torno ~ the Golden Country is not nearly quite so ambitious, and rightfully so as a standalone expansion whose story acts as a prequel to XC2. It focuses on the Aegis War, long before the events of the main game. So while outlets differ on exactly how much content is packed into this standalone prequel, the Reddit community seems to agree that it can be finished in 12 hours.

Can, of course, because there exist some players that are not as easily distracted by silly, off-the-beaten-path explorations, harvesting, side questing, and unashamedly picking fights with everything that's got an HP bar like I am. (When it comes to games, grinding is my zen garden.)

Is it possible to play Torna, and to like it, without having played Xenoblade Chronicles 2? I answer -- unequivocally -- yes. 


Is it possible to follow and understand the story of Torna all on its own without having bought the base game? Wellllll... technically yes. But only technically.

After all, Torna is set 500 years prior to the events in XC2. As a standalone expansion, the game does fairly well bridging the gap of things to come, bringing all the battles, the action, the glorious, shameless time sinks that are side quests all to the fore.

But its story is not truly its strong point.

From the outset, it skims past most of the events that occur in the Aegis War and narrows its focus to the end of the war, on the adventures of Lora and Jin as the race to stop the evil Malos from destroying the world. 

As a new player, this is fair enough. Hello, new spiky-haired characters that appear to have some form of backstory! You two are charmingly lovable protagonists with your cooking and charm-making duty-sharing.

But what is the significance of all that's happening, of the fact that we are watching this story unfold between these two people? 

That isn't there, and Torna doesn't stop along the way to try and re-explain. New players with absolutely no idea about the game story will also have to guess at what the relationship between Blade and Driver is, what a Core Crystal is, and what happens after a certain BIG moment I won't spoil in the slightest.

Are new players able to get past this? Of course. But you'll be like me, skimming the surface when you can sense there is so much more underneath. It's like watching the Star Wars movies in actual episode order. Technically, it works, but your foreknowledge of their fates, that connection you already have with these characters, just isn't there.

Arguably, it's something you expect out of an expansion like this. If you're familiar with the base game's deep lore, then you'll find yourself at home here, so keep that in mind. 

Graphics & Gameplay

Like with the base game, there's still a learning curve to mastering the battle system in Torna, but from all appearances, many of the larger criticisms of XC2 were addressed.

Right from the get-go you are informed that if you missed anything while mindlessly skipping through the tutorial screens that you want to review again, you can do so through the menu options. 

The battle system itself is simple to understand once you get the hang of it, all of the concepts (Attack Canceling, Vanguard Switch, combos, etc.) stem from timing them properly and filing up different gauges. It also requires you, especially in the beginning, learn to lay off the button mashing while trying to figure out what to do in order to let your characters auto-attack in peace to get the combo ball rolling!

Speaking of Vanguard Switching, herein lies another brand new element to the battle system that was absent from XC2 -- the ability to switch your control between Blade and Driver, opening up new attack chains and uniquely different combos. While not in control, the rear guard can provide extra support, and when the Vanguard gauge is full, a swap between the two will bring out the rearguard with full attack gauges. 

The game has also cut out the rather tedious gacha system of collecting a number of different Blades in the hopes of building your perfect team comp. Here, your party size is condensed and less cluttered, which brings a more action RPG feel to the gameplay. 

The upshot of all this is a rather refined battle system that was a pleasure to learn and play.

In terms of graphics, the game still combines an odd, choppy mix of beautiful cutscenes that play like an episode of RWBY, in-game dialogue sequences with decent-looking character models, and an unfortunate amount of smeary graphics while running around the world when playing in handheld mode.

(Note: I play a lot in handheld mode.)

This is a shame, but not entirely unexpected since no graphics updates were ever issued to fix this in XC2. And certainly, while it's impossible not to notice how much these graphically inferior character models look and move around the beautifully rendered environments, it's not a death sentence.

Side Questing 

This deserves its own section, I think because your enjoyment of side quests will make or break your enjoyment of Torna.

I personally am a huge fan of silly side quests, having experienced my adult gaming reawakening with games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion where I didn't complete a good 3/4 of the main storyline until well after 200+ hours of emptying caves, picking flowers, committing ritual murder, and mostly just sneaking around stealing people's silverware. 

There's plenty of that in Torna (okay, maybe mostly the part about picking flowers and less about stealing silverware or committing ritual murder) because there's plenty of stuff that you can go out of your way on the map to investigate (and collect).

Most of these are crafting ingredients, but you do find the occasional treasure chest and other significant items hidden around the area.

Of course, all of the above was already part of the base game. What is new, however, is the Community System. While the gacha system of collecting Blades has disappeared, there had to be collecting of some sort thrown into Torna to fill that void -- and collecting NPCs is what you get instead. 

Whenever you meet a new NPC outside of your community circle, a notification pops up to register them. You can (and should) turn this notification off as soon as possible. The game even suggests it. This system acts as a nearly never-ending menu of NPC side quests that you have the option to complete. 

Well, "have the option" isn't quite true either, since there are certain points in the main story that halt your progression until you've done enough side quests to raise your community to a certain level/threshold. This is part of what pads out that 12+ hour game time we mentioned before.

Side quests that are required parts of the main quest sound a little odd, but it's a system that oddly appeals to my particular style of game progression, and I was charmed.

I know a lot of other players will probably find this kind of gate lock far more annoying. 

Is it worth it? 

Nintendo calls Torna a DLC, but I think that's a bit of a disservice to the expansion considering how much you're actually getting. 

In light of that, Torna ~ the Golden Country is hands down a beefy, impressive expansion that lives up to its promise of being a standalone game experience. It is not, however, as deeply meaningful when experienced as a standalone experience. 

The fun, action-y battle system and the exploration of beautiful environments, excellent music, the simple joys of digging random crafting ingredients out of the dirt, and the silly fetch-and-carry of completing side quests will rack up the hours. But mandatory side questing is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. 

In the end, if you were a fan of XC2, you are probably going to love Torna. If you played XC2 and just weren't a fan, this game probably will not change your mind.

If you were like me and visiting this world for the very first time, it may be just enough of a taste to get you interested in playing the main game for real. 

You can buy Torna ~ the Golden Country either on Nintendo's eShop or Amazon for $39.99. 

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Torna ~ the Golden Country used in this review.]

Space Hulk Tactics Review: Turn-Based Combat in a Space Maze Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:28:56 -0400 Sergey_3847

Focus Home Interactive has released a new turn-based tactical game based on the Warhammer 40K universe -- Space Hulk: Tactics. It is now available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

This is not the first attempt at adapting a classic Space Hulk board game. For example, the previous one was Space Hulk: Deathwing, but unfortunately, it received mixed reviews from the gaming community. Space Hulk: Tactics will try to prove once again that there is room for high quality turn-based games in the 40K universe after all.

A few exciting new features and a fresh look at the tabletop original actually work in this case. There may be some balancing issues when it comes to the two conflicting races -- men and aliens -- but that will hopefully change in the future updates.

For more information on the gameplay, character customization and squad tactics keep on reading our full review of Space Hulk: Tactics below.

Story and Setting

Space Hulk is a remnant of the giant space ship filled with rubble that becomes a perfect environment for breeding the Genestealer swarm, an alien species that kills everything it sees. On the other side the squad of Space Marines or Terminators roams the claustrophobic corridors of this ship.

As a player, either in single-player mode or online multiplayer, you can choose on whose side you want to play. This approach is basically the main selling point of the game, as never before players could choose the side of the Genestealers. Now it's very much possible and there is an entire separate campaign designed just for that purpose.

The two perspectives are so different that you almost feel like playing an entirely different game. This is due to the vastly different mechanics that are used in the two separate campaigns. While Space Marines are mainly looking out to shoot someone in the head, the Genestealers attack like wild animals and can even spawn in groups.

As a result, the two factions require opposed tactics. The Terminators move individually and have to constantly overlook their perimeter for imminent danger. This slows them down significantly, and requires a lot of time and action points until they reach their objective. That is why the developers introduced a brand new card system into the game that allows players to convert them into additional action points.

The Genestealers, on the other hand, can be far more aggressive and in general have more action points to use than the Marines. They move around the map concealed and this is where the RNG enters the stage. Since aliens can spawn in the so-called Blips, they can appear as one creature or three. So you never know how many of them you will have to deal with in case you're playing on the side of the Terminators.

This makes the gameplay quite unpredictable and makes the multiplayer format extremely engaging. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer in terms of the mechanics.

Gameplay Mechanics

The gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics is based on Action Points (AP). One move equals one AP, whether it's a physical movement forward, backwards, etc., or any other action such as shooting or activating abilities. The Terminators, unlike Genestealers, have an ability to convert their cards into AP, which is understandable since they have 4 AP max, while Genestealers can do a lot more in one turn.

As soon as one of your characters finished its turn, the next one goes to your opponent. At this point you can choose to stand still and wait until your opponent takes action, or you could move your camera and see what they're doing and plan your next move by looking at your mini-map.

Alternatively, you could assign further actions to your units while waiting, and they'll just keep stacking until the turn is over. However, this is not recommended. You never know which action your opponent may take, so you need to react to their actions in real time rather than stacking your own. So it really depends on the situation you're in.

The Genestealers are far more agile and mobile than the Marines, so they can move a lot faster. Some of their actions cost zero AP, such as turning around. So in this regard the Genestealers are a lot more convenient to play with. Some aliens have 8 AP per turn, and if you can convert spare cards, then you will be able to spawn Blips -- randomized alien swarms that may contain up to three aliens per Blip.

It is also possible to deploy specialty units, such as various types of Biomorphs that can evade attacks and weaken Terminator melee attacks. But that's not the only way how one can disrupt the Space Marine squad's game plan.

The problem is that Terminators can't move or shoot over occupied squares. So in case there is another squad member standing on the way of the Marine, the Genestealers will have an advantage. By the way, aliens don't have this limitation and some of them can move freely, including over the occupied squares.

Players can use all these tricks to confuse another squad and prevent the Terminators from accomplishing their objectives. But the main power balance problem lies in the Genestealer's ability to easily shred heavy Terminator armor if allowed, and deploy multiple Blips that can easily overwhelm any Space Marine squad.

Map Creator and Squad Customization

In addition to the two main campaigns the game also offers Skirmish and Quick Match modes for players who want to play against other players online. There you can choose which map you want to fight on, or you could create your own Hulk using the Mission Editor tool that can be found in the main menu.

There you can play with the layout of corridors, create something unique and share it online for all players. The map creator is really simple and intuitive, so if you like to build space mazes, then you will greatly enjoy this area of the game.

Besides the geometrical structure of your new map you can add all sorts of obstacles, such as traps, doors, rubble, entry points, and many other objects. If you carefully combine all these elements in a fun way on one map, it can really enhance your gameplay experience.

The last but not least feature that Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer is he ability to customize your squads. The squad composition menu not only lets you choose which of the available Terminators or Genestealers you want to include in your squad, but also their looks. And for this purpose the developers have added an extensive character customization menu as well.

It allows you to change every little bit of your characters beginning from the color palette to surface patterns and even the model of your gear. But beware, the process is so fun that a couple of hours may pass while you decide to change every single aspect of your characters' appearance.

But it's a great way to personalize your gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics and show off your squad on a global arena. And this is something that the fans of the game will enjoy immensely.

Final Thoughts

Space Hulk: Tactics is a genuine Warhammer 40K game that strongly resembles the original board game. The addition of the new cards system and the ability to customize both your squads and maps is a true gift to all the fans of the franchise.

If you were a fan of Space Hulk: Deathwing, then here you can also switch to first-person view and play the game just like before. But of course, playing in isometric view is a lot more comfortable since you can almost see the entire map at once.

The technical execution of the game is top-notch, and despite a few minor bugs here and there, you will not see any major disruptions. By the way, the developers regularly push out new updates so that's where bugs get fixed rather quickly.

If you like turn-based combat, then Space Hulk: Tactics will impress you. As of now, if you can overlook a few power balance issues between the Terminators and the Genestealers, then it can be easily called one of the best turn-based games in the Warhammer 40K universe.

[Note: A copy of Space Hulk: Tactics was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Great Balls of Fire: Marble It Up! Review Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:27:56 -0400 Steven Oz

Marbles have a history that spans back centuries. From balls of stone to modern day glass balls, children have always played with some form of marbles.

These baubles have a history that spans back centuries. The new game Marble It Up! wants to recapture that playfulness of playing with marbles for a whole new generation.


Let me state: This is a very simple game. While it is simplistic in nature there are intense challenges and secrets that will push the envelope of playing with marbles.

Your goal is to get your marble to the end of a goal. Like a race, it is timed with different levels of medals handed out when you complete it. Marble It Up! is accurately described as a high speed-puzzle platformer.

More akin to a Rubik’s cube than a timed race, you have to bounce, speed. and master physics to advance through each level. With even more updates are promised which includes a marble royale mode and more maps, and a level editor.

This is a short game with level lasting around no less than two minutes or even less as you speed past them. You can beat the game within a two to three hours. However, most levels harbor a secret marble in them. That is where the extended play comes in. These secrets are for customizing your marble as you play.

There are 40 levels for you to test your skills as a marble master. Each level is suspended in a different space, with each one having a different look. Personally, I like the grid-like look that the game has. It feels futuristic at points. While there is no story, It feels like something created these levels for you to pass some type of challenge.

There are four power-ups to help you traverse through the levels: Super-Speed, Super Jump, Glide, and Pause.

Out of all the power-ups, Pause is the weakest power-up due to it only affecting your time. It doesn’t even pause time as you might expect. It only slows down time for around five seconds.

There is a reverse button that you can press but when it's active, your times are not recorded for obvious reasons.

Graphics & Music

Marble It Up has stellar graphics. Since I was playing on the Nintendo Switch, it ran at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second both docked and undocked. With that everything from the marbles to the levels looks fantastic.

Certain marbles have a reflection that actually reflects the level. Which is I believe is a cool thing to see in a game. The graphics processing power that went into creating that reflection is amazing. It just shows how far gaming has come, just like the soundtrack in this game.

Each piece of music you hear in Marble It Up is phenomenal. Described as an “An electronica tour de force by Solovox. Psychedelic techno, ambient, chillwave, melodic and heroic.” I would add the music is stimulating and in a way helps guide you through the level. If that particular song does not suit your fancy, pause the game and change it. You are in charge of the soundtrack much like being in charge of the marble.

Marble It Up! is a fantastic game that shows the power of bringing an old medium into the next generation. From the racing your marble against the clock to the futuristic soundtrack, this is all for a game of marbles. A very cool and different way of playing with and collecting marbles.

[Disclaimer: A code was provided by the publisher for review.]

Super Mario Party Review: Super Star Mon, 08 Oct 2018 11:05:15 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the Mario Party series lost the plot. Was it during the waggle era of the Wii? Was it during its ill-fated tryst with the 3DS? Was it the moment the developers decided to introduce a car into the mix? Or was it even earlier, when Mario Party 6 came bundled with a microphone?

Regardless of when it happened, the simple truth is that there hasn't been a Mario Party game that really feels like a Mario Party title in an incredibly long time. 

Mario Party: The Top 100 was our last, best hope at this; a title that promised to collect the best minigames from across all of the titles, packaging them in an easy-to-digest way. It fell short. Super Mario Party, however, does not. It's the first must-have Mario Party title in years, and it's incredibly ambitious for a party game.

Party Time

As you jump into the experience for the first time, you'll be asked to do an initial setup where you select the number of players, the characters they'll play as, and how many consoles you'll be using. You'll do this every time you boot up the game -- which is somewhat annoying given that it makes any kind of pass and play gameplay difficult if folks want to play as their favorite characters. 

After a short initial tutorial, you're free to roam around a main hub area that links you to all the different game modes. As you play each for the first time, the next one will unlock, which is a bit frustrating if you want to play a specific game mode to start. 

Your main menu is a "Party Pad," a little screen that serves as a way to quickly start a game, consult tutorials, and check on your progress.

Interestingly, the game's Party Pad system and a number of other aspects of the game suggest it may have originally been in development on the Wii U.

Aside from the Party Pad, there are a number of minigames that take advantage of asymmetrical play with two Switch systems. This is something that would have been possible with the use of a single Wii U and its Gamepad. The game's fonts and color scheme used in the menus match the Wii U style, rather than what we generally see on the Switch.

Image via Nintendo

One of the first, most disappointing things you're bound to notice about the game is that for the main Mario Party mode, there are only 4 boards to play, one of which is hidden. None of them have gimmicks that are particularly engaging or special, and that's a shame given the fact that the core Mario Party gameplay here is amazing.

The game features 80(!) minigames, and though a few of them pay homage to classics of the series, they're all 100% new. It would have been nice to see a few advanced boards that require more strategy. Perhaps there will be some DLC down the line.

Outside of that, the main mode is everything you probably expect. Roll a die, collect coins, buy stars, and learn to hate your friends. The addition of character-specific dice that augment your chances of landing on a specific space adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but it's still the same wonderful random game we all know and love.

Oodles of Extras

Were the main mode all that Super Mario Party included, it'd be a passable-but-forgettable entry in the series. Fortunately, the game packs in so much more. In fact, I imagine that I'll be playing the game's other modes more frequently than the classic board game mode.

A clear standout here is the Partner Party mode, a 2v2 romp that features free movement around a board and allows for much more strategic play. Of course, the goal is still to collect stars. Since you have the ability to split up, one teammate can focus on collecting coins or blocking the other team's path while the other focuses on collecting items or stars. There is a surprising amount of depth on display here, and I imagine that this will be a mode I come back to often.

Another winner is the River Survival mode, a cooperative adventure that tasks you and three buddies with traversing a branching path, playing minigames and avoiding obstacles in order to make it to the end before time runs out. It's kind of like a cross between OutRun and Mario Party, and it works way better than it has any right to.

Image via Nintendo

The Sound Stage mode may not be for everyone, but I had a blast playing it. This mode is sort of a Rhythm Heaven or Warioware: Smooth Moves-styled competitive game, featuring only rhythm-based minigames that require you to stand up to play them.

Though the Joy-Cons can be sensitive at times, motion-based rhythm games are never not fun, and Sound Stage mode is no different. As an added bonus, the music on display here (especially the remixes of classic Mario tracks) is pure head-bopping fun.

Super Mario Party also throws a bone to solo players with Challenge Road, a gauntlet of minigame challenges that is unlocked after you unlock all the minigames. It's incredibly fun, and is the type of game mode that will eat up the better part of your day before you even realize it. 

Oh, and speaking of solo play: Though there's no way to play the classic Mario Party experience online as of yet, the Online Mariothon mode is the perfect blend of engaging and frustrating that will guarantee I stay up until 4am getting more and more angry at children over the internet.

The way it works is actually pretty brilliant -- the games featured in this mode are all timed. Either you want to finish a task first (winning a tricycle race, cooking a delicious-looking steak cube), or you want to last as long as possible (avoiding Chargin' Chucks, outrunning Broozers, dodging Fuzzies in a plane).

Points in Online Mariothon are awarded based on time rather than whether you've won or lost, so the lead can swing wildly across the 4 minigames depending on if someone just absolutely airballs a challenge while another person nails it. I didn't see myself enjoying an online ranked mode for Mario Party (it even gives you a letter grade based on your performance) but, well, here we are.

Image via Nintendo

I've saved Toad's Rec Room for last, since it was my least favorite of the bunch.

Toad's Rec Room is pretty much a collection of minigames that are slightly more fleshed out than the rest: a miniature baseball game that is actually a blast to play if you have a full group of players, a top-down tank game that is reminiscent of classic Atari titles, a forgettable game where you assemble sprites with your friends, and a puzzle game that tasks you with arranging two Switch consoles beside each other in order to complete an image of a banana.

There's also a sticker collecting mode, which is something I will never do unless I unlock a really cool sticker by being the best in the world at Online Mariothon.

Party Crashers

There's a lot to love in Super Mario Party, but there's also a lot that is missing. Four boards for the main mode seems like not enough, but that isn't a huge deal given the other game modes. 

What is a huge deal is that in order to play with four players, you'll need four Joy-Cons.

The game doesn't work with Pro Controllers, or even Joy-Cons used in the grip attachment. Presumably this is to even the playing field for the games that require a gyro sensor, but the Pro Controller has that too! It's ridiculous that Nintendo is forcing folks to use the Joy-Cons, especially when every other game for the Switch supports multiple control styles. Hopefully this gets patched in later.

My only other major gripe here is the lack of any kind of 8-player mode. I get that Mario Party is traditionally a 4-player game, but 8-player modes have been supported on Nintendo consoles since the Wii U. It's a shame that they didn't include any kind of cooperative pass-and-play party mode that supports more than 4 players. It seems like a no-brainer. 

Party On

All in all, though Super Mario Party is by no means a perfect game, it succeeded in skyrocketing the Super Mario franchise out of mediocrity and back into the hearts of fans everywhere.

With a couple of tweaks and patches and -- dare I hope -- free DLC boards down the line, the game could stand alongside series juggernauts like Mario Party 2 and 3. But even if nothing changes, Super Mario Party is a must-have for any Switch owner, and a natural fit for the console. 

[Disclaimer: Writer was granted a free code from the publisher for review purposes.]

Northgard Ragnarok Update Review: The End of Days Isn't So Apocalyptic Sat, 06 Oct 2018 11:21:24 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Ragnarok. The end of days. 

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a time of great tribulation and hardship. It is a time of violence and difficulty. Ragnarok, as it seems, is when the gods kick you in the ass. 

If you've played enough Northgard, you know that even on its hardest setting, it's never been a truly difficult strategy game. Although it's immensely fun to play, I've always seen Northgard as a casual, more laid-back RTS experience. 

Hoping for something of a difficulty spike, I jumped into the game's new update with gusto. But despite its foreboding moniker, Ragnarok doesn't make Northgard any harder than its ever been. As soon as you figure out the gods aren't as clever as they think, gaining victory comes as it has many times before. 

In some ways, that's not a bad thing. But with such high hopes ahead of release, it's a bit of a letdown that more risks weren't taken. 

Three warriors in red stand next to a snow covered trading post by the shore

More Like DLC

If you're looking for it, Ragnarok brings plenty of new content to Northgard.

When you boot up, you'll find a new option for the update after choosing singleplayer in the main menu. Select your clan, and you're loaded into the new Ragnarok map, a terribly (and aptly) desolate place covered in the drab brown and grey overtones of the apocalypse. 

From there, things begin differently enough. 

Resource Priorities Have Changed

The biggest change you'll immediately notice is that early-game resources such as food and lumber are scant -- and you can only gain food by foraging or hunting (unless you're playing as Clan Fenrir, of course).

This one wrinkle can -- and probably will -- completely change your strategy; where you might have once expanded toward fertile land and then areas with stone or iron, you'll now find yourself quickly seeking out the map's few hunting areas to quickly establish a foothold. 

It's a dynamic mix-up I found refreshing for the first several matches, but ultimately one that led to rote repetition in subsequent games, specifically if I never deviated from the optimum path of my own accord.  

I also quickly found that Ragnarok is easy peasy if you play with a clan like The Raven, which has the ability to annex land via Krowns instead of food. By building enough marketplaces and trading posts alongside a savvy trade route or two, you can easily circumvent the primary obstacles inherent to the map and glide to victory. 

Ghostly fallen sailors attack a Northgard settlement from the sea

Ghosts, Raiders, Volcanoes, Oh My

Not everything comes up roses. 

One thing that does shake things up quite a bit is the addition of new events and enemy types. If you're like me and consistently go for Wisdom or Trade victories, completely ignoring your warband in the process, that changes here. 

In many ways, it's essential you build a relatively robust warband of at least 12 warriors and one hero unit. Not only will that help you defend against wolves, Draugr, and other players but also against Fallen Sailors and the Myrkalfar, or Dark Elves.

The former damage sponges present a dire threat as they attack from the sea in numbers and not only bring strife but also unhappiness to your territory, causing your workers to be less productive. The latter are more nagging, launching raids on "random players" (read: you) each year stealing resources from your stores and leaving a few warriors dead if you're not careful. 

But by far one of the most interesting new enemies comes from the molten rocks spewed forth by the unconquerable volcano in the middle of the Ragnarok map.

Like other random events, the volcano will erupt, sending ash across the sky and darkening the map for a time. This darkness hides the stone golems that have indiscriminately on the map. At first they look like simple boulders, but if you don't mine them fast enough, they'll morph into raucous golems bent of your destruction.  

Couple that with a random rat infestation and Gates to Helheim, and you're in for a devastating ride.

An overlay showing the three military paths new to Ragnarok

Way of the Warrior

If you've not yet guessed, Ragnarok more the pushes you toward a Domination victory, for better or worse. The incentive is increased by the new Military Paths system, which gives your warband XP for every enemy killed. 

Depending on your playstyle, points rack up quickly, giving you access to three different paths: Tactician, Guardian, and Conqueror. Within each of these three paths there are three buffs that unlock at certain XP levels. Some provide increased health while others instill fear into the hearts of your enemies. 

The Guardian is the clearcut choice, though, because it increases your warband by one for every guard tower you have built (and by two if that guard tower is upgraded). Since you can -- and certainly should -- build guard towers in each section of your territory for protection, you can save some space on Training Camps and resources on upgrading them. 

So while Military Paths are interesting, there's never really any reason to pick anything but Guardian. Ever. 

Oh, and there's also something called a Bloodmoon, which increases the attack power of every unit outside of its territory. This is perfect for attacking other settlements, but since I've only gotten one once in a few matches (and wasn't close enough to another camp to test it out) I can't exactly say if it works as advertised or note. 

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Northgard's newest update is a mixed bag. On paper, all of the added content adds dynamic new layers to an already fun RTS. In practice, the number of occurrences feels unbalanced and the Ragnarok map is just, well, drab. 

Since the update is free, it kind of feels a bit ungrateful to gripe at all. But with all its potential not maximized, it feels like all that tribulation and hardship is a bit for naught. 

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review -- Boldly Rolling the Dice Tue, 02 Oct 2018 11:25:30 -0400 Nick Congleton

Ever since the Pathfinder RPG made its debut in 2009, it has won over fans of classic RPGs time and time again -- including Dungeons and Dragons, which Pathfinder owes its lineage to.

The Pathfinder tabletop game earned its popularity and devoted fan base by staying true to more traditional elements of Dungeons and Dragons. But does  Pathfinder: Kingmaker stay true to those same roots?

In a world where the RPG has been popularized and ultimately toned down by the likes of The Elder Scrolls and World of Warcraft, is there a place for the unforgiving nature of tabletop RPGs?

Spoiler alert: the answer just might be yes. 

Interface and Controls

For anyone who has played anything similar to a true roleplaying game in the last 15 years, Pathfinder: Kingmaker's user interface should automatically feel familiar. It features a small menu with different character management and game system options. The character screen offers a very familiar inventory and equipment management interface that centers around dragging pieces of gear around an animated model of your character.

On a more practical action based front, the camera controls are your standard WASD keys. Then the combat controls themselves come on a tried and true action bar.

That's really where the similarities end, though. Pathfinder: Kingmaker isn't the PC RPG (CRPG) that you're probably used to. Kingmaker is a tabletop RPG in digital form. It is your dungeon master, and you're playing much the same game you would if gathered around with a group of friends.

Such a relatively bold move presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to controls. Most gamers, even RPG fans, have never played a game that controls like a tabletop game. That means that the controls would need to be highly intuitive to your average gamer while still preserving the tabletop gameplay elements.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker mostly succeeds in its control design. There are elements of that pen and paper gameplay that translate very well into a PC game. However, there are others, like live action combat and formations, which feel sort of strange and out of place initially.

It never gets perfectly smooth, but it is possible to adapt to it and feel mostly comfortable down the line.


Diving deeper into its gameplay, you'll really feel how strange Pathfinder: Kingmaker seems at first. Your first instinct will probably be to dive in and start mashing the buttons on your action bar, much like you would in countless other RPGs. That's, of course, not the way Pathfinder works. It is a virtual tabletop RPG, and it plays like one. That includes automatic dice roll mechanics. Yes, it rolls virtual dice.

When you first engage in combat, time freezes and gives you a chance to plan out a strategy for your party. This part is well explained in the initial tutorial, and it works great. After you have your strategy in place, you unfreeze time and dive into the fight.

That's where things get a little weird.

After the live-action combat kicks off, it's not all that easy to manage your party anymore, and attempting to attack just feels clunky, especially with the dice rolling mechanic factoring into the combat as well.

That's why, in practice, Pathfinder: Kingmaker feels a bit like a cross between an RPG and a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. That wouldn't really be the case if you were only controlling your one character, more like it's pen and paper origin, but it's also clear why that system wouldn't work all that well in the context of a PC game.

Altogether, the combat experience in Pathfinder is fun, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and there is a learning curve.

The game also features a fairly unique travel system that aims to replicate the experience of the tabletop game.

The map interface is nicely designed, and it cuts out a lot of what could be nonsense while retaining the adventuring feel present in a pen and paper RPG. Most of it is fast travel until you encounter a challenge on the road. At that point, you'll drop down to a ground-level view to fight.

Stopping also means setting up camp to rest and gathering rations. Rest resets your party's abilities and heals them up. You can also find interesting side content on the road that leads you down different narrative paths that build on the story and flesh out the world.

Art and Graphics

The art and graphical aesthetic of Pathfinder: Kingmaker are fantastic. The key here is not to go in expecting the same level of graphical polish that you'd find in a AAA title with a gargantuan budget. That's not what this game is, and it doesn't try to be.

Kingmaker's static artwork is essentially the same art that you'd associate with the Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons tabletop games. If you're not familiar, it's a painted style that takes advantage of a wide color pallet and a sense of motion. That same style is common in other media within the fantasy genre, especially with novels. It fits well with Pathfinder, and it really does help build the overall ambiance of the game.

The in-game environments are great as well. They expertly set the scene in the locations that you're playing through, and really do help with immersion, which is a huge deal in an RPG.

The game does a great deal with environment detail that helps to set the stage of the world, helping players understand bits about the plot and overall lore, without the need to play through any additional content.

There is one weak point with the in-game artwork, though: character models. They just aren't that detailed. In some cases, they even feel slightly out of place. The world itself seems more finely tuned graphically, while it's hard to shake the feeling that the character models feel dated.


There isn't too much to say without revealing any spoilers, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker's story feels like a very well put together tabletop campaign.

It comes complete with a main quest line that brings your character along through a story complete with meaningful decisions and the ability to shape your own narrative. It even partners you with a bard character to chronicle your story, which is a nice touch. 

The story kicks off with your character attending a gathering of heroes and mercenaries, all of whom were brought together for a chance to claim a lordship of their own complete with land and titles.

Of course, there's a catch. The land is occupied by a somewhat mysterious warlord. Within a few minutes, things at the gathering go violently wrong, and your adventure kicks off prematurely and chaotically.

Customization, The World, and RPG Elements

No RPG is complete without real role-playing aspects. This is another area where Kingmaker really delivers. The first part of every RPG is character creation.

So, when you first start up your campaign, you're able to create your character. There are a handful of template characters that you can pick and get started with right way. Chances are, though, you're an RPG player, and you want to make your character from scratch.

Of course, that is an option, too.

The beginning of the character creation process is probably also the weakest. There aren't many playable character races to choose from. It would have been nice to see more options, especially in a landscape where RPG fans expect a broad range of options.

Once you do pick your character's race, you'll get to customize their appearance. Unfortunately, the available options are limited. It would have been nice to see more variation here, especially with how invested RPG fans tend to get in their characters.

Beyond that, the class customization options are great. Pathfinder: Kingmaker brings an impressive range of character classes and subclasses to the table. The classes do feel unique, and each variation changes the flavor of the class and changes the way you play.

Of course, you get to choose specific talents and abilities for your character and customize their stats. Stats are a huge part of creating characters in a pen and paper RPG, and they're still very present here.

The world itself feels very alive. There are secrets, items, and NPCs to interact with through the entire world. Some just give you interesting loot. Others provide additional side stories or enhance the main plot of the game.

A lot of the game is fully voice acted. While not all of it is great, there are some real stand out characters that help to bring the game to life and build investment in both the characters and the story.

The Verdict

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a breath of fresh air in a fairly stale RPG landscape. It takes some seriously bold risks, and they pay off for the right audience. If you're a fan of tabletop RPG games, or you're looking for an unexpected challenge in the form of something truly different, you won't be disappointed.

It's important to note that the launch of the game was plagued with a really nasty bug causing saved games to fail to load. While there are some easy temporary fixes on Windows, Mac and Linux players are having a rougher time of it.

In reviewing this game on Linux, it was extremely frustrating having to start the entire game over every time the full party died because saved games couldn't load. That said, it's just a bug, and hopefully, it'll be fixed soon.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker set out to bring the look, feel, and gameplay experience of a classic tabletop RPG to the PC and, in that, is an absolute success. It's not without its flaws, but all of them could be corrected with additions and further content patches, which a game like this lends itself to very well.

You can pick up Pathfinder: Kingmaker on Steam for $39.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Pathfinder: Kingmaker used in this review.]

Assassin's Creed Odyssey: A Worthy Return to Form Mon, 01 Oct 2018 19:16:26 -0400 John Schutt

As I make my way through Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, I am often struck by how confident it is in itself. The action is a more polished version of Origins, its storytelling stands on firmer footing, and overall, I find the Greek world more interesting than Egypt. And that's not just because of personal preference.

Rather, it's because the combination of these and other factors make Odyssey feel like the game Origins was trying to be.

In this full review Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, we'll discuss the story and the content, as the series has always lived and died on its writing.

A Tale of Two Parts

For me, one of Origins' biggest problems was the way it split its narrative even further than the series usually does. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey has one protagonist around which the game revolves, with a large and interesting supporting cast.

Their story doesn't begin, as the series' narratives often do, with a revenge plot. Rather, it's simple pragmatism that sends our hero on their way into the wider world. 

Ubisoft's writers continue to add wrinkles to this easier entrance into the story, but not at the breakneck pace most players of the series are used to. This time, rather than hit us squarely with a grand conspiracy, Odyssey takes its time, introducing mechanics, characters, and plotlines at a pace that allows for actual comprehension. 

People Make it Matter

One of the initial highlights for me was the main character's position in the world. They don't initially have a reputation, aren't part of some guild or noble house, and they certainly don't seem to follow the creed of the Templars or Assassins. They are a normal, if competent, person who sees opportunities and takes them.

More interestingly, they aren't the naive kind of protagonist I'm used to seeing at the start of an Assassin's Creed game. Instead, they understand the world in which they live and are satisfied learning more about it as their journey unfolds — they aren't usually surprised by the darkness and suffering they see.

These were good qualities, as I expected our hero to change and grow as the story went on.

I'm sorry to say I was disappointed.

The same qualities that at first made the main character (whose gender is up to the player) unique and enjoyable in the end made them flat and relatively hollow. Certainly, their reactions to some of the revelations the story throws at them are believable enough, and there were some genuinely touching moments that involved the main character, but they weren't because of them. 

Thankfully, the supporting cast was there to lighten the mood, as each does, in fact, have roundness and color. Every major NPC — and even some of the minor ones — in the game felt like a person, with regrets, desires, and dreams that related to their situation in life. The protagonist's past, which is actually quite important to the story, acts just as window dressing even when things get serious, and never really moved me.

My family, friends, lovers, and enemies, though? These were people I cared about because they were actually people who were as unsure about their lot in life as you or me, and made due the best they could with what fate dealt them.

Even with Ubisoft leaning heavily into the reputation of some of the more important figures, people who helped define what it means to live in Western society, I was rarely left wanting more of their character, because to ask for more was to ask for a super-person, and those are boring. The NPCs in Odyssey are well constructed and are the real drivers for the game.

The Plot Thickens

As for the narrative itself, the common threads are here. Someone or something is pulling strings, the main character is somehow involved and becomes more so, their decisions will decide the fates of thousands, no one who appears to be of consequence (read: with a unique and higher quality character model) is exactly who they say they are, etc. etc. 

What impressed me, however, is how Ubisoft managed to weave as many story threads together as they did. Though there's the main story for players to follow, it certainly isn't the only one, and each plotline has direct connections to the others, and each was interesting enough that I was always curious where the story would go next. 

Some of the twists and turns were, sadly, predictable in an almost comic-bookish kind of way. I called several of them in the first couple hours of play. There were also moments where it felt like Ubisoft was putting in fantastical things just to get a rise out of their players, trying more to force a reaction than let it happen organically. 

Still, I was satisfied for the most part. The formula Ubisoft established is well intact, but Odyssey chooses to play with it in subtle ways that make what would be old news fresh(er) again. 

Solid Content

As with Origins, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey follows a more RPG style of gameplay, with character and enemy levels, a randomized loot system with rarity scores, health values, and skill trees all making up a solid, if not revolutionary, whole.

For me, though, the core gameplay in Odyssey is not what brings me the most joy. It's a moderate expansion on a system that functions, and I'm fine with that. I'm most taken by the small quality of life improvements Ubisoft's made. Most of the ideas come from other games, but they're implemented into the world well enough that I'm more than happy to take part. 

The Option to Enjoy

My favorite new side mechanic is bounties. Collected from a notice board, they come in several varieties and all offer either money, loot, experience, or some combination of the three. They don't take very long, they occasionally weave their way into the larger world, and the reward is usually worth the small effort it takes to complete them. 

More importantly, you'll want to pick up bounties and side content frequently, as story content is often gated behind a level cap. Especially as you approach the late game, Odyssey's main storyline takes longer and longer as you have to take more and more time doing optional content so the enemies in the core content don't kill you in a single hit.

This is an annoying design decision that forces the player to engage with the world against their will. It works in games like Destiny or The Witcher 3 because the main story — many people's reason for playing the game at all — is perfectly playable with little to no grinding required. Odyssey all but forces the issue, and in a game all about choosing how you approach something, such a heavy hand stands out.

On the flip side, I really enjoyed how armor customization matters in this game. The Origins system of standardized outfits is gone and head-to-toe gear with stats is in. And unlike previous titles, the overall aesthetic of the gear changes, and might even inform its stats. There are also specialized sets with accompanying bonuses, so there's yet more reason to seek out the hidden areas of the map.

The other bits of side content — the Shadow of Mordor-inspired Mercenary system, a pared down version of the Assassin's Creed 4 sailing mechanics, the various one- or two-step side quests, the arena — are all fun as well, and for the same reasons they've worked in the titles they originated in. It's just that they can really get in the way sometimes.

The number of times I suddenly found myself in a sea battle in spitting distance of the objective was incredibly frustrating, especially since pirating doesn't have the same charm or reward it did it Black Flag.

Mercenaries is a nice addition, though. There might not be any real consequence to the GTA-style bounty system, but finding a mercenary I hadn't encoutered yet was always a real thrill, as I knew the subsequent fight would be both tense and satisfying.

It's Not All Roses

The trouble with Odyssey, as with many recent Assassin's Creed games, is how spread out the content feels, and everything ultimately feels shallow because of it.

I enjoy bounties, but they will never carry a title. The ship combat makes something of a return, but it feels tacked on, as it has in every game after Black Flag. And many optional quests were almost always some variation on "go here, kill dudes, come back." That, and the fact that every non-story location in the game is a hostile zone really makes me wonder what purpose any location serves other than a new coat of paint on "this is a new place to kill dudes."

The voice acting is also hit and miss. Especially in some of the randomly generated world quests, but certainly not limited to them. Some of the line deliveries are incredibly stiff, with one mechanics explanation at the game's outset spoken so awkwardly I could tell the voice actors were just done with it that day.

Loot can pose issues, too. It's a problem many ran into with Nioh, where you're so overwhelmed with useless gear that managing it became a game all its own, and not one you wanted to play. Again, bounties are good for giving a possible upgrade, but the game completely floods you with common items you'll never so much as swing.

Last is an issue I saw pop up in Far Cry 5Odyssey does not want you to ever be bored and so tends to contrive reasons for you to engage with its world. Whether that means spawning a random patrol or NPC recruitment quest, I often find myself bombarded by things I don't have the time or desire to discover. And sometimes I just want to walk through the city without being attacked by guards. Is that too much to ask?

Final Verdict

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is one of the better entries in the franchise, especially in recent years. Its side characters are solid, and I care about their personal conflicts and motivations. It builds on the systems established in Origins without trying to reinvent them, and the gameplay loop and core mechanics remain fun and engaging. The game does try to do a little too much of everything, and the experimenting it does do — a player-driven protagonist, for one — sometimes falls flat. Odyssey also has its overbearing moments, too, and I wish parts of its story didn't drag on for so long.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. It's a beautiful world that's had real care and attention paid to it, and a worthy entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of AC: Odyssey used in this review.]


CrossCode Review: A Surprising, Expansive Adventure Mon, 01 Oct 2018 13:56:14 -0400 Zack Palm

At first, CrossCode looks a lot like your typical RPG throwback. Stylized, 16-bit graphics greet you from the get-go with catchy chiptunes that quickly draw you into an expansive world rivaled only by some of the genre's beloved titans. 

You assume the role of a hero eager to find out the source of your short-term memory loss, while also taking part in some fun gameplay consisting of unique puzzles, challenging platforming, and some really beautiful pixel art.

The game continues to surprise, even twenty hours in, and reissues its already understood mechanics to make them feel fresh. The developers truly crafted a wonderful game, though a few flaws still cut through.

The Setting

CrossCode throws you into a future world where the MMO, CrossWorlds, is the game everyone plays. Players assume all of the controls of their avatar with their bodies, able to speak and move for them by using some unknown virtual reality equipment.

You assume the avatar known as Lea, an avatar who has no memory of who they are behind the digital mask. Several of the starting NPCs know she's a unique case of a player, hinting at a grand mystery awaiting her as she steps off the tutorial boat and embarks on a journey to remember who she was. Because she doesn't know who she is, she can't speak, creating a loophole behind the silent hero trope.

To jog Lea's memory, she's forced to play through the game where the player's goal is to complete through the main quest called Track of the Ancients, where players uncover the mystery behind the beings that were there long before anyone else. Lea picks a handful of friends along the way, and just like in a traditional MMO, she gets the opportunity to join a small guild to help her out.

The developers crafted the world to feel like a constantly-moving MMO, including having "players" going through the world around you intent on completing quests. Though, after a time it's clear they're moving on a track and they don't fight with any of the monsters around you, the background details were added to make it feel authentic. The development team nailed it.

In the game, it's mentioned there are five classes to play from. You do not get to choose this as Lea is a pre-made avatar, and I felt a little robbed from this experience. I would have enjoyed getting to dive deep into the RPG aspects of this game, choosing my character's appearance, class, and perfecting her stats. But this linear experience demands to have certain aspects chosen for you, and it doesn't take away too much.

Gameplay and Puzzles

CrossCode provides you with two methods of attacking: range-based and melee-based. When you have a keyboard and mouse, you change between these two based on how you aim at the enemies on screen.

There's a quick-attack button on your keyboard, but you'll mostly ignore it. It's far easier to use your game's reticle than it is to remember what key it is. The range-based attack is called Orb, and they're the main way you interact with the hundreds of puzzles littered throughout the game.

The combat was a straight-forward affair. Beat an enemy until their health is zero. When you defeat a group of enemies you'll receive a battle rank based on how difficult they were. You'll have a bar on the top of the screen where you can continue to fight other monsters in the area, gaining more battle rank up to the rank of S. You'll receive more experience points and better loot if you do this, but you won't gain any health between fights.

To make fighting easier, you'll find instances to 'break' an enemy during combat. Breaking an enemy is basically stunning them, causing them to freeze up and they can't react for a number of seconds. The developers make this unique by forcing you to find different ways to break certain enemies. Some of them are broken by simply attacking them while they charge for their attack. Others require you to use a specific element to break them, thereby making your neutral attacks useful against them. The break mechanic doesn't get old, and even twenty hours in, the developers used it with a refreshing tone.

If you're not a fan of puzzles, you might not want to pick up this game. Not only are there puzzle-filled dungeons, which can take you an hour if you're not careful, but each new area contains platforming and orb-based puzzles for you to solve. While you do not have to do all of them as some of them provide you with great equipment, many of them are forced on you and prevent you from continuing forward.

The developers don't try to trick you through the puzzles. The puzzles were made in an obvious way for you to quickly grasp the mechanics and proceed forward. Although, the one-hour long puzzle dungeons were a bit much. There's a good amount of combat added to these dungeons, but it's easy to get lost in them and have to take a break immediately after you're finished.

The 16-bit RPG Art

The wonderful art shines throughout the experience. The various avatars, the season-changing worlds, and the unique monsters populated everywhere make every new sight an appealing experience. You'll forget you're playing a PC game and think you pulled out your old school PlayStation for old time's sake. The gameplay feels the same way, too.

There's a few times this art becomes troublesome when you're dealing with the platforming puzzles. You may think you're jumping on the ledge, but you miss by just a hair, and its enough to send you tumbling down. It also works in your favor when you need to remain on a platform and you're barely hanging off the side so you can make it to the next jump. There's a handful of cons with the chosen art, but you'll find far more pros and the art doesn't get stale.

It's Still An MMO

Because its an RPG disguised as an MMO, you'll feel the massive world gets a little lonely at times. Even when your companion consistently comments on your lust for battle or about the new area you've unlocked. You'll want to take a friend with you through your quests and show them what you've been looking on. But as you might expect, there can be a fair amount of grinding.

This feeling typically arrives just before a big fight. Right before a dungeon, your companions will ask if you're truly ready to tackle whatever lies behind those threatening doors. There are so many side quests for you to do before you enter it, you'll feel you need to take a step back to go take care of them. You can ignore most of the side quests and proceed into dungeon after dungeon, but you'll feel a far more difficult challenge if you don't do so.

You do need to grind XP to level up and stay within the appropriate limits of the game. No, it's not as bad if you were to play World of Warcraft, but it take an hour or two out of your time from your main quest to stay within the limit. It does pull away from the experience and make it feel like a necessary element. Those who love to be completionists and check off every box will have a blast running through every little detail of this game.

The Verdict

CrossCode is a wonderful game. The developers painstakingly added numerous background details to make the experience feel genuine and the mechanics don't feel stale, even thirty or forty hours into the entire game.

There's a lot to do, a good story, a handful of great characters to meet, and the combat feels like a challenge. You may bash your head against a wall attempting to figure out the puzzle-dungeons, but when you figure it out you're going to feel accomplishment and excited to move on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

You can pick up CrossCode for $19.99 on Steam. If you're not completely sold, try out the demo

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

Think of the Children Review: Cute Concept But Fundamentally Unbalanced Mon, 01 Oct 2018 12:13:28 -0400 Littoface

Parenting is hard work. It involves delicately balancing love and discipline -- and making sure things don't catch on fire. 

Think of the Children from Fellow Traveller and Jammed Up Studio sets out to show players just how tough striking this balance is when you have six kids -- and they're all extremely flammable.

The game has some redeeming qualities, of course -- like its ridiculous death scenarios and silly writing. 

But try as it may, Think of the Children is, in many ways, on fire itself. The game is supposed to be a challenge, but it's more of a rote masterclass in patience and repetition. It'll need some balancing before it provides the "good" kind of challenge (as opposed to the "pull-your-hair-out" kind).

We tried our hand at virtual parenting and came out thankful that we're (just a little bit) better at it in real life. 

Ready, set, parent!

We're Pretty Sure Parenting Doesn't Work Like This

Think of the Children consists of several stages, each with its own set of objectives. Set up a barbecue in the park. Do some shopping at the store. Set up umbrellas and buy ice cream at the beach.

Each of these tasks is accomplished by walking over to key spots on the map and pressing a button repeatedly.

The catch? While you're tending to the BBQ, your kids are wandering off onto the road and getting run over. They're climbing the shelves and getting crushed when they fall. They're getting eaten alive by seagulls.

To save these unusually dumb kids from their inevitable fates, you run around and pick them up whenever they come into harm's way. You then place them down or, because it's more fun, fling them toward safety.

You can also call them over if they're nearby for some crowd control, but as this has an unfairly long cooldown, it's actually not very useful at all. Resorting to the other methods is just more efficient. 

Each child is given a random name, and it's darkly funny to see the names get crossed out one by one as you inevitably fail to save little Kristy from burying herself alive in the sandpit or baby Mort from swinging so high he flies off to his demise.

The levels end when the timer runs out or when all the kids die. At the end of each level, you're given a letter grade for completing objectives, with a score multiplier for every child that's still alive.

You can play in two main modes in Think of the Children: Party Mode and Story Mode. 

The former lets you play any stage while shooting for the high score, while the latter tells the story of poor parents who have racked up over 400 counts of negligence on countless kids, dead and alive, and are now in court pleading their cases before a judge and CPS (protip: that's definitely not how it works IRL.)

Although it's absolutely unnecessary to even have a story in this ridiculous game, the writing is funny and very tongue-in-cheek, which is a big plus.

The downside to Story Mode is that it makes you play each level again and again until you get a passing grade in order to continue — a feat which, as we'll see in a moment, is basically impossible to accomplish alone.

Frantic and Unfair

The game bills itself as a "multitasking simulator", and it certainly is that — but to a point that goes beyond challenging and becomes just downright unfair.

Every level's objectives are displayed in a tiny notepad in the corner of the screen, making it a bit difficult to see what you're supposed to do while also keeping an eye on the kids.

Like real parenting, you have to be in about 10 places at once. Just as you start unfurling the towels and opening the beach umbrellas, one kid swims off dangerously close to a circling shark, another kid tempts fate by poking a jellyfish, the grill back by the car has caught on fire, and — oh! — so has the tanning dude by the water who forgot to put on sunscreen (is… is this how it works? We're starting to believe it).

All of these things are happening all around the screen and even if you run it's impossible to save everyone. Literally. Impossible. 

It didn't take long before my partner and I realized the only way to get through a level was by just holding onto one child at all times and dragging them back if they started to wander off while other tasks were being completed.

And even then, points were lost for, you know, letting five other kids die, and the grade was inevitably an F, dooming us to repeat this weird parenting Hell for Story Mode over and over again.

Quite simply put, the balancing is off. When playing solo, there is no way to actually accomplish everything the game expects you to accomplish while also keeping those darn kids alive.

Luckily, Think of the Children has one saving grace: local co-op.

Parenting Is a Collaborative Experience

With drop-in local co-op for up to four total players, Think of the Children doesn't seem to scale difficulty when more people join.

Every player gets to choose an avatar: quirky, blocky people (and animal-headed creatures) with fun hats and colors. These are actually quite charming, and more features and character designs can be unlocked by doing well in the game.

Having co-op in means that if you have a few friends over who want to experience the joys of parenting, you can just about complete the levels by splitting the tasks between you.

If one player watches a group of three kids and another watches the other three, a third stands by for all the things that tend to catch on fire, and the final player sets everything else up… well, then things become doable.

We're not sure we'd call it fun, but it definitely becomes a bit easier to handle, which, let's face it, is true for parenting in reality. Sometimes, splitting the tasks is just about the only way to make sure everyone gets out of things alive.

Final Takeaway

Think of the Children is a cute idea in theory but in practice, it lacks the balance it needs to succeed. Couple that with an unfair pace and it's more of a train-wreck than a fun time.

It also doesn't help that it is literally impossible to complete levels on your own. So while the co-op mode makes the game a bit more manageable, it ultimately lacks the depth it needs to be enjoyable on every front.

Of course, we can see it being a fun and silly party game, where flummoxed IRL parents take a shot every time a digital child dies, but ... well, we hope we never type a sentence like that again. 

In the end, it's silly, colorful, and ridiculous, and we'll hope for a patch that better balances the game -- but until then, we'll stick to real parenting. It's easier, and the kids don't (usually) spontaneously combust.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Think of the Children used in this review.]

Underhero Review - I Need a Hero Sat, 29 Sep 2018 11:13:46 -0400 Kimberly Cooper

Underhero is another one of those games that you might've otherwise missed if you were not actively following its progress. More often than not, it takes a lot of perseverance and charm to get this far and Underhero is a quirky, exciting adventure that changes up the hero formula.

The Story

The game is played within a 2D side-scroller view and while it may feel compact, it's accompanied with delightful, unique characters and a solid story of trying to save the world when you weren't exactly cut out for the job in the first place.

You take on the role of an underling-turned-hero (the Underhero) and unknowingly tasked with saving the world. This puts the antagonist-turned-protagonist into quite the pickle because this obviously isn't what he planned to happen. 

The main character is another one of those silent-types, but the fluid animation and comical moments give him plenty of personality without ever really saying a word. You're paired with the former hero's sword that is capable of changing from a blade into a hammer and slingshot at will. 

The dialogue is both quirky and cute which makes listening to all the passive dialogue quite the adventure.  Each world hosts its own color scheme but they all end up coming off as vibrant and colorful instead of dull and dreary.

Going through each area filled me with excitement as I wondered what sort of enemies I would encounter and what kind of attacks they would use against me. Would I need to duck or jump when they attacked? Would I need to use my shield or bribe them with money because they were too strong? The enemy designs fit perfectly into the peculiar world of Underhero, however, at times I felt like there could have been a larger quantity of enemies between areas.

One thing that had me baffled throughout my play-through was how all of the enemies worked for the corporation led by the main boss in the game, Mr. Stitches, but they never seemed to question why one of their own was out attacking them in the field.

The Battle System

I expected to be faced with either turn-based battles or regular ol' hack and slash when going about my journey and was met with something entirely different. People that are familiar with Undertale might see some similarities in Underhero's battle system. Once you come across a monster you initiate a fight where you can talk to your opponent to get the occasional hint or even bribe them with your own hard earned cash so that they'll leave you alone.

If throwing your money away doesn't sound like your cup of tea, have no fear. Battling involves a little more thought in which you have to actually observe your opponent's actions in order to predict which move they'll use next. If predicted correctly, you're able to dodge moves by jumping or ducking.

Time your own attacks perfectly in tune with the music to get extra damage but your attacks are also based on how much stamina you have which fills back up during the battle.

You can buy potions and other items from the shop back at the HQ as well as finding potions out in the field. The game isn't overly difficult by any means but my complaint is the game occasionally experiences lag during battles which can make them go on longer than necessary or cause you to get hit by attacks. 

There's plenty of fun to be had in Underhero with mini-games, boss fights and puzzle elements with a little platforming thrown in. While you're playing, you get to experience a phenomenal soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren that I found myself listening to throughout the odd hours of the day.

Underhero isn't an overly difficult game and if you ever think an enemy is too much to handle you can always just bribe them so that they will leave you alone. You'll go broke, but at least you're able to continue on your adventure.

Despite the presence of a few bugs, this game was designed by a team of only four people and offers roughly 15-25 hours of gameplay that will scratch that indie itch. If you've been needing a break from Dead Cells or Hollow Knight and just want to experience some witty comments and bash around a few monsters without a fear of losing your head, this is the next best thing.

It's available for $14.99 on Steam, Gamejolt, and

A demo for Underhero is still available on Gamejolt and for those who need extra incentive. 

Depth of Extinction Review: A Fun, Old-School Throwback Fri, 28 Sep 2018 11:19:22 -0400 Sergey_3847

Anyone who uses Steam knows that games in Greenlight aren't always of the highest quality. 

But from time to time, something very interesting appears out of the oozing verdant mass to grab the community's attention. Depth of Extinction, a 2D turn-based tactical RPG from HOF Studios, is one of those rare finds.  

After spending some time in development, the game garnered enough votes to make it to Steam's front page -- and as of this writing, is one of the platform's top sellers. And with good reason: while Depth of Extinction might not be perfect, it's a fun throwback to old school classics like X-COM

Story and Setting

Depth of Extinction is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remnants of civilization have managed to survive on small bases scattered all over the world. Since most of the Earth has been flooded by a cataclysm, your squad moves between locations in a submarine, which is an interesting touch in a genre filled with space ships.

The world map is divided into five sectors, all of which correspond to different factions. On top of that, each sector contains several major locations, each of which consists of smaller bases that serve as mini-maps.

This is where all the events take place. Your squad arrives at one of the chosen maps, raids it for loot, and moves on to another one.

Main points of interest keep you pointed in the right directions, guiding you down the optimal path for story-based items. To get them, you'll go through a chain of intermediate mini-maps. However, the game allows you yo choose the path on your own, as well, so you can make your journey shorter or longer depending on your needs.

For example, if you need money, weapons, or healing items, then you ought to raid as many bases within the game's major locations as possible. Depth of Extinction will even suggest that you either skip certain locations or quietly observe them without interfering, while others state clearly that you can enter, kill a bunch of enemies, and take all that you can find.

This makes selecting your path to the main objective a lot of fun in most regards. Unfortunately, the mini-maps themselves aren't as exciting; the design of each is great, but the actions you need to take are all basically the same over and over again.

Gameplay Mechanics

Before setting out on missions, the game asks you to choose your loadout. It includes the submarine you want to take on your journey and the squad that will accompany you on your mission.

To get you started, you'll get a relatively good amount of funding, which is enough to buy a basic submarine and add one extra member to your squad. From there on out, it's up to you to keep things running and your crew manned. Each squad member has their own perks and specialties, but in the beginning, it doesn't really matter who you choose.

The further you progress through the game, you will be able to meet Merchants, NPCs that can provide you with extra equipment. Although you'll get loot from looting bases, the really good items come from spending mission money at the Merchant to get the really good stuff that'll help you deal with more powerful enemies and bosses. 

When you arrive at a base, your team moves in turns. If you spot an enemy, you can start shooting immediately.

However, positioning squad is very important, and you need to enter each map with certain tactics and strategies in mind.

Just as it is in other tactical games like X-COM, it's important to keep your squad behind cover as much as possible. It's also important to the range of your currently equipped weapons. For example, it's wiser to position a sniper further away from the enemy and a shotty much, much closer.

To get a better idea of what this is like, you can easily compare the game's shooting mechanics to those in Wasteland, where you see hit chance when hovering your mouse over the enemy.

Mercing enemies is made easier seeing as the controls are very simple and intuitive. Although the process can be a bit clunky in the beginning before you learn all the hotkeys, the mid- to late-game runs really smooth.

The only real downside is that there isn't much variation here. Perhaps the game will see a few post-release patches to increase tactical diversity, but as it stands, you'll us the same strategies to win time and time again -- even against Depth of Extinction's harder foes. 

Final Thoughts

Like I said in the beginning: Depth of Extinction isn't perfect, but it's got a lot of good things going for it. 

The game's visual and audio presentation are great. The soundtrack is especially cool, and it plays in the vein of 80's synthwave, which really strengthens the overall vibe; it perfectly fits the 2D setting of the game with its industrial design. Nothing really distracts you from the gameplay in this regard, which means that the developers paid a lot of attention to the details.

The downside here is that although the gameplay is fun, it does get a bit boring if you play for longer sessions. You basically repeat the same actions without much variation.

But if you're a fan of old-school turn-based games, then you will enjoy the hell out of Depth of Extinction. So at the end of the day, it's all a matter of perception and taste.

[Note: A copy of Depth of Extinction was provided by HOF Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: Beautiful Turn-Based Strategy Thu, 27 Sep 2018 18:55:53 -0400 ElConquistadork

I'm just gonna come straight out and say it: I'm not an anime fan.

I'm not going to discount the genre on the whole: a work of art is a work of art. I appreciate and enjoy Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion (I'm not a monster, after all), but the general over-the-top tropes that come with your average anime always left me a bit cold. But, as I said, a work of art is a work of art, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 is magnificent.

The Stories of War

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is another installment in the quasi-World War 2 universe first introduced to the PS3 in 2008. In it, you take charge of a scrappy group of soldiers from the Atlantic Federation: a force dedicated to fighting back against the creeping doom of the mysteriously evil Imperial Alliance.

With a wide-stretching range of characters with well-written motivations, it's nearly impossible not to get caught up in the story. These soldiers of yours are fighting to protect their homeland after all, and that underdog mentality has always been contagious. But beyond that foundation, there's a real flexibility in the narrative that allows for moments of irreverent nonsense just as often as staring, grim-faced, into the horrors of war.

As the war progresses, you're subject to a great number of little scenes throughout. And while some of these scenes felt a little long-winded at times ("when do I get to the next battle, for God's sake?"), they did a wonderful job of perpetually deepening the storyline.

As the perfect complement to this story, each character is lovingly crafted and detailed, to the point that even the grunts who aren't a part of the main storyline feel like fully fleshed-out people. Even the most minor character has a unique take on their actions. A failed writer-turned-grenadier mutters about how well a certain moment would work in his novel, and a pretty boy sniper quips "Did you fall for me?" after headshotting an enemy soldier from a distance. No two characters look or act the same (outside of the enemies), and that had an effect on how I treated these characters on a level that I haven't felt since I named all my characters in XCOM after my friends and family.

Commanding Your Soap Opera in Battle

XCOM is actually a game that gets brought up a lot when it comes to this franchise. With its combination of turn-based strategy and HQ-based research and development, it's easy to see why. Like XCOM, you spend a lot of time developing your army and building yourself up from your headquarters using resources collected on the battlefield.

But if I had to compare Valkyria Chronicle's gameplay to any previous game, it would have to be the Shining Force series: the classic turn-based fantasy games that were a high point for RPGs with the Sega Genesis, a console that otherwise felt very bare in that sense. Like the Shining Force games, VC4 focuses heavily on both storyline and tactical strategy, something that is often lost in turn-based games these days. That perfect blending of story and mechanics gave me a wash of nostalgia for those older games, and I was more than happy to take that feeling here.

There are differences, however. Your strategies are based on Action Points, meaning that units can move multiple times or not at all, which is handy for focusing on tougher enemies or getting a soldier out of trouble. 

That level of gameplay allows for a lot of replayability, given that you receive a score for the completion of each mission. This could be frustrating at times because your ranking appears to be based on nothing more than how fast you can finish. It doesn't hurt that, even on the more mild challenge levels, Valkyria Chronicles 4 can be hard. While some levels can have a more subtle bent, like an assassination or scouting mission, others are full out, D-Day style meat grinder affairs, with all the constant, bullet-pounding action that goes with it. Anyone who's interested in replaying this game for perfect scores will have to deal with that in a big way: and that's not even mentioning the fact that you can spend upwards to 40+ hours on a standard playthrough.

But past that difficulty (and occasional controller-throwing frustration), there's a game that is as filling story-wise as it is sharp gameplay-wise. As a continuation of a beloved franchise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 hits all the right notes, sometimes bending them into the stratosphere. It also works brilliantly as a stand-alone game or introduction, as the cast is completely new, and require no previous experience to fully appreciate.

For players who have enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles from the beginning, there's plenty of the same to enjoy here, with some added goodness. The first new thing to pop into mind would be the Grenadier class, a valuable heavy-hitter armed with a mortar-style weapon that can be launched up and over enemy cover, and even takes out the weak spots in the backs of tanks. The ability to upgrade your more rank-and-file soldiers into Leaders is also a terrific way to add some customization to your squad. 

Unfortunately, those players will also find some of the same exploits they saw in 2008. A glaring example of that is the unbelievably fast scouts, who can overtake and hold camps at breakneck speed, sort of breaking certain aspects of the game. As a small concession to that, there are many missions that center around far more than just holding camps, but the ability to tear through various missions with little worry about enemy reinforcements is absolutely still there.

Just graphically speaking, VC4 is a piece of art. The colors alternate from lush, blissful explosions of pigment, to muddy, dirty warzones. It only accentuates the two sides of the coin that the storyline offers. The weapons, uniforms, tank designs, etc: all of them are incredible. These characters were basically tailor-made to be action figures and statues: I wanted at least a dozen of them to display on my shelves.

This is a game for people who love strategy and/or love a beautifully woven story. The care and precision that went into making it is clear, and there's little doubt in my mind that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is going to make it into quite a few Best of 2018 lists come January.

Insomnia: The Ark Review -- A Conflict of Interests Thu, 27 Sep 2018 13:36:45 -0400 Jonathan Moore

At first glance, it would be easy to compare Insomnia: The Ark to games like Fallout 4 and even Bioshock.

Its diesel-punk inspired retro future screams both Bethesda and Ken Levine from the moment you hit "new game". However, Insomnia: The Ark quickly morphs into something of a genre hybrid. 

In some ways, it's an action-adventure with deep RPG elements, intricate story lines, and an expansive, sprawling world. In others, it's a horror game dabbling in the existential torment of life, death, and the purgatory in between.

In these ways, Insomnia: The Ark is as engrossing as it is interesting. It's a game that seeks to find a unique balance between action and repose, fetch quests and the theology of the soul.   

Despite its compelling nature, the game has its share of issues. Some of these are easily overlooked (and are set to be patched in a day-one update), while others are seemingly endemic to its development. From bugs and glitches to an overly complex story and a few strange design choices, Insomnia has a habit of getting in its own way. 


Although I'm only around 12 hours into the game's expansive narrative, I can easily say that the story is deep and labyrinthine. Tackling topics such as life and death, authoritarianism, and the politics of xenophobia, Insomnia crafts a sprawling mosaic of complicated moving parts. 

It's not exactly clear who you're playing as in the game's early stages -- a slum-dog gopher named Thyper or a dutiful soldier that (luckily) escaped a horrific blast in the State's cryogenic sleeping bay. 

What is known for certain is that the world you're thrust into is one full of violence, suppression, and mystery. As the mammoth metropolis of Object 6 hurtles through space to find a new home for the humans inhabiting it, a rebellion brews in its sewers and back alleys. 

Everywhere you see signs of The Committee, the authoritarian regime ruling Object 6 with nothing less than an iron fist. But you also see something more, something beyond the physical suffering and turmoil around you. There's an ether that beckons you away from "the surface". 

Beginning as an illness that appears to cause psychosis, depression, and delusion, you soon begin to understand that Somnia is more than another word for schizophrenia. Somnic lapses, as they're referred to, begin to illuminate the true nature of your character. 

The only sticking point is that this multilayered narrative can easily get convoluted, especially when the dialogue and writing becomes overly complex. It's by no means Tolkien-esque in nature, but following the game's narrative threads can sometimes turn into work, leaving you more perplexed than informed in the game's early running. 


The most important thing you need to know about Insomnia is that in the first 10 to 12 hours, there's a lot of exploration -- with a little bit of combat and puzzle solving sprinkled in between. 

Most of your time will be spent traveling from one side of Object 6 to the other, learning about the world, investigating shadow collectives, and helping quest givers deliver old-world record players. If you're into the story and diesel-punk aesthetic, it's more interesting than it sounds -- but it can get a bit tedious walking from one area to another and back again. 

Each area in Insomnia's semi-open world is large and often multi-tiered. You're able to travel from hub to hub using each area's exit points before selecting a destination on an overworld map. Think Pillars of Eternity in this regard. 

Along the way, there will often be random encounters with traveling shop keeps or helpless friendlies looking for a hand. Others will be with highwaymen and gangs, many of which you'll need to quickly dispatch, loot, and leave behind. 

For much of the early game, it feels like Insomnia's combat is centered around these types of encounters, supplemented by a few story arcs that put the cross hairs between you and a few pesky mercenaries (or riotous citizens, whatever the case may be). 

Combat is real-time. And it can be utterly unforgiving. 

You're able to choose from a variety of weapons, such as long rifles, sub-machine guns, swords, mallets, and even your fists. Depending on what class you choose after the game's prologue, you'll also be more proficient in certain areas than others (although in the current build, it doesn't seem like one class has an exponential advantage over another). 

However, strategy does have a distinct advantage over chaos, as a guns-blazing approach will often get you promptly eviscerated. Insomnia's combat requires a tactical, discerning eye; strategizing your movements before you make them and keeping your eye on your stamina meter will keep you from loading checkpoints over and over again. 

Stealth kills are almost always a necessity to even the odds. Strafing and rolling are important if you're killing from long-range without cover, while sprinting and dodging are important if you're bull-rushing with a sword or melee weapon. And most importantly, taking cover is an absolute must against a contingent with guns. 

While this sounds relatively deep, the primary reason combat is so predicated on strategy is because the enemies are incredibly overpowered. Two bursts from a heavy machine gun can immediately drop you. Three or four quick swipes from a knife can immediately kill you. 

In many ways, the combat is weakened by the fact that its masocore philosophy is little more than a trapping holding it to an oddly-fitting standard. In the time I've spent with it, I haven't much felt like Insomnia's combat was terribly difficult, but instead somewhat tedious. Crouch, wait for hail of bullets, peek up, shoot, repeat. 

There is more under the hood if you search for it, but I'm afraid many gamers will simply stick to the optimal path outlined above and completely miss more intricate elements because they have to specifically search them out. 

The last piece of the puzzle is crafting. 

Insomnia has dozens of recipes and schematics to collect in order to craft everything from grenades and ammunition to repair parts and story items.

But again, this part is slow and plodding as well. Despite having discovered nine areas on Object 6 so far, I've only found two workbenches, meaning that backtracking is the headline and looting is the subtitle. 

While robust in nature, the only real value I've found in crafting so far is in repairing my weapons. Being that I don't have any schematics for actual armor or weapons yet (sans three for grenades I arguably don't need), I don't feel at all compelled to craft a blasted thing.

The components I needed to repair that one generator that one time I needed to get in that apartment were lying in a junk pile. No need to travel all that distance to craft them ... 

The Verdict (For Now)

Insomnia has great potential. But like some games with promise, it often finds ways to undermine itself.

From overly complex storylines to tedious gameplay elements, a curiously obtuse inventory system and an identity somewhere between sci-fi RPG and supernatural horror, it's a game full of competing interests.

That's not to mention the veritable grind for experience points can make you feel like character and skill progress is going nowhere fast. 

However that may be, I must admit there's something about Insomnia that keeps me coming back. Despite my critical stance on some of the game's elements, it's world is utterly fascinating in its construction and scope. The score is pitch-perfect and thanks to a pre-release patch, the environments are beautiful in spite of their dinginess. 

Ultimately, I've had fun playing Insomnia: The Ark, and I plan on continuing my journey -- even if it is messy. All I hope is that its disjointed beginning coalesces into something more cohesive as I move along. 

You can purchase Insomnia: The Ark on Steam for $29.99. 



[Editor's Note: The score represented here is what we would give Insomnia: The Ark right now. This score could change as we make our way further into its diesel-punk futurescape, and after the game's Day One patch.There are also certain gameplay elements, such as team combat, we've not touched on here since our time with them has been limited so far. The developer provided the copy of the game used in this review. ]

HyperX Alloy FPS RGB Keyboard Review: Dazzling Tech and Effects Wed, 26 Sep 2018 12:04:41 -0400 ElConquistadork

The HyperX Alloy FPS RGB keyboard is deceiving in how straightforward it appears. Equipped with some incredible tech and dazzling lighting effects, this mechanical keyboard is ideal for gamers.

On first glance, HyperX's FPS RGB isn't much to sniff at. Its compact frame and standard design doesn't display a ton of the bells and whistles that you'll see on more high-end mechanicals. But that simplicity is just a mask for this wolf dressed as a poodle.

Immediately upon unboxing this beast, I was struck by the weight of it. The durability of HyperX's frames has impressed me in the past, and this one was no different.

The steel structure of the FPS RGB offers some serious durability, and the smaller frame size allows for more desk room (which is important for those of us who haven't got a ton of space for a massive gaming set up.) Even during more aggressive games, this keyboard wasn't moving anywhere: it's that solid.

That frame houses Kailh Silver Speed switches, which just felt good to tap into. The smooth push-click of each key was just lovely, too: there's no other word that better encapsulates it than satisfying. Plus, the switches are rated for 70 million key presses, so you know it's going to keep feeling that good long into the future.

The RGB lighting on this mechanical is pretty impressive as well. As always, HyperX offers a great series of options when it comes to customizing the lighting effects of your keyboard, whether it's for livestreams or just to make yourself happy and giddy with all the lights.

You can adjust the effects from home with HyperX's NGenuity software, or take advantage of three profiles that can be loaded directly into the keyboard. The lights themselves are bright; in fact, they're brighter than a lot of gaming keyboards I've seen in the past. But before that drives you away (because I know some of us don't like getting blinded), they're also adjustable, making for another added piece of nice RGB customization.

The N-Key rollover features on the keyboard are second to none, with inputs following you no matter how fast you hit the keys. This is really important for games like SMITE or Black Ops 4 where reflexes are a factor. I had absolutely no lag time or lost keystrokes while playing, which is a lot more than I can say about other keyboards I've tested in the past.

There's a USB port on the keyboard, which is very handy, though I was disappointed to find that it only served as a charge port and not a passthrough. It would have been great to be able to use the port for a wireless mouse or any other unobtrusive device, but that's a small gripe that's relatively easy to get over. 

The braided cable included felt good, and it's definitely convenient for travel, but I'm always a little nervous when it comes to detachable cables. The wear and tear of removable parts like that make me worry about the longevity of the device. That, however, is pure speculation on my part to this point: I had no issues with the cable during my time with it.


Along with the keyboard itself, we picked up the HyperX Detached Wrist Rest. As far as wrist rests go, it served its purpose very well. The cooling gel and memory foam inside kept my wrists comfortable and dry, and I quite liked the design of it. It's simple, but the stitching is a handsome detail that sets it apart in a small way.

AS far as wrist rests go, it's a nice addition to the keyboard and functions as you'd expect. 


Overall, HyperX has created a terrific keyboard for gaming. The size and on-the-go customization make it perfect for gamers who travel a lot, and the response and satisfaction I got from the keys themselves was just too solid. Great aesthetics and great hardware combined? I'm sold.

Couple that with the wrist rest, and you've got a great combination for on-the-go gaming. 

The HyperX Alloy FPS RGB is available on Amazon for $109.99. You can grab the wrist rest on the HyperX website for $19.99.  

[Note: HyperX provided the FPS RGB keyboard used in this review.]

Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 Review -- All Over the Place Wed, 26 Sep 2018 11:00:02 -0400 Charles Blades

Nothing can beat the original. At least that's what they say.

In every type of media, it’s a common sentiment that the sequel is never as good as whatever came before. Be it in film, literature, or television, the first iteration is usually better. But video games are different in that regard. It's usually the second game in a series gamers remember fondly.

Mass Effect 2, Half Life 2, Silent Hill 2, Uncharted 2.

When it comes to video games, it’s not too difficult to pick the best game from a franchise and have it be a numbered sequel. Why? Because the developers have learned certain lessons from the games that came before, making substantial improvements to key elements such as gameplay, graphics, and story. 

Yet with Life is Strange 2, Dontnod Entertainment finds that going back to the well is a bit harder than it might seem. 

Character Connection

In “Roads”, you take on the role of Sean Diaz, a 16-year-old high school student tasked with caring for his brother, Daniel. Although I won't dive too deeply into the narrative or the plot devices that put you on your journey, it's safe to say that something doesn't go right early on and the two of you set out to carve a new path.

However, despite my fondness for Life is Strange, Chloe, and Max, I immediately found it difficult to connect with the protagonists of Life is Strange 2. For most of my four-hour adventure with them, l often felt like the initial moments of the story were exploitative in a way, focusing too directly on current real-world events. 

It wasn't deal-breaking, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth, one I couldn't easily rinse out. And although the game does find firmer footing once you finally set out on your journey and begin to dig deeper into the dynamic between the two brothers, Episode 1 never really drew me into its story as I'd hoped it would. 

I never truly connected with Sean as a central character. Hopefully, as the brothers continue to flesh out their relationships, all of that will change. 

Having New Conversations

On the technical side of things, the dialogue system from Life is Strange has been revamped to make the sequel's many conversations feel more natural.

Eschewing the modern equation of statement + timer + choice = answer found in so many adventure games these days, conversations in Life is Strange 2 are more free flowing. This means that conversations often sidestep the rigid Q&A loop other games tend to fall into. 

That's not to say, however, that everything here is roses. Peppered throughout your naturally flowing conversations are some incredibly cringe-worthy dialogue sequences. Some even bring to mind the Steve Buscemi, "How do you do fellow kids?" meme. 

But where Life is Strange 2 mostly stumbles is when its writers desperately try to recreate conversations centered around sex or certain other coming-of-age exchanges. There are moments that pull at your heart strings -- and moments where you'll most certainly tear up -- but these awkward moments can easily pull you out of the story for all the wrong reasons. 

It doesn't help that facial animations can be stiff and unreadable -- or that the lip syncing is woefully off. I understand that the game has a specific art style it’s trying to pull off and that animations aren't real-to-life, but that doesn’t explain away the often dead look a lot of characters have when discussing major story events.

Couple that with awkward dialogue and it can be difficult to stay engrossed in the story as it plays out. 

The Verdict

The first episode of Life is Strange 2 is a bit all over the place for me. While I’m not head over heels for its characters the way I was for Chloe and Max in the game’s first season, I do think Sean and Daniel do have the potential to grow on me as the season goes on.

While the dialogue will hopefully get better, I doubt the facial animations will improve as the season goes on. It seems like a minor gripe, but in such a story-heavy game, every little detail matters -- and every little detail affects the gravitas behind the narrative. 

If Life is Strange 2 can improve upon that as the season progresses, and not lean too heavily on its political underpinnings as set dressing, it has the potential to equal the veracity of the original.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Life is Strange 2 used for this review.]

The Conjuring House Review: Haunting, But Not in the Way You Think Tue, 25 Sep 2018 03:15:01 -0400 Zack Palm

We want horror games to immediately put us on edge. We want them to make us question every decision we make and ignore almost every fiber of common sense we have. We want them to scare the living hell out of us. 

We also want them to do those things in a logical, engaging way. The Conjuring House delivers on these initial (unsettling) hopes, but they're quickly washed away as annoying bugs and glitches halt forward progress and suffocate any horror that would have otherwise terrified us.

Although The Conjuring House wears the masquerades in greatness, it never fully realizes its potential, becoming not much more than a murky, stumbling mess. 

The Atkinson Mansion

The beginning of The Conjuring House immediately places you face to face with the mansion's supernatural threat, giving you no illusion of what the game's about.

In a cliche that's more and more common, things open with a set up -- a visitor to the house quickly succumbs to the evil within, leaving you little time to assess how all of the pieces fit together. Although you can expect to see the evil force for remainder of the game, everything's a little jarring right out of the gate, especially considering the story elements don't exactly flow from one segment to the next. 

As you cut to a brand-new character -- our true protagonist -- who gets sent into the home in search of a previous paranormal investigation team, things (kind of) come into focus. Kind of.

In true horror form, you'll begin exploring the house to learn more about it and the nefarious forces within. Fully robed characters disappear right in front of you and a demon-woman hellbent on ripping everyone's face off stalks the halls. 

You'll find that the supernatural beings holding you in the confines of the mansion can only be defeated by finding five artifacts -- artifacts a Satanic cult used to summon them in the first place. This sets you on an adventure full of jump scares, death, artifacts, keys, and many locked doors. 

It's all typical horror game fare; most of it's stuff you've seen in other horror games like Layers of Fear and Remothered. In and of itself, the horror found here is decent at worst and scary at best.

It's just that key mechanics and a hefty amount of bugs make progress slow and enjoyment difficult. 

Struggling Progress

The entire first part of the game can take you far longer than you'll probably want it to -- and longer than should be allowed. Because this is a puzzle game, you already know you have to discover several clues hidden throughout the house to move forward. That's a given. And because it's a horror-puzzle game, you're also being hunted by demons and wicked spirits as you search for clues and solutions.

However, this is also the biggest snag in the game. Despite the developers crafting setting out to make a non-linear horror experience, several mechanics refuse to function unless the player interacts with or triggers specific events in the house.

An example of this comes immediately after you're given the flashlight. Right after getting it, you'll find a number on a wall written in blood. This is the first combination to a padlock you need to open nearby.

However, you're then forced to search the entire first area for other lock combinations, also using your flashlight to find them written in blood. However, they don't always trigger. I had searched the entire first area only to come up empty. But when I went down a specific hallway and watched a small cutscene, I found I magically had access to the third and final number of the combination.

The frustrating thing was that I needed another number that never appeared. 

I was forced to eventually stand at the padlock, guessing over and over again until the lock finally opened. Invariably, I was killed by the ghost several times in the process, and I had to consistently memorize what combinations I had already used on the lock.

Because of this particular bug, I even restarted the game several times in hopes the fourth combo would appear. It never did. 

At this point, I know what you might be thinking: I'm just bad at both horror games and puzzle games. However, I spoke to a colleague who was also playing the game, and we discovered the fourth code was almost impossible to discover. We found that it could even be bugged, as we both restarted several times and only he was able to find it after several tries. 

Not only do these hard stops get needlessly frustrating, they also make the game needlessly difficult. Since your flashlight is integral to finding puzzle solutions, you're in a race against the clock since there are a limited number of flashlight batteries in the game. 

Because you can only find a certain amount per area, you're often left searching locations over and over again -- and coming up empty handed, shrouded in impenetrable darkness.  

Glitches Galore

Throughout the game I ran into a number of bugs and glitches, from visual issues with the ghost to certain objects blocking my progress. There were times when the ghost would clip through objects and others where I attempted to interact with an object and couldn't until I restarted the game to try again. 

One of the most troublesome involved the ghost and save spots. To save in The Conjuring House, your character must safely enter a warded area, complete with seals, scrolls, skulls, and perfect candlelight. When the character closes the door, the demon cannot enter. Once it wanders away, then you can save.

However, I had saved a game with the demon nearby, patiently waited for it to go away, and confident I could return to my searching. However, I was shocked to see my character get swiftly mauled by the creature and the 'Game Over' screen pop up.

This happened to me several times. When I spawned on a save I knew I was going to die on, I attempted to run past the demon and go to a new save spot. This worked once, but several of these attempts still left my character dead. 

Sputtering Framerate

The Conjuring House is by no means a high-resource game. However, when you get into larger areas beyond the first few hallways of the mansion, the game noticeably starts to struggle.

I noticed this early on while wandering around a well-lit section of the mansion after I had descended a flight of stairs. The tearing was slow and tedious; to make matters worse, the game continued to struggle throughout my entire playthrough despite certain areas being less "intensive".

Things were made worse when the demon finally showed up to chase me. Running away from her as my game attempted to constantly load was painfully difficult to say the least.

In the off chance stuttering and tearing weren't bogging me down, The Conjuring House looks fairly nice and polished.

Light and shadow work together to produce a nice ambiance and atmosphere, while the visuals creepily reinforce the notion that not a single person has lived in the house for decades.

Taking time to stop and appreciate the eerie setting the developers crafted is certainly worthwhile, and the cut scenes appear polished, too.There's little doubt there was love put into this game.

However, love only goes so far when there's a creeping evil constantly breathing down your neck -- and one you can seemingly never escape from. And I'm not necessarily talking about the ghost.  

The Verdict

The Conjuring House tries to aim for something far more than the traditional horror game within the first few minutes. Sadly, these notes mostly fall flat as the game is haunted by a bevy of glitches and problems that exponentially stack up as time goes by.

Despite the developer saying players can take a non-linear path through the game, you'll still have to trigger the correct events in order to progress in many of the game's key moments. This problem makes the game tiresome and more importantly, it quickly erodes the game's horror elements, leaving a sour aftertaste that will linger long after you've stopped playing.

At the time this review, the developers have release a 2.2GB patch, but they did not note what the patch covered or what was fixed in the game.

I'm not sure if I'll ever know. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad I'll never have to return to the Atkinson mansion again.

You can purchase The Conjuring House on Steam for $24.99. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Conjuring House used in this review.]

NBA 2K19 Review: A Facelift Can't Hide the Blemishes Underneath Fri, 21 Sep 2018 10:06:21 -0400 RobertPIngram

With the NBA 2K series getting the nod over its EA rival, NBA Live, the battle for supremacy on the digital hard court has been considered settled law among many gamers.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of accurately translating the game played in arenas around the country onto the screen on your wall, it's simply the superior option.

Unfortunately, as has proven with other sports game rivalries, clear cut genre leaders can lull developers into a sense of complacency, pushing out annual titles but not always earning the entry fee.

King James stands next to a Chicago Bulls player with his arms crossed

For NBA 2K19some changes are readily apparent. The game looks beautiful, and players are rendered more lifelike and recognizable than ever before. That is certainly no small thing with a sports game, but at the end of the day, it ultimately pales in the shadow of the elephant in the room: gameplay.

While 2K remains the preferred option among basketball fans, it's evident the game engine has stagnated in recent years. Although 2K19 attempts to act on the frustration voiced by the community at large, the results for this entry are mixed.

Leading up to its release, a great deal of hype surrounded the changes being made to 19's one-on-one defending game, promising that drives to the lane would not be as easy as in the series' previous edition. By combination of a smarter algorithm for steals and improvements to the collision detection system (where bull-rushes were made harder), defense has been improved.

Defenders who learn how to time their steals will be picking pockets, and players who excel at positioning can shepherd opposing ball handlers into the low-efficiency deserts of the mid-range jumper. Though the changes are seemingly small, they go a long way in swinging the luck vs. skill pendulum significantly toward the latter.

If anything, the complaints from fans in 2K19 may end up being that 2K Games made defending too effective, leading to more frustrating offensive possessions.

A basketball player dives for a ball on the hardwood as another player jumps

The other major addition to 19's gameplay is the implementation of the Takeover system.

Every player in the game falls into a specific archetype based on their position and style of play, and these archetypes have areas of expertise. If playing a created character, you even have the option to lean into one specialization or take on a primary or secondary type.

The more success you have in a player's expert area(s), the more their Takeover gauge will charge. String together enough good plays without making errors to drain the gauge, and their icon will catch fire. While you shouldn't expect half-court dunks or near-perfect shooting like the system's clear NBA Jam inspiration, your player will perform better and access special skills based on their archtype when in Takeover mode.

New Players Beware

With the best representation of real-life basketball in the digital realm, NBA 2K19 provides an outstanding in-game experience for veterans of the series. The engine is still not entirely without its flaws -- transitions are clunky, and at times, the defensive decisions of your NPC teammates can be maddening -- but the overall experience is improved.

The changes to gameplay reward skilled execution, meaning the better player will come out on top more often than not.

On the flip side, the game is not particularly welcoming to new players. The provided 2KU game mode sets out to teach players the complicated controls, but there's only so much that can be done when you put the controller in the hands of a newbie. That's doubly so  when your game prides itself on having tremendous depth and responsiveness.

Even on lower difficulty settings, 2K-novices should expect to have some growing pains as they adjust to the game.

Players stand at the free throw line in NBA 2K19's practice modeMicrotransactions are Coming for Your Money

Microtransactions are a sad reality in most online gaming these days, and 2K Games' has proven particularly fond of the system. The use of microtransactions reached a breaking point with NBA 2K18, where players were faced with the realization that their created characters could look good, or they could play good, but if they wanted to do both, it was going to be pricey.

While the use of microtransactions in NBA 2K19 is an improvement, that's a low hurdle to clear. And it's apparent 2K Games didn't have a lot of interest in doing much more than barely clearing it.

Where 2K really insults its fans is the importance of VC in your MyCareer mode. The starting attributes for your created player are terrible, and while you will earn VC with every game you play, the graduating costs of each upgrade and the massive improvement required to be even a decent player mean it's unreasonable to expect to be a competitive player without splashing out some cash.

The problem compounds itself at the completion of the early development phase in China and the G-League, where your created player receives their first NBA contract. If you haven't spent real money on improving your attributes, the contracts on offer will be significantly worse.

Not only will you be starting off less-skilled than a player who spent real money, but the problem will only snowball as you earn fewer VC with each win because of your cheap contract.

Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder from mid court

MyGM Soars, While MyCareer Stutters

In addition to a basic season mode, 2K19 includes two different modes featuring role-playing elements -- and to mixed results.

The MyGM mode is an outstanding bit of front office simulation. It provides one of the most enjoyable experiences of full-scale management in any sports game, not just of the 2K series. The use of goals offers guidance to newer players while providing an additional challenge to veterans, forcing you to win it all in certain ways.

Unfortunately, the MyCareer mode is not as successful. Be-a-Player modes are usually fan favorites, but 2K19's leaves much to be desired.

In addition to the previously mentioned issues with pay-to-win, the narrative's writing leaves a lot to be desired. The main character is an unrepentant jerk to nearly everyone he encounters, which could have been an interesting arc to take if there was more development -- but that development never comes.

For every false dawn, where he appears to realize he's sabotaging himself and being terrible to everyone around him for no good reason, there's a near immediate follow-up where he again reverts to bemoaning that the world is out to get him and nobody has his back.

It gets old very quickly, particularly when paired with the paltry attributes of a non-boosted character, which make him legitimately undeserving of all the opportunities he's furious at being denied.

A player attributes panel in NBA 2K19

Online Play Off to Promising Start

It's difficult to take a strong stance on how online play will shake up in the early stages of a game's release. At the time of this review, only 18 players have even reached the fourth-highest tier of online play.

With that said, the structure of matchmaking relies on a tried-and-true method, which has tended to lead to fair and balanced play. Every 10 games played counts as a season, at the end of which your results can see you moved up or down a level.

When opting to start up an online match, not only will you receive an opponent from the same level as you, but the NBA teams are also divided into three tiers, with the servers attempting to also pair you with an NBA team of the same tier. This means if like me, you're a fan of a team who could charitably be described as "not super great," as the Hornets, you can freely choose them online without being demolished by an endless stream of Warriors opposition.

Final Verdict

NBA 2K19 is far from a bad game -- by any stretch of the word. Once you get your feet under you and get the motor running, it provides fun gameplay and enough variety to keep you interested as you play.

Unfortunately, it is not a game without its flaws, either. From play-to-win issues to those moments of frustration when the engine suddenly sputters, there are just enough annoyances to mar the overall experience.

If you're in the habit of always buying the newest 2K game, then you won't be disappointed with the latest effort. But if you're just looking for a game to play around on from time to time, you'd be better served to check out the used game rack and finding an edition two or three years back for next to nothing.

[Note: A review copy of NBA 2K19 was provided y the developer for this review.]

Frostpunk: The Fall of Winterhome DLC Review Thu, 20 Sep 2018 10:31:42 -0400 Sergey_3847

If you already own Frostpunk, you now have access to a new, free scenario: The Fall of Winterhome. This free expansion tells the story of the Winterhome settlement that preceded the events of New London in the game's main campaign. It gives you the chance to restore the ruined city amidst a literal frozen hell.

Unlike Frostpunk's main campaign, every extra scenario has thrown you right into the thick of things with some of the developments already unlocked. The Fall of Winterhome is no exception -- it gives you a lot to work with from the very beginning. 

First, we'll talk about what's new in the DLC, the we'll take a look at what you're faced with when you start and how the expansion fares compared to the base game. 

New Map and Gameplay Mechanics

A bright circular settlement sits in a valley between snow covered mountains

11 bit studios created a brand new map for the Winterhome scenario. It looks a lot like the endgame of the main story. There are a lot of structures ready with streets, a beacon, and several outposts. 

As would be expected from any DLC, there will also be new structures to build as well.

One of them is the Repair Station. This can be built to repair the main generator, and it is also the place where engineers fix any malfunctioning equipment in the city. Since one of Winterhome's new additions forces you generator to lose power and range over time, the Repair Station is the biggest addition in the DLC. 

Another new addition is the Evacuation Center. This new structure can be built for emergency situations, allowing people and food to be moved to the dreadnought. However, it's not as important as the robust Repair Station. 

Of course, there are a few other smaller tweaks to the gameplay, but those are mainly bug fixes from the original game.

Restoring the City of Winterhome

A Fall of Winterhome splash screen shows man, woman, child sitting by fire

When you begin the DLC, the city of Winterhome is in ruins. Many of its buildings are badly damaged, hope levels are low, and discontent is high. You're immediately thrust into a situation where you're responsible for hundred of the sick and dying.

Thankfully, some laws and technologies have been developed prior to your arrival, so you won't be starting from scratch. Food storage is full, and although you have to start the generator, the coal storage is full as well. 

You'll also find your population consists of

  • 300 adults
  • About 200 children
  • 50 engineers

That means there is also no need to attract new settlers, so you can focus all of your attention on removing old buildings and setting up new ones. 

However, don't let that lull you into a sense of complacency. Taking action from the get-go is a must. Why? Because unchecked sickness will quickly kill the settlement, so building new medical posts and infirmaries is a necessity early on. 

Overlooking a snow-covered city with management menus overlaid in gameplay

Your settlement also receives help from the outside; an outpost that doubles as a coal mine will come to your aid, transferring an additional 800 coal once a day to your storage.

Besides the coal mine, you can send scouts to check out one of the Dreadnoughts that brought you to the area, or you can send a squad to learn everything about the nearby Weather Station, which will help you predict and survive the most unbearable weather conditions.

As the city of Winterhome increases its hope and things get warmer, the ice starts melting. As a result, the rotten bodies of  dead workers come to the surface, quickly increasing discontent among the living.

However, this is only the beginning of your troubles. 

With so many things in the progress queue The Fall of Winterhome DLC gets overwhelming quite fast. The developers obviously made the DLC with a clear purpose to make the gameplay more aggressive.

The heating screen of Winterhome's technology screen with upgrades

New events pop up constantly, reminding you that there is no time for rest. You could be focused on building new structures or repairing old ones, but then something happens: an injury, frostbite, or death. 

Unlike the main story, where you could gradually develop and better focus on the needs of the people, in Winterhome, you have to multitask like crazy, without a single moment of relief.

This approach really turns the new DLC into a rollercoaster ride, which many players may not survive.

Final Thoughts on The Fall of Winterhome DLC

This expansion is definitely not recommended for beginners. It's not made to introduce new players to the game, but instead put veteran players into more complex scenarios. You'll have to apply all of your knowledge and experience from the base game to survive this DLC.

The content The Fall of Winterhome is even harder in Survival mode, and for most, it will be impossible to play.

Things move really fast in Winterhome. Couple that with discontent that rises very quickly, and you're in for a harrowing experience. 

Catastrophes can happen at any point in the game, completely devastating your settlement. In fact, you can lose hours upon hours of gameplay.

But that's the type of challenge Frostpunk fans are looking for. And in this regard, The Fall of Winterhome fulfills the demand in full force.

[Note: A copy of Frostpunk was provided by 11 bit studios for the purpose of this review.]

Megaquarium: Joyous Fun in a Straightforward Management Simulator Tue, 18 Sep 2018 12:21:36 -0400 Zack Palm

Whenever you sit down to enjoy a majority of management simulators, you're expected to handle various different pop-ups jumping up at you to gain your attention, you're expected to notice small problems in your facility and address them accordingly, and the developers want you to handle every detail with the accuracy of an overhanging god. The developers behind Megaquarium threw away this mindset and instead hand you a wonderful simulator so you can sit back, relax, and take pride in the joy you bring to crafting a lovely aquarium for every member of the family to enjoy.

Though Megaquarium may seem overly simple, there's plenty the game brings to your attention in a great manner without making you feel like you have to micro-manage every detail of every day as you run your ideal aquarium.

We All Start Here

The game's story is loose, but it keeps you engaged as a player. You start beginning to learn how to run your own aquarium, discovering what the needs of your fish are and what they require to stay alive. There's a lot more going on than you expect! However, you don't have to manage too much of it, only make it available for your staff to access, and they do the rest.

The game introduces you to the requirements of each tank, as they need proper water filters and heat filters to survive in a suitable environment. This becomes easy management, at first, until the game starts to throw at you various species that need different things beyond this -- some require the proper amount of vegetation living their tank, or the right amount of hiding spaces to survive; fish need their privacy if they're ready to get adored by humans. Each tank provides space for a certain amount of fish, and each species of fish takes up a certain amount of space. 

This concept becomes a bit more complicated due to some species growing even larger after a set number of days. You either prepare for this by having space for more filters or heaters to accommodate the bigger fish, or have an empty enough tank for them to room. You also have to watch out for their tank-mates -- as they may eat smaller fish if they grow too big.

Are you following all of these minor details?

While it may seem insane at first, Megaquarium breaks all of these concepts down in simple, easy-to-follow levels that make you handle them one by one. None of these issues or problems are brought up without a thorough explanation, which makes this game a fun experience to behold as you can almost never feel left behind, unless you jump straight into the sandbox menu.

Breaking Out

The game's campaign takes a while to break you out of its training wheels, but when it does you'll have a wide-wealth of skills at your disposal. You'll learn how to build tanks in the middle of a floor and have the equipment away from the audience's eye, how to make it look natural against the wall of your establishment, and how to provide the best reading material for your audience without letting them look at it for free. There's balance to knowing how to build your aquarium, but it's entirely up to you.

The campaign's levels give you a good breadth of what to expect when you craft your own building, but don't expect any handouts -- expect for the optional missions that pop up to give you a small leading hand while you handle the main mission of managing your revenue and your prestige. The more prestige you have, the more ranks of fame your aquarium has, which means the wider diversity of fish and buildings you can incorporate into your personal choices. These pieces of research take time, as they you need aquarium points in ecology and science to build. You can only add these up based on the types of animals you have in your establish. 

Thankfully, the wonderful break downs make it easy for you to see what you're earning and what you need to work on. You can even see which fish are the most popular, and this changes based on where they're located in your aquarium.

The Beautiful Data

Don't fret if you believe you're going to spend half of your time in game staring at a menu, reading numerous numbers. This part distinctly tells you the information you need to know, and then you can freely move on to use that date to improve your park.

It's that simple!

On the lower left hand of the screen you pull up how much money you make in a day based on the tickets you sell. While you can change how much the tickets cost, you can see the increase of how many tickets are purchased based on the attractions you've added to your establishment. You can't strictly see this information, but it becomes obvious as you add more exhibits and add more places for people to visit. I found myself waiting a few days for the audience members to do their rounds, view what they wanted, and then move on, before I felt safe in adding a new attraction. 

One thing that was really nice about this game was I never felt a distinct pressure about crafting a new area. Some management games hurt or encouraged me to build a new station, and when they hurt me I felt the repercussions for several days as I attempted to cover the losses. You don't get that in this game. You can have bad things happen to your tanks, such as a bigger fish eating a smaller fish or a predator eating a prey, but other than that, there's no big consequence to adding a new tank to your facility to increase revenue or prestige to build your location even further. 

You do have to look out for the fact you may build too many tanks for a similar species. The more diverse species you have in an aquarium, the happier your audience is as they don't have the see the same thing over and over again. When you watch out for that, the minor attractions like food, drink, and restroom facilities, you're basically golden to sit back and enjoy the numbers going up, and up in this game.

Difficult To Produce Errors

One thing I never felt while running my little aquarium was a sense of fear. I never feared I would run out of money, I would simply need to wait a day or two for income to arrive and I could purchase the items I needed. I never felt the information the game gave me was insufficient to where I would accidentally house fish together that could eat each other. While it did happen, it was never a learning experience, it was always presented to me.

This is the one thing Megaquarium doesn't seem to present players: a sense of worry or doubt in themselves in what they build. There's plenty of brakes given to the player to ensure they build at a gradual rate without going too overboard. I never went into the red and never ran into money issues or felt I needed to fire an employee to ensure the lights stayed on.

Though, this isn't a huge issue. For those who want a simple, relaxing simulation game to play without feeling the need to constantly fixate over charts, this makes for an excellent experience. There's nothing wrong with this, but it feels like a missed opportunity for players to feel the weight of having to own a struggling business.

The Result

Megaquarium invites you to have a good time learning how to run your own aquarium with the various different mechanics going on in its game. You learn plenty, and when you the spend the time getting to know what you need to do to run your own establishment, everything falls into place -- don't ever feel too pressured!

Though this game doesn't offer too much pressure, that's not the point. You're meant to relax while you build your favorite aquarium and provide pure joy for everyone who walks through your days to view your exhibits. Only remember to watch what species you put together and what you show off, as too much of a good thing is not a good sight for others to behold!

Marvel's Spider-Man Review: Simply Amazing Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:22:22 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

There's a well-worn cliche that shows up in most reviews of superhero video games: it claims that a certain game really "makes you feel like a superhero".

It's a crutch used to simplify the process of explaining how the physics, controls, camera angles, and atmosphere blend together to give the player a sense of power, speed, or control.

The issue is that nobody actually knows what it feels like to be Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, or any other superhero, so we as players don't have anything to compare that feeling to. Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 doesn't actually make you feel like Spider-Man.

Here's a list of things that Spider-Man for the PS4 does feel like:

  • Jumping in an upward-bound elevator right as it's about to stop
  • The moment on a roller-coaster where you crest a hill and are weightless before hurtling downwards
  • Sledding
  • Watching a new Marvel movie
  • Trying not to wake your roommate up at 3:00 a.m. as you steal handfuls of the shredded cheese they were saving for breakfast quesadillas
  • Playing a fighting game in practice mode
  • A really good high five


Spiderman shoots his web in the rain in Marvel's Spider-Man

The first question in a review of any Spider-Man game is this: does the swinging feel good? 

In Spider-Man for the PS4, the answer is a resounding YES. The designers at Insomniac did a great job not just with the physics of web-slinging, but with the design as well. The wind whips past your ears differently based on whether you're zipping along rooftops, hurtling toward the ground, or running up a wall.

The visual effects change too, with the camera assuming a cinematic, high-action angle right behind Spidey's head during high-speed dives, complete with some of the best motion blur I've ever seen in a video game.

What this means is that even if the game had a sub-par story and combat, flying around Spider-Man's faithful depiction of New York City would be a joy in its own right. Since web-swinging is different based on the specific buildings and surfaces that you're swinging from, Manhattan becomes a playground, allowing you to breezily scale skyscrapers and skim across the lush landscape of Central Park without missing a beat. Each of the areas in the game offers distinct movement options, and it's all exhilarating. 

The combat takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get to grips with it, it's insanely satisfying. You're not likely to find a lot of challenge here if you just want to cheese your way through the game, but for the more creative-minded players, the feeling of uppercutting a baddie into mid-air, webbing them up, swing-kicking them into a wall so hard they stick there, and then hurricanrana-ing a second baddie into the pavement is more than worth the added difficulty spike that comes from refusing to just mash square and triangle.

So, yes, Spider-Man's combat isn't technically all that deep since there's no real reason to dig into it that much, but the game's combat mechanics stack in a way that bears mentioning.

Spiderman kicks a large thug in the chest on top of a skyscraper

The game says "yes" to you at every turn with the combat. Want to stick a web trap to somebody, then lure another person over in order to stick them together before electrocuting them all? Go for it! Perhaps you're more comfortable sneaking around, hanging goons up light posts like horrifying pinatas? Why not? 

As you level up, you'll also unlock abilities that further encourage experimentation, from increasing the potency of your web shooters, to impact webs that hurl enemies back, to the ability to swing huge enemies around like a wrecking ball. Again, none of this is necessary, but you're really missing out on a lot of the fun of the game if you don't take advantage of these tools.

The only drawback here is that the side missions don't really take advantage of the game's flawless design.

Race type missions aren't unlocked until you're most of the way through the game, and even then, they're not races so much as they are chases.

Combat missions don't really reward you for getting creative with your fighting, either. It's a bit perplexing since it really seems like the game is working against itself. Maybe this problem will be fixed with some DLC down the line, but for now, it is what it is.

Another baffling gameplay choice is the fact that, for whatever reason, Insomniac really wanted half the story missions to be stealth-focused. When news broke that the player would step into the roles of Mary Jane Watson as an investigative reporter and Miles Morales before he got his powers, I doubt most people thought that their segments of the game would simply be dollar-store Metal Gear Solid knockoff lure-the-guard-away-and-run-forward missions.

It's really disappointing, especially since it would have been an absolute slam dunk had Insomniac broken up the rhythm of the game with a few L.A. Noire-styled investigative missions starring Mary Jane.

It just seems like a huge missed opportunity, especially when you're giving these fan-favorite characters the spotlight.


Spiderman jumps to punch a bad guy in the face in a warehouse

Spider-Man won't win any awards for its story, and you'll likely see all of the twists and turns coming a mile away.

The bigger issue with the story, however, is that it seems somehow unstuck in time. The game tries to draw parallels between the New York Spider-Man calls home and our own, quipping about a "fascist" para-military force while at the same time spin-kicking drug dealers off of a building because the police tell him to.

It's just a bit... dissonant to have a rebellious vigilante like Spider-Man pretty much acting like a cop the whole game. Kinda ruins the fantasy.

Other than that, you'll get pretty much everything you want to out of the story. The big bads don't show up until very late in the game, but that can be forgiven since the first 80% is meticulously designed for you to kind of mess around in the city finding collectibles and completing challenges.

This odd pacing may be a dealbreaker for some, but personally, I had so much fun blasting around Manhattan that I didn't mind.


The one aspect that brings everything together in Spider-Man is the visual and auditory design. If you've seen any of the Avengers movies, you'll be blown away by how reminiscent this game is of them, from the camera angles, to the gratuitous use of slow motion, to the orchestral score that swells and ebbs with the on-screen action. 

The game doesn't skimp on collectibles either. From backpacks that each carry easter eggs that will be familiar to fans of the comic books, to secret graffiti featuring Spider-Man characters, to literal pigeons you have to chase down, scouring the map for all of these little goodies is a whole lot of fun.

Oh, and speaking of graffiti, the street art in this game really does bear mentioning. There are hundreds of murals in Spider-Man's Manhattan, with varying art styles and subjects. It seems like such a small detail, but the fact that the street art is vibrant and not just a slapdash copy and paste job really makes the city feel so much more alive and lived in.


These are the factors that suck you into a game, that cause you to put down the controller, look at the clock, and realize that you were supposed to meet your best friend for dinner three hours ago... yesterday. 

All told, this game really is a masterpiece, one of the few games you'll want to complete 100% even if that's the kind of thing you hate doing.

It's the best Spider-Man game ever made (yes, it's better than Spider-Man 2), and despite some head-scratching flaws, possibly the best superhero game ever made.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have three more pigeons to catch, four more Taskmaster challenges to complete, four more landmarks to photograph, and 11 more backpacks to find. 

Bright, Button-Mashing FUN - ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS Review Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:15:51 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Despite being a remaster of a remake of a mid-2000s Japanese console game, Konami’s ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: M∀RS is no Final Fantasy VII - you can still rattle the entire name off and be met with a blank “huh?” from your oh-so-knowledgeable gamer crew.

From the first, the Hideo Kojima-created ZOE franchise has always been somewhat niche in North America in spite of fairly decent sale. Although in that niche, it has managed to grow into something of a cult classic, you'll be hard-pressed to find a ZOE fan just walking around. 

Even so, ZOE is more expansive than you might think. The franchise includes two titles originally released on the PlayStation 2, a Game Boy Advance side story that was released in between 1 & 2, an animated OVA prequel and 26-episode anime. A ZOE 3 has been in the works since 2008, but the only announcement since was in 2012 when Kojima confirmed that work on this title had finally begun.

Beautiful cel-shaded cinematics and in-game graphics, expansive environments, enormously satisfying giant robot combat (although perhaps not necessarily the 90s style over-the-top English dubbed anime cinematics) give this game a character that appeals to a number of die-hard fans that insist on its superiority as a mecha game over any and all Gundam titles that came before and after.

(Note: No alternate audio languages available, unfortunately, so you're stuck with the dub on this one. It's been one of the biggest complaints from most longtime fans.)

For those new to the series (and there are many), rest assured - if you haven’t touched these games before, you won’t need to start from the beginning in order to pick up on what’s going on.

While ZOE 2 expands on the universe of its predecessor and refers back to it now and again, ZOE 2 keeps the storyline centered on the doings of new pilot Dingo Egret (yes, really) in the original Orbital Frame JEHUTY from ZOE 1 against his nemesis Nohman who pilots sister model ANUBIS.

Set two years after the events of the original ZOE, protagonist Dingo is working as a miner on Callisto hunting for Metatron ore (used to power/create Orbital Frames) and stumbles upon the hidden JEHUTY. When the facility is attacked by the despotic BAHRAM military organization, he pits himself against their forces, infiltrating their battleship, but ultimately is defeated by Nohman, piloting the ANUBIS.

When Dingo refuses to join their cause, Nohman shoots him. Left for dead, he is rescued by an undercover agent who revives him and places him back inside the JEHUTY frame as both a life support system and a way of escape. In it, he stands as the last hope for the planets against BAHRAM's robotic takeover. 

The mechanics of the game are simpler than what came before in ZOE 1, concentrating on mecha battles pretty much exclusively. This includes facing off against a number of different enemy types which take different weapons and attacks to fight efficiently.

Spacing matters - and part of the gameplay's elegance comes from figuring out how to position yourself in cramped hallways or open space and how to distance yourself depending on the enemy, melee sword combat or laser guns.

There are a lot of weapons open to you as you pilot JEHUTY, and that number only grows as you progress and unlock new sub-weapons from boss kills, besides the environmental items that you can pick up and use as weapons as well. Some players found this complicated, but for the most part, the weapons are fairly straightforward - and switching between caused me fewer headaches than trying to do the same in, say, Monster Hunter: World.

(There have been some improvements made for weapon switching between the original game and this version, perhaps therein lies the difference.)


The original game in 2003 was re-released in a two-game set in 2012 as an HD Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360 with updated graphics and art, better interfaces, new trophies/achievements, right analog stick and rumble support, and improved audio. The company toyed with the idea of releasing it on the PS Vita as well but soon scrapped that plan. It did okay.. mostly because there didn't seem like enough extra content to make the new collection worthwhile, and ran into frame rate issues on the new platforms that it never had on the original. These were fixed later on the PS3 but not on the Xbox 360.

You can see a similar upjump for 2018’s MARS: enhanced graphics and 4k resolution support, new sound design and surround sound support, and a few new features like Very Easy difficulty, training modules, and versus mode where you can 1v1 against other players or a bot (future-proofing this feature for the inevitability of a shrinking online player base in later years).

VR Mode

The shining star of this release, however, is the brand new VR content. Fully playable in first person VR (although all cinematics you experience in theater mode not quite in first person), this mode brings you front and center into all the action and in combat can make you feel like you're really piloting a giant death machine. 

(Note: I don't actually own a VR headset and this review was written while played in third person so it's been supplemented with a lot of YouTube/Twitch streams.)

ZOE 2 was originally made to be a third-person mecha fighter, however, and the switch to third person will close off a large portion of the surrounding environments as your visuals keep you squarely in the JEHUTY cockpit (you do get a 3D figure of the mecha in motion on your console to help gauge movement.)

I do recommend that you play at least some of the game without the VR headset to get the hang of the gameplay as it was initially meant to be played - it's a lot more difficult to figure out how to space yourself properly in battle when played in first-person VR.

It is however, such a large part of why this remake exists, that I also feel like you'd be missing out if you never strapped on a headset either.

Worth it?

ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS doesn't pretend to be anything more than it was - and the price tag reflects that at $39.99 CAD. The first person virtual reality support is really cool-looking and an excellent addition, but it doesn't promise to transform the game any more than the 4K resolution support.

It does provide an excellent way for old fans to revisit an old classic in a brand new way, with possibly just enough shiny new features to lure new fans in. The game isn't very long, and its runtime is pumped up with somewhat dated anime cutscenes that, for me at least, didn't add a great deal to my enjoyment of the game but did allow it to unfold as a real game rather than a blander sort of progression through different mecha fights.

If you play on the PC version, the game demonstrates the usual lack of care for keyboard/mouse control that many console ports do - namely that you're not allowed the luxury of key rebinds. Furthermore, only through tutorial help and trial and error do you actually get to really figure out how to work your controls (another reason I advise at least starting out without VR). Control-wise, it's a little wonky, so players may prefer to use a controller to play this comfortably. 

Otherwise, it's a fun button-mashing romp in space, with all the bright, splashy attack colors I could wish for. As a VR title, it's excellent (I've played my fair share of other titles in VR that bored me all too quickly once the novelty wore off), and made me seriously consider a VR headset for myself. It is perhaps the most generous and non-gimmicky VR experience I have seen a game offer to date.

15 years after the original was released, this may be exactly what this game needed to finally get its chance to shine. 

NHL 19 Review: Not Doing Much New Fri, 14 Sep 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Charles Blades

Last year, the Vegas Knights were a new hot shot team in the NHL. They took the momentum from a city that has long been one of the biggest markets without a major sports franchise and turned it into a playoff run that nearly ended in lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. This year, the Knights are not only projected to return to the post season, but make another serious title run.

However, as with all shock-the-world runs, the Knights are liable to fall into the trap of the sophomore slump. Which is to take what was once a promising opportunity at greatness, and see that chance slip away.

This is the most telling analogy to describe my feelings on what I think EA’s NHL series is falling into, just a year out from one of its most challenging entries in the series to date.

While it’s not uncommon for a lot of sports titles to remain similar from year to year, the lack of innovation from last year’s installment in NHL 19 is astounding for a full-priced sequel.

The two biggest changes come in the form of the introduction of a new mode called the World of CHEL, as well as some minor on-ice gameplay changes. Both of these left me underwhelmed and feeling as though this edition of NHL is one of the most poorly updated installments in the franchise

To start, the World of CHEL is the premier mode of NHL 19, and it is being marketed as the progression of the fan-favorite mode EASHL. This mode essentially boils down to the subsets of various other online My Player Modes in other sports games -- except it's stripped back and put into a hockey rink.

The mode sees you progressing your player’s attributes through numerous modes, from offline Pro/Am tournaments to online matches. Game types such as 1v1v1 do break up the rather standard experience, although the online modes (which I was unable to really dive into pre-release) are where this mode is going to live and die.

What worries me about that fact is that a lot of the customization aspects of the mode are locked away behind loot boxes. This, of course, includes various cosmetic changes that provide a lot of the mode's depth. It also affects classes, traits, and specialties that all have real impact on the on-ice action.

As of now, an EA representative talking to Polygon said that it is, “only possible to earn World of CHEL gear by playing the mode.” However, it can’t help but feel like this is a slow erosion of one thing that that NHL series has had to hang its hat on over other sports franchises. The lack of predatory monetization efforts.

While it can be forgiven in a way, to lock cosmetics behind loot boxes as a way to fund active development of an online game as a service, putting player progression and real-game, impactful progression behind loot boxes is a mortal sin. This is the standard in various sports franchises, from NBA 2K to Sony’s The Show, and the rest of EA’s own sports titles.

This doesn’t really get talked about in the traditional gaming media the way it does for say, Star Wars Battlefront 2 or Shadow of War. So year after year, these manipulative practices fly pretty much under the radar while EA and other companies make boat loads selling loot boxes to teenagers.

However, just because sports games aren’t in the traditional “gamers” repertoire doesn’t mean that these exploitative practices should be given a pass.

In addition to this looming and problematic factor for NHL 19's flagship mode, the lack of a true story mode has gone from a small oversight in 2016 to a downright problem in today’s sports game landscape. With every sports title under the sun from Madden to FIFA containing some semblance of a story mode, the lack of its inclusion here is incredibly shortsighted.

In 2018, this is the sports game equivalent of not including a battle royale mode in a shooter. While EA Canada certainly sees the smallest return on its investment on the NHL series, with the sport being the least popular worldwide, it’s no excuse not to invest the extra resources it would take to even put in a passable story mode. This is especially true when EA is clearly setting up more monetization features into a game that, while it has had them in previous years, was one of the least exploitative in the sports game genre.


On to the at least something semi-positive, back from last year is the NHL Three’s mode. While not updated in any noticeable way from last year, it is still a blast in local co-op. The nonstop action of 3v3 hockey is undoubtedly fun and adds a level of play that people (maybe) unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game might still find fun and enjoy.

With mascots taking the ice as well as fire and ice pucks hurtling toward the net, it’s quiet a unique mode that I wish, in lieu of a story mode, EA had put more effort into. However, the almost NBA Street Vol. 2 campaign of clearing out different cities and unlocking new players is rewarding enough to want to want to play the mode outside of online matches.

The one area in which the simplicity of the game plays to its benefit is the game's Seasons mode. Like it sounds, this mode allows you to play through an NHL season with your favorite team. While on one hand this might seem like a simple thing to do, the fact that EA keeps this away from the franchise mode is a nice streamlined choice for those of us who don't want to deal with setting ticket prices before we go out on the ice.

On the other hand, if you are the type of player who prefers to decide just how much your team is going to spend in free agency this year, and micromanage every element of running an NHL franchise, this is going to be great for you. 

The addition of outdoor hockey rinks is a welcomed new aspect to the game, as well. With hockey struggling a bit for popularity in the modern sports world, the Winter Classic game is always one that brings out the best in NHL fandom. It’s a fantastic throwback to young kids skating on frozen ponds, and it brings a sense of youth and innocence into the game. While you can’t quite play in notable Winter Classic locations such as The Big House or Wrigley Field, the inclusion of the customization option is a welcomed advancement that is lacking in the department generally. 

All in all, NHL 19 isn’t an abhorrent game. All the modes work well enough that it feels like a hockey game that, while not too much improved from last year, is good enough to stand on its own feet. The increasing spotlight being put onto a mode that at any moment could be turned into an exploitative, micro-transaction filled machine worries me, but it’s not enough for me to strip away that passable grade that NHL 19 probably deserves.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of NHL 19 used for this review.]

Senran Kagura Reflexions Review: Senran-Lite Thu, 13 Sep 2018 13:28:24 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Let's not pretend the Senran Kagura games are high art: you play the games for the boobs. I also play the games for the boobs. You know what you're getting into when you buy a Senran Kagura game, is what I'm saying.

The big draw to this series is the fanservice -- oppai here, oppai there, oppai everywhere! Somehow Senrans have found their way to several platforms over the past few years, from PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS to PC and Nintendo Switch.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is not a game for a new wave of players, but it's more a toybox for already-acclimated fans who want to spend time with their favorite girls. Out of its digital box, Reflexions allows you to practice massage and spend time with series headliner Asuka.

Yeah, the above paragraph is kind of weird. This is a fanservice game, which can mean a few things within the anime community. Sometimes it means simply something for fans of a series to enjoy, and other times it means it's explicitly erotic without showing sex (or outright nudity; this definition is also called "ecchi").

In the case of Reflexions, "fanservice" retains both its definitions. It's pretty much only for fans of certain girls, and it's pretty much all ecchi content. This is not a game you buy for the gameplay.

Your time in Senran Kagura Reflexions is spent massaging Asuka in three phases. In the first, you massage her hands. In the second, you massage her body. In the third, you use one of a handful of tools for a deeper massage. Between each phase, she talks to you about the dream scenario you're in or her training a la' a visual novel.

There's not much to it. Her interactions with you adjust a bit between each phase based on how you just finished massaging her. In the Standard Reflexology ~Body~ phase, this is most easily directly affected as each action you perform can give one one of five feelings that will carry over into the next phase. It is very simple and easy to understand once you get to it.

When you finish the game -- which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes -- you unlock new accessories to dress Asuka in and pose or freely massage. Dressing the girls up and posing them is a series past-time this entry couldn't afford to miss out on.

If this all sounds bad, it's time to check out from this review. If it sounds decent, it's time to get to the real meat of it.

Ecchi, at your service

The things I was excited for in Senran Kagura Reflexions were the supposedly unique controller vibrations the Nintendo Switch Joy Cons were supposed to have with this game. You're supposed to feel the jiggles. That's very tempting. Regrettably, I would not say I "felt the jiggles".

There's a lot of rumble in the jungle but don't let that push you into a buy if think it's going to feel like your holding your favorite Senran's hand. It's not going to. I'm sorry.

The last of the three phases is the most ecchi of them by a few miles.

The first one focuses on her hands, which (for me) is a big "whatever." The second is squeezing, caressing, or spraying water on her to affect her mood; this phase takes the longest, but is another "whatever." This one is best in Mini-Reflexology mode where she wears your chosen outfits.

The third is the one where it gets real weird. You can use one of a handful of massage tools -- from your hands to a brush or even an ultimate massager.

This is easily the most ecchi of the phases, but it's also the only one that actually has active gameplay. The motion controls are best for this phase but are significantly more cumbersome than just pressing the buttons. The motion controls are for dedicated fans only! At least, they're the only ones I can imagine using them the whole way through.

Among the 3D ecchi are a few visual novel-style CGs. These are few and far between, but I find them more satisfying than petting Asuka's arm with a brush.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is ultimately not much more than a toybox for fans of the series who want to get more up close and personal with a handful of Senrans. It's nothing more and it's nothing less -- the pool of girls and overall reflexology activities you can participate in are both very shallow.

As mentioned earlier, Reflexions only comes with Asuka to start. That's fair considering the $9.99 price tag, but there is no way to get out of buying Asuka (my second-least favorite girl).

Further characters to be added as DLC are Yumi, Murasaki, Ryouna, and Yomi. Each girl costs an additional $9.99 to practice reflexology with, with Yumi being the first available DLC today. Yomi, Murasaki, and Ryouna will be released in the coming weeks.

I can appreciate a good ecchi game but the lack of character and gameplay variety in Reflexions sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone not a massive fan of the five girls, and additional characters being $9.99 each only makes that sting a little more.

This is a discount game in price and content, and is by no means the high point of the SK series. If you want an ecchi game on console, go with a different Senran Kagura game like Estival Versus or Peach Beach Splash. There's even SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy out now, and that's a fanservice fighter.

If you're a superfan of one of the five girls mentioned, you'll probably want to pick Senran Kagura Reflexions up just to interact with them in a more direct manner than the series usually has available. I'll no doubt be buying Ryouna on release day, but only because she is of my particular tastes; otherwise this is an entirely forgettable entry to a series that is best known for it's big boobs and nutty scenarios. It's got the honkers, but they're not varied enough that i would recommend a purchase unless you really really want to get up close and personal with Asuka's thighs.

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


Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers -- Shinobi Dreams and Jutsu Wishes Wed, 12 Sep 2018 14:03:07 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

The Naruto franchise is without question very popular. It has created a lore-rich world and introduced us to a multitude of compelling characters. Not only has the anime been highly successful, but so have the games based on it. With the latest, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on major console and PC, that trend mostly continues. 

Shinobi Strikers is a MOBA of sorts that uses the entire history of the franchise as the backdrop. You play in the present timeline of an adult-village-leader Naruto and his son/the game's titular hero, Boruto. You are thrust into a worldwide competition among other ninjas where you'll compete online to get stronger and be the best shinobi. So this game a new Naruto game actually fun? Find out in our review below.

Entering The World Wide Web of Shinobi

If you've ever wondered what you'd look like in the world of Naruto, fret not. One of the game's more interesting aspects is its character creation mode. You'll be able to dial in your height, body type, starting village, and more, as well as choose your gender in what can be described as a pretty robust editor.

As a person of color myself, I really do appreciate games with a solid character reaction. Strikers has an assortment of skin tones you choose from. It's an extra touch of inclusion that makes you feel good.

You could spend a good amount of time creating yourself in-game, and a lot of players certainly will. For those who are big fans of customization, this mode lets them differentiate themselves in an already grossly established world -- not to mention show their swag when taking on other players. 

In the beginning, options are limited, but as you play, more and more options will become available. One of the main draws of Shinobi Strikers is content (more on that later), but here, you can unlock so many clothing options the more you play that things can get overwhelmed. Every accessory, tattoo, and piece of clothing you've ever seen in Naruto is unlockable, adding a sense of real uniqueness to Shinobi Strikers

Tailoring Your Ninja's Arsenal 

After creating your avatar, you can assign yourself a particular fighting style. Within those fighting styles, characters can use signature moves straight from the series. For example, I have a character that's literally a clone of Rock Lee. Essentially, he uses powerful hand-to-hand combat and fast movements. With time, you can eventually have a ninja that can fight exactly like Sasuke or Naruto himself.

Each of the game's missions (which we'll talk about below) rewards you and provides drops to increase your repertoire of techniques (jutsus). There's a lot jutsu available in the world to find and use, so you don't have to lock into anyone particular playstyle or fighting style if you don't want to, adding even more creative options to the game. 

Aside from techniques, players are also able to use a plethora of weapons in Shinobi Strikers. You can charge into battle with a giant broad sword, samurai blade, or a simple kunai. That's just the tip of the ostensible iceberg, with dozens and dozens of other options available. 

Clash with your Heart's Content

Battle (ranked, unranked matches) comes in the form of 4 on 4 battles. 8 players (2 randomly selected teams) fight it out within random chosen arenas of various sizes and designs. Now, consider the fact you can run anywhere on a map. Whether you're upside down a giant tree branch, or along side a mountain cliff, you can fight anywhere as well.

Like most brawlers, you can use light attacks and heavy attacks. Light attacks allow quick attacks that can interrupt actions. Heavy attacks, are slower but they can knock down enemies on impact. You can also defend, dodge and parry as well. You'll definitely need experience to become both defensively and offensively efficient. 

Fighting is definitely a visual treat. From your weapons, special moves, and fighting styles battles often look like a scene plucked from the anime -- but there is a minor downside to that.

When the eight of you are fighting close to one another and using a bunch of flashy moves, the game can experience a few frame rate drops here or there. It doesn't break the immersion but it's noticeable at times. 

As this is a MOBA, you and your team can communicate via in-game chat. This coordination can certainly help you win. I personally never used it and had no issues wining with a plethora of teams. You can actually communicate pretty well with in game gestures and expressions available to anyone. Objectives are made very clear by the game itself so  

Battle does varies from degree to degree with each match. Your team may encounter an easy series of wins over weaker teams. Or you could find yourself losing back to back from much stronger teams. The reason being is that matchmaking isn't so great, yet. Now when you do fight enemies closer to your rank and level, battle is a bit more fair. 

Fighting All of Ninja History 

When you start the game, you'll be introduced to a brief tutorial that helps you get familiarized with the game's hub area. After learning the ropes, you'll then be introduced to online matches, which are either ranked or random. 

You can spend hours trying to increase your rank to climb the leaderboards if that's your thing. However, you can also take part in ranked missions, of which the game has plenty.

These missions are separate from your battle rankings and leaderboards. These missions are for your solo career as a ninja but you can join players on a tone. With each rank you have a number of missions available to you. They are unlocked by fulfilling requests from NPCs and so forth.

From capture the flag, collectathons, and bouts against major characters, the choices are plentiful. Shinobi Strikers is built to be what I call a good weekend time-sink; whether you're able to play for one hour or 24, there's enough to indulge yourself in when you take its modes into consideration. To the game's credit, tackling missions requires little to no commitment, but it also knows that some of us like to grind levels, so it does a great job of bridging that gap. 

However, not all of the experiences of Shinobi Strikers are cherry blossoms. While there's plenty of content for the game, that content is mostly aesthetical. Overall, Shinobi Strikers doesn't leave a lasting impression after you've played it for a few hours. At its core, it feels like a game that you could easily put on the back burner -- especially if you're not into ranked play.  

Another hard-to-miss issue is the game's matching making. When you battle in ranked and random matches, you'll be placed in arenas with players who are many levels higher than you. This creates very-hard-to-win battles because the gap in skills and experience is often very high. It's often frustrating (at best), and you'll likely just opt to play online coop missions instead.

A Conclusion of Our Ninja Adventures

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers is an interesting game for fans. It allows people to play a Naruto game they've been waiting for for ages, a game where you can insert yourself into the world and become your own ninja.

Shinobi Strikers is also a game that mostly respects your time. Being able to jump into the world and tackle missions at your own pace is welcomed in a world that is filled with long-winded games. The title encourages players to play whenever they can, and there are occasional bonuses and campaigns so players can gain more experience, rewards, and more.

To be frank, If you need an enjoyable MOBA or a Naruto game to invest in, I can't recommend Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers enough.

Fans of MOBA and Naruto can play Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers used in this review.]

Marvel's Spider-Man Review: An Exhilarating Thrill-Ride Mon, 10 Sep 2018 11:29:14 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

The second I first started web-swinging in Marvel's Spider-Man, I said to myself, "God, it's been too long."

I've missed swinging around New York, and I've missed playing a good Spider-Man game. Sure the Arkham games have filled the void in open-world super hero action games, but bat-a-ranging foe's and gliding around Gotham as Batman never had the same appeal as playing as the ole' Webhead.

When Sony and Insomniac Games announced they were working on a Spider-Man title, all they could of done was just make an HD port of Spider-Man 2 and I think every Spider-Man fan would've been satisfied. But like with Rocksteady's Arkham games, Insomniac went the extra mile and made not only the best Spider-Man game, but one of the best super hero games in a long time.

After taking out a certain villain early in the game, a new gang calling themselves "The Demons" begin to appear around the Big Apple --  and it's up to Spider-Man to stop them.

While a lot of the game's plot twists are easy to see, especially if you're a big Spider-Man nut, it's still a great tale thanks to fantastic writing and good use of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. What I loved the most was how Insomniac really made this version of Spider-Man its own. Just like with Rocksteady, Insomniac has a firm grasp of what makes Spider-Man and his supporting characters great, and the company's not afraid to change well-established comics "guidelines". This shines through with the interactions Spider-Man has with his friends and family, especially Mary Jane. 

Right away, Spider-Man throws you into what he does best: swinging around the Big Apple. As Spider-Man leaps, runs, and swings his way across New York City, I instantly had Nostalgic flashbacks of playing Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man on the GameCube.

Controlling Spider-Man is just as exhilarating as it was before, but the additions of a parkour system and the ability to leap as I landed on the edge of a building or a street light created a sense of exhilaration that I never experienced before. Spider-Man just might have the absolute best traversal mechanic in any game -- and I could spend hours just swinging around.

As you explore a digital Manhattan, you'll come across various collectibles and side missions. While the collectibles are just there to help you unlock costumes, the side activities are a bit more varied. From simple combat challenges stopping crimes in progress, the game gives you a lot to do. I never felt like I was ever bogged down by these challenges, and there wasn't one that was bad or broken. A few of these could even be considered more fun to do than the main missions. 

Spider-Man's combat, meanwhile, is equally as astonishing as its web swinging, though it does take a bit of time to adjust to. At first glance, it looks and plays like Batman: Arkham Knight, but with Spider-Man re-skinned. However, controlling Spidy is vastly different than the Dark Knight. Spider-Man doesn't simply counter enemy attacks; he quickly dodges and jumps right behind them. Small things like this may take some time to get used to, but once you do, Spider-Man is a one-man army against the criminals horde he faces. 

Simple punches feel good and using your web to bring Spider-Man's fist to an enemies face never gets old. The upgrade system contains a vast amount of moves and rarely did I find a new skill that I didn't want to buy.

From pulling guns away from burglars to webbing up and throwing criminals, nearly every move felt useful. The same can be said with the various gadgets you acquire. From taser webs and trip web mines, the gadgets Spider-Man can use are crazy and a ton of fun, though it shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's played any of Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank or Resistance games. 

If I had any issues with the combat, my main grip would be that the camera could've been pulled back a little more, as I was hit on a few occasions by a foe I couldn't see. The fights, especially with certain enemies, can also become a little too chaotic, as I would be bombarded with various guns, energy blasts, and Spidy's own spider-sense icon.

It can be frustrating to be hit by so much and expect to know what to do in such a small camera space. 

Along with combat, there also a few stealth sections in the game. Most are optional, but there are few that will have you avoiding enemies at all cost. This is particularly true in the few sections where you get to play as a certain someone with the initials M.J. Thankfully, stealth is mostly forgiving, and I never felt like these sections were forced like so many other games.

You'll also get to do some light detective and puzzle work as both Peter and M.J. Most of these objectives are pretty easy to figure out and these sections do a good job of breaking up the action and give you a chance to breathe.

Graphically, Spider-Man has a nice balance of realism and MCU-ness. While I as a fellow New Yorker I can't say that the digital New York is 100% accurate to the real thing, it's still a pretty damn good recreation of it. With the various NPCs that inhabit it to the large buildings to swing from, Spider-Man's world is constantly brimming with personality and joy.

The various character models look equally great and never run into the uncanny valley. The only real issue with Spider-Man's presentation was the occasional texture pop-in.

The audio is also pleasing, with great web sound effects that help immerse you as you swing by or shoot a goon up with some webbing. The music is great to listen to, especially the theme that's used when you start web-swing. It's a tune that makes you feel both empowered and heroic, absorbing you more into what it feels like to be Spider-Man. The voice acting is great throughout, with a lot of the actors nailing each of there roles. 

The game even has dynamic dialogue that see Spidey's tone of voice change whether he's exerting himself or not. 

After Disney purchased Marvel, it seemed that video games were pretty low on there priority list. Since then, most of Marvel's heroes were stuck with lame movie tie-ins or dull free-to-play titles -- unless you're a LEGO fan, then you're covered.

However it finally seems that Disney has finally started listening to the gaming community: Spider-Man is easily one of the best games of the year. It's a wonderful title that not only works as an amazing video game, but one that also just happens to star your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Here's hoping we see more of Spider-Man and the Avengers on home consoles... Just as long as they're not the umpteenth LEGO title.  

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review Mon, 10 Sep 2018 09:00:25 -0400 Ty Arthur

How did we manage to reach the end of a trilogy of Tomb Raider reboots already? It seems like just last year when we first had a revamped Lara Croft climbing her way up rocky inclines while avoiding deadly guards and picking up hordes of collectibles.

After the snowy sequel Rise Of The Tomb Raider, we're now headed into the South American jungle with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Yet again, this entry is another third-person action adventure that doubles down on killing cult members, skinning animals, and horribly injuring a even more vulnerable Lara.

From plane crashes to jaguar attacks to being crushed while drowning, Square Enix just loves to see this iteration of the Croft heiress fall into painful situations. But this time around, in the climax of the new trilogy, we find her against the greatest stakes, so her trials and tribulations are understandably the most violent yet. 

With a title like Shadow Of The Tomb Raider and a marketing campaign full of of eclipse imagery, it would be easy to think this ultimate version of Tomb Raider was full of gimmicks. However, the imagery and name speak more to what we see in the game -- a changing world and a changing Lara in a dying world brought about by some bad decisions in an ancient tomb. 

A jaguar growls in Lara Croft's muddy face in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

From Doom and Gloom to Polygonal Laras

If you just want to plunder old sarcophagi without giving any thought to who's buried there, this may not be the Tomb Raider for you. The narrative has strongly shifted here, and there's a big focus on Croft's privilege as an ultra-rich white woman tromping across the world taking whatever she wants.

This time around there are finally some consequences for her impulsive actions. In fact, the game starts with the world on the brink of utterly ending because Lara couldn't keep her hands off an artifact. In Rise, the pseudo-stakes felt more personal. Here, they're literally global. 

It's clear the developers went out of their way to make the cultures and people Lara comes across more of a central focus here, rather than something to be trampled through while she seeks out trinkets. This may be a fictional universe, but the game still wants you to think about how people in South American nations are treated by the wealthier nations to the north.

But if you don't care about heavy concepts or social commentary, there's plenty of amusingly silly options to lighten the game up a bit. Want to play through as the old school, 32-bit Lara from Tomb Raider 2 or Tomb Raider 3? Guess what? You can. And it's a hilariously fun nod to the players who have been following this franchise throughout the years.

Personally I couldn't play Shadow with the model for very long, because it felt too much like playing Dead Rising where Chuck has on some absurdly silly outfit. My second playthrough will be all old-school Lara though for maximum lulz, though. You can count on that. 

Lara wears a throwback PS1-era polygonal skin as she stands in front of plane wreckage

Familiar or Repetitive?

Silly Easter eggs to fans aside, the core of the game feels nearly identical to the previous two entries of the rebooted trilogy. Remember the first time you played a TellTale game and were blown away? Then five or six games later you were thought, "Are we still doing the same exact thing yet again?". That's what's going on here ... at first, anyway.

If Shadow feels too familiar from the get go, don't give up in the first few hours. Shadow comes into its own and sets itself apart around the 25% completion mark. When you hit a certain hub area, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider finds its stride.

It's so large you could get lost just exploring this one location. Talking to the locals and performing quests in this area is essentially a game all its own -- and that's without ever even hitting the surrounding tombs.

Traveling through populated areas and talking to characters adds something to the base experience, so the game isn't just completely adherent to remote jungle set pieces anymore. These characters feel more like people whose lives Lara is intruding on rather than silent NPCs that solely exist as quest givers.

Because of this, you also get to see behind the curtain and into what made Lara into the titular Tomb Raider. In one particularly memorable segment, we get to see a young Lara at Croft manor and learn why she's so hellbent on living the life of a professional assassin archaeologist. 

A young Lara Croft solves a puzzle on a playground at Croft Manor

Lara Croft: Ninja Assassin Archaeologist 

Some of Shadow's changes, like a bigger city to explore, are welcome. Others are less so -- and start to strain credulity. There's no question the first game in the reboot trilogy featured improbable actions like ridiculously expert rock climbing and god-tier bow skills, but it was still grounded in reality and aimed for a more restrained feeling.

However, we're officially starting to lose that here. Lara landing impossibly perfect pickaxe throws to somehow wedge it into a rockface while leaping insane distances is stretching it to say the least. That's not to mention she also carries an absurd amount of disposable rope, which is also all apparently invisible. 

Despite being a completely polished third installment in a trilogy, Shadow feels somewhat regressive. Some areas are in retrograde, particularly in the mechanics department. 

Invariably, there will be sections where it feels like you very clearly landed the jump or grabbed the crumbling wall section, but you fall to your death anyway. Many crypts and challenge tombs are more about battling controls than the puzzle -- and that's very frustrating for a game that revolves primarily around puzzles.

On top of that, the blue waypoint pillar no longer functions as well as it did in the previous two games, and sometimes it just doesn't function at all. You can literally be standing directly on top of a collectible you've set as the marker point and it won't appear. 

For the most part, the game's combat is satisfying, but the death animations deserve special mention. There are some truly weird body physics going on that rival the worst of Bethesda's ludicrous glitches. Dead guards often looking like they are either taking a very uncomfortable nap or keeled over in the middle of break dancing. That's not to mention some of Lara's death scenes are unnecessarily brutal. 

Lara Croft shoots an enemy with an assault rifle in ruins

Why Am I Pondering Morality?

While slaughtering your way through rank and file Trinity guards and seeking out a way to save the world, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider takes some time to make you think about your actions. We aren't quite in Spec Ops: The Line territory here, but the developers seem to be keenly aware that a more grounded, realistic Tomb Raider universe needs to have more consequences. 

It starts out with little things like a villager commenting, "Oh, I wish you were a tourist. Tourists bring money. Archaeologists just take things." Which, of course, is a somewhat subtle commentary on Lara's tendency to dabble in kleptomania from time to time. 

But the concept or morality expands rapidly from there, and by the end of the game's first quarter, you may start to wonder if maybe Lara is actually the villain and Trinity might be the saviors of the world.

I actually laughed out loud when Lara at point muses, "What are they so afraid of?" upon stumbling across some terrified Trinity guards. Gee, I don't know, maybe they are a tad bit worried about the psychotic ninja archaeologist literally stringing their friends up from trees?

Lara hangs an enemy from a tree in the jungle

Honestly, the only difference between Trinity and Lara's rag tag group is the size and scale of the operation. Both are well funded, both break shit and take what they want, and both firmly believe they are justified in doing so. Trinity just has more people at their disposal. 

The primary driving force of the story is directly caused by Lara in the opening segment. She just can't stop herself from snatching a magical ancient artifacts without thinking it through -- and being hyper focused on keeping it out of other peoples' hands.

In more than a nutshell, she's responsible for widespread death and devastation throughout the game, and then she doubles down on her bad decision. Her entire motivation in trying to stop Trinity from getting the totem she seeks is that she thinks no one else should be allowed to find what's rightfully hers.

If you look at this game from the viewpoint of anyone besides Lara Croft, the only conclusion you can really reach is that she's really a mega-maniacal villain. Oh sure, she's cute and likable, but she's also a mass murderer. Seriously, how many of those armed guards have even close to the kill count Laura has racked up in the last two games? 

I have absolutely no idea how much of this was intended by the develops to be inferred by the player, but there's something to be said for a game that makes you think a bit.

Lara Croft overlooks a city devastated by a tsunami in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The Bottom Line

There's a solid mix of old Lara and new Lara here, along with the good and bad that come with those. You get a revamped skill tree to play with, and the camera mode is fun for taking snapshots of a dangling Lara defying gravity (and death). Stealth mechanics take more of a front seat this time, and there are now merchants to trade with and cities to explore, providing a bit of an RPG feel to the action-adventure formula.

Water also plays a much, much bigger role than before, with huge flooded areas to swim across while avoiding deadly piranha. There are also tons of places to explore while diving, and some of the game's tombs and crypts use water in unique ways. 

The game can appeal to any kind of player because of its difficulty settings. Instead of being static difficulty modifiers, you can turn on super blunt hints and just play through the story or crank it up to maximum and try for the classically hard Tomb Raider experience.

There are some frustrating downsides to battle against, however, like clunky mechanics that need an overhaul, specifically in traversing cliff faces and jumping from precipice to precipice.

Overall, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a worthwhile experience for fans of the previous two games, although I'm getting the feeling the series may be in need of another reboot soon.

Check out our pre-order guide here

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider used in this review.]

Two Point Hospital Review: More of the Same Is Good Thu, 06 Sep 2018 14:53:36 -0400 Ashley Shankle

There are few games that have made me come back as often as Theme Hospital has over the years. Maybe it's the quirky treatments, the loose management style, or the snarky receptionist on the intercom. I've never been able to figure it out. I just know I've played Theme Hospital all the way through seven or eight times.

The announcement of Two Point Hospital and the ex-Bullfrog staff behind it had me excited but pensive. There are a lot of modern remakes, ports, and spiritual successors that just fall flat for me. Two Point Hospital isn't one of them.

In a market where spiritual successors and remakes decide to change up the original game's formula in some major way, Two Point Hospital doesn't do that. In fact, it is so similar to the game it's derivative of that my husband just calls it Theme Hospital 2. It's certainly close enough.

More of the same isn't a bad thing

Building and managing the hospital is done in very much the same way as its spiritual predecessor.

Working up and building the hospitals you're tasked with managing is straightforward. You need diagnostic rooms to determine what's wrong with patients and treatment rooms to deal with specific ailments. If planned and staffed properly, patients should be able to make their way through your hospital and get the right treatment. If you've planned poorly, don't worry -- the game is easy enough that small mistakes don't mean a closed hospital.

You spend most of your time building new rooms to deal with patients and trying to figure out why some are storming out unhappy or dying in the hospital corridors. Sometimes just plopping down some well-placed vending machines will do the trick to keep patients happy, sometimes it takes some hospital re-planning. Fortunately, this rarely leads to a loss.

Running a successful hospital often just comes down to fulfilling the star requirements. There are 15 hospitals to work with, and for each one, you can manage it up to one, two, or three stars. A one-star rating lets you move onto the next one, with the other two stars being for fun.

With the above in mind, I'm not even sure it's possible to fail at managing a hospital. I've made one very poor hospital on purpose and it's somehow chugging along. It's a bit like there are no real repercussions for poor planning, aside from a lack of cash flow. Who cares about that, really.

While the game is all very similar to the original Theme Hospital, the biggest changes lie in additional decorative items, the ability to assign employees specific jobs (so doctors trained as GPs will just sit around in GP's offices, as they should), and the new skill system.

While you could train doctors up in Theme Hospital, in Two Point Hospital, every employee -- from janitor to doctor -- is able to learn a number of skills to add to and improve their capabilities. This ties back into the whole GP thing, which is likely most players' biggest source of frustration: patients having to check back in with a GP after every diagnostic step. If you have low-skill doctors, they are going to be slow and inaccurate in a GP's office.

Training your staff is one factor in the whole equation that got a serious bump from 1998 to now. You had to train your doctors in surgery and psychiatry back in the day just so they were useful, but now you have to do it so your patients don't get stuck in endless queues until they die or leave.

Emergencies and epidemics have also made their way into Two Point Hospital, with epidemics coming into play later in the game. Emergencies require you have the rooms and staff to handle a quick burst of patients with a specific ailment, while epidemics must be hunted down and snuffed out via vaccines before afflicted patients leave the hospital.

Epidemics are probably the most difficult part of the game aside from wrestling with GP queues.

Patients and staff will show symptoms of a rare contagious disease and you must play at standard pace and look for people acting strangely. This gets complicated by staff also being afflicted -- I mean, it's not like your GPs and psychiatrists are moving around all that much. Sometimes it's best to just vaccinate them to be safe.

20 years waiting

There could be no better continuation of the spirit of Theme Hospital than what's found in Two Point Hospital. If you played the original and simply want more, you can find it here. If you never played it but want a simple but engaging management sim, you can find it here. If you're looking for your soulmate, you.. might be able to find it here? Nah.

The only thing that could knock Theme Hospital out of my top 10 games was another one, and Two Point Hospital is just that. This is the way I want to see older series come back: with the same bag of tricks in a fancy new binding.

For me, Two Point Hospital marks the end of a personal gaming era. It's something I've wanted for nearly 20 years, it's something I've whined about for ages. Suddenly that's over -- suddenly there is a new Theme Hospital, and it's even better than the original game, all without taking a million liberties to fit the new market.

You won't find particularly challenging gameplay here -- it's not a hard game. You will find an absolutely addictive hospital sim in a perfectly charming wrapping that won't be so easily removed by a Plaster Caster.

Two Point Hospital is the game I wanted more than any other and it's also the one that satisfied every want I could have had for it -- well, almost. The game could certainly do with a sandbox mode and maybe a higher difficulty mode, but I didn't expect those. They would be nice, but they're not necessary.

As it stands, this is a fantastic entry to a genre that pretty much just contains this game and its spiritual predecessor. Everything from the ailments and building to the radio hosts (!!) and annoyed receptionist voice comes together to make Two Point the definitive hospital sim in both fun and overall content. What a time to be alive!

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

The Messenger Review Wed, 05 Sep 2018 10:26:21 -0400 Zack Palm

There's a particular emotion you feel when you're reminded of a fond memory. There's the initial feeling of warmth, followed by the excitement of getting to relive something you may not have thought of for such a long time. When it comes to video games and nostalgia, sometimes its a hit or miss game that leaves many people wanting more than what they initially thought they were getting prior to their purchase.

Hands down, The Messenger, does not disappoint and while it leans on several elements from the 80s and 90s era of platforming games, it brings plenty of new things to the table to make it stand out from others and drips with tongue-in-cheek humor from start to finish.

The Set Up

The story takes place in a world where the entire human race is nearly extinct, save for a gathering of survivors in a small village. Civilization was attacked by a demon army intent on killing and enslaving them all, but they were driven away by the survivors. Legends say the demon army threatens to return -- but they have a hope. A hero from the west will appear with a scroll that, when the destined Messenger takes it to the top of the mountain on the island to give to three elders, everyone will be saved. As they await this hero from the west, the village trains for the day the demon army returns.

Our main protagonist finds himself wanting to skip these important lessons, feeling the dread of the day-in, day-out routine. On this fateful day, the demons return! And, just in the nick of time, the hero of the west arrives to give our hero his scroll, making him The Messenger from the legend. Now it's up to him to travel across the island, face the demon army, and give the scroll to the three elders at the top to bring peace to the world once more!

The story certainly feels cliche, but the humor that takes place in the dialogue between all of the characters you meet on your journey makes up for it immensely.

Good Ol' Nostalgia 

Before you're even in the game you can tell the developers spent a lot of time in their local arcades. They clearly missed the days they were asking their parents for their allowance in quarters so they could play their favorite pixel platformer -- but they absolutely nailed it.

You play a light tutorial before you're thrown into the fray of the game, and everything feels perfectly aligned. Our main character's jumping arc lands in an ideal way, making dodging, attacking, air-jumping, and strategically timed dives over spikes feel phenomenal. The platforming doesn't attempt to force you into too many creative moments until later on as the game gradually guides you throughout your time with it. The real challenges arrive after you've had some practice with the game, they don't happen early on to make the entire experience feel tougher than it actually is.

The combat was designed to feel straight forward. Your character's main weapon is a sword and the enemies usually die after one hit. There are a few stronger enemies, but most of them are strategically placed to feel like another game mechanic you need to avoid while traversing the game, weaving themselves in and out of the platforming challenges.

The same can be said about the bosses. One of the bosses took me about five tries, which was the most I died. The patterns become obvious pretty quickly, and you use skills you picked up during your time with the level to show how well you've mastered your time in the stage. Each boss comes with its own unique twist, making every fight stand out and feel like a fun experience. I never felt like I went against someone I had already faced.

The Pixel-Popping Art

The gameplay wasn't what made The Messenger feel like a 90s arcade game brought to PC, though -- it was the art. The wonderful, breath-taking art stood out during each stage, and every new stage in the game felt like an individual experience, something I would have loved to explore more of if it were an open-world game.

The island wasn't a single, massive jungle with different colored trees every time I went to a new area. There's a lava-filled mountain level, a snow level, a marsh level where the monsters themselves look different and reflect the environment they're stationed in. Unfortunately, a few enemies you see in the beginning pop up in the later stages. But they're not the only ones. Whenever you enter a new stage you can guarantee you'll find something new attempting to kill you and disrupt your journey to the top of the mountain.

On the topic of enemies, the amount of diversity really made the game feel alive. As your character grows in skill and you become more familiar with the game, the developers continue to throw new, creative horrors for you to face that challenge you in a new way. They were uniquely placed on a stage to make you think of a brand new way to get past them and proceed forward. The further you get in the game, the fewer punches they hold back and the foes look just as beautiful and retro as the landscape you're traveling through.

The On-Point Music

The music. I cannot, nor will I ever, get over the amazing music in The Messenger. This, along with the pixel art, made this game feel like the gorgeous throwback it desperately wants to be. The developers wanted to throw this game into an arcade machine and give it back to the 90s for their younger selves to enjoy.

During each stage, you'll subtly notice the background music changing ever so slightly to sway with the environment. There's no big differences or heavy things thrown in your face. Instead, you're gifted to this wonderful ambiance as you slice your way through the demon army to save the world. You couldn't ask for a better soundtrack.

Clever Dialogue and Writing

When I first fired up The Messenger, I assured myself I was in for a game where the developers were going to have tried too hard with being a note for note 90s game. I was dead wrong, and I'm happy about it.

The first indication of this change was when I arrived at the shopkeeper. I traveled into a mystical, starry realm surrounded by beautiful magic that I knew was beyond my character's comprehension. The shopkeeper knew this too and assured him that whatever he saw here, he had to go with it or never feel comfortable there again. I immediately liked the robed shopkeeper and wished he would accompany me on my journey.

He kind of did, as he was the helpful game mechanic to give me new tools to use as I progressed through the stages. These useful tools were designed to change up how I played the game and provided another level of depth for my platforming skills, which were steadily growing throughout my playthrough.

Though they weren't perfect, death was a welcome treat. Each time I died a small red, flying demon appeared to turn back time and return me to the nearest checkpoint I passed. His name was Quarble, and he's the death mechanic in The Messenger. The consequence of having him with you was to consume any of the currency you collected along the way for a short amount of time.

Having Quarble as a brief companion and as a game mechanic was great as it crafted a new, fun way to make death a thing in the game, without making it a daunting task. They could have easily had it where you were thrown straight back to the start of the stage, but they were kind to have a series of helpful, well-placed checkpoints throughout the stages. Plus, each time you died Quarble would provide a small, sassy quote about your death. These quotes do repeat after a time, but it does take awhile. Don't worry, I tried.

Putting It All Together

The developers wanted a game to throwback to the time when side-scrolling platformers had a specific art to them, back when they had style. They succeed in this along with great gameplay, an amazing soundtrack, wonderful art, and joyous writing I was looking forward to reading each time I died or stopped in to ask the shopkeeper about a new story they had.

While a little short, The Messenger was a fun time I'd happily play again in a heartbeat. 

Donut County Review Tue, 04 Sep 2018 10:43:10 -0400 Zee Sheridan

A six-year labor of love, the tale of Donut County is one assuredly inspirational to many in the games industry and beyond. It's one of a talented individual putting in endless hours and copious effort to create something magical. Given said magic game includes talking raccoons and destroying cities? It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

That unholy lovechild of Animal Crossing and Night in The Woods was released on August 28th, and – as countless people are no doubt finding out – it’s just as promising as the previews suggested.  

Let's take a look at what makes it so special -- and well worth your time. 


Right off the bat, the most instantly recognizable thing about Donut County is the charm. A game about an all-consuming hole in the ground could have easily turned gimmicky, and yet through the careful creation of the world you interact with (and destroy), it becomes so much more.

For those who owned a Wii from 2007 onward, the whole game has an element of Zack and Wiki to it -- that is, a vibrant and interesting story and environment, backed up by solid writing and clever puzzles. 

Puzzle games often suffer from their tone, as an overly serious or silly tone can put a damper on playing the actual game itself. This is the side benefit of the playful nature of the game, as it stays on a whimsical track that never feels like it’s taking itself too seriously. The friendship between the 'hero' BK and his BFF Mila is particularly wonderful, both in their entertaining conversations and capturing the essence of how close friends interact.

Combine that with the satisfying 'collect-'em-all' mechanic of games like Katamari Damacy, and you have an unusual, yet incredibly interesting treat on your hands.


There's something oddly calming about destroying environments piece by piece. While Donut County may not be a very difficult game, there's still enough challenge that you feel accomplished after finishing a level - along with the satisfaction of seeing the once cluttered landscape peacefully empty.

Bringing havoc to the various levels and landscapes really give you a feel of the game's universe and atmosphere - even though your main objective is to absorb said universe into the gaping void. The black-hole mechanics are quite clever too, gaining different abilities based on the things you collect. While some of these abilities are only temporary - based on the things around you on each level - finding new ways to affect your surroundings through fire, light and rabbit powers always make you feel at least a little bit clever. There are also permanent upgrades at plot-relevant parts of the story, allowing for both a sense of progression and different ways to use the hole, like being able to launch stuff out of it.

The limited use of upgrades and powers is a great choice, as they don't undermine the fun of using the black hole itself. Although somewhat 'bouncy', the physics of the game are incredibly well made, with each item having a certain sense of weight to it. As you start each level as a hole too small to get some of the items, you quickly learn how to use the physics of the game to your advantage - as some items will only fit if you absorb their smaller part first. It's a simple basis for a game, yet pulled off effectively enough to be endlessly entertaining.  

One of the most interesting things about Donut County is its ability to add mechanics that would normally clash with a puzzle game, without them ever seeming out of place. Having a boss fight, for example, is normally the kryptonite of the puzzle genre, as the things you want from a boss fight and the things you want from a puzzle game are usually complete opposites. However, the game manages to pull off a three-phase boss fight with relative ease, despite it being fairly different from the rest of the game.

In short, every part of Donut County's gameplay fits into it as perfectly as placing some garbage into a gaping black void -- or a house into a void. Or a town -- you get the point.        


Gameplay aside, the bread and butter of the game is its story. Not only does Donut County immediately reel you in by making you ask how the plot is taking place, but it keeps you planted in that interest through its characters. Adorable character design aside, the relaxed and funny dialogue adds a hilarious element to the game that makes it feel all the more relatable and human – or, as human as a talking raccoon can be considered, anyhow.

That said, the game doesn’t focus solely on our morally questionable protagonist, as time is taken to introduce you to the whole colorful cast of characters – each with their own personalized level. In a game that could have easily had minimal character interaction, it’s the icing on the cake (or doughnut) to also get a look into each character’s life and personality. It’s also a pretty smart way to make the levels feel different – as what the character does and is like has a fairly solid impact on the level itself.


The only real criticism of Donut County is that there’s not enough of it – with its current game time spanning two or so hours, depending on how quickly you blaze through the story of friendship, raccoon politics, and donuts. While it’s always better to have a short, purposeful game than a long, less impactful one, you can’t help but finish Donut County feeling like you could have played twice the game and not gotten bored.

That said, the plot is carried out in a way that feels engaging and not drawn out – something a longer play time likely would have jeopardized.



For those puzzle fanatics hoping that Donut County would fulfill their need for some fiendishly difficult puzzles, the game may fall short of expectations. This isn’t to call Donut County a failure, though – not wanting to be ‘the Dark Souls of puzzle games is pretty respectable in a time where making such a game could get you instant fame.

For folks wanting a quirky, lovable game that’s main focus is on the simple joy of having fun solving puzzles, Donut County is as sweet a treat as the name suggests -- and you don’t have to worry about having a gluten allergy.

Shenmue 1+2 Console Review Sat, 01 Sep 2018 12:00:01 -0400 Edgar Wulf

Shenmue received its first western release back in 2000, exclusively for the Dreamcast, and until now, It was never ported to any other platform. It successfully placed itself among the most expensive video game projects and its sequel -- Shenmue II -- was released a year later for the Dreamcast in Japan and ported to the original Xbox in 2002.

Neither of them enjoyed what we might think of as commercial success, but the series developed a devout following and since then has been relentlessly requested by fans for a potential re-release. Nearly two decades later, those requests came to fruition and Sega announced a compilation of Shenmue and Shenmue II for current-gen consoles and PC earlier this year.

Shenmue is officially back, but was it worth the long wait?

Shenmue Remastered?

First and foremost -- what's new about this particular compilation? It's excellent for anyone who's about to acquaint themselves with the series, but what's in store for those who intend to revisit the saga?

Both games run in HD and are displayed in a 16:9 aspect ratio -- though cutscenes still run in 4:3 -- and some minor options for graphical adjustments have been added. Some textures may seem dated, but seeing the game run at 1080p does make the picture slightly more appealing. Overall, it is worth noting that Shenmue and its sequel are nowhere near on par with modern graphical standards, but both have aged well and still look surprisingly good.

Another important aspect of the visual design -- the UI -- has been updated for current platforms; menus look and feel more streamlined and a form of fast-travel has been added to certain locations. 

Many may be pleased to find out that both English and Japanese voice over options are available, as well as corresponding subtitles; Corey Marshall is well regarded for voicing the game's main protagonist in the English version, but some of the lesser characters have been neglected, so it's a welcome thing to have an additional option.

Another improvement, which doesn't seem to be mentioned a lot is the improved loading time. No doubt due to the superior hardware, transitions between locations are almost instantaneous making the whole experience quite seamless. There are, of course, other minor additions and improvements, but I'll get to what's really important.

Shenmue 1+2

Shenmue's biggest strength is its story; it's why it has become timeless and even inspired series like Yakuza. Its plot revolves around a young martial artist by the name of Ryo, who finds himself on a destructive path of revenge after witnessing the murder of his father. In pursuit of the killer, Ryo will explore various locations across his hometown Yokosuka in Japan, Hong Kong and even a secluded village in southern China, all of which will lead him to uncover many mysteries pertaining to his family.

Ryo himself is an impulsive character; he's a young teenager and is, understandably so, blinded by vengeance. In Shenmue, he quickly develops into a more formidable fighter. However, in Shenmue 2, he meets a mentor of sorts, develops as a person and regains his composure as he takes his journey across the sea.

This development is greatly supplemented by the many diverse characters Ryo encounters along the way, the superb musical score adding the necessary tone to each event, and is what makes Shenmue rise above the status of a predictable revenge-tale.

In terms of gameplay, Shenmue is a third-person action-adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration. If you've played any of the Yakuza games, then you will find yourself right at home. A great deal of time is spent exploring the various environments, visiting shops, conversing, gathering information and accumulating it in Ryo's notebook.

The locations within the game feel genuine -- people go to work, stores have an opening and closing time and you can pretty much interact with any of them. Most objects can be closely examined revealing additional information, though some interactions may be easily missed since you need to view each object of potential interest in first person mode for a prompt to appear.

Shenmue's environments may feel limited compared to current open-world games -- restrictive even -- but it can be a good thing since it doesn't overwhelm the player with too many choices and doesn't feel like an endless slog. Shenmue 2 improves upon that, greatly increasing in terms of size and scope, up to the point where a map is mandatory.

Eventually, you will stumble upon a point which requires you to wait for the next event to trigger, likely due to a potential point of interest being inaccessible. Apart from sleeping, which is only available during certain hours, there is no option to skip time and this is where the many activities and pastimes Shenmue is known for, come into play.

There are arcades with classics by Sega, darts, slot machines, arm-wrestling and much, much more. Ryo will spend a great deal of time playing games and earning prizes, but often enough beating a Hi-Score won't suffice and he will also have to beat up people.

Combat also plays a pivotal role in Shenmue and there's more than enough of it throughout. Ryo will face everyone, starting from mere bullies and gang members to formidable martial artists, including some tough boss battles. The player has punches, kicks and certain throw moves at their disposal; new moves can be discovered in the environment, learned from other masters or purchased in stores, in the form of scrolls.

However, it's not enough to just purchase a move to instantly become Bruce Lee -- moves have to be learned first. This can be done by practicing various button combinations until a prompt of a successfully learned move appears on the screen. Furthermore, moves can be improved by sparring with a partner or during an actual battle.

Some progress, like learned moves and collected items, can be carried over into the sequel by using the completed save data from Shenmue and a neat little feature of taking snapshots anywhere in the game -- even during cutscenes -- is included in Shenmue 2.

The sheer variety of gameplay, the interactions between characters, the beautiful musical score, and the quality of each aspect -- including combat, exploration, mini-games, and story -- is what keeps the game from becoming monotonous, but does it mean everything is perfect?

Almost, but not quite. The controls often feel sluggish and the camera can be annoying sometimes, especially indoors and during combat. I also noticed that some sound effects -- when performing a move or opening a door, for instance -- would occasionally not play. Still, these are minor gripes and shouldn't hinder the otherwise impeccable experience.

It's hard not to recommend Shenmue 1+2 to anyone who appreciates exceptional storytelling and highly interactive environments and if you've ever felt the urge to experience the unique appeal of these classic titles by Yu Suzuki, then this compilation is the best way to go.

Shenmue 1+2 is available right now for PS4 and Xbox One via Amazon, and for PC via Steam at the price of $29.99.

Editor's Note: This is a community review of Shenmue 1+2 for consoles. You can find the official GameSkinny review for the PC version here

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GloGo Review: Send the Ball Home Thu, 30 Aug 2018 11:34:49 -0400 Allison M Reilly

Do you know the scene from Happy Gilmore, where Happy yells at the ball after he fails to sink the putt?

"Are you too good for your home? Answer me!"

GloGo by Accordion Games is the video game version of that scene.

Released in January 2018, GloGo is an arcade, puzzle game where the player sends the ball toward its hole (a.k.a home) at the end of the level as fast as possible. Players are the ball, using a keyboard or joystick to control it. Obstacles, such as holes, walls and moving blocks, add difficulty and ensure the "way home" isn't a straight line. The game is a neat concept, but at times so frustrating, you want to punch that guy too.

And GloGo knows it. Rage quitting is one of the Steam achievements.

The Environment Isn't the Problem

GloGo and Accordion Games nail the aesthetic. No frustration here.

The music is perfect for GloGo, reflecting the concept's simplicity while adding flair when the game's objective never changes. Each level has its own track, but the entire soundtrack is dubstep, so I don't recommend this game if you hate electronic music. However, the music doesn't get in the way of the gameplay. Players can easily spend 20 minutes on a level going for the fastest time possible, and the music doesn't distract or get stuck in your head.

The neon color scheme is also a great choice. The bright colors add pizzaz but also make it easy to see the obstacles. I also like that certain objects are always specific colors. The ramps are green, the moving blocks are blue, the ball is white. The neon colors also contrast well against the white ball and black floor. Everything in the game is easy to see and identify; there's no confusion about what obstacle is coming up.

The Platinum is a Lie

Ultimately, GloGo doesn't get a higher rating because it doesn't have a good balance between speed and precision. Level 11, for example, requires so much precision that players need to complete the level several times before thinking about how to do the level faster. Yet, Level 11 is full of jumps where the player won't clear the jump if they're not going fast enough. Ultimately, there isn't much room for players to learn and master levels at their own pace. This can make getting through some levels infuriating.

The platinum times are just about impossible to get. For each level, there are five awards: participation, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Any time matching the participation time or slower earns a participation trophy. In the above photo, to earn bronze, the player needs a time of 20 or 21 seconds. Under 20 seconds earns silver, while a 22-second time will earn the participation trophy.

There are Steam achievements for platinum times that no player has achieved yet. Level 1 has a platinum time of 7 seconds, meaning to get the platinum award, players have to complete the level in under 7 seconds. Six seconds may seem easy but unlike Level 11, there's not much precision to Level 1. It has a straightforward solution, the ball also only goes so fast, and the levels do not provide speed boosts. GloGo consists of 16 levels, four sets of four. The difficulty progression is somewhat steep, but that's expected with only 16 levels. Each level, after the initial learning phase, takes between 10 to 60 seconds to complete. So, finding another second to cut out of seven is tough to do.

Something else GloGo is missing that would greatly improve the experience is an options menu. For example, I would love an options menu to turn off the tutorial messages that come up throughout the first few levels. The messages are helpful for my first playthrough, but break the immersion when I'm trying so very hard to hit platinum-level times.

The Final Putt

Overall, GloGo is a neat concept that invigorates the purest of tryhards and satisfies some casual gamers. For me, I don't want to quit GloGo because if I quit, the game wins. It's a one-player game meant and designed to be beaten. If I can't beat it, who can? But, completing a game so the game doesn't win isn't a very compelling reason to play. Knowing how unforgiving it is to learn each level, I don't look forward to it and I don't expect many other players to look forward to it either.

Divinity Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition Transfers The Classic RPG Experience To Console Wed, 29 Aug 2018 10:22:45 -0400 Ty Arthur

One of the best RPGs of 2017 is about to get even better with the launch of its Definitive Edition. Available as a free upgrade for existing PC players, the bigger news is that this modern-day CRPG classic is now up for grabs for the console crowd as well.

Yes, we're talking about the criminally good Divinity: Original Sin 2, which originally released last September and some of the best gameplay of any CRPG all year.  

Making the leap from computer to PS4 and Xbox One meant there were going to be some big changes, and those are what we're going to focus on here rather than re-reviewing the core gameplay and story.

If you haven't played the original version and want to know what's in store, you can read our full review here.

Square Peg In A Round Hole

First thing's first -- the Definitive Edition is still a glorious turn-based, tactical role-playing experience. It remains absurdly fun; turning enemies into chickens and teleporting enemies into broken-oil-barrel infernos is still a blast.

Much of the game's base experience remains the same (with some welcome tweaks noted below). The main differences you will notice immediately come in the form of UI and control scheme changes specifically made for the console edition.

I'm not going to sugar coat it -- this is a game that's meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Can you imagine trying to play Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale on a controller? If you've ever tried, you know it can be dicey at best.

Here's the thing, though. Larian Studios made a truly valiant effort to get this game working without a mouse. It is beyond clear that a ton of thought went into transferring the core D:OS2 gameplay mechanics into an intuitive experience for a PS4 or Xbox One controller. 

Sadly, it ultimately falls short, and after having spent a good deal of time with the Definitive Edition, I can easily say I still prefer the keyboard and mouse.

The main menus are opened in a radial wheel in the vein of Dragon Age, with an inventory screen more along the lines of Oblivion. If you've played the PC version, you know that every area is littered with objects, from barrels to candles to flowers, that can all be opened, picked up, moved, lit on fire, etc.

While it works great in the PC version, all of that exploration doesn't work particularly well with a controller, and using the bumper keys to switch between very-close objects still isn't quite fine tuned enough to always hit what you want.

The developers obviously knew that would be an issue, so now you can initiate a search area in a specific radius around any character. Everything within that area that can be opened or picked up appears in list form, and you can easily move between each individual object.

My first thought was to wildly abuse this feature to get into objects I wasn't supposed to be able to reach. Sadly, the devs figured that out, too, and you still have to be able to reach an object in the search area to open it and begin looting (curses!).

On the other side of that coin, there are some advantages to this change. To properly sneak through areas or get single characters positioned for combat advantage, you've got to frequently break up your party. Switching between characters and chain-linking groups (or breaking them up) was easier than I expected with the controller.

In that regard, the radial menu actually works pretty well. Inventory and equipment management isn't as smooth as on PC, but party management isn't half bad. Overall, the radial menu is my one big complaint with the Definitive Edition, but it's one that some players may not find as intrusive as I did. 

Arena Mode

Now that we've got that unpleasantness out of the way, let's dive into a very welcome change -- Divinity's revamped arena mode!

On my first playthrough of the original PC version, I distinctly remember stumbling across the Arena Of The One beneath Fort Joy and thinking, "I need a full-game version of this." Well, we've got it now, and it is absolutely nuts.

You can play the arena against friends or A.I., and there are several different map layouts to choose from. The replay value here is huge if you love the tactical combat of Divinity: Original Sin 2 but don't want to replay the story mode again. Getting to play with fully upgraded characters that have all sorts of skills right off the bat is a ton of fun, and there is an absurd number of options available.

Having a full 16 heroes to choose from is just the beginning of the changes. Mutators are the major new element here -- and they increase the fun quotient about 10,000%. These wacky options change the flow of battle every turn (they can, alternatively, remain static if you want). Everyone on the battlefield might suddenly get functional wings to fly over terrain or all the barrels might automatically explode. The options are seemingly endless. 

If you thought battlefields could becoming crazy flaming, electrified, frozen hellscapes of tactical nonsense in the original version, you haven't seen anything yet.

Other Changes From The Base Game

The Definitive Edition kicks off with a brand-new tutorial area in the ship bound for Fort Joy, and that will be very welcome to console players who didn't already master the ins and outs of this complex system on PC.

Tutorials aside, the newly added story mode also widens the appeal of this otherwise hardcore game. Many battles -- even some very early ones -- can be overwhelming for new players not familiar with the mechanics. Even on normal difficulty, it is entirely possible to die in the very first fight with the viscous voidwoken, and beyond easy to get annihilated when trying to escape Fort Joy.

If you find the combat incomprehensible, pop on story mode and just enjoy experiencing the ride.

But what about changes for returning players who don't want the game to be easier? There are changes for you in the form of tweaks and additions to late-game content, so if you weren't satisfied with the ending, give it another go. Arx, in particular, was a major sticking point for a lot of players. The quality of that area just fell short of the earlier acts, both in the writing and in the area design. It was easy to get lost or have no clue where to find people to advance storylines.

Much of that has been retooled with the Definitive Edition, and with changes to the quest log, there's less frustration in this area. A lot of work went into changing this area, including entirely new dialog.

Finally, the dwarf battlemage Beast had some big upgrades on his origin quest as well, so if you never cared for bringing him along, he's worth exploring with now as well.

The Bottom Line

If you've already played Divinity: Original Sin 2, the late-game content changes make the Definitive Edition worth a re-install.

Watching companies like Larian develop games through crowdfunding and then give players what they want is a breath of fresh air in the gaming community. The changes made were all clearly culled from fan criticism over the past year, and overall, they make the game a better experience.

For PC players, this is easily a 9/10 game (or potentially even higher if you absolutely love turn-based tactical combat). On the console front however, the control scheme is wonky enough to knock the game's rating down a bit.

It's still fun, no doubt, and you are getting an improved version of an already great game. The gameplay here is still great. Sadly, after playing the PS4 version, though, I really just want to re-install the game through Steam and play with the Definitive Edition changes over there.

You can buy the console version of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition on Amazon for $59.99. 

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition used in this review.]

Guacamelee! 2 Review: Bright but Brutal Tue, 28 Aug 2018 14:09:33 -0400 Littoface

Seven years after the events of Guacamelee, the famous luchador fighter Juan Aguacate has… let himself go a bit, to put it mildly. Saddled with an intellectual wife and two boisterous kids, Juan's been living the easy life.

Until now.

Developed by DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee 2 draws everyone's favorite legendary luchador out of retirement for a new adventure. Inspired heavily by Mexican folklore and history and pumping with an electro-Mexican soundtrack, the long-awaited sequel brings eccentric characters, a colorful palette and some serious fun to the screen.

Note: This reviewer has not played the first "Guacamelee" but is well-versed in Metroidvanias.

The Mexiverse Is in Danger

After a brief tutorial showing the final events of the last game, Juan is sent on his first real quest in seven years: to buy avocados for tacos so his dear wife Lupita can finish her dissertation.

But what starts as a simple enough task becomes a whole lot more serious when rips in time and space appear. Avocados forgotten, Juan is sucked once again into a whole different dimension. Juan is lauded as "the last Juan alive" and, once he gets his trademark luchador mask back, he's back to his old baddie-busting self.

And thus, Juan, along with his companion Tostada and some more familiar faces, are back in an adventure to save the Mexiverse. This time, his opponent is Salvador and his companions. Timelines are collapsing in on themselves as Salvador steals relics in search of the mystical eternal guacamole.

The story is not the big draw here, obviously, but the dialogues and writing are perfectly funny and tongue-in-cheek. Expect plenty of fourth wall breaking, references to the previous game, and general verbal shenanigans.

There are some weird and quirky characters, plenty of chickens, and pretty much all the silliness and character you'd expect from this game.

A Metroidvania Platformer with a Punch (Literally)

Guacamelee 2 calls itself a Metroidvania brawler -- and for good reason. The gameplay is a fairly balanced mix of fights, platforming, and backtracking for goodies as Juan recovers his powers.

All three are equally important, which means that if you're not very good at any aspect, you'll definitely have a hard time. Juan fights his way through areas, greeted at intervals by "lucha" instances that pit you against a group of stronger enemies one after the other.

On the other hand, platforming is an integral part of the game's progression, and special moves like smashing a fist upward and shifting into the form of a chicken are used both to fight and to get to where you want to be. There are even a few "jump quests" that require you to navigate around moving platforms, spikes, and other obstacles to get to some coveted treasure chests.

For the most part, the fighting and platforming are fluidly linked. For example, Juan can uppercut from one platform to another and take out an enemy in the process. You can also throw enemies at each other or at your companion fighters, creating strategic opportunities.

But the reliance on special moves means that playing this requires mastery of all your skills, which can lead to fumbling around. Sometimes this provides a welcome challenge but most of the time it's just frustrating, especially when you begin to use skills in rapid succession. Unless you are a button master, be prepared to fail. A lot.

Although Juan's special skills are pre-set, there is some variety offered in the form of character trees -- literally: certain characters you meet offer up different skills for you to purchase using gold and special pieces collected from chests.

Bring Some Friends

As soon as Juan gets his mark of power back, he can get help from some friends. The game supports drop-in co-op for up to 4 players. The action is kept on one main screen, which means all players have to be able to keep up.

Once someone moves on to a different screen, all other players are warped after him. But when you're traversing through an area, the screen doesn't stretch far. That means every player has to succeed in the platforming, or no one can move on. This is all fun and games if you're playing with someone on par with your own platforming prowess, but if your companion isn't very good, the game can get bogged down.

There are several characters to choose from, some of which start out locked. These are for aesthetic purposes only, and every player, regardless of their appearance, drops in with all of Juan's already-gathered special powers.

Full of Quirk and Color

While there are many frustrations to this game, "Guacamelee 2" has plenty of good points, too.

The artwork and characters are absolutely gorgeous, popping with color and shapes and drawing on traditional Mexican styles and mythology. The Mexican-themed music can get a bit repetitive, but for the most part, it adds a great ambiance to a game already bursting with personality.

The passage between timelines and its effect on the map is also a great mechanic, adding or removing platforms and other environmental elements in a way that's reminiscent of A Link to the Past.

As with any good Metroidvania, finding a new skill is cause for backtracking, and exploration is encouraged through plenty of hidden spots and useful collectibles.

Speaking of hidden goodies, Guacamelee 2 is absolutely packed with Easter eggs. There are the very obvious Chozo statues, the accidental trip into the "Baddest Timeline" which asks Juan if he is "a bad enough dude to save El Presidente", the amazing "Dankest Timeline" which we won't give away, and so many other goodies to find in every corner. 

All in all, Guacamelee 2 is definitely a great game -- it's colorful, funny, and so full of personality and chickens that it's sure to win anyone over.

Just be ready for a challenge: brawler-inspired controls and some tricky platform-hopping mean the first few hours have a steep learning curve. If you're a newcomer to either platformers or brawlers, you might want to cut your teeth elsewhere.

Fans of the first game certainly won't be disappointed, as this long-awaited sequel is even bigger and more luchalicious than ever. 

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more "Guacamelee 2" news and guides.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Guacamelee 2 used for this review.]

Strange Brigade Review: Co-Op Fun With Traps And Shambling Zombies Mon, 27 Aug 2018 19:01:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

For a particular breed of gamer who loves overcoming challenges with a team, Strange Brigade couldn't land at a better time.

Did you spend way too much time trying to hit wave 50 in Gears Of War's horde mode? Was it a regular occurrence for you to co-op Left 4 Dead 2 or Resident Evil 5 with your drinking buddy until the wee hours of the morn? Do you consider it your solemn duty to discover every last nook and cranny of any given Call Of Duty zombie mode?

The tomb-exploring pulp adventure Strange Brigade combines all those mechanics into one full game and throws in a few other styles for good measure.

Genre Boundaries? Who Needs 'Em? 

There's a truly odd mashup of archetypes from across the gaming spectrum on display here -- starting with the third person perspective rather than the tried and true FPS viewpoint -- but it's an overall fun combination.

Dodge rolling away from attacks and stomping downed zombie enemies is pure Gears Of War. You might not be playing a genetically enhanced super-soldier always on the lookout for a cover point, but there will still be plenty of head squishing going on.

Oddly enough, the game's font combined with the safari locations and overly-excited narrator all strongly bring to mind Kinect Adventures from the Xbox 360, which obviously is a radically different genre.

Earning coins through kills to open doors or buy limited use super weapons definitely has a Call Of Duty zombie mode feel. Ditto on the overall atmosphere and character types, which exude that over-the-top '50s pulp atmosphere.

The base gameplay meanwhile pulls heavily from 4 player co-op monster shooters like Left 4 Dead or Warhammer: Vermintide.

Most of the elements you loved from those games are on full blast here, like choosing from four characters with different starting load outs, tackling waves of enemies, and so on.

Team members even revive in specific locations on the map if one of them dies (this time popping out of a sarcophagus instead of being found in a closet).

Unlike L4D or Vermintide, this isn't a game where you can wade into the hordes with a two handed axe or chainsaw and come out the other side. Instead, your arsenal revolves around a single main ranged weapon -- like a bolt action rifle or quick firing SMG -- with an unlimited ammo pistol as a backup.

Your build can be tweaked further by completing puzzles to open doors and acquire sigils. Whether you want to heal with each kill, set enemies on fire, or just flat out deal more damage, these are you main method of upgrading equipment.

Different play styles are accommodated by each of the four starting characters, but as you unlock new weapons and magic sigils, essentially any character can take any role.

Slow Motion Zombie Apocalypse

Strange Brigade isn't quite a 1 to 1 crossover from Left 4 Dead though, and there are lots of changes to tweak the gameplay -- some good, and some bad.

Both the campaign storyline and the horde mode heavily rely on luring enemies into traps to whittle down the throngs of undead. Carefully planning how to activate traps and navigate their cooldown times is a major component of your survival strategy.

Whirling blades pop out of the ground for chopping up those skittering giant scorpions, for instance. Blasts of flame and retractable floor spikes are better suited for shambling the undead, and so on.

Utilizing the environment to take out enemies is a fun twist, but it also reveals one of the game's major flaws. Strange Brigade just simply doesn't have nearly the speed or frantic nature of Left 4 Dead.

You won't often (if ever) have to restart a level in the campaign to try again. That sense of accomplishment is missing when your team finally figured out the best strategy for surviving a wave while taking out the giant boss monsters.

Much of the game is quite slow moving in fact, and it's not often you will ever feel like the hordes can truly overwhelm your defenses. Playing the campaign solo, its unlikely you'll die even once, let alone manage to do it 50 times to unlock an achievement!

Until you reach the higher waves on horde mode or get into the boss sections of the later campaign missions, there simply isn't a ton of challenge here. Whether you are co-oping or going solo, you won't often feel any legitimate sense of danger.

Going Solo Or With A Team

Sadly, there's no split-screen local co-op option, but that's just how games tend to go these days. Multiplayer on the couch with your best friend is a thing of the past, and instead, you've got to play with a disembodied voice over the Internet.

One element that sets Strange Brigade apart from the competition is that both the campaign and the horde mode are balanced for solo play. Yes, you can actually play the game from beginning to end on your own if you prefer.

Tracking down collectibles and overcoming puzzles to find more loot and upgrades for your weaponry adds a level of replayability for the solo player. If you prefer a group of grave robbers stomping into ancient Egyptian tombs as a team, however, then you get the classic 4 player co-op experience.

Every campaign level is jammed packed with puzzles to work out with your teammate. The campaign puzzles even change between solo and co-op modes, so there's reason to play both ways.

You may want to ditch the slower, easier campaign mode however and dive straight into the heart of the game. Horde mode is where gamers are probably going to spend most of their time and get the most replay. Although the slow-moving zombies remain easy to overcome, this mode offers much more challenge in later waves with the addition of boss creatures.

Avoiding a crowd of the walking dead is one thing, but doing it while leaping away from charging minotaurs, dodging blasts of magic from mummies, and avoiding the stinging tails of giant scorpions is another matter entirely.

What you get here is essentially a full game version of COD's Zombie mode, complete with buying your way through doors to increase the play area to spending money on weapon upgrades in-between waves.

Snipers, grenade-lobbers, or automatic weapons fire experts all have their place here with the wide range of weaponry. For me, the explosive tip crossbow and noisy blunderbuss -- which is effectively the game's take on a shotgun -- are easily the most satisfying options.

Strange Brigade does feature a twist on this style though, and it will be very welcome for most players. You can restart at any wave you've previously reached, so there's no need to kick off horde mode from wave 1 again every time.

The Bottom Line

Whether you're playing the campaign, horde, or the score attack mode, Strange Brigade is inundated with pulpy humor. There are plenty of dark and heavy games these days, so a little levity and a tongue-in-cheek style aren't unwelcome.

The narrator clearly seems to know he's in a video game and makes offhand remarks when you pause the game like "Oh, is someone at the door? I'll wait."

I legitimately laughed out loud at one point when hitting pause and heard a deadpanned "...two sugars for me, please." To give you an idea of what sort of humor is on display, there's actually an achievement for annoying the narrator, and he mentions you are unlocking it when it pops on the screen. 

So here's the thing -- if you don't like silly pulp action and need something as difficult as a Souls game, then Strange Brigade probably won't be for you.

On the other hand, if the idea of having a hilariously good time with a team while tromping through ancient Egyptian pottery sounds like a killer way to spend the weekend, you should grab this one as soon as possible.

Since we're in the doldrums now with no new Borderlands or Left 4 Dead in sight, and Gears 5 still about a year away, Strange Brigade stands in as the new de facto co-op experience for the foreseeable future.

Shikhondo - Soul Eater - When Shmups, Style, and Demons Collide Mon, 27 Aug 2018 14:16:03 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

Yes, you can consider me one of the bigger shmup players on GS. I find them fun, but I'm not very good at them. I enjoy them for the value they place on short time commitments for players. This feeling was no different with Shikhondo: Soul Eater, now available on the PlayStation 4. 

This is Korean developer DeerFarm's first foray onto the console market as well as their fifth studio title. So is this Korean mythology inspired shooter fun to play? Find out in our review.

The game's details are minimal but the story is easy to follow. Demons, ghosts, and bad things are threatening the land. A grim reaper and a teenage girl are tasked with saving the world and sending them back to limbo.


The Style

It would be easy to say that all arcade shooters are the same. However that's quite untrue. Sure, they share a lot in common design-wise. There are various modes such as arcade, boss rush, score keeping, and so on. Shikhondo, like a few games stands out because of it's unique blend of execution and design.

You'll traverse a number of stages shooting things that go bump in the night. You'll have to avoid waves of enemy fire as stages get increasingly more difficult. The title really stands because of its presentation. Everything within the title is very vibrant. Everyone from canon fodder foes, the heroines, and bosses fit the aesthetics beautifully. 

The Substance

The game isn't pulling any punches with its gameplay. Even if you're playing on easy, you'll probably die often. Bullet hell games teach you to observe the space around you, and this one's no different. If you try to keep track of an entire screen filled with energy blasts.. you'll lose fast. The game does a good job of teaching (or forcing) you to recognize enemy patterns. That is, of course, you aren't too stressed out just trying to live. 

Shikhondo does a good job of presenting it's dangers with little room to breathe. Often you'll be flying through a stage mowing down foe after foe. Then more challenging foes are introduced in between easier targets. Stages are short and the goal is to make it to each boss in one piece. If you can.

Speaking of bosses: they're probably my second favorite aspect of the game. The bosses have 2 phases. Their first forms are pretty "harmless" -- well, they won't put up much of a fight. Now, when they transform into their true forms? This is when you put your skills to the test.

The screen will be flooded (yes, flooded) with bullets and you'll need to stay alive while trying to shoot them. It's a tall order but it'll leave you satisfied when you win. DeerFarm really made a solid skill based game for players to enjoy their victories.

Ah Choices, Choices 

As I mentioned before, the game shares a lot of modern day designs. One feature that's hardly seen anywhere is local coop mode.

Yes that's right, you and a friend can clear the game as both heroines. In 2018, that's a great feature to have. Having a friend right there adds another layer of joy and camaraderie. Multiplayer in shmups isn't new but the option is always welcome.

Now this game features one more exciting feature, my favorite: customize mode. In this mode you can change the parameters of how the game plays.

I'll offer an example with the Soul Gauge. It's a meter that fills normally if you dodge enemy shots that come close by to you. When full, you can enter Soul Attack mode, where for a limited time your attack is a lot more powerful. In customize, you can change this where the gauge fills as you shoot enemies. So you can enter the mode faster and deal more damage as you go on.

In actual function, you can make the game easier. More importantly you can impose more handicaps on yourself to an already challenging experience. This not only extends it's replay value but it empowers players to be experts. These are options I have hardly seen in any game.

Current Call

Shikhonodo's only negative is that it's outshined by other titles. It's still a fun game and that isn't negative in any sense.

It was designed well to be a well timed experience and challenge. 

With every arcade shooter I play, I ask; how welcoming can they be for newcomers?

The best games within the genre can be daunting and off-putting. Shikhondo however doesn't have that problem. If someone clears easy mode, they certainly can move on to harder difficulties with more time invested. It offers a full campaign within a short time period, which offers a lot of chance to practice.

If you're a fan or looking to start shmups, you can't go wrong with Shikhondo. It's stylish, well executed, has number of features, and hold no punches. 

Fans of shmups and arcade game can play Shikhondo: Soul Eater today via the PlayStation Store.

(Review code was provided from the publisher.)

Madden 19 Review: Running Back(wards) Fri, 24 Aug 2018 09:27:57 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

For a lot of gamers out there, the Madden franchise (and by extension, most sports franchises with yearly entries) is simply an empty cash grab, a game preying on sports fans with iterations that don't amount to much more than roster updates.

Now, you all are smart enough to know that this isn't true. A ton of effort and money goes into making a game like Madden 19, even if it's not blatantly obvious when you look at the character models, or even when you watch the game being played. There's much more going on than meets the eye, which is why it's appreciated when a necessary gameplay tweak is made.

Sure, Madden plays basically the same way, but that's because it has to. You can't revamp the core tenants of football. 

All that is to say I'm generally a sports games stan. I'll defend iterative franchises on the grounds that most of the time, they add enough features and make enough quality of life changes to justify a yearly purchase. That said Madden 19 is a game that has taken most, if not all, of the elements that made the last few games in the franchise so great and tried to ruin them.

A Longshot

Let's get the good out of the way first. Longshot: Homecoming is an entertaining play. It won't take you long to play through -- about six hours -- and it's a continuation of Madden 18's Longshot mode.

For those new to the Longshot single player mode, it's Madden's version of a campaign, only it plays out more like a movie. If you're used to FIFA's single-player mode, this will come as somewhat of a shock. There are no menus to be found and no breaks in the action. If you want to quit, you'll have to pause in the middle of a cutscene or during gameplay and head to the main menu.

This might sound jarring, but it's actually pretty novel for something like this. Longshot: Homecoming wears its influences on its sleeve -- it's trying to be something like a cross between Friday Night Lights, Hard Knocks, and Nashville, so it makes sense that the designers pretty much turned the mode into a playable movie.

You'll step into the shoes of Devin Wade and Colt Cruise in key moments throughout their journeys (proving your worth in the preseason, a 7-on-7 game at a high school, etc.), but you're never really given any player choice. This means that there's no tacked-on morality mechanics, which have always seemed really odd in sports games to me, anyway. There's no ludo-narrative dissonance and -- crucially -- no lulls in the narrative arc since it's been crafted so carefully.

With all that said, the writing isn't great. It gets cringey at times (an early scene where Colt Cruise, a relatively young guy, has never heard of Tumblr springs to mind), but if you like cheesy sports movies, you'll find a lot to like in Longshot: Homecoming.

The actors do a pretty great job, and you'll find yourself sucked into the world pretty quickly. Now for the stuff you won't like.

Control Freak

One of Madden 19's big back-of-the-box claims is that its new one-cut mechanic makes running the ball more fun and explosive. This is true. The small turbo boost you get when you make your first cut is definitely a big quality of life improvement, and it makes the game feel more true-to-life.

What the back of the box fails to say is that one of the other changes to the running game makes carrying the ball insanely frustrating.

Madden 19 added the ability for ballcarriers to "push the pile", meaning that if you run into the back of a blocker, you can help him out by pushing forward for a few yards on a power run. This sounds great in theory, but in practice, ball carriers now gravitate to their blockers and slow down if they run too close to them, all because the game thinks you're trying to push the pile.

This makes runs up the middle insanely frustrating, and also makes running sweep routes really tough, since this will happen as you run past your blockers even though you're running sideways

In general, this makes running the ball just feel... off. Runners and receivers' momentum feels off, and the controls just feel chunky and imprecise whenever you get close to anyone else on your team. It makes controlling the ballcarrier not fun.

If that sounds damning, well, that's because it kind of is. Players that are used to the way Madden controls will find a steep learning curve here, and it's really frustrating to see your ballcarriers move in a different directions than you pointed them.

Game Modes

Of course, Madden Ultimate Team, the microtransaction-laden mode that attempts to bottle the same lightning FIFA Ultimate Team had, makes a return here in Madden 19. However, the mode still doesn't seem suited for a football-sized roster. For the most part, it still feels like a slog, and few of the changes  made to the mode alleviate that pain.

The only exception to this is new 3v3 MUT Squads mode, which sees one player helm the offense with their roster, one player helm the defense with their roster, and one player step into the head coaching role, managing the clock and using their stadium, scheme, and uniform cards. Again, it's still not as fun as FUT, since the increased roster size makes microtransactions feel necessary even though the game is relatively generous with MUT packs -- but MUT Squads gives a bit of hope for the future.

On top of that, there's Franchise mode, and that's largely untouched aside from two things.

First, there's the addition of coaching schemes that add player bonuses. Second, there's the fact that finally (thankfully) player progression has been overhauled. Instead of scrolling through menus and painstakingly picking stats to dump XP into, the game pretty much does all that for you, assigning stat boosts based on what type of player is being trained, and what their role in the scheme is. You'll sometimes be able to choose a stat to boost after a particularly good practice, but the process has been streamlined.

And for fans of the college game, Madden 19 has at long last added the ability to import custom draft classes -- something that fans of the franchise (and the long-dead NCAA Football franchise) have been clamoring for for years.

To EA Sports' credit, they have really streamlined the UI so that all the game modes are easy to find and jump right into, but does that really matter if playing the game isn't terribly fun?

What An Upset

At the end of the day, the reason people put up with iterative games is that there's a sort of social contract there. If you buy in and play the game every year, the developers will improve it, learn from what they've done before, and put out a more polished product next year. That's the deal.

Madden 19 is a strange case when looked at under this lens. It takes many steps back from previous installments in terms of improvements made to ballcarrier controls, while not fixing long-running issues with the game.

Offensive- and defensive-line play still isn't fixed, and the TE/HB angle route is still a guaranteed eight yards almost every time. Also, in my time playing a fully patched copy of the game, I ran into crashes multiple times, as well as a few glitches. On multiple occasions, the QB threw the ball directly to the other team with no receiver within reach -- I experienced this both on offense and defense, lest you think I'm just really bad at Madden.

In addition, the complete absence of Colin Kaepernick (and the redaction of his name from a song on the soundtrack) is absolutely not a good look. Sure, it doesn't affect the gameplay at all, but Madden is about making your own football fantasies real. Kaep is a free agent. The fact that he's not in the game is disappointing, though completely unsurprising.


While Madden 19 has some lamentable aspects, there's an insane amount of polish here. Longshot: Homecoming is meticulously produced. The commentary team is amazing. The new stadium and city models look impeccable. MUT Squads is an inspired addition, and the small tweaks to Franchise Mode really do help make the mode feel like it has taken very real steps forward. 

The central problem here is that the overall game has also taken a huge step back. If you can get used to the running mechanics and deal with waiting for EA Sports to patch up some of the bugs, Madden 19 really is worth your time. But if you're, say, a Steelers fan looking to rush for 3,500 yards per season with Le'Veon Bell? You might want to rent this one first.

You can buy Madden 19 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Amazon for $59.99. 

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Madden 19 used for this review.]

Little Dragons Cafe Review: As Relaxing as It Is Cute Thu, 23 Aug 2018 16:27:07 -0400 Ashley Shankle

There's something to be said for the child-like innocence found in Little Dragons Cafe that has endeared me so heavily. Everything from the setting and dialogue to the environments and general gameplay is steeped in a sort of GameCube-era charm. That's probably why I like it so much.

You see articles across the internet about how this is the creator of Harvest Moon's latest project. Heck, even I wrote a short article mentioning Yasuhiro Wada and his connection to the game. Some may get a little huffy over it, citing he hasn't worked on the series for years, but he worked on my personal favorites within the Harvest Moon series: Back to Nature, Friends of Mineral Town, A Wonderful Life, and Magical Melody.

Whether Wada has worked on the modern series is irrelevant -- his works and overall style appeal to me, and I spent countless hours playing his games growing up and into young adulthood. That said, his development style may not appeal to you, and I would understand why.

Little Dragons Cafe is a game as simple as it appears. Each simple character model has a basic personality, each gameplay system is as low-fuss as possible, and each piece of progression is carefully controlled. It feels like a GameCube game -- I say that as a compliment.

Not every game needs a million mechanics that have complex effects on each other. Sometimes it's fun to just sit back, relax, and play around in a game with minimal oversight over the player and their choices.

Hanging out in LDC

The gameplay flow of Little Dragons Cafe ushers the player along to take care of the cafe and raise the dragon in your trust while helping temporary guests with their woes. These tasks entail cooking, waiting on customers in the cafe, feeding your dragon, and gathering ingredients out in the field.

Though you have much to do in a day, you have ample time to take care of what's important despite the constraints of a 24-hour day cycle. If you don't get everything done you needed to, don't worry. There are no deadlines, only peak business hours in your cafe.

Most of your time in-game is spent gathering ingredients and cooking. You end up spending far more time gathering than cooking, since you have to explore the connected islands to buff your pantry and find pieces of recipes to add to the cafe menu. Once you're ready to head back to your house, teleporting is a button press away and does not progress the clock.

Gathering itself is fairly simple. You shake trees, pick vegetables out of bushes, jump to knock birds out of the air, and snatch up larger egg-laying birds with the press of a button or two. The only difficulty in this aspect lies in trying to find new gathering nodes when you've progressed to a certain point story-wise.

Taking care of the cafe is similarly easy to handle. You are granted some moody employees to wait tables and a particularly flamboyant orc to act as a cook, neither party requiring much effort on your part to work with. There are neither wages nor other intricacies to working with them. Sometimes the cafe employees do slack off or get upset, but you can talk to them to calm them down and get them back to work.

Cooking and menu management is the one aspect of Little Dragons Cafe that takes some effort. You must clear a short rhythm minigame to cook a dish, with the quality of the dish varying based on your performance. The better you do, the better the dish and the more likely guests will be to order and enjoy it.

Guests themselves aren't too picky but they do have opinions on dishes that you have to pay attention to. You can view recent customer comments on dishes and see the overall score for each dish within the cooking menu. From there, you can decide whether you should work up a new recipe or leave the dish on the menu as-is. Swapping menu dishes out is no-fuss, and the food looks great.

This all may sound like a lot -- I didn't even mention taking care of the dragon yet -- but it boils down to a very simple flow of play. You wake up, gather until lunch, teleport back to the cafe to help with the lunch rush, go gather again until 7 p.m., then teleport back to help with the dinner rush. Then you either go out gathering one last time or hit the sack. Easy peasy.

No consequences

It's up to you how you approach this game as there are minimal consequences to your actions.

You don't have to be at the cafe for peak hours, your employees will probably handle it just fine. But if they don't (you get a notification if they are slacking off), you just take a hit to your reputation. No big deal.

You don't actually have to go to bed at a set time to get reasonable sleep, either. If you so choose, you can explore the islands and gather until nearly 6 a.m. and then go to bed rather than sleeping around 10 p.m. to midnight. There's just no need, and the only penalty you'll incur is sleeping in 10 or 20 minutes late. This is also not a big deal.

This lack of accountability or meaningful penalties carries over to taking care of your dragon. You can feed and pet the dragon, but there's not much more to its care than that. Your dragon is a valuable asset, however; it allows you to gather ingredients you wouldn't be able to otherwise and you even get to use it to fly and explore once you reach a certain point. That point is where the game opens up and you stop getting frustrated over jumping.

All ages accepted

Though I myself am a 30+ year old woman and have found a lot to love in Little Dragons Cafe, I have to admit this game seems better suited to a much younger age group. Though that hasn't been a detriment to my enjoyment.

There are a few things that really stick out while playing. The first is the lack of consequences as touched on above. It's quite noticeable.

The incredibly cutesy and basic, logic-defying characters and their dialogue are the biggest hint. Why keep Billy around for the first chunk of the game if he just keeps slacking? I don't know, but the player character seems to think it's a great idea.

Nonetheless, the character stories you must see through are endearing and engaging in their own way. You learn to like the characters more as you learn about them and they push trough life's hurdles right there with you.

Little Dragons Cafe makes no qualms about keeping things light, cute, and simple to its benefit. It's a straight-forward and light-hearted game from start to finish. Its simplicity is why I say it feels like a GameCube game. There's nothing particularly intricate here but that is part of what makes it an all-around enjoyable package.

The (beef bowl) rubdown

The game's music is particularly of note, and I don't mean the cooking rhythm game tracks. Most of the music found in Little Dragons Cafe is very well done and at times reaches classic Harvest Moon-levels of catchy. I really appreciated it paired with the unique drawing-esque visuals.

I have only one real glaring complaint with Little Dragons Cafe, and that is jumping. The rhythm minigame is the most difficult thing you're going to find here, but the stiff and sometimes unresponsive jumping can be a very real problem in a game where you're having to watch the clock.

It's too easy to miss jumps. I once got stuck trying to jump up a rock for nearly an hour in-game for some unknown reason. It just would not let me up. I've also repeatedly gotten stuck on ledges mid-jump, sometimes leading into my character skidding across the ledge and subsequently falling. It's weird, not fun, and made me thank my lucky stars once my dragon was old enough to fly.

Though by no means perfect, Little Dragons Cafe is a very enjoyable experience if you want a game that seems to relax just as much as you do when playing.

The pacing and overall feel of LDC are so similar to those older Harvest Moon titles that I enjoyed so much, that I have repeatedly sat down intending to play for only an hour or so only to find that hour spurt turn into a full four-hour spree.

I may be in love with Little Dragons Cafe, but one has to admit when their taste doesn't fall in line with most and this is one of those times. Despite its "Aww!" inducing charms and gameplay that can so easily pull the player in for hours, the lack of punishment for mistakes and the absolutely disastrous jumping are real detriments some players may not be able to overlook. I can, though -- and I would say that if you enjoyed Yasuhiro Wada' classic Harvest Moon games I mentioned at the start of this review or just want the friendliest game on the block, you may very well enjoy it, too.

You can get Little Dragons Cafe on either the Nintendo Switch or the PlayStation 4 as of August 24.

[Note: Writer was granted a copy of the game on the Nintendo Switch for review purposes from the publisher.]

Hypergun Review: Interesting But Not Inventive Thu, 23 Aug 2018 11:18:49 -0400 Zack Palm

When the fate of the world rests in your lap, you ponder all of the options in front of you to make sure you're going to make the best choice to ensure humanity's survival. Though, in Hypergun this is going to take you a couple of tries and you won't find the exact answer to save your world's population during your first simulation. You're going to take a few tries and you may discover several new iterations along the way!

In Hypergun you're the employee of a large corporation with the goal of attempting to find the best weapon to fight an imminent alien invasion. To find that gun, you must traverse through a randomly generated simulation to see what possibilities await, no matter how many times it feels like you're repeating the same process over and over again.

Why Are We Here?

There's an imminent alien invasion pressuring Earth right now, and its your goal right now to go through various simulations to find the perfect gun for Earth's defense forces to use against the alien forces. You enter a simulation world where you have to enter various rooms, forced to face whatever enemy army you're placed against, clear them, and then move on. Whenever you kill an enemy force you have to chance to gain a different item, such as a new weapon attachment, a bit to use in the simulation's store, a hypercoin, to use  outside of the simulation, or a useful piece of health or shield to protect yourself against the enemy forces.

There's six different simulation levels you have to go through to craft the perfect Hypergun. That's your goal! Each time you start a simulation you must go through it using the gun you start with, which varies on your start class, and gain random attachments along the way.

The attachments you acquire determine the different aspects of your gun. For example, you main gain a weapon attachment that increases your weapon's velocity, but decreases its damage for a certain amount, but in the next room on the first level you may find a new weapon attachment that increases its overall speed; all of these attachments stack on top of each as you progress through your simulation and they can only be restarted if die or start at the beginning.

How do the bit pieces vary from the hypercoins? You can earn them both during your simulation, however you can only turn in the bit pieces you discover for weapon attachments, health, shield, or additional pieces of ammo for your class. When you acquire a hypercoin, you have to use them outside of the simulation to upgrade your class or purchase a class you have yet to acquire from the three you can buy.

How The Gamplay Changes During Each Run

When you first enter the simulation you'll run into a variety of different enemies: melee opponents, large chargers attempting to bash you into the wall, snipers, and flying drones peppering you with small layers of fire. They're annoying, and take a bit of time adjusting to, but after the first handful of rooms you have to deal with them you'll quickly master them. Once you run through the entire procedurally generated floor you'll arrive to the boss, where you have to put your skills to the test against a formidable foe. 

Again, like when you were previously fighting difficult minions, the boss proves a hard foe until you figure how it attacks, moves, and how you damage it. Once this happens you'll quickly find yourself anticipating its moves and moving on to the next floor and making your Hypergun far more efficient than the previous model you were working on during your last run. Unlike a Dark Souls foe, the boss takes a far less time to figure out.

You're not worried about the boss as much as you're expected to when you're working up to them. This is a regrettable move as you're forced to start the boss all over again, because having played other rogue-like games, these bosses feel like repeatable levels and understandable motions. If anything, the levels themselves become more difficult because the random nature of what get attached to your gun determines your playstyle, determining how much faster or harder you shoot your opponents.

The most difficult part to face against is when you change classes. You have four to choose from: The Intern, Security, the Lawyer, and Human Resources. While the attachments affect the weapon you're making in the simulation, the class you start with determines the stats of the weapon, along with the abilities you can use during your encounters.

Each class comes with a different item ability they can use for a limited time, a different dash, a different activated ability, and a different passive. This determines their playstyle, though the augments they pick up, randomly, truly manufacture the unique weapon as they progress through the simulation.

The Unfortunate Simulation

 In Hypergun, that's the major unfortunate feature you're forced to endure with: the varying augmentations. During your progression through each level, you do determine what variety of gun your wielding as it depends on the class you choose. You can pick the SMG for the first class, the Intern, or the sniper rifle of the Human Resources class, or the shotgun of the Lawyer, but whatever attachments you add to them gets procedurally generated by the game and it feels like a weight on your game play as you continue forward towards the other levels.

All of the classes have something different about them and it does make them stand out, but the attachments, especially during the later levels, certainly determine your play style, and they feel like a weight. It's the forced nature of them that makes this possible. The only thing you're able to choose is your abilities and the type of gun you'd like to use during your simulation, and that's it. Once you're inside, whatever attachments you find you have to add to gun your gun and use during your play through until you perish or choose to back out.

While you're going forward you're constantly looking for new attachments to add to your gun by killing enemies or buying them in the shop, but they're all random you never know what you're going to do. You may start out as the Human Resources class and steadily lose weapon velocity on your sniper rifle to make your gun less efficient, but the power may increase, despite how much more your rely on your abilities. The procedural generation feels like a force weight you can't shake off, despite how much your proceed forward. It's painful, but you'll continue endure to see what the other levels have to offer.

What's The Story?

There's not too many story points going on in the background. You can discover a handful of log entries throughout the environment of the outside world, but the resources are limited and don't offer the best of information to motivate you during your progression. They hint at an alien invasion and how what you're doing is wrong, but there's never any consequences.

The only story you have to rely on is the fact you have to complete all six levels of the laboratory to achieve a proper Hypergun, and when you do, you will have saved humanity! But there's always another, better gun you could have made. Do you have what it takes to make another?

I ran into a handful of bugs during my playthroughs, such as accidentally dashing through the world or getting stuck behind an electric wall and getting killed by the minions. These bugs were minor, but they happened and ruined a run here and there; an annoying problem, but not something that I continually grappled with.


Hypergun is a great game to play with some fun gun control and varying weapon attachments to challenge you while you run through a horde of alien monsters. But after the first four or five runs, things start to feel repetitive, and no matter how good you get against the foes you're forcing you'll start to feel a little stuck, bored, and wanting to start on the last level you died at. The procedural weapon attachments don't help either because you have to rely entirely on random numbers to gift you a worthwhile combo to make an impact.

You're going to have fun, but there are other rogue-like games on the market you may think about while you work towards crafting the perfect Hypergun to face off against the alien race.

Review: Yakuza Kiwami 2 Thu, 23 Aug 2018 10:00:01 -0400 ElConquistadork


After a massive explosion has rocked the HQ of my yakuza family, I'm in a panic. Despite the fact that I've tried to make a legitimate life for myself after a life of crime, I know I have to return. I have to find out who did this. I have to find them, and make them pay.

But first, I need to get the last remaining stuffed cat from the UFO crane machine.

Such is the legacy of the often-strange, often-exciting open world of Sega's Yakuza: a series that has lasted for thirteen years, spawning countless games, spin-offs, and remasters in the process. It's a series that hops between the ultra-serious and the cartoonishly silly, with some of the most entertaining ludonarrative dissonance you can find in a game.

But where can one even begin? Unlike similar open world experiences like Grand Theft AutoYakuza tells an ever-expanding story with dozens of characters and a veritable labyrinth of twists, turns, and betrayals. 

Yakuza Kiwami to the rescue!

A remastered and retooled version of the first Yakuza game published in 2005, Yakuza Kiwami was the ideal situation for players who were interested in the series, but had no idea what was going on by the time they got to it. And its sequel, Yakuza Kiwami 2, continues that tradition with a fully remastered edition of Yakuza 2.

And it is glorious.

Not only is Yakuza Kiwami 2 another terrific step into the kaleidoscopic storylines and lore that have surrounded this franchises for years, it is recreated in a way that adds more of the details and minutia that have garnered it so much praise. 

You play as the stoic Kazuma Kiryu as he attempts (unsuccessfully) to normalize his life and leave his yakuza roots behind him. It isn't long until you're forced into conflict with a rival clan: an all-out war between East and West Japan looming on the horizon.

Set in two Japanese cities, Kiwami 2 feels a little small compared to what we've grown to recognize and understand an open world game to be. But where some open world games are known for a loneliness that comes along with their enormity, Kiwami 2 values quality over quantity. The venues may not have changed very often, but there was never a lack for something entertaining to do. Whether it's helping a street busker with his song-ruining cold, or teaching a group of creepy photographers about the value of consent, Kiryu is in a perpetual state of tidying up the communities that surround him in ways that are funny, heartfelt, and sometimes truly bizarre.

In addition to the people that find you, there are a number of diversions for you to find. From darts to Virtua Fighter to the aforementioned crane game, you can spend hours perfecting your golf swing when you ought to be defeating the Omi family.

If the side quests were my favorite aspect of Yakuza Kiwami 2 (and they were), then the combat has to be my next favorite. Even when you're not hunting down thugs and assassins personally, you will be constantly in a state of one scrap or another. A mere half minute on the streets of Kamurocho or Sotenbori will present you with plenty of thugs and street toughs who've all got something to prove. And I might have found that annoying if the combat system wasn't so satisfying.

Every punch or kick you throw at an enemy slams into them. Adding weapons to the mix is fun, but not always necessary, as the Heat meter and experience upgrade system are always adding plenty of ways for you to feel like a legend on the mean streets of Japan. Boss fights pose an extra challenge for you as you get to know their style throughout the fight, and eventually take them down with brilliantly-executed cinematic finishers. 

The newly-engineered visuals for Yakuza Kiwami 2 are beautiful, from the subtle face movements to the glittering lights of the cityscapes that surround you. This is particularly important during Kiwami's many cutscenes. It might sound obvious to say, but the difference between the graphical style of 2018's Yakuza Kiwami 2 and the original Yakuza 2 (released in the States a decade ago) is massive. The changes Sega has made are truly gorgeous.

If I had anything negative to say about Yakuza Kiwami 2, it would probably be centered around the main storyline. The ultra-serious story that is being told often clashes terribly with the funny, sometimes surprisingly cutesy side missions that I found myself perpetually on. Perhaps that's why so many of the main plot's cutscenes felt like they went on forever. Thankfully, if you're not interested in the warring relations between the Tojo and Omi clans, you can just skip through them and get back to working on your karaoke skills.

The yakuza series continues to impress, all these years later. Whether you're new to the series and want to learn more about the strange trials and tribulations of Kazuma Kiryu, or you just want another big world to explore and sink your teeth into, Yakuza Kiwami 2 has something that everyone can get behind.

You can buy Yakuza Kiwami 2 on Amazon for $49.99. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Yakuza Kiwami 2 used for this review.]

Death's Gambit Review: Flawed But Fun 2D Dark Fantasy Soulsvania Mon, 20 Aug 2018 12:42:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

Fans of 2D Metroidvanias are absolutely swimming in options right now as a flood of high-quality new releases has recently inundated the market. After La-Mulana 2 and Dead Cells offered insanely fun takes on the old-school Metroidvania style, we've now got the hyper stylish Death's Gambit as well.

So what sets this one apart?

Death's Gambit splits the difference between the SNES platformer style and the Souls-like phenomona. It pulls from both sides of the aisle and offers something in between that will appeal to a wider audience than either one alone. 

Two Halves Of A Grim Whole

Right from the start, there are areas of this game that will trigger fond memories of classics like Symphony Of The Night. From finding secret nooks and crannies to regularly conversing with Death himself, there's a definite Alucard feel to much of the game. The same goes for the game's streamlined stats and inventory management, which is less extensive than a full fledged RPG but a good fit for a 2D platformer with light RPG elements.

As you progress, you'll quickly notice there are a handful of attack combos to figure out, many of which use different weapons, keeping things fresh and interesting from the get go. There's also plenty of platforming built into the game's level design and puzzles. Sme of these are straightforward, while some, for example, use the landscape to help you avoid boss super attacks.

One area in the early part of the game in particular has a fun segment where a phoenix constantly rushes by and sets the area on fire (Dark Souls, anyone?). You have to use objects (or enemies) to your advantage to keep from getting cooked. It's not only a great gameplay example, but also a fantastic example of Death's Gambit expertly meshing the background art style into the gameplay.

However, it's not too long before Death's Gambit starts to move away from the classics. Here, you can essentially pick your own play style. Whether you go with scythe, greatsword, magic tome, or axe, weapons have their own abilities not directly tied to your talent load out. You can change your play style not just by trying different classes in a second playthrough, but simply by using a different weapon type and picking different skills.

There's also a big give and take between skill-point selection, picking the best class talent to gain soul power, and deciding whether you want to use feathers for a damage boost or keep them in your inventory for healing. For such a simplistic game, there's a surprising level of strategy and character-building options here. I had a ton of fun in many areas just trying out different ways to tackle the same challenges.

More than just numbers to boost health or damage, selecting the right stats when leveling up can also change the dynamic of the game. For instance, do you want more Stamina so you can dodge and roll away from long attack animations, or do you want more Finesse to utilize better equipment? The choices are seemingly endless. 

The Castlevania-style platformer/RPG mashup is just one half of Death's Gambit whole, though.The other half ramps up the difficulty while changing the focus of the game's combat mechanics. You can't just button mash and expect to make it through a screen, as that's a sure way to meet a grisly end.

Everything from menu design to the way you learn backstory through item descriptions all ooze a strong atmosphere from a certain game I don't even need to name. Stamina management? Check. Learning specific attack patterns for each enemy? Check. Dying a lot? Oh yeah, check. Going to a "bonfire" (in this case a statue) to spend "souls" (in this case shards)? Double check.

In this case, though, dying is built into the story a bit more cohesively, as Death himself is a character who doesn't want you to meet your final end just yet. Turns out, he needs you to help him, which is a good thing since you're being roasted alive when he appears and offers his contract. In fact, Death is also the means by which you learn backstory about the main character. Storytelling is handled through flashbacks appearing after certain numbers of deaths, so the game actually wants you to die from time to time. 

This little tidbit is worked into the game constantly, such as the very nice touch of coming across a pile of your dead, former incarnations in a corner. Apparently, they all had pretty back luck in that particular puzzle room.

Ready For A Real Challenge?

While the basic Souls-like elements are all there, the combat on your first playthrough isn't nearly as hard as with Dark Souls, Nioh, or The Surge.

That worked out well for me, as I was actually able to figure out the attack patterns and the puzzles without giving up in frustration early on. If insane difficulty is a feature and not a bug for you, though, there are a handful of twists here that can provide that extra level of challenge that masochistic players desire.

Gold chests filled with extra goodies only unlock if you didn't use a healing feather in that area. Sure, you might be good enough to beat a section, but can you beat it without ever getting hit and regaining any health?

You can turn on perma-death by cancelling death's contract... at any time. You want a serious rogue-like element added in to make your Souls-like even more absurd? That's the way to go about it.

Finally, there are heroic versions of bosses that appear after you beat them the first time. These are truly insane renditions of the basic boss fights that will strain your skills (and your sanity).

So, while the main game is quite short, taking on these extra challenges adds in some replayability and extends the time you can expect to spend exploring the world of Death's Gambit.

Deathly Aesthetics

Although it might feel like a cross between Castlevania and Dark Souls on the gameplay front, the story and world building are totally different beasts  with Death's Gambit.

A clear dark anime tone, along the lines of Berserk, pervades the game, with hardened soldiers getting horribly killed in huge numbers by monstrous beasts. This isn't a constant grimdark bummer, though, and there's even some humor here and there, like with a tiny lizard companion who likes to brew up some strange beer.

All of these characters and storylines are presented in a side-scrolling pixel format, and it fits the nostalgic tone. When a developer makes the choice to go old-school 2D in this day and age, they've got to absolutely nail it, and for the most part, that's what happened here.

The pixel graphics are very satisfying overall, although a few of the larger boss enemies like the Owlking and Soul Of The Phoenix look sort of wonky and don't perfectly mesh with the backgrounds. On top of that, the character design often made me think of Demon's Crest, with hybrid animal-creature NPCs and knights in huge armor. Death's Gambit is definitely striving to achieve a retro feel that doesn't skimp on the dark fantasy elements.

In terms of map layout, the areas aren't huge, but they are varied. Lava, deep forest, crumbling cities, and more will all feature prominently in your journey across the land. These varied landscapes make the overworld feel all the larger, even if it is only somewhat superficial to feel that way. 

On the audio side, Death's Gambit has an absolutely beautiful soundtrack. In may ways, it's like a more varied version of I Am Setsuna's music, just with additional instruments. Top-notch voice acting for many of the characters tops it all off, tying everything together into a nice cohesive whole.

As an old-school game, there are, of course, some oddities on the controls front you'll have to get used to, and some of these quirky controls feel like they need to be changed.

For instance, why do I have to hold the spacebar while moving on a ladder? That's pretty awkward on a keyboard. With how often you have to mash the shift key while moving to dodge roll, my computer also kept switching back to the desktop and asking me if I wanted to turn on Sticky Keys.

Strangely, there's also no ability to pause the game, and enemies will keep killing you while you pull up the item menu. Sure, that's a staple in the Souls-like genre, but it's something to note here. 

The Bottom Line

On your first playthorugh, Death's Gambit is fairly short, but bosses are plentiful and there are secrets galore to uncover.

Developer White Rabbit could certainly polish the controls a bit, and there are a handful of bugs that need to be quashed in an upcoming patch. In particular, my playthrough was marred by black lines flickering across the screen fairly often.

Although the game seems simple based off the art style and mechanics, there are actually loads of different elements to juggle, like upgrading items, carefully picking skills based on the number of shards harvested from enemies, deciding on a talent tree path, and so on.

The difficulty is satisfying, but not insane. Combat will get hectic in some areas with dodging falling spike platforms and rolling out of the way of scythe attacks, all while simultaneously jumping to avoid exploding bomb arrows.The tone and fantasy style of Dark Souls in a classic 2D Metroidvania layout? Yes please!

There's also clear incentive to keep playing and find new encounters, as the game doesn't hold your hand while puzzling out the story. The player has to piece things together as the game doesn't assume they know what the main character knows.

In short, Death's Gambit isn't perfect, but it is damn good, and it meshes together two different genres with a lot of style and charm.

Hopefully, some patching will arrive soon to smooth over the rougher parts and keep the player base hooked until Bloodstained Ritual Of The Night shows up later this year.

You can buy Death's Gambit on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Death's Gambit used in this review.]

Shenmue 1+2 Remastered Collection Review Mon, 20 Aug 2018 10:00:01 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Many of us that fell in love with Shenmue when it released for the Dreamcast in 1999 had spent many hours of our formative years watching some of the best martial arts films of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Following in the footsteps of classics such as Shaolin Temple, Enter the Dragon, Kickboxer, and even Rumble in the Bronx, Shenmue’s narrative of revenge and intrigue used much of what we enjoyed about those films to craft a digital world as engrossing as it was stunning.

For its time, the game captured hearts and minds because of its unique twist on open-world gameplay. A mixture of lifesim and adventure game, RPG and martial arts brawler, Shenmue challenged the status quo by embracing its own pseudo-realism. It could be as mundane and exciting all at once. That’s what made it fun.

In 2001, SEGA and Yu Suzuki released a sequel, Shenmue 2. Although not as well received by fans at the time, this second effort garnered plaudits from critics and has since become a cult classic because It improved some of the more tedious elements of Shenmue by implementing additional quality of life improvements to the proven formula, such as minimap and wait mechanics. It also continued the engrossing story of the first game, while considerably increasing the size of the game world.

It’s a shame more players didn’t experience Shenmue 2 when it originally launched for the Dreamcast in Europe and Japan or after it was ported to the Xbox in North America a year later.

However, the time has come to rectify that tragedy with the Shenmue 1+2 remastered collection. Here, SEGA has created a remaster that faithfully captures Suzuki’s lightning in a bottle for a new generation of players.

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that both games look leagues better than the original titles. Character models are refined and clear, while landscapes are crisper and more defined. Lens flare and water in Shenmue 2 appear as if they were taken from a last-gen title -- which is saying something for a game that’s old enough to graduate high school.

On the PC version of the collection, there’s quite a bit to tweak when it comes to graphics. From anti-aliasing, bloom, and contrast to aspect ratio and resolutions up to 4K, players can dial in some pretty hefty visual upgrades. Running on a high-end gaming PC, we maxed out Shenmue 1+2 and while it did show its graphical age with some inherent blockiness, the results were nonetheless enjoyable. On top of that, and as would be expected, both games ran at a smooth and constant 30fps (at which they’re locked), and we experienced no tearing or choppiness, with load times being nearly instantaneous.

When it comes to controlling Ryo, using a controller is best; this game just wasn’t built for mouse and keyboard, even if it is supported in the PC version of the collection. Despite the game now allowing you to use a control stick for movement, Shenmue retains its original tank-style movement, where Ryo moves in more robotic motions like a character from Resident Evil or Onimusha. Shenmue 2 refines that a bit, allowing for more nuanced movement, especially when turning while on the run, but you won’t find modern-day fluidity here (which is, understandably, expected).

Fighting also feels a tad dated, but not in an obtuse or restrictive way. The fighting mechanics for each game are based off of those found in the Virtua Fighter series. This mostly works in each game’s 3D environments, but considering the streets of Dobuita and Hong Kong aren’t necessarily built as square fighting arenas, camera angles can get tied up in the scenery from time to time, making dodging, punching, and kicking somewhat of a guessing game.

However, the fighting system is just as deep as it’s ever been. From throws to evasions to heavy punches and light kicks, brawling in both is mostly fluid and completely responsive once you learn its small quirks. Throwing can be a bit difficult since getting close to your opponent isn’t easy, but it does make sense since throwing is one of your most powerful attacks. Be sure to train, too, since many attacks require multiple inputs that can get a little overwhelming in battle if you haven’t spent the time understanding them and leveling them up.

On top of combat, both games have myriad minigames that you can play to pass the time. Similar to the Yakuza games, although not as prevalent or in-depth, you can easily get lost in any one of these minigames, whittling your hard-earned in-game money away at darts, slots, arm wrestling, punching machines, and even vintage SEGA classics like Space Harrier and Afterburner. That’s not to mention you can conversely spent eons working at the docks driving a forklift in Shenmue, amassing a small in-game fortune to waste away on everything from the aforementioned mingames to soda.

None of these minigames have any real bearing on the game’s overall story, but instead act simply as distractions to flesh out the vibrant world. I won’t talk much about the collection’s story because doing so might inadvertently spoil it. All you need to know about the story is that it’s a fantastic tale of revenge, mystery, and intrigue. If you’ve played these games before, you already know all of this. If you’re new to the series, just know that Shenmue and Shenmue 2 tell one of the 6th Generation’s most compelling narratives.

In this regard, it’s a bit of a shame that the voice acting isn’t a little better and the dialogue isn’t as stilted as it is. Shenmue 2 is more of what you’d expect from a game of such storied pedigree; even if some of the dialogue sounds a bit muffled or as if it’s coming from the other side of a thin wall, the overall mix for the game’s dialogue and cutscenes is more consistent and more aligned with what modern gamers expect.

However, Shenmue is a different story. There, most characters sound like they’re talking through a broken radio, complete with underlying static. I didn’t notice it as much as I got further into the game, but I’m not sure if that’s just because I got used to it or because it went away (and perhaps it’s something that will be fixed come launch day).


The bottom line is that if you liked these games when they originally released, this is a collection that should already be in your shopping cart. If you’re new to the series, you have to go in understanding these are remasters of 20-year-old games. They aren’t remakes. There are hurdles to get over, but it’s because of the era in which these games were made.

Under the hood, these games are just as good as they ever were.

In an ideal world, cutscenes would be borderless, the dialogue wouldn’t be so on the nose, and the voice acting wouldn’t be stilted and tinny (specifically in Shenmue). On top of that, Shenmue would at least have a wait feature and both games would have better fast travel systems. But honestly, those are small gripes about mechanics that arguably make the games more endearing in certain regards. Luckily, you can save anywhere you want in either, which makes things a tad more manageable in both. 

These are indeed relics of a bygone era, but they still hold up because of the work SEGA’s put into this collection. As it stands, this is the very best way to play these classics, and it's a collection that should be in your library if you’re a fan of Japanese role-playing or action games.

You can buy the Shenmue 1+2 Collection for PC on Steam for $29.99. It is also available on Amazon for the PS4 and Xbox One.

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Shenmue 1+2 used for this review.]

2064: Read Only Memories Integral Review - Approaching Artificial Humanity Fri, 17 Aug 2018 12:14:59 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

2064: Read Only Memories Integral is an enhanced version of the original Read Only Memories that was released on various platforms back in 2015, with the new version including exclusive content for the Nintendo Switch in the form of the "Punks" side story.

Read Only Memories has been drifting between platforms through a series of incremental changes and updated editions and titles since it first released in 2015, but now it seems the game has finally reached its final form with all intended tweaks and content on the Switch. It's a narrative-focused cyberpunk adventure game very reminiscent of classic PC adventure games in the vein of Snatcher or the Gabriel Knight series. 

With the game seemingly finalizing its design with 2064: Read Only Memories Integral, has this quirky yet contemplative adventure game finally found its true home on the Switch? 

 Let's see if this game can pass the Turing Test.

What's So Integral About It?

Read Only Memories' story is a thriller mystery centered around the player character - a struggling part-time journalist in NEO-San Francisco who is suddenly visited in the night by a prototype sentient AI named Turing. Turing informs you that his creator, your friend Hayden, has suddenly been kidnapped by an unknown assailant. You vow to aid Turning in solving the mystery of Hayden's abduction, and in the process become embroiled in the underground world of hacking, sinister corporations, and the growing tensions between the population of hybrids and the so-called "human revolution" that threaten to overflow. 

The story is held up by a cast of diverse and interesting characters, who range from soft-spoken hackers from the deep south to catgirl civil rights attorneys - all of whom have well-defined personalities and plenty of memorable lines to help cement themselves in your mind. The story has a bit of a slow start compared to what comes after it, though it does do a good job of establishing the universe and the tone for the rest of the game. 

The scale of the world feels rather small through the eyes of your character, but you still manage to get a grip on how big the issues affecting the world are. All the characters feel like necessary components to the story rather than just incidental NPCs with no bearing on events.

This scene in particular really got to me.

Read Only Memories Or Just Read Only?

There's very little I can say about Read Only Memories without spoiling the mystery or any of the stronger character moments, but that may also be because there isn't much to talk about in terms of gameplay. 

Everything in the game involving presentation and writing is strong, so I cannot fault the game much for that. The pixelated graphics aren't the best I've seen, but they're still solid and represent the era of PC gaming that the game is replicating well, and they're as colorful and as expressive as they need to be for the world to feel alive and reactive.

The sound design is quirky and suits the often spontaneous tone of the game's writing well, and is used especially well when timed for comedic moments. The soundtrack is catchy as hell from the start, and the voice acting is genuinely fantastic, with every character delivering a strong performance.

The actual moment-to-moment gameplay, however, is where the game falters because there's just not much of it. Games like Ace Attorney, Gone Home, and VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action have stripped back or simplified gameplay in a game in order to promote a stronger emphasis on the story, but the gameplay segments are much more frequent.

The majority of the time I spent with ROM was spent listening to every single option in a veritable national park's worth of dialogue trees in order to progress, and more often than not all you're expected to do is continue listening.

This wouldn't be much of an issue if it weren't for the fact that a lot of the game's dialogue is rather heavy on explanation and exposition. Tech-talk and elaborate back-stories are expected in a cyberpunk setting, but the flow of the dialogue alternating between normal conversation and tech-jargon was rather clunky at times.

While this is a pretty cool way to explain the details of a dollar-store laser gun, text walls like this pop-up fairly often, and it can be a bit overwhelming.

At times it was difficult to pay attention to the story because my eyes would glaze over when the screen would fill up with components, people and places and it would just be too much to comfortably digest. It was by no means something that ruined the story for me at all, but it was a pace-breaker a lot of the time. The story was at its best when the characters were just talking like normal people (or ROMs), and whenever they would switch over to "important backstory" mode there was an occasional grinding of gears. 

Is it Worth $20.64? 

Overall, I enjoyed most of my time with 2064: Read Only Memories Integral, but I feel as though it could have done a bit more to actively engage me as a player rather than a viewer. The presentation is solid, and the voice acting and writing can both be pretty great, but my attention and interest in the story dipped more than once when it felt as though there wasn't much actively demanding my input.

The few mini-games included are nice little diversions - and the world does naturally unfold and expand into an interesting setting full of equally fascinating characters, but it just wasn't quite enough. The experience couldn't have been anything but improved by adding in more typical adventure game puzzles and interactions. 

Hunting around the screen to find this memory card wasn't super exciting, but it still engaged me in a different way than just sitting there listening.

If you're looking for a story based game that's more engaging than a visual novel, maybe look elsewhere. You get a complete campaign that'll last you around 9 hours on top of the "Punks" side-story and all the gallery materials for the cute entry fee of $20.64, so it's a safe investment if you're looking for value.

If you're mainly interested in the story or setting and don't care as much about the gameplay specifics, then, by all means, check it out. With some slight adjustments Read Only Memories could have been a great game, but as it stands, it's just good.

2064: Read Only Memories Integral is available now for Nintendo Switch.

[Note: The copy of 2064: Read Only Memories was provided by MidBoss for review.]

State of Mind Review Fri, 17 Aug 2018 10:18:32 -0400 Wizard of Warsaw

State of Mind is a narrative-driven cyberpunk thriller developed by Daedalic Entertainment, who are known for their narrative-driven games. Exploring a world on the brink of change, State of Mind’s dark tone delves into themes revolving around ethics and technology. 

Daedalic Entertainment may be best known for point-and-click adventure games, but State of Mind is a pleasant, if simple, divergence from that concept. Maintaining their focus on narrative, Daedalic created a world whose primary focus is allowing the player to explore as freely as possible. 


The game revolves around two men recovering from dangerous accidents,  Richard Nolan and Adam Newman. Richard is on a search for his wife and son who have mysteriously disappeared, but due to his accident, he can't remember where they went. In an attempt to piece together his memories, you explore various facets of advanced technologies to find them.

As Adam, you face the struggles of fatherhood. With his wife busy working on a large unknown project, Adam spends most of his time taking care of his son, John, all on his own.

Their two stories are related, so you’ll spend a fair bit of time early on swapping back and forth between the two characters. Both characters are able to explore their own homes, the nearby street, and their place of employment, as well as clubs and offices that each character uncovers during their journeys. There are similarities in the locations that both characters visit, but the vast difference in tone makes every location unique. 

As you play with each character, you begin to grasp at the straws of a larger and more sinister plan. Richard, chasing after his family, finds himself embroiled in the beginnings of a war. John, on the other hand, struggling to regain lost memories, uncovers information about a conspiratorial government plot.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't have a ton of replay value. Since there are very few choices that seem to have real weight, the game doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve missed out just because you didn’t make a certain choice.  


The gameplay follows the Heavy Rain formula, based largely on the exploration of your surroundings. The controls for the game boil down to movement, interaction, and examination. Walking through each area reveals a variety of objects with which you can interact, but oftentimes the interactions don’t hold much value, acting more as minor world building moments or the occasional foreshadowing. 

The exploration style gameplay is punctuated with a variety of interesting mini-games. These mini-games tend to follow the same simple control scheme as the rest of the game, though the variations help to provide an occasional break from exploration.

You’ll move from exploring as Richard or John, to hacking and controlling drones. While the mini-games tend to keep the game from becoming too monotonous, they also end up being very rarely repeated. Controlling a drone is a fun break from the standard gameplay, but since it only happens two or three times, it feels like a concept that wasn’t fully utilized.  

In comparison to other story driven games, State of Mind is a little lackluster. With no real choices to affect the outcome you feel more like a passenger as the story progresses. The ideas on trans-humanism and digital privacy are not new, but they still beg to be explored. In opposition to the physical exploration style of the game, the story leaves no room to explore the possibilities as it holds your hand on its way to the only ending.   


State of Mind does an excellent job of expressing a lot with very little. By using a low-poly art style, especially in this cyberpunk setting, the player is allowed to explore without getting bogged down in the myriad details of an unknown world. Since exploration is a common component of the gameplay, the art lends itself to keeping the player focused.

Interestingly, Richard and Adam seem to exist in entirely different worlds. Richard’s world is dark and cold, while Adam finds himself surrounded by warm light. This stark style difference seems to reflect each characters opinions on the world around them.


The gameplay for State of Mind is simple and effective, but the biggest draw is the story. State of Mind takes a fantastic look at ideas that have concerned humanity since science fiction’s beginnings. The concepts may not be unique, but they have the potential to be fun ideas for players to explore. 

Overall, State of Mind is a good game and while I may not be playing it again anytime soon, it was a fun time. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of State of Mind used for this review.]

Yakuza 0 PC Review: It's as Good as Ever Thu, 09 Aug 2018 15:46:16 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Both the Yakuza fanbase and sections of the PC community have been asking for Yakuza on PC for a long time. And for a long time it seemed impossible, a pipe dream for those interested in the series without a PlayStation-line console.

There are a few times in life when dreams do come true. In this instance that's thanks to Japanese publishers' increased focus on the PC market. The line between console exclusives and the PC space is little more than a blur today.

If you had asked me whether I thought the Yakuza series would be making its way to PC a few years ago, I'd probably have scoffed and taken offense due to the naivety of the question. Japanese publishers didn't port to PC, and when they did, it wasn't exactly done well. Plus, the chances of such a niche series making its way over here? Psh, yeah right.

It's 2018 now and Yakuza is on PC. Heck, a whole lot of other series I never thought would make it off console are now getting PC ports -- and not bad ports, either. These aren't coming out in the same states Deadly Premonition and Dark Souls got so carelessly released in. No. These are quality ports on par with their console versions -- or even better.

What a time to be alive.

Yakuza 0 is the first game in the series to make its way to PC, and what an appropriate choice on Sega's part. 0 is the place to start if you have never touched the series before.

There may be some confusion about the naming-slash-numbering of this series, so let's lay it out: Yakuza 0 is a prequel to Yakuza Kiwami, which is a remake of the original PlayStation 2 game. There are five additional games after Kiwami, with the latest being Yakuza 6 on the PlayStation 4.

For a first timer, 0 is the place to start. It gets all the pieces set, all the characters fleshed out, and prepares you for the never-ending trials and tribulations of just being Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima.

Part of what makes this series so unique and so beloved by fans is its unique hybrid of yakuza movie-style storytelling, relatively smooth beat'em up combat between entries, and absurd minigames and side content. Despite being a prequel, Yakuza 0 has all those things in spades.

Here, cutscenes are frequent, often long, and dramatic, with the story quality being on par with standard yakuza-theme feature film. Betrayal, revenge, and honor are all key parts in the genre and especially here in the Yakuza game series.

Combat is not an especially complex beast and, for most, will present little challenge. You spend a great deal of time in combat (you can't avoid chinpara forever) but outside of boss fights, it's a quick and dirty ordeal.

You can button mash your way to victory in combat, but you're better off making use of potential weapons in the environment or getting the hang of the wide range of Heat Actions available. It's significantly more fun if you get into combat's intricacies but if you're here for the side dish more than the main course, you don't have to stress much about beating people up.

Speaking of the side dish, it's always my personal main course. You can't have a Yakuza game without the silly side missions and mini games, which are ultimately what keep a number of fans returning to this series that seems so lost in time. Sure, the story is always great -- but there's so much more to do than watch cutscenes and rush through the story.

Though side missions are often humorous and one of the bigger draws to the game, the wealth of mini games found in the series is the real MVP for me.

Gacha machines to pluck up stuffed animals, classic Sega arcade games such as Out Run and Super Hang-On, fishing, miniature car racing, hostess dating, dancing, gambling at a Western or a Japanese-style casino -- this list is very small compared to the full list of mini games you can get yourself wrapped up in here in Yakuza 0.

The transition to PC from PlayStation 4 has been relatively smooth and it is a commendable effort by Sega to finally bring this sprawling and distinctly Japanese drama to a platform Japanese developers are just now taking seriously.

The game is capable of reaching 60fps at 4K, which is a first for the series provided your rig can handle it. As with just about every other recent PC release from Sega, it does come with Denuvo anti-tamper DRM. If that's a dealbreaker for you, well.. that's just how it is.

This series' debut on the PC seems to be a resounding success. One that past me would have punched present me for even suggesting, but a success nonetheless.

If you missed out on the Yakuza series thus far, for whatever reason, now is probably the best time to jump onto the bandwagon. Yakuza 0 is a little dramatic, a lot of weird, and a ton of fun. There is no better time to give it a shot than the present.

You can buy Yakuza 0 on Steam for $19.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Yakuza 0 used in this review.]

We Happy Few Release Review: A Stealth Survival Diamond In The Rough Thu, 09 Aug 2018 09:50:18 -0400 Ty Arthur

An entire book could probably be written on the winding road that was the development path for We Happy Few -- a game that at one point was hilariously on our list of most anticipated titles of 2016.

Now, finally seeing full release in the summer of 2018, the game's launch version is a drastically different experience from our early alpha impressions two years back -- and that's actually a very good thing.

With refined stealth mechanics, a bigger emphasis on story, and a huge, lush world to explore, We Happy Few offers a little bit of everything.

What Should You Expect?

We Happy Few began life as a crowdfunded and proudly indie title without any corporate overlords, and then suddenly, things shifted gears as Gearbox entered the picture as publisher late in the game's development cycle.

There have been price changes and DLC additions that saw fan outcry, along with major UI and game mechanic overhauls to smooth things over with that same playerbase. The game was banned in Australia and then re-approved in Australia. First it was horror-focused, then survival-focused, then story-focused, then a mixture of all three.

In short, it was anybody's guess as to what we would be getting with the end product. Those who took part in the Early Access betas have seen the game change radically from its earliest stages, and there are still more changes in store with the launch version.

What we're getting now is a game with an incredibly distinctive and unique art style, coupled with a world you won't find in any other title out there right now.

Here's the TL;DR on the story: bad batches of the happiness-inducing drug Joy have been shipped out, and anyone who takes the tainted pharmaceuticals can no longer experience the effects of normal Joy. They become Downers forever, no matter how much Joy they take, and this plague of sorrow is actively destroying a society that was already decaying from within.

The core of the game involves switching between stealth, combat, and problem solving as you seek out different ways to fit in or sneak around depending on what area you are exploring.

You can slum it with the dregs of society eking out a sad and hungry existence, or try to fit in with the "proper" folk in the city, who may actually have it worse.

Different core abilities distinguish the three main characters as they traverse this dystopian world. Arthur, for instance, is sarcastic and repressed -- like a proper Englishman -- but he's also very unassuming so no one notices him if he just sits down and reads the paper (which is quite helpful for escaping angry mobs).

A free roaming mode is slated to arrive not long after launch, so you'll have a reason to keep playing after finishing the story segments for each character.

Like in games such as Dishonored, you will frequently be tasked with finding different ways to approach an area, from disguising yourself to creating distractions, helping out local residents, or just simply busting in and swinging your deadly umbrella with wild abandon.

Wait... a deadly umbrella? You better believe it. The developers absolutely nailed the right atmosphere here, balancing British humor with horrifying dystopian ideals.

Much of the open world exploration feels like a new twist on Far Cry with a big dash of Fallout, from the decaying landscape to the item crafting. I have to wonder just how much the impending Fallout 76 is going to end up feeling like a re-tread of We Happy Few's survival mechanics, especially with this game arriving a few months ahead of time and having been in development for so long.

Some Rough Spots To Iron Out

Despite an extended development time and the addition of AAA publisher oversight, We Happy Few's original indie nature does stand out in some ways, like an extremely long load time to initially generate the open world.

As has become expected at this point with major new releases, the game's Steam achievements are also bugged all to hell, popping at random when you haven't actually unlocked them yet or failing to pop when they should.

Some of the animations could also use additional smoothing. Remember back in the Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 days when the main character skinned an animal, but sometimes the knife and hands weren't quite lined up with the creature's stomach? That's how most of the animations end up here, from picking locks on the ground (where you somehow sink five feet into the dirt momentarily) to using a jimmy bar on open air five feet from your target and somehow the box still magically opens.

The Bottom Line

Those rough spots shouldn't deter you from We Happy Few, however, because this is frankly one of the most satisfying blends of game styles to arrive in a long time.

This was originally supposed to be a horror game, but that aspect didn't get as much press as all the survival elements were added in. I'm very pleased to report the darker elements have made a roaring return, and there are some incredibly creepy moments here in the finished product.

From suicides to mad doctors to a pervasive dread as you realize there are very few children anywhere, WHF doesn't skimp on the more messed up story content.

The exploration and survival elements easily take front and center, however. What you end up with is the open world exploration of something like Fallout or Far Cry, a simplified and refined version of the survival mechanics from Ark, and the creepy, distinctive style of a game like Alice: Madness Returns.

Simply put, We Happy Few is dreary, grim, darkly humorous -- and a hell of a good time.

Detached Review -- The Dangers Of Space Manifested In VR Tue, 07 Aug 2018 15:00:30 -0400 Ty Arthur

It seems like such an obvious combination in retrospect, but there aren't actually that many VR games set in space. The open nature of the night sky is tailor-made for a three-dimensional gaming experience.

On the PSVR in particular, your options are fairly limited to that Infinite Warfare space dog fighting mini-game.. and not much else. Detached aims to remedy that oversight by working within the limitations of the VR experience in a unique and extremely fun way.

You can officially add another game to the list of PSVR titles that make the hardware worth buying now that Detached has hit the PS Store.

In Space, Less Is More

At this point in time, developers are still gaining their footing in the VR realm. Each game has to deal with limitations of the hardware and puzzle out clever ways for movement to function properly with a player wearing a headset in a small space. 

Crisis Of The Planet Of The Apes VR for instance let you swing your arms and climb pipes like an ape, but was otherwise essentially an on-rails game as movement was limited to very specific paths.

Detached goes the exact opposite direction. Movement is full 360 degrees in absolutely any direction -- even up and down -- but your avatar is essentially stationary as you are in an immobile space suit with no ability to turn your head different directions.

 You are free to move in any direction, but actually reaching your destination will take careful planning!

If you want to see what's behind you, you can't just turn your head like in a normal VR game. Instead, a player needs to learn how to use the various air jets on the suit to re-orient in a new direction.

What seems like a major limitation at first is actually revealed to be one of the game's biggest strengths.

Learning to move in three dimensions isn't just the challenge of the game, it essentially is the entire game. You might end up approaching an objective upside down, or spinning the wrong direction, or propelling through space too fast. 

At first your movement will be slow and timid while getting the hang of things, but soon you'll be propelling yourself with the boost module through high-speed transport tubes across the vastness of space.

 ...and I'm upside down somehow.

You Have Died, Space Edition

There are concessions to typical game design -- needing to find fuel and air tanks before you run out of oxygen for instance, or utilizing shields and rockets to overcome challenges -- but that's really window dressing to the movement mechanics. 

Suffocating or running out of fuel is just the tip of the deadly iceberg, though. Much like in real life I suppose, it is amazingly easy to die in space.

The core of the gameplay is in figuring out the give and take between going fast enough to reach a destination before running out of oxygen, but not going so fast you won't crack your helmet and let in the cold void of space when colliding with an object.

 Extreme sub-zero temps, fast moving objects, and lack of breathable air all make space your enemy 

This is all easier said than done, and the game rewards you when you think strategically in three dimensions instead of just rushing headlong towards the most direct route.

My only complaint here is that the death sequence is just a cracking sound and then a return to the menu. Adding in something a bit more gruesome might give the player more incentive to avoid death in the future, although with the VR aspect that might hit too close to home for players to see themselves dying horribly in first person.

The Bottom Line

If you've ever had any nausea or disorientation with playing VR, then sadly Detached is not for you.

With all the three-dimensional spinning and sudden stop and start movement, this is a game that is guaranteed to get the motion sickness-sensitive players spewing their lunch all over their living rooms.

This isn't a bug though, it's a feature, as the developers make clear in the launch trailer that lists all the ways not to induce motion sickness in a VR player. Then showcases how they are breaking all those rules.

Think of it a bit like a roller coaster. If there wasn't any chance you'd scream and vomit, would you still ride it? The thrill and danger is part of the appeal.

Long story short, if you ever wanted to play through movies like Gravity or Interstellar, this is your chance. If you don't mind potential motion sickness and like the challenge of a new style of gameplay, then absolutely give Detached a shot.

(Writer was granted a review copy of the game from the publisher.)

WarioWare Gold Review: A Fine Example of Nintendo's Weirder Side Mon, 06 Aug 2018 12:13:28 -0400 Lee Forgione

Ever since Wario decided to jump into the microgame business back in 2003 with WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! for the GBA, I've loved playing each new iteration as the series pushed forward. Every game introduced something fresh and new, whether it was using the gyrometer in WarioWare: Twisted!, the touchscreen in WarioWare: Touched!, or the unique and creative use of motion controls in WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Wii.

Unfortunately, WarioWare Gold doesn't add anything new or creative in those ways. But that's OK. Instead, it acts as a greatest hits collection of microgames spanning the history of the series, one that's still as fun and addictive as it's ever been.

Right from the get go, you're greeted to a cut-scene featuring Wario speaking full dialogue for the first time ever(!). It's as disturbing as it is silly and reveals Wario's goal: making quick cash in order to buy more pizza. He does so by getting the usual cast of WarioWare characters together to make microgames for him. Classic characters like Mona, 9-Volt, and Dr. Crygor return as well as a couple new characters like 9-Volt's mother, 5-Volt, and Lulu.

The goal in the WarioWare series is to clear a set of microgames in succession. But you're only given a few seconds to figure out how to clear them. After a set number of microgames, you will be challenged to a boss stage, which takes a little more time to complete. Each stage features one of the aforementioned characters alongside a unique set of microgames, usually set to a theme.

Anyone familiar to the series will know the basic formula of progressing through the game: clear a few character stages and then play Jimmy T.'s stage, which remixes everything you just played. However, WarioWare Gold switches up this routine by featuring three different leagues to complete. There's the Mash League, which utilizes only the A button and the D-pad; the Twist League, which uses motion controls; and the Touch League, which, as you guessed it, uses the touch screen.

Each of these leagues features four different characters set to one of four themes. The Sports theme features microgames like hula hooping, synchronized swimming, and completing a snowboarders trail down a mountain. In That's Life, you complete a set of microgames revolving around everyday life, such as brushing your teeth, catching toast as it pops out of the toaster, and waiting for an open bathroom stall to dash towards. There's a Nintendo theme, which spans across Nintendo's history of games like Super Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, and even The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. And finally, there's the fantasy theme, which has everything from shaving the Earth to making puppies dizzy. 

The main story can be completed in as little as an hour. However, the main hook to the WarioWare games is repeatedly playing its stages to rack up a high score. Each stage will initially end after you've beaten the boss stage, but replaying stages puts you in an endless loop of microgames and bosses. The speed increases every few microgames and defeating a boss stage levels you up, making each microgame a little harder.

The increased speed, combined with the difficulty jump, makes this whole process an addictive thrill ride good for short play sessions. It's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in attempting to beat your high score, which gives WarioWare its lasting appeal. A handful of stages sees the modes changing on the fly and will prompt you when it is time to change.

Besides the main story mode, there's a myriad of little distractions to explore.

There's challenge mode, which has you completing microgames set to specific conditions. The Thrill Ride mode gives you only one life to get as far as possible, while the Super Hard mode makes you complete microgames at a ridiculously high speed.

One of the more interesting modes is Split Screen, featuring the ninja characters Kat and Ana. As one microgame ends on the bottom screen, a new one will immediately begin on the top screen, forcing you to stay on your feet, especially as the speed increases.

Sneaky Gamer was taken right out of Game & Wario for the Wii U. In this mode, 9-Volt tries to stay up late playing video games without getting caught by his mother. As you play through the microgames, you must pretend that you're asleep as 5-Volt pops in and out of the room. Getting caught ends the game. 

On top of that, there's the Toy Room, which is a collection of fun little activities and trinkets that can be unlocked by spending coins on a capsule machine. There's the Studio Session, which allows you to record your own voice over the game's different cut-scenes. There are mini-games, character cards, phones to play with, toys that do weird stuff when you interact with them, and even a Nintendo museum. In the latter, I discovered Nintendo products I never knew existed, like a Nintendo Love Tester and N&B Blocks. 


Overall, WarioWare Gold for the 3DS may not make waves in the way of new content, but the mash up of microgames from the entirety of the series makes it an ideal entry for fans both old and new. It has everlasting replayability and is a fine example of Nintendo's weirder side.

It's good to see that this unique series hasn't been forgotten and hopefully, the success of Gold will give way to future titles on the Switch and beyond. It's good to see Wario back in business, and I look forward to seeing what he cooks up next.

This Is The Police 2 Review Fri, 03 Aug 2018 17:15:18 -0400 Zack Palm

Managing a police station can lead to some outrageous circumstances, and This Is The Police 2 doesn't pull any punches. In this management sim, you'll find yourself patrolling a ridiculously dark and brutal main story, while also stumbling upon some light-heartened humor and painful choices.

Sharpwood PD rides the roller-coaster of emotion.

As the police chief of the titular station, you'll manage cops and deal with the criminal underworld wiggling beneath this small town. Though tough decisions help This Is The Police 2 stand out as a fun management sim, the story itself feels a little underwhelming as it quickly deflates into a mirror of the first game.

Breaker, Breaker, One-Nine

When you first start up This Is The Police 2, you'll be introduced to the most noticeable feature of the sequel, the game's XCOM-like combat swat missions (which we'll talk about in more detail later). But after that, the action quickly comes to a screeching halt as you're tossed into a long cutscene that feels like you've been thrown into a small movie you can't get out of.

Unfortunately, this is the trend throughout This Is The Police 2; each new day starts with a brief cutscene you can't possibly skip. If you're a fan of the first game, you're probably used to this and won't necessarily be bothered, but if you're someone who wants to get to the action quickly (and haven't played the first game), it's something to note. 

Following the protagonist from the first game, Jack Boyd, This Is The Police 2 delves into the seedy underworld of a more-or-less traditional cop flick. There's intrigue, there's suspicion, there's blackmail. Gangs and drug traffickers make things dicey, and people are wrongly(?) accused. There's murder, there's vice, there's corruption.

Although all the pieces for a gripping narrative are here -- as Jack finds that the only way to escape the dire circumstances around him is to reach out to those around him -- the game instead focuses on basically retelling what happened in the first gameIt's ultimately a lazy form of storytelling that makes the best parts of This Is The Police 2 less memorable. 

Managing The Worst Cops Ever

Once you finish the game's relatively long introduction, you'll get thrown into the real meat of the game: becoming Sharpwood's police chief. You're going to spend most of your time focused on these duties and responding to calls using your limited resources.

This is how it works: at the end of each day, you pick from a roster of officers who you'll assign to the next day's shift. Each officer has a portrait detailing six stats. These stats show how talented each officer is based on their traits of strength, intelligence, speed, stealth, shooting, and negotiation. 

As you would suspect, your officers use these skills in their day-to-day tasks, and their skills determine how likely it is the officers in question will succeed in stopping crime or serving the public. On top of that, some calls will require multiple officers with a certain score, adding an interesting wrinkle to your overall strategy. 

Under each portrait is a small line detailing the officer's energy levels. If this bar gets too low, the officer cannot perform any more tasks and takes the day off. Though, if you send an officer home with a low energy bar, it's likely they'll return to duty having gotten sloppy drunk the night before -- and it makes them angry and difficult to work with.

Of course, as it happens, that's just one line you'll get. You'll quickly discover there's a veritable smorgasbord of excuses just waiting to be gobbled up. 

When certain officers arrive to report, they'll showcase their expertise in coming up with lame, absolutely absurd excuses as to why they can't work that day. Some officers get too drunk at home or at happy hour or some other seemingly-illegitimate excuse, while others have the gumption to simply say they don't want to work today. 

Either way, it places a somewhat infuriating burden on the player when they've expect 10 cops show up to work one day and can only start the day with five. This happened a lot in the beginning of the game, and it made answering calls a nightmare before more officers were hired to the force.

Fighting Crime in Sharpwood

When you have your force ready to go, you arrive to a map of Sharpwood and spend the day answering calls. 

After officers arrive on the scene, you'll be faced with several choices, each of which gives you a unique way of handling the current situation. This is where the officer's skills come into play, since certain actions depend on certain skills. For example, you might need a cop to sneak up on an old man attempting to defecate on a banker's desk (yes, this occurred several times), and if he doesn't pass his sneak check, well ...  

Other times, you'll run into some officers saying they can't head out on call because they're taking a nap or they don't want to go on call with a woman -- the excuses never stop in Sharpwood and they only get worse. When this happened, it felt like another annoying, obstructing feature developed solely to give you an even more difficult situation.

Sure, there are lazy misogynists in the world, but having so many didn't necessarily feel organic to the game itself. 

After your shift, you'll receive the tops of aluminum soda cans -- or stay-tabs -- which act as the game's currency. Based on how well your team did during the day, you'll get a certain amount to add more officers to the force and provide more equipment to your team.

With enough balancing, you should add enough new faces to the force to endure those rougher (ahem, lazier) days and eventually gain loyalty with your officers, which becomes more useful as the main story unwinds.

SWAT Missions

The game's SWAT missions show up much like any other call does. You'll assign officers and when they arrive, your cops have the option to talk to three witnesses. They'll talk, but only if you give up one of the confiscated items Jack has in his office. Sometimes the intel's good, other times, it's useless.

After a bit of chatting, you'll get taken to the scene of the crime and observe the mission from an over-the-top perspective. Here, you'll manage your cops much like you would manage soldiers in an XCOM mission. Though, the XCOM soldiers were likely far better disciplined, and vastly more useful.

If you've assigned officers not loyal to Jack, or those who simply don't like him, they'll do whatever they want during the mission. This doesn't mean they're ignoring your commands every couple of turns. No, that'd be too easy. These rogue officers straight up have a bloodthirsty A.I. controlling them, having them shoot any perpetrator(s) they run into. 

This becomes a huge problem in the beginning of the game because you want to arrest these criminals, not kill them, because you receive less stay-tabs if they're dead.

Of course, that's likely the difficulty behind it. The game wants to prevent you from getting too many stay-tabs early, making it a tad bit harder to turn the Sharpwood PD around. But in some ways, it feels like frustrating design more than anything else. 

Lastly, based on the crime happening in the SWAT mission, the parameters for success change. Again, because half of your squad will likely not listen to you in the beginning, you'll probably be following the A.I. officers through the map as they unleash a devastating bloodbath on unsuspecting criminals.

I truly felt sorry for them -- and a bit frustrated. 

The Bottom Line

This Is The Police 2 focuses on a number of different features all at once. At the beginning, the game feels a little bit like it's out to get you. The game's unprofessional cops do nothing to help you gain a running start, and you can easily trip up from there as additional obtuse features call for your attention as the game progresses.

The first cutscene of the game took nearly half an hour to finish and each individual scene after dragged on too long. Though, this was the initial set up and every subsequent one became snappier as it transitioned into the game and gave you more control. Once you're managing your cops and handling situations, the story provides a great direction for what you need to do and leaves you having a great time in the management portion.

The two worst parts of the game are the SWAT missions and the cutscenes. While the cutscenes feel hefty, the voice actors do a great job delivering emotional moments and the added camera shakes raise the presentation as the tension thickens. The SWAT sections feel unnecessarily unfair as some police officers are controlled by an unwieldy and brazen A.I., leading to the feeling that you never really have control of supposedly the best units in the game. 

If you're looking for a tough management simulator with light role playing decisions, this game is certainly up your alley. It's not perfect, but for fans of the genre, it provides a good amount of fun if you can overlook some of its blemishes. 

You can buy This Is The Police 2 on Steam for $14.99. 

[Note: The publisher provided the copy of This Is The Police 2 used for this review.]

Teeny Titans 2 Tiny Review Wed, 01 Aug 2018 09:36:30 -0400 Steven Oz

It's not often that a mobile game catches my attention. When I do play, I usually play simple match-3 games or time-based city building games.

But then I discovered Teeny Titans 2. I knew about the first Teeny Titans from commercials airing on Cartoon Network, but I never had the chance to play it. However, based on what I knew about both the show and the first game, I jumped at the chance to play the sequel.  

I'm glad I did. 

A Tiny Story Goes a Long Way 

Teeny Titans 2, or as it's also known, Teen Titans Go! Figure, is a sequel to the mobile game Teeny Titans, and based on Teen Titans Go!. This new adventure is inspired by the Warner Bros. Animation film Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.

You play as one of the Teen Titans (Robin, Raven, Cyborg, Starfire, or Beast Boy) trying to uncover the mystery of who is trying to put the Teeny Titans Figure Company out of business. It is your job to battle various characters from the DC universe and discover the truth.

It's a simple-enough story that guides you along without burdening you with heavy story content, which is good for a mobile game because you'll most likely want to jump in a just play the game right away. 


For a mobile game, the gameplay in Teeny Titans 2 is done very well. It provides all the elegance of a turn-based game with an adventure that spans the scope of famous locations in the DC Universe.

The turn-based battles are a fun way to showcase the various Teeny Titans for sale in game. If you have never played the original game, there is a slight learning curve, but the game eases you into it with a simple tutorial section. Battling your Teeny Titans is a fun mix of beating your opponent to the attack and managing resources that pop on your screen. 

You can bring up to three figures in to your party from your total party of six. Each of these figures has their own power to choose from as the battle bar meter races forward. As you use your powers, it drains the meter and certain powers have to charge up before you can use them.

Some of your powers are also buffs for your characters, and these can raise your attack power, defense, or health. The cool thing about the game is your opponent is doing the same thing. So, you have to watch your opponent's battle bar to make sure they are not charging up to attack.

Each figure also can be modded with Mod Chips. These mods have varying abilities that can be added to your figures. Some offer health benefits and others can slow down the opponent's battle bar.

The adventure part of the game is fun but could be more refined. All you really do is tap and swipe to move your character around. As you venture into this world, it has night and day cycles, which bring up new challenges and shops.  There are numerous side quests that can give you new characters and mod chips. 

The only problem is a few of these quests don't show you where to go. You get lost in the each of the locations. While that can sometimes be good, most of the time, it can be quite boring just going to each character on the map trying to find out if they are the one you need. 


Overall, Teen Titans Go! Figure is an impressive game. It fleshes out the Teen Titans Go! universe while providing a silly story about collecting. While there are some minor problems with the adventure, it does not impeded the extremely well-done turn-based battles and great visuals. 

I was compelled to move forward and find out what happenstance was unfurled in this land.

You can download the game now for $3.99 on the services listed below on the Apple App StoreGoogle Play, or Amazon

[Note: A review code was provided by the publisher.]

La-Mulana 2 Review: Digging Up Buried Platforming Treasure Tue, 31 Jul 2018 13:45:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

The gaming community owes a huge debt to Kickstarter, with lovers of niche games in old school graphical styles getting their fill of new content thanks to the crowd funding revolution.

La-Mulana 2 is one of the latest classic gaming entries to arrive thanks to a successful crowd funding campaign, offering up that classic Metroidvania nostalgia in a unique setting.

You've got to already be fully in love with the style to get the most out of this platforming sequel, but for those still engaged in that torrid love affair with the Castlevania entries from decades past, La-Mulana 2 is about as good as it gets.

 If you got a little excited seeing the spikes and breakable walls, then this game is for you

Old School, New Setting

This time around you get to play an intrepid archaeologist with a whip who just happens to also be a master ninja and monster fighter. Girl's gotta have a wide skill set to survive these days, ya know?

With a little luck she might even make it through a few screens before dying horribly, but don't count on it, as the difficultly level here is wonderfully diabolic. Make no mistake about it, La-Mulana 2 is as old school as it gets, complete with wonky jumping controls and difficult combat.

 Can't say I've ever been murdered repeatedly by a giant squirrel god before

The game is entirely keyboard-driven on the PC version, but clearly setup to mimic the SNES controls of using the L and R buttons to navigate through menus with four main buttons for using items and jumping. Anyone who has used an emulator with a keyboard extensively will probably have an edge here on getting used to the controls.

It's not just the keyboard / controller layout that works hard to evoke the feel of the '80s and early '90s either, as there's a clear 8 bit presentation on the visual side, but with frequent nods to later game eras sprinkled in. You'll notice sounds and visual effects that will bring to mind Symphony Of The Night, for instance.

Getting Addicted To Pain

One of La-Mulana 2's greatest strengths is that game is mostly non-linear after the starter dungeon. Just go wherever you want and figure out what puzzles you can. If you get stumped, go somewhere else until you can come back and try again.

While puzzling out those solutions to various death traps you will quickly come to the realization that this game is devastatingly hard, and on purpose. If you threw your controller over Battletoads or similar games back in the day, you may just want to check out the Let's Plays for the nostalgia.

Instant death traps are frequent and save spots are found only sparsely across the ruins, so trial and error plays a big role, but eventually a player will develop a sixth sense to know which buttons not to press and which floor tiles to avoid.

The puzzles here are all generally possible to figure out if you pay attention to the surroundings and take the time to master the controls.

The skeleton on the floor tells me I probably shouldn't hit that switch 

Over time, you may find yourself getting addicted to the thrill of completing a puzzle or beating a giant monster boss and wanting to see if you can make it just a little bit further into the ruins.

Much like how many players gave up after that first demon boss in Dark Souls and decided the franchise wasn't worth the time, if you stick with it you find there's plenty of rewarding gameplay as you progress.

Ludicrously, there's actually a La-Mulana 2 hard mode available if you ignore three separate sets of warnings not to turn it on. I don't even want to contemplate what that experience must be like, since I'd prefer not to smash my keyboard into a million bits, but for the true masochists out there, the option is at least available.

The Bottom Line

Growing up on the NES and then cutting my teeth on the likes of Symphony Of The Night, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the platformer style, especially with the more offbeat or distinctive games like Demon's Crest.

La-Mulana 2 definitely falls into that category, and despite the simplicity, the game actually has an interesting story revolving around eight races of beings that have inhabited the earth over time, with humans only being the latest. 

Metroidvana fans will love the wide range of zones featuring different art styles and strategies, from icy pillars you have to move across quickly before sliding off to rapidly ascending platforms and some crazy jumping puzzles.

For an indie offering that tries to ignore any gameplay innovations past 1994, La-Mulana 2 is an incredibly good time if you don't mind an exceptionally high difficulty level.

The Banner Saga 3 Review: A Final Stand Against The Darkness Thu, 26 Jul 2018 09:15:02 -0400 Emily (Pokeflute)

Every day, the darkness grows closer to the walls of humanity's final stronghold. I have three days of supplies left. My units are hurt and tired, and they're starting to fight among themselves. A rebel leader is threatening to take over the city if we don't meet his demands. I'm given three choices: reason with him, imprison him, or try to kill him.

This is the world of The Banner Saga 3, where few things ever seem to go right.

In the first game of the series, a mysterious darkness emerged and began to swallow the world. Humanity was forced to continually retreat as the darkness warped and twisted everything in its path. Those heroes who set out to defeat it, alongside their band of allies, have been fleeing from this force for the span of two games, not knowing what caused the darkness or if there's anything they can do to stop it.

The Banner Saga 3 is the conclusion to the series' dramatic narrative and the denouement of the trilogy. And despite a few frustrations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

Note: Minor spoilers for The Banner Saga 3 follow.

Painting a Beautiful Picture

When you first boot up the game, the game's beautiful art and engrossing animation are immediately apparent. The game's colors are striking and vibrant, and the environments are extremely detailed; when walking through the streets of Arberrang, you can see little stick-figure-versions of each of the game's different races, creating a unique look at a thriving, if endangered city. Add to that the game's entrancing animated sequences, and The Banner Saga 3 stands as one of the prettiest entries in the series.

Despite its beauty, the world of The Banner Saga 3 is undeniably dark, and all of the game's artistic aspects reinforce that vibe. Landscapes frequently dwarf the characters, making you feel small in comparison to everything that's happening.

And that's reinforced by the game's dynamic sound effects, which rise, fall, and change based on dialogue and the soundtrack; it makes the game feel very cohesive, especially when you consider the voice acting is also excellent. In short, the game's tone is fully realized: the dark mood is relentless and definitely puts you in the shoes of a doomed group travelers fighting for the salvation of the world.

However, while I enjoyed the sound effects, I wasn't so enthused with the game's music. While the orchestral suite can often feel grandiose, music is often recycled (particularly in battles), and obvious loop points get annoying after a while.

Music was a high point in the previous two games, and I wish that feeling carried over to The Banner Saga 3 -- but it just didn't strike me as much as other orchestral game soundtracks.

Telling a Story That Keeps You Invested

My favorite part of TBS3 would hands down be the story. The scope is huge and the characters are engaging and unique. The game's many dialogue choices and action options make the game feel as though you are truly directing this caravan of refugees on their journey. With plenty of twists and turns, it's heartening that the game's big plot twists aren't obvious. 

However, while the story keeps you entertained, it can be a little obtuse if you haven't played the first two games. Honestly, I wish it was a little more ingratiating and perhaps contained a glossary with important terms and histories that could easily help both the newcomer and the veteran catch up on before diving in. 

Without giving anything away, the amount of choice I had in the game's ending was much more than I thought it would be. Everything that happens makes you feel as though you are impacting the climax in a meaningful and demonstrable way. Not all of the game's choices are clear-cut, and although it sometimes feels unfair being penalized by a "bad" choice, your choices carry substantial weight, making things all the more interesting. 

The Banner Saga 3 is one of the few games that truly gives the impression that what happens at the end of its story is because of you, even if some of its story elements can feel a bit long-winded and in some places, generic. 

Moving Men (And Women)

Despite having such a strong story, The Banner Saga 3 struggles a little bit when it comes to its gameplay. The usual mix of RPG-style stats and upgrades and turn-based strategy gameplay is present here, and it's mostly unchanged from the previous two games. Small touches, like asking for confirmation when moving, acting, and ending a turn, are really helpful; they make the relatively difficult combat feel a little more forgiving. 

However, this game is clearly not meant for newcomers, and that shows in the combat. The tutorial is effective but not comprehensive, and there are few explanations as to how to use items and techniques effectively. In other words, unless you want to be a wee bit lost, you really need to play the first two games before playing this one.

One helpful aspect of The Banner Saga 3 dulls that throw-you-in-the-deep-end feeling: the game continues even if you lose a battle, which ensures that you never get bogged down or stuck. That doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions for losing — your units are all injured and you don’t get as much renown — but as someone who gets frustrated easily when stuck in games, it’s a welcome feature.

The maps themselves are interesting, and many have unique layouts and situations, while environmental hazards add a strategic layer to battles and contribute to the dark atmosphere (it often felt as though the map itself was after my party). In the darkness chapters, environmental hazards can also help the enemy, adding yet another layer of challenge. 

The one big new addition is waves combat, which is a sort of quasi-endless battle mode. As the name implies, enemies come in waves and you choose whether you want to stay and fight another wave or flee with what you have. Fighting through all the waves earns you more renown (the game's currency) and a rare item. Waves combat really exemplifies the risk vs reward philosophy of the series, and I enjoyed deciding when to fight and when to flee.

Besides its endless mode, there aren’t a lot of totally new features in TBS3. There's little doubt focus was placed on making an effective conclusion to the trilogy and including fans’ favorite aspects of the series. 

Daunting Difficulty

Even playing on Normal, this game is tough. Though the AI sometimes ignores an obvious move (particularly during the Arberrang chapters). the combat is unforgiving. You have to use everything at your disposal to emerge with minimal losses. In many ways, the combat steers clear of hero or power fantasies. In fact, his is exactly the opposite, a simulation in a complete lack of power.

There’s a difficulty spike in the chapters that focus on the journey into the darkness, and it’s really apparent. I know it’s done to emphasize the difference between the game's two groups, but it feels a little unfair at times. I didn’t like feeling like I was set up to fail in a battle.

Because of this, the hopelessness of the story bleeds into the mechanics, which is both a positive and a negative. It makes the game's atmosphere feel very cohesive, but it also leads to frustration when you know the game is hard just to make you lose faith in your party.

The difficulty gets enhanced by the game's innate unit control, which can get a little shaky at times as some units get hidden behind others, making it difficult to accurately command them. I wish there was an option to rotate the battlefield or reduce the opacity of enemy units to enable easier movement. On top of that, I would have also like to see more quality of life changes, like the option to toggle an overlay with all enemies’ available move and action areas highlighted, similar to Fire Emblem.

Final Verdict

The Banner Saga 3 is a great game. I loved the game's art, sound effects, and story, all of which contributed to a beautiful package. The game is very effective as a dramatic conclusion to the trilogy, and any fan who loved the two previous games will find a lot to love here.

However, I wasn't impressed with the combat; it could have used a little bit of difficulty tweaking and polish. I also wish there was more to help newcomers, though I understand that they aren't the target audience of this game.

The Banner Saga 3 told a story that I won't soon forget, and I can't wait to see what Stoic does next.

The Banner Saga 3 is available for PC/Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, with a mobile version coming at a later date.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Banner Saga 3 used in this preview.]

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion Review -- The Fun Will Stop and Start Mon, 23 Jul 2018 16:57:49 -0400 Greyson Ditzler

I love Adventure Time. It is a cartoon unparalleled in its creativity and style, unrivaled in its storytelling and quality. It's a bizarre, sometimes uneven mash-up of ideas with flaws, to be sure, but at the end of the day, it's a truly special work of art much unlike anything else. 

In that same vein, Adventure Time's wild fantasy characters and zany settings have lent the series well to expansion, especially in the realm of video games. Over the past eight years we've seen a swath of different Adventure Time games from all kinds of genres, ranging from platformer to dungeon-crawler.

For the most part, they've been pretty solid, enjoyable titles.

Now we have a turn-based RPG to add to the pile: Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. In the hands of UK developer Climax Studios, who made some enticing promises leading up to the game's release, Pirates of the Enchiridion is perhaps Adventure Time's final hurrah in the realm of video games.

Early trailers and gameplay footage showed off the game's turn-based RPG combat, colorful graphics, and full voice acting, all of which looked very promising. But the question is this: has Climax Studios delivered a solid game for fans of the show? Will Pirates of the Enchiridion be the (potential) final installment the video game world deserves? 

We'll Go To Very Distant Lands...

Pirates of the Enchiridion starts with Finn and Jake waking up to discover that the Land of Ooo has been stricken by a massive flood. An overnight outbreak of piracy is plaguing it's residents, so they set off to discover how and why this disaster has occurred.

Being the major conceit of the game, I wouldn't fault you for feeling as it was a  major event. However, the actual explanation behind the mystery is, honestly, pretty underwhelming.

Without spoiling the specific details, nothing that happens during the game's runtime has any bearing on the show's plot. It doesn't add anything meaty or expansive to any character's personality or history.

Despite the weak plot, the writing is pretty solid throughout, containing plenty of self-referential gags and clever dialogue form the show's wide cast of characters. While the overall plot is really just a throwaway, the game really does feel like an episode of the show whenever all the pieces fall into place, especially during cutscenes.  

Candyland on the Surface, Dark Underneath

The rest of Pirates of the Enchiridion's presentation is a mixed bag. Much like the show it represents, the game's surface has a pleasant and charming appearance at first glance, but there's an seedy side and heavy melancholy that lurks beneath it all. In other words, it all seems great at first -- until it all begins to fall apart.

Pirates of the Enchiridion's gameplay is fairly standard as far as turn-based RPGs go. The majority of the gameplay revolves around fighting enemies you encounter in the overworld, and using standard and special attacks to take them out, taking into account specific enemy weaknesses and seeing that each character fulfills their optimal roles

Your (full) party consists of Finn, Jake, Marceline, and BMO, all of whom have different special attacks and strengths, just like you'd see in pretty much any other RPG. Between fights, you'll explore the overworld either on foot or in your boat, walking or sailing from location to location in the newly flooded Ooo.

For the most part, the game is functional, and it can be (some) fun when you get a chance to employ some degree of varied strategy, but most fights tend to play out the same way -- even against bosses. You run down your list of special attacks and their elemental types until you find a major weakness or don't, then your strategy either becomes about focus-firing on one stronger enemy or taking out a group of weaker ones as quickly as possible. 

There are a few interesting ideas implemented in the game's combat, such as Finn's special unlocks being relegated to magic swords found by exploring the world; being able to use one item per turn without using up an entire turn; and even linking stat upgrades to upgrades you can purchase based on your level. These things do help make the combat feel a bit engaging, and the desire for new moves and the constant need for money does encourage exploration, but that doesn't fully rectify things as even that can be tedious.

Sailing and exploration in Pirates of the Enchiridion feels like a commute, and there isn't a lot to find if you go off the beaten path. Most islands you visit are extremely similar in most regards, and usually the most you'll find on them is some money or quest/battle items. And these are behind the same enemies you've already fought a thousand times. 

The only element of gameplay that remained consistently entertaining for me were the few "Interrogation Time" segments that sparingly happened throughout the story. Every now and then, Finn and Jake will have to play Good Cop/Bad Cop in order to get important info out of a difficult perp, and the player has to pay attention to their dialogue in order to decide what approach to take.

It isn't a very complicated system, and the dialogue isn't too hard to follow, but it still requires some amount of logical deduction and critical thinking to complete. You even have to time an input on a spinning wheel in order to pick the response you want. When they showed up, these segments were a fun and unique break from the regular gameplay that I really appreciated.

And I only came to appreciate them more and more as the game went on, and the problems I had with just began to snowball bigger and bigger.    

It's Probably A Computal Gleetch... In Fact, It Definitely Is

The biggest problem with Pirates of the Enchiridion is that it legitimately feels unfinished.

I understand that licensed game development can be stressful, often with brief development cycles and smaller budgets, and that these facts often hold developers back. I am also well aware that Adventure Time is coming to an end in the not to distant future, so there must have been some pressure to get this game out before then, which is understandable. But even taking these things into account, I seriously can't think of anything to describe this game better than unfinished.

There are clearly layers of polish and technical balancing that haven't been applied to either the presentation or the standard gameplay, and whether it be due to time, money, or talent, some of these problems are just purely unacceptable. I've had basically every conceivable glitch cross my path, and the game as a whole feels like it's barely chugging along at times.

The game crashed on me twice, I've fallen through the floor into areas I wasn't supposed to access (skipping entire quests on accident), I've had to deal with the game freezing up, frequent graphical pop-in, and frame rate drops. And these are just the normal bugs I had the pleasure of tangling with.

At one point, I had to reload my save because I defeated all the enemies in a battle but the fight just didn't end. In another fight, Marceline's face never loaded in and she looked like a lifeless mannequin. And at one point, I jumped at the wrong angle on an NPCs head and fell down a bottomless pit that didn't exist. 

I've sat through rush-hour red lights shorter than some of these loading screens, and the sheer number of times that the game has to awkwardly freeze in place and spend tens of seconds waiting for things to load absolutely kills the game's pacing. Just to save the game and quit to the main menu on average took over a minute to do, and many times, I had to wait 20-30 seconds for a fight to actually start after encountering an enemy.

Even putting aside the bigger technical hiccups, there were just tons of little things I kept running into during my time with the game that just destroyed any immersion I might have had in the experience. These issues were so prevalent during my time with the game that they largely overshadow the gameplay. 

None of the NPC's that you can encounter throughout the game have dialogue or animation of any kind, which makes them feel like immovable objects plonked down carelessly around the world. The general lack of color or liveliness in most of the environments you explore just makes the imaginative world of the show feel very generic.

Finally, the number of enemies you can encounter is just laughably small, considering the game can last you over eight hours (which for an RPG isn't long, but man, there aren't any enemies). 

The Fun Will Stop and Start

I didn't enjoy my time with Pirates of the Enchiridion all that much. Sure, my first few hours were a simple, but enjoyable enough time as the mechanics slowly unfolded before me, and as a huge fan, I was very satisfied with how several key locations looked and how solid the writing was.

But it wasn't long before the few rough edges I was willing to forgive gave way to frequent technical issues that I just couldn't ignore. tTe game just didn't have enough variety or surprises up its sleeve to keep me invested.  

If the majority of these technical issues were fixed with patches and the game ran just fine, then I'd be willing to call it a decent game that fans might be able to enjoy. But in its current state, I cannot recommend this game -- whether you're a fan or not. I don't want to be too mean to Climax Studios, because it's clear they tried (and maybe they had a lot more planned for this game), but the end result can't help but feel disappointing to me as both a fan of Adventure Time and RPGs. 

If you'd like a cheaper but more refined AT game, I'd try out Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! or Secret of the Nameless Kingdom. If you'd like to try out a quite good turn-based RPG based on a Cartoon Network property, then try out Steven Universe: Save The Light. 

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can watch a trailer for the game below:

[Note: The copy of Pirates of the Enchiridion used in this review was provided by Outright Games.]

MOTHERGUNSHIP Review: Weapon Anarchy Mon, 23 Jul 2018 11:18:40 -0400 Anthony Merklinger

Earth is under siege by an alien armada. Your task: strafe, jump, shoot--and avoid dying, Recruit.

MOTHERGUNSHIP, a bullet-hell first-person shooter published by Grip Digital, introduces a muscle-tensing experience that combines the antiquity of button mashing with the zaniness of building the ultimate alien-killing machine. As you dodge hundreds of bullets, rockets, claws, and other deadly contraptions on your jaunt through uniquely generated environments (dungeons), you will find story substance is drowned under the weight of all that ammunition.

MOTHERGUNSHIP’s main campaign propels you into a series of missions to blast away at the alien armada--the Archivists--whose sole objective is to store information from the known universe. You join The Colonel’s eclectic band of Resistance rebels in a battle to save the planet from, naturally, the ultimate alien threat: Mothergunship.

The game succeeds in providing an enjoyable and fast-paced FPS experience that relies solely on the in-game crafting system. At the onset of each mission, you will have the opportunity to craft unique armaments from a combination of connectors, barrels, and caps to equip on each arm. Connectors serve as the weapon’s base that barrels (used loosely here) link to. Caps, or attachments, can be added to weapons to modify specific stats. The result? One serious BFG.

While the tone of MOTHERGUNSHIP may become exhaustive by the fifth or sixth mission (and compounded when undertaking side missions), I found myself launching each main quest with a new sense of excitement to see how well my weapon creations performed. Beyond that, the story is nothing more than a container for the mayhem to exist.

MOTHERGUNSHIP demands mobility, as even the slightest pause can result in some decent health lost. Strafing, jumping, and taking advantage of the environmental launch pads are surefire ways to complete each room, which builds in difficulty as you progress. A welcome feature was the in-mission shop zone that allowed me to upgrade weapons (especially if I launched with a severely underpowered gun) and recuperate some health via in-game currency.

The setting is wholly cohesive and complemented by a metal-based main theme, futuristic soundtrack, and digital sound effects. Most levels handled graphics smoothly; the only instance I encountered lag is when a large, main mission room seemed to bite off more than it could chew with respect to enemy population.

The pace is relatively consistent: clear a room, enter a holding tank with added voiceover for mission context, and proceed to the next round. After a few hours of playing, I thought I could anticipate the type of enemies I would be up against; however, I was pleasantly surprised these presumptions were often incorrect.

From massive missile installations and hovering laser balls to flying saws and robot dogs, MOTHERGUNSHIP does not lack enemy creativity. Fortunately, if you find yourself dying repeatedly, it is possible to upgrade your mech suit’s health reserve, speed, and jump power from the Resistance headquarters.

MOTHERGUNSHIP’s roster is subtly cliché, but nevertheless satisfying; character dialog hits its mark more often than not, and it is interesting to see how character dynamics fill the humor vacuum left by the intense gameplay. For example, Jasper, the Resistance’s second-class resident AI, houses a secret AI smuggler stowaway that conveniently supplies you with new connectors, barrels, and attachments--some rare.

In its present state, MOTHERGUNSHIP feels incomplete. The bullet mayhem offers a temporary amusement that simply cannot compensate for the story’s lack of depth--an issue that becomes more apparent with subsequent playthroughs. With new additions slated in the coming months, such as two-player co-op, the game’s full potential and replay value will take center stage. For now, weapon experimentation is king.

MOTHERGUNSHIP is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.


GameSkinny was provided a complimentary game code for the purposes of this review. Be sure to check back with GameSkinny for more on MOTHERGUNSHIP's bullet madness. 

Octopath Traveler Review: A Return to Form for Square Enix Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:42:30 -0400 Ashley Shankle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The virtues of the Octopath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn-based goodness and random battles galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The classic look done modern

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the praise.. so why a 9?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's in Plus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The best around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shining Resonance Refrain BAND performance

Where it Harmonizes

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

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

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

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

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

Shining Resonance Refrain Dragon Roaring

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

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

Not everything about combat is sunshine and rainbows, however.

The Grating Dissonance

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

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

Shining Resonance Refrain Combat

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

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

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

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

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

Shining Resonance Refrain Sonia Asking You on a Date

Verdict: Just a Bit Offbeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Clean Stroke

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Service Ace

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

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

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

Match Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Getting Gud's Not Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Get and Don't Get

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

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

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

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

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

A Series Retrospective

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

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

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

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

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

Online Multiplayer

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4X 40K 4Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

Conquering Gladius Prime

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

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

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

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

 Necrons are all about efficiency and combat superiority

Got 99 Problems But A Jammed Bolter Ain't One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Buying This Game Is Heresy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing and Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Functionality and Performance

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

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

DTS:X Ultra

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

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

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

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

Logitech Gaming Software -- Lights, Customization, and More

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Who needs to stay on the street?

Ubi In For A Familiar Experience

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

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

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

 The human models frankly aren't that great

Transformers: Fast And Furious Edition

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

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

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

 On no, we've been Incepted!

Coming In Second Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

A Superpowered Hero, Without The Time Travel

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

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

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

Familiar Gameplay, With a New Twist

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

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

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

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

Charming Naivety, With Darker Undertones

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

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

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

A Worthy Presentation

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

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

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

A Tantalizing Look At Things To Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design and Comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thread Carefully

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

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

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

A Yarn Good Time

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

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

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

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

Weaving a "Story" Within Beautiful Locales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Skies Is a Few Shades Off

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

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

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

Rainbow Skies Overworld High Level Character

Combat and Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Skies Battle Mage Casting Meteor Attack

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

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

Monster Taming

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

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

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

Rainbow Skies Battle with a lot of Tamed Monster companions

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

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

Upgrading and Resource Management

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

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

Rainbow Skies Equipment Screen of Max Level Character

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

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

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

Verdict: A True Slog, Through and Through

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

Rainbow Skies Powerful Magic Attack

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

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

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

Writer was granted a review copy by the publisher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Review

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

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

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

Minecraft Bedrock Edition in a Mineshaft holding a ladder

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

How Minecraft: Bedrock Edition Differs from the Java Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict - Better than vanilla!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer was granted a review copy provided by the publisher.

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

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

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

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

Splatoon 2 Review

Flexing Your Mussels

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

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

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

Pay to Play

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

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

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


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

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

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

A Story 20,000 Leagues Deep

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

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

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

100% Fresh

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Hits the Right Notes

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

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

Musou Gameplay With a Zelda Twist

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

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

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

Hyrule Warriors Marin Fighting with a Bell

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

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

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

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

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

Hyrule Warriors Legend Mode Tetra

All Hyrule Warriors Content Crammed in One Package

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

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

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

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

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

Hyrule Warriors Character Select Screen

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

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

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

But seriously, that's not all ... 

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

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

Hyrule Warriors Giant Cucco Fighting King Dodongo

Verdict -- Repetitive but Satisfying, Especially for Zelda Fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Old Story with a New Face

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

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

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

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

Same Formula, Same Fun

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

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

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

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

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

Fight, Explore, Collect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good, Silly Fun

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even the tutorial doesn't explain it well enough.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see them all here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Mansion Of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating A Horror Feel

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

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

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

 Well hello there!

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

You can purchase the game on Steam for $14.99.

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

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

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

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

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

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


The "Wow" Factor

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

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

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

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

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

Paint By Numbers Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Mayhem is Fun, Right?

Settle in and prepare to be disappointed again.

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

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

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

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

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

It's the least impressive jailbreak you can imagine.

The Game Has No Soul

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

And that's unfortunate.