Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Gungrave G.O.R.E. Review: Should Have Stayed Dead Fri, 09 Dec 2022 16:38:54 -0500 Daniel Solomon

I love campy, silly media as much as the next dork, and I can tolerate some jank in service of the bigger picture, especially when that jank is earned. I’m also a proponent of finding joy in otherwise-maligned bits of media, like most of the 3D Sonic games prior to FrontiersGungrave G.O.R.E, however, has sent my optimism reeling around this fictitious metric meant to find joy in everything.

It’s not just bad, it’s beyond the pale of what passes as acceptable in contemporary gaming. 

The story seems to pick up immediately after the previous title and throws you in the deep end with enough acronyms to make any boardroom blush a little. It all amounts to a group of murderous goths, of which our titular Grave is a part, out to off a drug cartel — for reasons. And that’s about as much as you’ll get from it; following a brief intro sequence with some very stylized evisceration, it’s all cry havoc and let slip the goth of war. 

At this point, I was pumped. I don’t need a narrative throughline to keep me hooked on a game that’s almost exclusively centered around bashing people’s heads in, though it is always welcome. Crushing skulls with my bare hands is enough. But the first few seconds of gameplay changed that; it's enough to showcase what you're in for throughout Gungrave G.O.R.E’s 10-or-so hour runtime — and it’s nothing like the cinematics you may have already seen.

The first thing that struck me is how slow it all is. Second is how hands-off the fighting is; roughly 90% of your time is spent pressing (not holding) the right trigger to fire Grave’s pistols while special moves charge up. Melee is nonviable because damage output is practically nil, and enemies don’t react to being struck by the full-size coffin that you’re carrying around at all times.

That is to say, the combat feels like it happens to enemies rather than with them. If you try to actually hit enemies as Grave does in all of the trailers, you’ll stand and trade blows, animating over each other like an early-internet MMO. And while the special moves are varied and necessary for upping your damage-dealing capability, some are lifted wholesale from earlier games, and they all take too long to unlock and upgrade.

The real trick to nailing a power fantasy action game is to have the player's strength grow exponentially as they progress, but Gungrave is in a weird bind. It makes you feel like you can kill a thousand bros from the off and like you’re just kind of firing off a peashooter at cardboard cut-outs. The only real growth here will be in the muscles of your trigger finger, which will be verifiably swole if you see the whole game out. 

So having established you’re in for a mechanical trudge in Gungrave, the rest of the game’s core components offer no solace either. Each of the game’s 31(!) stages plays out as a Hannah-Barbera-esque recycled corridor of the same enemies and non-descript locations. There’s barely a handful of enemy types in any level, and given the game’s focus on quantity, the pattern of "small guy in a white shirt, followed by a small guy in a black shirt, followed by a big guy" fans outward like a fractal.

The soundtrack, too, would be forgettable had you the chance to hear it, but it’s yet another thing that’s been overlooked and put on repeat ad nauseum. Gungrave’s opening chapters are particularly guilty of this, playing “time to kill, time to die” 20 times over the first five or so levels. It’s exhausting and only adds to the uncanny feeling of picking over 20-year-old scraps, which is the kindest examination of the game I can think of.

I had some performance issues in the pre-release build I played at first, including getting trapped behind doors wouldn’t open when scripted to, persistent or lacking audio, and enemies bugging out with the scenery or nearby objects. To Iggymob’s credit, the Day-One patch seems to have addressed all of these concerns. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have patched in some quality, too.

Gungrave G.O.R.E. Review — The Bottom Line


  • Like all things, this too will end — eventually.


  • Lifeless combat.
  • Endless recycling of assets, most notably enemies and music.
  • Just no fun at all, plain and simple.

I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of Gungrave was developed in the mid-noughties, because despite the passably-AA-of-late-PS3-era graphics, it’s practically identical to its predecessors, both in terms of gameplay and level design. And to be kind to the earlier entries in the franchise, they were verging on unwieldy 20 years ago. Basically, nothing has changed between them, save a graphical overhaul.

To lean on the popular meme, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is like if you’re out shopping with your mum and pick up a copy of Devil May Cry. You ask for a combo-based, brainless action game starring a goth. “But we’ve got a combo-based brainless action game starring a goth at home,” she says, blissfully unaware of the gulf between what you want and what you got.

[Note: Iggymob provided the copy of Gungrave G.O.R.E. used for this review.]

Evil West Review: Doesn't Suck Wed, 07 Dec 2022 14:41:33 -0500 Daniel Solomon

The cycle of nostalgia is seemingly closing in on itself. Tamagotchis are back on sale, My Chemical Romance is cool again (they always were), and now that we’re two console generations on from the heyday of dumb (fun) action games, Evil West brings that particular niche back with aplomb. 

It is the apex of how I, as a particularly try-hard, edgy young teen, imagined the potential future of video games. You play as the sort of bloke who swears and doesn’t look back at explosions, who’s armed with as many quips as he is actual weapons, and has daddy issues to make Oedipus’ own look tame by comparison.

And beyond this quipping faux-badassery lies a genuinely stellar brawler, the likes of which we don’t see all that often anymore, making Evil West one of 2022’s surprise hits as a result.

The levels here are varied and interesting aesthetically, often belying the fact that they are mostly linear fight corridors. There aren't even that many enemy archetypes — a small handful — but given the game’s title, you already know what these are: monsters and cowboys, and sometimes hybrids of the two. These are both things I’m usually fairly stern about with action games, but Evil West is such a blast from start to finish that I just didn’t care at all. 

Given that most of what you do in Evil West is scrapping, I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Combat is chunky and satisfying, and each punch lands with a satisfying weight. And wow, what a flow state game this is; a few hours and a few upgrades in, everything falls into place as you effortlessly do away with the bigger bads that griefed you in the opening hours while looking damn good doing so. 

There’s a surprising similarity to the recent God of War entries — 2018 and Ragnarok — in terms of combat, too, with the fixed over-the-shoulder camera angle only adding to that vibe. Though you’ll not get the same feels from the mid-level patter, it’s gotta be said. You even smash open crates the same way. 

Your arsenal of tools that grows as the game progresses makes fighting back the horde varied and fresh throughout. While it’s fairly humble beginnings with a six-shooter and the heftiest knuckle duster you’ve ever seen, things escalate into the absurd quite quickly as you unlock more ranged weapons, electrical abilities, and a whole heap of stuff that’s just altogether too much fun to spoil here. 

A handful of the games’ 16 levels fall down a little when they deviate from the formula of punching your way straight through a pre-determined path, and I found myself once or twice running around trying to find whatever objective it is that I’d missed in a level now strewn with enemy carcasses, but these moments were rare. 

Evil West could maybe do with a few more set pieces, as there isn’t a great deal of in-game spectacle beyond the combat, and though the world itself looks fantastic, I do wish I’d seen a bit more of it come to life. 

There’s a story, but it’s a knowingly tropey B-movie affair in service of you going to places that are fun to punch vampires in. The writing in Evil West is full of anachronistic gibberish, too — there are some particularly contemporary swears mixed in with old-timey cursing, and protagonist Jesse Rentier loves to call his support staff nerds. Which, for all the pedants reading, didn’t see an uptick in usage until the 1950s. So, erm, there. 

Evil West Review — The Bottom Line


  • An endearingly silly great time, start to finish. 
  • Superb combat. 
  • Excellent graphics.


  • Non-linear levels disrupt the pace somewhat. 
  • Fairly short run time, though this is offset by co-op replayability. 

Much like Flying Wild Hog’s flagship series Shadow Warrior, their latest release in Evil West is again an entirely over-the-top and bombastic affair designed to elicit a chuckle as much as it’s meant to appease your lizard brain with its almost non-stop action.

But Evil West has done something fairly remarkable by dragging the sort of shlocky, B-tier, 360-era action games into 2022 with basically all of the quality-of-life upgrades you’d expect from a modern title. This is how you remember games of 10-odd years ago, as opposed to how they actually play now.

[Note: Flying Wild Hog provided the copy of Evil West used for this review.]

The Callisto Protocol Review: Dead Weight Tue, 06 Dec 2022 14:48:10 -0500 Bryn Gelbart

When something new evokes our memories and nostalgia from a particular source, it puts unreasonable expectations on that new thing's shoulders. I don't want to burden The Callisto Protocol with the weight of being a continuation of the Dead Space franchise.

In many ways, the latest space horror game from ex-EA Creative Director Glen Schofield, now CEO at developer Striking Distance Studios, is at least trying out as many new ideas as it's ripping off. Unfortunately, The Callisto Protocol lacks the follow-through to execute any of its ideas in any particularly interesting ways. 

In The Callisto Protocol, you play as Jacob Lee, a space-trucker-type who gets mixed up in a prison break on Jupiter's moon of Callisto. In this third-person action horror title, you spend most of your time trying to escape while uncovering the shallow mysteries of a biophage outbreak.

It's all boilerplate stuff. The story itself is a means to put you in a creepy environment full of monsters who want to destroy you in the goriest ways imaginable. Through this lens, The Callisto Protocol shares a beating, bloody heart with Dead Space, where many elements of the presentation and UI also take strong influence from Schofield's earlier title. But The Callisto Protocol makes its mission statement clear from the first encounter. This is a game about intense and punishing melee combat. 

In my experience, this led to a frustrating and confusing first couple of hours with the game (which only averages about 10 hours or so in total). In spending time with the unique combat mechanics, however, I found there to be a satisfying and intentional flow to the encounters. 

Dodging and blocking in The Callisto Protocol is simple. As long as you are holding down the left stick in a direction when an enemy attacks, you will dodge (or block if you hold the stick back toward you) the attack, regardless of direction or timing. To avoid successive attacks, you must push the stick in the opposite direction, which creates a defensive circus of ducking and weaving. 

It is a cinematic take on close-quarters combat that leaves the monsters open for counterattacks from your firearms, where a reticle will appear after a quick combo, allowing you to take them down quickly. This action feels good, and the kills are satisfying. On paper, this Punch-Out!! style combat could be great for some epic duel-style encounters. 

The problem with The Callisto Protocol's combat is twofold. The entire melee system is built around facing just one enemy at a time. In the later chapters, things get messy and chaotic when facing rooms full of enemies. The second issue is that not much changes. The tactics you learn in the first encounter are about as complex as the melee combat gets.

The Callisto Protocol also features a handful of guns that are mostly useful in tandem with these melee combos. Once you get to the game's back half, you have a standard Resident Evil loadout of a handful of shotguns, pistols, and a machine gun. Some additions to the basic combat include ridiculously easy one-hit takedown stealth sections and enemies that require you quickly take them down lest they transform and grow more powerful. None of these variations on the core gameplay feel welcome; by the end, each repetitive task wears thin.

Repetition is the Achilles heel of The Callisto Protocol. From dozens of identical combat encounters to a seemingly endless amount of shimmying through narrow crevices, everything The Callisto Protocol does, it makes sure to repeat. The most egregious example is a late-game boss that, after you defeat it once, appears three more times in the span of the game's final hours. 

This boss — a frustrating one in the first place — is just one of many small flaws that hamper The Callisto Protocol. Inconsistent checkpoints run amok. Occasionally, being stuck on a section and repeatedly loading a checkpoint led to item pickups disappearing entirely, shifting the difficulty further from my favor. This was, thankfully, the only major game-breaking glitch encountered in my playthrough, though a GameSkinny editor ran into issues that wouldn't allow him to use health packs or switch weapons in one boss fight. 

The UI, as well, is clunky and difficult to navigate, taking from Dead Space but making it worse. The camera is so zoomed in on protagonist Jacob Lee that there is a level of clunky claustrophobia that permeates the entire game. Plenty of times, when you pick up items from the ground, you are just mashing the pickup button because you can't see what you are picking up. Which, of course, leads to more time doing inventory management in the terrible menus.

I found myself switching between the game's medium and easy difficulties throughout my time with The Callisto Protocol, and frankly, I often forgot which setting the game was turned to. It felt that aside from letting you take a few more hits, the difficulty options do very little to fix the spikes in balancing that plague the game. Despite that, there is a solid number of accessibility options on offer, a surprising positive in a game that actively feels untested by any human players in parts. 

The other positives can all be credited to The Callisto Protocol's atmosphere. The game is quite possibly the most technically impressive game I've seen run on a Series X. Graphics mode in 4K highlights the absolutely stunning lighting and visual effects. Turning on performance mode ensures a smooth 60 FPS, and the game will still be gorgeous, albeit in a lower resolution. 

The art direction in The Callisto Protocol isn't doing anything groundbreaking. The enemy designs don't make much of an impression. Still, I can't help but admit the atmosphere and production values drove me through the game more than any of its narrative or systems. Black Iron prison might not have been the most interesting place to explore, but it was a damn good-looking one.  

The Callisto Protocol Review — The Bottom Line


  • Technically gorgeous graphics. 
  • Fundamentals of combat are great for one-on-one encounters.


  • Combat breaks under the weight of multiple enemies and boss fights. 
  • Gameplay is repetitive and doesn't evolve in any significant ways.
  • A cliche story told in a boring setting.
  • Plagued by little bits of bad design like inconsistent checkpoints and unbalanced difficulty settings.

Visually, The Callisto Protocol is one of the only games for the PS5 and Xbox Series X that feels like a next-generation game. But that ambition has clearly come at a cost. For all its bells and whistles, The Callisto Protocol isn't doing much of anything new with its story or design. It's not just Dead Space imitator, but it does manage to take a lot of the ideas from earlier action horror games and execute them half as well. 

Alongside myriad factors and the fact that New Game Plus and Hardcore modes — staple features of the genre — aren't coming until next year is evidence that The Callisto Protocol should have been given more time to have a smoother, fully-featured launch.

[Note: Krafton provided the copy of The Callisto Protocol used for this review.]

Floodland Review: Community Building Mon, 05 Dec 2022 12:09:00 -0500 Hayes Madsen

Post-apocalyptic games are usually fairly dreary and oppressive affairs, but Floodland takes a different approach, weaving themes of hope and exploration into the overall experience. It's a survival city builder that tries to inject more personality and personal storytelling into things, and even though that idea doesn't always land, Floodland's mechanics are usually enough to keep you chugging along, always eager to play a little more and optimize your settlement. 

The story of Floodland takes place after a climate change crisis has annihilated most of the world's population and sent much of the land underwater. All you know is something called The Event caused all of this destruction, and now you have to lead a small clan down the path to rebuilding humanity. 

At the start of each randomly generated playthrough, you'll choose from one of four clans to lead, each coming from its own distinct background, which then leads to specific strengths and bonuses. For example, the Fire Brigade is made up of former first responders, while the Good Neighbors is a tight-knit group that used to live in the same community. 

There's a basic story that ties all the gameplay together, with each new bit of story reading like a journal entry, illustrating the humans at the heart of everything. Interestingly, that idea translates directly to gameplay, as one of your most important resources ends up being the people themselves. 

Floodland's unique aesthetic paints each map with a series of islands and landmasses, separated by both shallow and deep bodies of water. A thick fog coats everything, meaning exploration is the first thing you need to focus on, finding essential resources, spots to set up gathering buildings, and abandoned structures to explore. 

Floodland can be pretty tough to wrap your head around at first, even with a wealth of tutorials. There are over a dozen resources you'll need to manage eventually, although they get introduced incrementally. There's both safe food and unsafe food, with the latter having the potential to poison or make your people sick. On top of that, you layer in water for survival, plastic for building, wood that you turn into planks, rock, metal, and the list goes on. 

Of course, to gather all these resources, you'll need people, splitting your population between your various gathering buildings and your storage buildings, where you can assign them exploration and construction tasks. This creates an interesting dynamic where you're constantly trying to balance your survivors' tasks and exploration to find additional people trapped in buildings to bring into your clan. 

As you find these other survivors, however, they have clans of their own, all with differing ideals, which can create tension in your settlement. This is where Laws, Floodland's other major gameplay system, comes into play. As time progresses, you'll slowly build a resource called Authority, and this can be used to pass Laws that affect your settlement at large. These Laws are largely grouped into four categories that focus on martial law, economic expansion, peace, and leisure activities. 

Laws balance the varying opinions of your different clans, and each clan has a tension meter that goes up as you do things they don't like. Consequently, people will start to steal extra resources, and if the meter gets high enough, an entire clan can even decide to leave. 

While these systems, in theory, could help create some deep narrative drama, that's seldom the case. It's an issue endemic with Floodland: There's simply not enough narrative variety. You end up seeing the same issues and lines over and over as unrest fluctuates back and forth, and the system ends up feeling more like a bother meant to simply slow your progress. 

While it can be hard to piece together all these disparate systems, there's an undeniable hook to Floodland's gameplay loop. The exploration mechanics bring a unique take on the survival city-builder, and the game does a good job of doling out resources and rewards at a steady pace, meaning you always have something to upgrade and improve. 

While Floodland's bright aesthetic really works, there are some performance issues that I ran experienced deep into playthroughs. As your settlement grows larger, it's fairly common for the framerate and performance to suffer, and once I reached a certain settlement size, the fast-forward button would be nearly impossible to use because of how it tanked the framerate. This is obviously something that can be ironed out with future patches, but it undeniably had an impact on the experience, slowing down my overall progress.

Floodland Review — The Bottom Line


  • Unique concept unlike any other city-builder.
  • Strong gameplay loop.
  • Gorgeous aesthetic and visual style. 


  • Too many resources to keep track of. 
  • Narrative trappings ultimately don't feel satisfying. 
  • Performance issues as your settlement grows larger. 

Floodland's biggest selling point is its unique setup, and for the most part, that helps it stand apart from other city-builders. There's an undeniable learning curve as you grapple with dozens of different systems and resources, but if you can overcome that, there's a satisfying core gameplay loop underneath. 

More than anything, Floodland feels like a game that could really benefit from some updates and content changes. As it stands, there's a unique city-builder that fans of the genre will likely enjoy, but it could be one of those games that really turns into something special with the right support. 

[Note: Ravenscourt provided the copy of Floodland used for this review.]

God of War Ragnarok Review: God of More Wed, 30 Nov 2022 13:48:27 -0500 Justin Koreis

God of War: Ragnarok is like a 1990s David Copperfield made-for-TV magic special. It’s exciting, tells an interesting story, has unbelievable production value, and is a satisfying experience all the way through. But like a stage magic show, if the artist spends too much time on the razzle-dazzle and not enough on the payoff, eyes start to wander. The illusion breaks as the strings holding everything together become all too clear.

Ragnarok is an outstanding game. It’s masterfully produced, with a satisfying story and excellent gameplay. It’s also proof positive that editors matter and that more art isn’t necessarily better art. 

Ragnarok picks up with a slightly older Atreus and Kratos, using the framework of God of War 2018 as a springboard to craft a grander tale. Their prior conflicts with the Aesir, the gods of the Norse religion, have caught up with them, and they find themselves at odds with Thor, Odin, and the rest. Old friends and foes make an appearance, and the stakes are raised to include the fate of all the realms. 

It’s the sort of next step one would expect from a high-budget sequel. Moving the narrative forward is important, but just as significant is the way the game understands and advances the themes of its predecessor. God of War 2018 focuses on Kratos learning to be a father to Atreus. Ragnarok explores the next inevitable stage of parental relationships: letting go. 

Atreus developing into a young adult  making and trusting his own choices, even as he makes mistakes  is an inevitable part of growing up. Ragnarok gives him more dedicated screen time to great effect, and it’s easy to take pride in his successes while empathizing with his losses. Simultaneously, Kratos contends with a child that no longer needs him and, in many ways, needs room to grow. It’s painful, nerve-wracking at times, and so damn human. It’s a triumph of writing and character development. 

Much of what makes that work is the game's outstanding production quality. God of War: Ragnarok clearly had a massive budget. It looks fantastic on PS5 and PlayStation 4, with a scope and scale that few games can approach, much less reach. The sound design is excellent, with smart use of echo and reverb to add more immersive qualities to the varied and diverse locals.

Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic, Kratos and Atreus, respectively, take full advantage of the visual detail and audio fidelity, delivering two of the best acting performances of the generation. Judge, in particular, infuses so much weight, thought, and emotion into a character of few words, masterfully manipulating pauses and subtleties in timbre in lieu of long monologues.

But the broader story involving the end of the world, the eponymous Ragnarok, is where things unravel a bit. There are fun characters throughout the journey and a few twists and turns that add some surprises, but the overarching plot is just fine if a bit bland. At worst, it’s bloated. There’s nothing wrong with long adventures, as long as the time is used for something. Filler can be a positive, giving characters room to breathe, reinforcing their personalities, and adding to the overall world around them. But God of War: Ragnarok treads and retreads ad-nauseam. 

There’s an interesting sequence where Atreus and Kratos are separated, and Atreus travels through a beautiful, varied location with another character. There are important bits of story information here, but the section is hours too long, with repeated slow slogs escorting an ox and side plots at best tangentially related to the core story. This happens time and again. New barriers for the characters are introduced and then disappear with no lasting influence on the story. Entire chapters could have been eliminated for a tighter, more cohesive experience.

The levels themselves are a lot like the story. Many are excellent but carry an unfortunate tendency to do more for the sake of more. Six of the nine realms are revisited from God of War 2018, but they're drastically changed by Fimbulwinter, the great prelude to the end of the world.

The realms are diverse, with distinct biomes, enemies, and themes. Volcanic Muspelheim stands in stark contrast to the frigid Lake of Nine. Visiting each for the first time is interesting, as they all present their own unique gameplay wrinkles. Alfheim, for example, is filled with physics puzzles that manipulate bridges and doors, while the lush forests and deltas of Vanaheim are rife with noxious, poisonous plants that must be handled with care. 

The novelty of each area begins to wane, however, when you spend hours revisiting the same corridors and pathways; you can expect to return to realms frequently, even if you are focused on just the main story missions. To make sense of all this backtracking, God of War: Ragnarok employs the classic Metroid formula: gaining access to sub-areas by way of items gained later in the game. But God of War: Ragnarok isn’t Metroid.

As a sci-fi series in which you play a human in a space suit, Metroid's cordoned-off areas make sense and provide reasonable challenges that logically require more extensive solutions than what may be initially at-hand. In Ragnarok, where you're a literal god that can rip pillars out of the earth and swing them like baseball bats, too often progression and puzzles are blocked because Kratos can’t be bothered to step over knee-high pointy rocks or push over some lumber lying across an opening. 

Further, most of the equipment that opens these additional pathways is inessential or unremarkable outside of performing that specific task. Link acquiring the hookshot in a Zelda game feels game-changing. Atreus getting a new arrow type just in time to take a blocked path when the story needs requires it feels contrived and inorganic. 

The action in God of War: Ragnarok is stellar. It’s largely unchanged from God of War 2018, and that’s a good thing. Kratos swings his Leviathan Axe with heft, and the responsive controls do an excellent job catering to different playstyles. Want to be a tank behind your shield and pull enemies close with your Blades of Chaos? Done. Rather be more nimble, parrying and rolling while setting up special runic attacks? Just as doable. The number of possibilities is a testament to great design that doesn't grow stale, even after 40 hours.

There’s more variety in weapons, armors, and mods that can be applied to your armaments, too. Your approach to battle repeatedly changes throughout the game, and crafting different builds becomes extremely viable. I found myself in love with a setup designed to quickly build stagger, allowing me to use powerful grapple attacks frequently. I combined that with armor that boosted my strength while regenerating my health and rage after each grapple. It's a perfect example of complementary loadout crafting and a very satisfying system to tap into. 

While the gameplay is overall excellent, it can also feel dated. The fact we're still performing quick time events in 2022 is surprising enough, but the prevalence of invisible barriers is an outmoded relic of level design. Whether it’s a story-driven scene where you move within a confined, invisible box or you're moving around levels hemmed by walls you can't see, God of War: Ragnarok feels like an excellent game held back by elements stuck in the past. It’s disappointing, especially when its contemporaries are generation-defining action RPGs and have largely moved well past this.

God of War: Ragnarok Review — The Bottom Line


  • Deeply moving character development.
  • Amazing acting performances.
  • Detailed and varied levels.
  • Exquisite combat that builds on the previous game.


  • Bloated story, with frequent backtracking.
  • Tired use of dated gameplay gimmicks.

God of War: Ragnarok is the very definition of a great game. Its scope is grand, with a polished presentation that looks and sounds spectacular. While the overarching plot is mediocre, the characters, anchored by some of the best acting performances of the generation, stand out for their depth, development, and empathy. The action is exquisite, further honing a winning combat formula while adding some refreshing variety. 

Still, there are some noticeable issues that separate a great game from something transcendent. Too much time is spent meandering aimlessly or retreading the same ground. Tired gameplay mechanics, like quick time events, feel out of place, and reliance on outdated systems like invisible barriers to corral players is regressive. 

None of that changes one simple fact: God of War: Ragnarok is excellent and well worth playing. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the modern God of War saga, but it’s hard to walk away and not feel like this could have been something greater.

[Note: Sony provided the copy of God of War: Ragnarok used for this review.]

The Chant Review: Welcome to Nightmare Island Wed, 30 Nov 2022 13:22:06 -0500 Jason D'Aprile

The Chant is an odd B-horror-movie of a game that takes inspiration from the usual sources like Silent Hill and Resident Evil but in a much more isolated environment. Delving into supernatural horror, The Chant invites you into a spiritualist cult with a secret and violent past, thematically mixing Lost with the Lovecraftian mythos.

Taking the role of Jess, you quickly find yourself at an island retreat for some much-needed spiritual me time. She has good reason to seek inner peace, still reeling from the accidental death of her younger sister years before. Of course, that's not what happens, with the barefoot, spiked-tea-addled oasis quickly descending into angst-filled emotional horror.

The island locale is easily the best thing about The Chant. You'll explore sandy beaches, forest and mountain paths, beautiful vistas, underground caverns, and mines, as well as various buildings and murky places. The scenery is gorgeous. There are lots of bright colors and detailed flora, and there's a stark visual contrast between the normal world areas and the oppressive, supernaturally-infected areas called the gloom. 

The overall ambient soundtrack is surprisingly good, too, with powerful sound effects and generally high-quality voice acting. The character models themselves don't fare quite as well, with often janky and stilted animations and expressions. Combat animations are especially uneven, with clumsy dodging and attack moves.

The Chant tries to focus on the psychological impacts of horror with its main character, which is reflected in its core gameplay mechanics. Jess has three stats to maintain: mind, body, and spirit. Her mind is usually the stat on which you have to spend the most attention; anything stressful lowers it, putting Jess at risk of debilitating panic attacks. She's terrified of the dark, for instance, so you must find ways to light passages, and going into the gloom also eats away at her mind, so lingering in those spaces is never a good idea.

Combat, of course, also causes Jess to freak out, which makes a lot of sense. Her body stat correlates to hit points, and the spirit stat governs the use of certain special magics and items (in addition to refilling her mind energy through meditation). Combat itself, though, is a real mixed bag. Jess has no natural or default weapons of her own. She can literally just slap and push at bad things, which doesn’t help much. Weapons can be found or crafted, but they tend to be relatively innocuous — burning sage clumps and other herbal mixes plus fire.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, honestly; for a game where you play as a traumatized young woman, The Chant loves to throw Jess into the fray against mutant cultists, giant acid-spewing bug things, toads, killer flowers, and other vaguely Lovecraftian nightmares with next to nothing to protect herself. Combat ultimately amounts to clumsily bashing at a monster until either it dies, your weapon breaks, or you die. Much like ammunition in Resident Evil, The Chant is incredibly stingy about handing out needed herbal ingredients, too.

This might not be as big a source of frustration as it is if The Chant had a semblance of stealth gameplay. Trying to avoid violent combat with monsters would make sense, after all, but that's not an option here. The game seldom gives you any choice but to plow forward, swinging and dodging to get through to the next area. Melee mechanics are either short or long shoulder button presses and are not at all complex. You hit a monster, dodge when it’s about to strike, hit it again, etc.

Jess will find salt and other items that she can throw or even place on the ground as traps to slow or hurt enemies, and she'll gain new spiritual abilities as she collects the colored crystals everyone on the island wears. These can harm enemies, slow them down, freeze them, and do other useful things, but they use energy which, generally, can only be replenished by finding specific ingredients scattered around the island.

When not mindlessly hitting and shoving monsters, you'll usually wander around looking for ingredients, key pieces, letters, film reels, and other things that either fill in the story or let you open new areas. Other times, you'll be running away from a particularly annoying bad thing that follows Jess across the map while yelling accusingly at her. It's an interesting element that adds to the tension while trying to enunciate the themes of grief and loss. 

The Chant Review — The Bottom Line


  • Island location is generally lovely and detailed
  • Solid voice acting, great atmospheric sound
  • Decent story with traumatic themes


  • Combat is very clumsy and simplistic
  • No stealth at all
  • Some janky animation and character work
  • Annoyingly stingy about supplies

The Chant is by no means a great game, and there are plenty of sketchy aspects. Combat is iffy and clumsy, and there are a lot of fetch quests. Just the same, The Chant is mostly enjoyable thanks to a solid story and lush environments. 

[Note: Prime Matter provided the copy of The Chant used for this review.]

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me Review — Dark Hallways Mon, 28 Nov 2022 12:53:31 -0500 Peter Hunt Szpytek

I have always rooted for The Dark Pictures Anthology series. Until Dawn, Supermassive Games' first foray into the choose-your-own-adventure horror genre, is one of my favorites in the entire PS4 library, so when the studio announced it would try its hand at a horror anthology franchise that covers drastically different themes, I couldn't have been more excited. Then I played the games.

Aside from the second entry in the series, The Dark Pictures Anthology has been nothing but a letdown over its various installments. The final entry in the anthology's self-espoused “first season," The Devil in Me, is perhaps the weakest of the four titles. It seems as if it hasn't learned anything from the past, with the series actively regressing in many departments, from encounter design and character development to narrative writing and options for player choice.

The story of The Devil in Me follows a true-crime documentary crew as they take a mysterious overnight trip to a replica of serial killer H. H. Holmes' "Murder Castle.” Things start to go awry when the owner of the replica hotel disappears, and the cast inevitably gets separated and chased by a murderous copycat killer.

The premise is solid enough, but the game is packed full of boring stock characters that don't move the story beyond that initial premise. It’s true that archetypes can drive a horror story; in fact, Until Dawn utilizes similar genre tropes to great effect, subverting expectations while also delivering a nail-biting horror story. However, everyone here — with the exception of Erin — is so profoundly unlikable and shallow that their deaths border on small victories for the plot, and their collective and individual choices are so poorly realized and unrealistic that they fail to resonate in the way they're intended. 

Critiquing any character's decision-making process in horror is hardly the way to enjoy the genre, but here, the cast fails to garner any sympathy as they bumble around the Murder House, coming in and out of the same handful of locations and situations none-the-wiser, like caricatures of Scooby Doo characters.

The Devil in Me's scene-to-scene writing doesn't do the cast any favors, with pervasive inconsistency and thoughtlessness for cohesive scripting. An early scene in the game's roughly seven-hour playtime features two characters talking poorly about another cast member. Overhearing them, that character reveals themself, telling the other two off for speaking so unkindly. In the very next scene, the two gossipers debate whether or not they think that person heard them, as if nothing happened in the scene before.

I imagine these inconsistencies are, in part, a result of the game's choose-your-own-adventure mechanics, where branching paths can sometimes conflict with the intended story. Supermassive, however, has had years to work on the formula but hasn't improved it to make the scenes flow more cohesively. The patchwork nature of the narrative was a criticism many had with Until Dawn back in 2015, and seven years later, it's still a problem for The Dark Pictures series.

The actual choices The Devil in Me allows you to make are weak as well. Most of the major decisions are either made for you in cutscenes or reliant on you finding a random item in one of the hotel’s many identical rooms and hallways. Some player-chosen possibilities don’t seem to have much, if any, bearing on the story either, making the overall system clunky and ineffectual, especially in comparison to other genre titles. 

At its core, this is a slasher story, and the narrative boils down to being chased by an omnipotent killer who is everywhere in the hotel at once. Eventually, the frequency at which the killer appears becomes comical; you can quite literally expect to see them in every scene, emerging from the darkness to a swell of music before chasing the cast — which usually escapes — and it all beginning again. 

Initially, the killer provides a few scares, but their clocklike consistency simply makes them part of the set as the plot plods on, not an actual character. The Devil in Me is so unwilling to let three minutes go by without a (feeble) jumpscare that it's entirely unable to build any sort of real tension. Jumpscares might make you shout, but The Dark Pictures seems to have forgotten that being scared and being startled are two entirely different feelings.

To be fair, there's a single good horror scene The Devil in Me, where the crew’s soundperson uses their microphone while wandering the halls of the Murder House listening for distant screams. The lights go out, the sound gets louder and stranger, and you’re on the edge of your seat, listening intently as the tension ramps up. It's a great, if fleeting scene.

The Devil in Me makes a handful of changes to the traditional gameplay of the Dark Pictures Anthology outside of cutscene quick-time events. Now, characters have much more mobility, allowing you to climb ledges to reach doors, for example, but it ultimately doesn't change much about the core of the game. Similarly, each character has a small inventory of items that allows them to "solve puzzles," which boils down to unlocking cabinets that contain random documents. There’s even a promising camera mechanic that goes completely unused. 

I wrote about the potential some of these systems could have on the branching story in my preview of The Devil in Me, but as I suspected then, they do nothing to push the series forward. 

The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me Review — The Bottom Line


  • Performs well on performance mode.
  • Solid premise.


  • Flat characters.
  • Overly reliant on jumpscares.
  • Shallow plot with no real resolution.
  • Uninteresting puzzles.
  • Overall lack of player choice.

The Devil in Me is a little baffling, especially considering that Supermassive released The Quarry earlier this year, which seemed to take the lessons from previous Dark Pictures entries to heart. As a sendoff for the first season of the anthology, The Devil in Me isn't the triumphant victory lap that it could have been. Instead, it's the death rattle of a series that's already run out of ideas.

If you're looking for a pop-corn horror game that isn't interested in doing anything other than making loud noises at you, then give The Devil in Me a shot. After all, there's something to be said for that sort of entertainment, but there's just nothing to The Devil in Me that would make me recommend it over the numerous other titles in the genre.

The game feels like a regression from Supermassive's previous work. The Quarry was a refreshing return to form for Supermassive, but The Devil in Me and the overall lackluster quality of the rest of The Dark Pictures Anthology make me think that this IP may be out of ideas.

[Note: Bandai Namco provided the copy of The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me used for this review.]

Sonic Frontiers Review — Fast as the Rest Fri, 18 Nov 2022 10:07:48 -0500 Ashley Shankle

Like most Sonic fans, I awaited Sonic Frontiers with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The trailers for Sonic Team's latest didn't exactly get me hyped with their bland environments and seemingly moderate speed. You gotta go fast in a Sonic game, right? And where were the slick tunes?

Sonic Frontiers is an instance where you shouldn't judge a game by its trailer. It's not the sort of open-world Sonic title that fans have theorized about over the years, but it is a far more worthwhile game than it appears.

There is no such thing as a perfect 3D Sonic game — not now and probably not ever — but Frontiers does an amazing job of stirring the Pot of "What Ifs." What if it had more fantastical environments and a more lively open world? What if instead of seeking out Kocos for stat increases, you sought out Chaos or Chaos boosters? What if the enemies were brighter and more akin to the rest of the series?

The Pot of "What Ifs" is hard to stop stirring as you blaze through the obstacles and challenge stages found in Sonic Frontiers. Despite its considerable length compared to many games in the series, you'll find yourself at the end of what's been an amazing blue blur and simply crave more.

You're allowed to progress through the game's five islands at your own pace — that pace being fast, of course, but also open enough that you can speed around getting each collectible in an order with which you're comfortable. And it's very likely you'll find yourself exploring every nook and cranny to seek out additional Kocos or Red and Blue Seeds. It's hard to resist the temptation of rails and ring trails.

In a series rarity, Sonic is able to both increase his stats and learn new abilities to aid in exploration and combat. You'll increase them via collectibles, a system that ultimately provides a smooth sense of progression; you instinctively seek them out over the next obstacle.

That said, it did take some time to warm to the stat system, and the same can be said of the erratic placement of environmental obstacles. Neither seems to belong in concept, but they work wonderfully to make you feel more effective and powerful.

Speaking of power, Sonic Frontiers is the most combat-heavy mainline Sonic game. That does not mean the combat slows it down, though. It's as fast as the rest, just with more button-mashing. Phantom Rush and the other skills you learn along the way are fun, fast, easy to pull off, and don't detract from the overall speed of the game.

It also helps that bosses are intense and memorable, despite not being the most colorful bunch in the series. I'd say more, but I truly believe that the boss fights are something every Sonic fan should experience for themselves. You will not be disappointed.

The Cyber Space stages will be the most familiar territory for fans of the series, with many taking after fan-favorite locations in previous titles. Green Hill Zone, Radical Highway, Dragon Road, and many more make appearances, and each should tickle most fans and give some much-needed scenery changes from the islands.

My largest complaint is just how unremarkable the open world is at large. Though there are some portions that stand out, not even the day-night or weather cycles can make the islands feel more alive. They just don't feel right for the franchise, and neither do the pop-ins they bring with them.

If the open world at was more vibrant, Sonic Frontiers would be lauded as the second coming of the series more than it already is. To be very fair, it is the best game in the series since Sonic Generations very easily. Is it better than Generations? No. But it could be, and the next very well could be, too. There is far more to love about Sonic Frontiers than it initially lets on.

Sonic Frontiers Review — The Bottom Line


  • Fast enough once you upgrade Sonic.
  • Memorable boss battles.
  • Well-paced despite the open world, thanks to the slew of collectibles, stages, enemies, and obstacles.
  • Considerable length for a Sonic game (15~ hours).


  • The open world needs more pizzazz.
  • Obstacle pop-ins can be troublesome when you're boosting around.

I suppose I've been waiting for a Sonic game to usurp Generations for a long time. Though Sonic Adventure 2 is my personal favorite, Sonic Generations stands as my gold standard for the 3D portion of the series. Sonic Frontiers doesn't outdo Generations, but it doesn't have to. Sonic Team has tried something new with this entry to Sega's long-running series, and it's one heck of a ride.

Always fast and sometimes furious, Sonic Frontiers gives me a sense of wonder I haven't had with the 3D portion of the franchise in a decade, and it does so with the sort of flair I want from Sonic Team. It's not perfect, but it is a huge spin dash in the right direction for the Blue Blur. The next game needs to build on what Sonic Team has put together here because this is a formula with long legs.

[Note: Sega provided the copy of Sonic Frontiers used for this review.]

Somerville Review: A Man and His Dog at the End of the World Thu, 17 Nov 2022 12:10:41 -0500 Daniel Solomon

'Tis the season for horror games beginning with the letter S. And five years on from its announcement, Somerville has finally emerged over the twilight horizon. The debut title from Jumpship — helmed by veteran film animator Chris Olsen and PLAYDEAD co-founder Dino Patti — puts the lineage of its leaders front and center.

This is recognizably a marriage of top-tier visual production quality and the darkness and narrative ambiguity of those games. Somerville is not, however, greater than the sum of its parts.

Sommerville opens with a long shot of a family driving home to their remote cottage in the countryside and settles on the mum, dad, child, and dog all cozied up asleep on the sofa in front of TV static. This uncanny moment is the last true instance of peace across Somerville’s roughly four-hour runtime, and it’s a disquieting one at that.

Strange lights and sounds come from outside the family's home, rousing them each in turn. A few moments and a few crashed things later, and you’re in control of the father, who, along with the trusty mutt, now must see what’s left of the world and what’s become of the rest of his family. 

Following a close encounter with something, our protagonist finds himself in possession of Somerville’s sole gameplay mechanic: an ability to manipulate the state of the jagged, all-angles alien matter now strewn about the place. The caveat is that the ability must be paired with a light source, and lacking the foresight to pack a torch for the end of the world, this search for light becomes the anchor for much of the game’s puzzles. How do I move this lamp there? Can I untangle these wired bulbs and carry them further here?

These puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, but that’s not exactly a criticism in and of itself. I imagine they’re meant to be fairly swift affairs as you push through the ruins of what looks to be southern England — the big hint being the Glastonbury festival-inspired area you’ll encounter pretty early on, replete with a Pyramid Stage and continue fleeing the monoliths seen littering the horizon, casting their ominous purple light in the direction of sentience. 

The headliner here is the environmental storytelling. It’s clearly the heart and soul of Somerville, and while there is a lot of praise due for the world that Jumpship has created, along with the striking visuals and sound design, it does come at the expense of the game itself.

Somerville is a cinematic experience to a fault, all widescreen bordered display and slow panning camera that’s forever out of your control. It’s refreshing playing through an entire experience directed in a cinematic sense, and the long cuts of our long-suffering dad strolling desolate farmlands as the purple lights scan for life in the distance bring to mind the style of Alejandro Iñárritu or even Béla Tarr.

It gives the impression that you're being watched and adds to the unsettling feeling in the opening hour while everything is still a mystery. And while it’s aesthetically one of the game’s greatest strengths, it’s often a blocker to progress. 

The disconnect that arises is that while watching a movie, the audience doesn’t need to know where the cast is going; we’ll know that when they arrive. This opens up the potential for creative camerawork and unusual framing. But as a player playing a video game, these types of shots can prove a hindrance, as smaller obstacles in your path can be either obscured or off-camera entirely. Often the chosen angles can leave ambiguity in the level design, as the route forward isn’t always clear. The depth of field, too, can make parsing a path through debris cumbersome and confusing. 

In an interview with Edge earlier this year, Olsen said that Somerville “used to be 2D; now we’ve changed it into a 3D game.” I’m inclined to say that you can feel that shift tangibly. The world often feels like it’s operating on a 2.5D plane, with the camera issues exposing the lack of revision to these pivots.

Our protagonist is no fun to control. He’s unwieldy even when the camera behaves itself, despite the fact that there’s very limited interaction – just movement and an interact button beyond the ability to manipulate matter. The worst gripe is that his pace is entirely dictated by the game – and I've never known a character more reticent to run in the face of danger. 

There's a handful of particularly egregious scenes in which the level design, camera work, and present threat lead the player to think you'd run for the nearest obvious cover, only to have our nameless hero stroll nonchalantly to his doom. It’s baffling to see and robs the game of some of its grounded sensibility. So, too, do a number of plot points I won’t spoil, as I often found myself asking “why?” without coming up with a good answer. 

Across my four hours with the game, I encountered myriad performance issues, as well. Sound both disappeared entirely or persisted across scenes, and the vibration function once needed a hard reset to cease rumbling. Character models would get stuck in loops, gesticulating to no one. A key item in the back half of the game flailed wildly about when in the protagonist's hands, regardless of how many times I reset the game.

Somerville Review — The Bottom Line


  • Spectacular visuals and cinematic feel.
  • Sound design and soundtrack.


  • Ill-considered as a video game, and feels like it would be a better film.
  • Performance issues and bugs.
  • Unsatisfying to play, both in terms of mechanics and puzzles.

Much like previous works in which Dino Pattti has been involved, nothing is ever entirely concrete in Somerville. There's no voice acting, no text, and minimal interaction with anything beyond the components of puzzles blocking your progress. The story is shown, not told, as that old creative writing aphorism goes, leaving much to the player's imagination. 

The ambiguity throughout and up to the end is likely a deliberate means of incentivising repeat playthroughs and encouraging deeper dives into the story. And I would have liked more time in this world to decipher some of it myself, despite my issues with some of the bigger moments in the back half of the game. But it was an entirely too frustrating experience, and by the time I’d got to the end, I’d entirely run out of patience with it.

[Note: Jumpship provided the copy of Somerville used for this review.]

Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review — All Yesterday’s Parties Wed, 16 Nov 2022 09:00:01 -0500 Will Borger

Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a standalone game in the grander Star Ocean series, which began back in 1996. It has all the trappings of a classic JRPG and is a charming journey that evokes the PS2 RPGs of yesteryear while bringing the series up to modern JRPG standards.

Despite this being the newest Star Ocean game in a long-running series, you won’t have to be familiar with previous games to understand what’s going on. There are some Easter eggs and references for longtime fans, but if you're new to the franchise, you can jump right in.

The story has a pretty neat concept: Raymond Lawrence (Ray to his friends), a merchant captain with an awful haircut, has just crash-landed on Aster IV, an underdeveloped planet straight out of medieval times. While searching for his crew, he meets Laeticia, princess of the Kingdom of Aucerius, and Albaird, her loyal knight. Both have problems: Laeticia needs to track down a former royal semiomancer — think magic meets technology — to aid her kingdom, and Ray could use a hand locating the rest of his crew and navigating the planet. They quickly decide to team up. 

The Divine Force’s story escalates, of course; what happens on Aster IV has ramifications that stretch far beyond the planet, but the small scale of its opening hours is enjoyable. It lets you get to know the characters and get a feel for the world before thrusting you into the larger plot.

One of the cool things about The Divine Force is that you can choose whether you’d like Ray or Laeticia to be the main character (I picked Ray, for the record). You’ll be able to follow the story just fine either way, but each has segments you won’t get to see if you’re playing as the other that add context and flavor to the overall plot. 

It’s a neat feature that encourages you to replay The Divine Force — the game clocks in at around 30-40 hours, depending on how you play — but there’s no way to carry over your progress from one playthrough to another. If I wanted to play Laeticia, I’d have to start a completely new file, which is kind of a bummer, but tracks with something like Scarlet Nexus, which has a similar setup.

Ultimately, though, that’s not too much of a problem when you’ve got a cast that’s as diverse and fun as the one in The Divine Force. It's a mixture of Aster IV natives and folks from off-planet, and the interplay between the characters and the cultures they represent is pretty fascinating. On one hand, you’ve got a group familiar with androids and interstellar travel; on the other, you’ve got a group that has some surprising technology — thanks to semiomancy — but still mostly fights with swords. This makes for some really fun interactions in which both groups have something to learn from the other.

The characters themselves are often based on archetypes: Albraid is the curmudgeonly knight who takes his duty seriously but cares deeply about the people around him; Laeticia is a proper princess utterly dedicated to her friends and her people; Ray is easygoing and likable but takes his responsibilities to his crew very seriously, and so on.

The characters aren’t wholly original, but they are a lot of fun, and I enjoyed spending time with them in cutscenes, through conversations in the field, and in Private Actions. Private Actions are one-on-one conversations you can trigger with party members while you’re in one of Aster IV’s various towns. It’s here that you’ll learn the most about your compatriots, and it’s fun exploring their quirks and unique personalities outside of the confines of the story.

In one, I learned about Albaird’s insecurities about his youth and his wish to grow up faster to be of more service to Laeticia. In another, Laeticia praised Ray's swordsmanship, and when he admitted to having no idea what he was doing, offered to train him, though she admitted she only knew the basics herself. The Divine Force even lets you choose how your character responds on occasion, leading to different conversations, too.

The only downside to Private Actions is that they can be a little hard to find. While companions are marked on your map when they’re available in a given town, they’re no way to distinguish between a regular conversation and a Private Action. Sometimes you’ll find yourself fast traveling from town to town just to find new ones, which can be a bit of a drag. Still, they’re pretty much always worth it when you track them down.

When you’re not in towns, you’ll spend a lot of your time exploring the world and getting into fights. Thankfully, Star Ocean: The Divine Force has a fantastic combat system. Everything is real-time: you’ll see enemies in the world and fight them in that environment. There’s no separate combat screen or screened-off area. Fighting involves assigning your characterss combat abilities to one of three buttons.

You can assign additional moves in succession to create custom combos and bind other skills to holding one of three buttons, so there’s no shortage of moves available to one. The limit on your abilities is AP; each ability costs AP to use, so managing it in combat is key, though it does return quickly if exhausted. Since you can switch between any of your party members at any time, there’s no shortage of ways to approach combat.

The real trick, though, is D.U.M.A., a little robot that Ray, Laeticia, and crew find early on. D.U.M.A. gives the current character access to the VA Gauge, which opens up a ton of useful abilities. You can shield yourself or allies from damage or use special abilities that heal your party, depending on the character. The best part of D.U.M.A. is its dash attack, which allows you to close distance quickly while dealing damage. Even better is the ability to change directions mid-charge. Doing this at the last second, and hitting an enemy when it can’t see you, will result in a blindside attack.

Nailing blindsides is crucial; landing one will not only stun enemies, but it will also increase your maximum AP, allowing you to land much longer combos, though it will use half your VA Gauge. Getting hit will reduce your maximum AP until it returns to the standard five, though, so you’ll still want to be careful. Combine this with a dodge roll that rewards you for timing your evasions precisely, and you have a system that is constantly engaging and encourages smart play.

The only downside is that using items takes a long time, and you have to stand completely still to do it. In certain situations, where only one party member remains, it can be all but impossible to win since you can’t avoid being hit long enough to heal.

D.U.M.A can also be used to speed up traversal, rocketing you around the map to avoid enemies, find hidden goodies, and collect purple crystals that can be used to level up D.U.M.A. It’s a good thing, too, because The Divine Force’s environments are massive. While they’re largely flat plains, they’re gorgeous, colorful, and fun to explore, just like the towns you’ll find while traversing them. 

Things get a little murkier when it comes to the game’s presentation. The characters often look like dolls, and the lip-syncing is noticeably poor, at least for the English dub. It's not game-breaking, and I often found myself admiring the little touches in the character’s models, such as the way their clothing looks when they run, but it is a bit of a contrast when compared to the game’s gorgeous environments. The sound design, on the other hand, is quite good, with excellent battle and ambient music and hits that sound as meaty as they feel.

The menus are another problem. There are simply too many sub-menus, and everything is just a series of black boxes stacked on top of one another that aren’t labeled as well as they should be. It can often be hard to find what you’re looking for unless you already know where it is or remember the button command that will get you where you need to know.

It's a small nuisance but a bummer when you have to spend so much time in the menus leveling up your characters, building combos, and upgrading your gear. The in-game tutorial menu helps, but I definitely found myself using it more than I’d like.

Star Ocean: The Divine Force Review — The Bottom Line


  • Loads of charm.
  • Fun characters.
  • An excellent combat system that rewards smart play.


  • The character models aren't as good as the backgrounds.
  • Menus aren't well laid out.
  • Private Actions can be hard to find.

I didn’t know what to expect the first time I fired up Star Ocean: The Divine Force. I had only passing knowledge of the series from watching a friend play Star Ocean: The Last Force in college and from others talking about how much they loved Til the End of Time. I can’t speak to what playing The Divine Force will feel like to series veterans or how it compares to other games in the series. But I can say that I really enjoyed my time with Star Ocean: The Divine Force; it reminds me of the PS2 JRPGs in the best possible way.

For all its faults, though, Star Ocean: The Divine Force is a relentlessly charming game that reminds me of the best PS2 RPGs. It won’t convert anyone; this is very much a JRPG, albeit a modern one. So if you don’t like the genre, this won’t change your mind. But if you’re looking for a fun romp across the stars, you’ll find The Divine Force to be a journey worth taking.

[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Star Ocean: The Divine Force used for this review.]

Among Us VR Review: Into the Third Dimension Mon, 14 Nov 2022 10:26:42 -0500 Jason D'Aprile

Among Us is one of the breakout success stories in gaming over the pandemic, hitting mobiles, consoles, and PC while introducing a great twist on the frequently stagnant world of online multiplayer. When Innersloth announced they were pushing the game into VR, a vague feeling of suspicion was still probably warranted, though. As it turns out, the results aren’t sus at all, and Among Us VR will likely prove to be one of the quintessential go-to VR multiplayer games.

The immediate question is: how does Among Us work in VR? The game has been translated to a first-person experience, and while it definitely looks like a fully 3D version of the source material, the sense of place is stunning in VR. Instead of looking down at the action in a more abstract third-person view, you are the actual crewmate (or imposter) running face-to-face with the three to nine other players.

The level of detail put into turning the Skeld spaceship map into a fully realized place is impressive. While the visuals are terrific in that Among Us cartoonish style, the sound design is the real star. Among Us VR uses voice chat primarily to keep players connected (which is a double-edged sword), factoring in player distances. 

Player voices fade as they get further away, the sounds of the ship hum all around you, and emergency alarms blare loudly. For such a relatively simple game and premise, the atmosphere has been nailed perfectly here. You can also opt to use quick text responses for communication (especially during crew meetings), but voice chatting is likely to be integral to the gameplay for many players. 

This reliance on communication can be great in a good match with players who are invested in the whole experience. Alternatively, you can also find yourself surrounded by people who make you want to mute the sound. As an adult, this isn’t a big deal, but it definitely could be a concern for kids playing. To help alleviate some problems, the game asks for your birthday when starting, but all it really does is say you can’t play if you’re under 13. 

That said, having been in matches with absolutely no voice chats, simply using the quickly accessible canned messages and body language (there’s a lot of hilarious finger-pointing) works surprisingly well. What would help a great deal is a straightforward option to only allow text-only matches, which is thus far lacking.

Among Us VR tries to be accessible to everyone in its actual controls. Using the Quest 2’s controllers, the left stick moves you around, while the right stick turns your character. The game defaults to a tunnel-vision-like view when moving around to mitigate motion sickness, but it can be dialed down in the menu options. New players are required to run through the tutorial, which is a good idea because the controls still take a bit of time to get used to as simple as they are.

Mini-game tasks are catered to the VR medium, so expect a lot of pressing buttons, tapping things, and pulling levers. There’s a Simon-Says-like game, other consoles requiring you to input the right code, and even a whack-a-mole sequence. The mini-games generally feel more intuitive here than in the original game.

Among Us VR Review – The Bottom Line


  • Superb atmosphere and sound design.
  • Looks great in 3D.
  • Gameplay only gets better in VR.


  • Only one map and no advanced crewmate options.
  • Limited customizability.
  • Needs more options to customize in-game communication.

Simple is an overall theme for Among Us VR. At launch, the game lacks most of the advanced modes and options of the core game and only comes with one map. That said, when the original launched, it was just as limited in scope, and we expect regular updates in VR to make this version just as robust. Even with just the single map, this is a superb Among Us experience.

[Note: Schell Games provided the copy of Among Us VR used for this review.]

Tactics Ogre: Reborn Review — Something Sharper, Something New Fri, 11 Nov 2022 11:20:35 -0500 Hayes Madsen

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is essentially a remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, which itself was already a remake of the original Tactics Ogre. It's incredibly rare to see a game get a second chance at life, let alone a third, but what's more interesting is that Square Enix wasn't content to put out a simple re-release with Reborn.

With the help of the series' creator Yasumi Matsuno, Square Enix has brought a wealth of meaningful changes to Tactics Ogre: Reborn, re-evaluating the game's core systems and creating an experience that practically feels like something new. 

Tactics Ogre takes place on an archipelago called Valeria, focusing on a trio of characters named Denam, Catuia, and Vyce. The narrative picks up after the death of King Dorgalua Valeria, which has thrust the land into a civil war between three factions. The trio of main characters is part of a small resistance group for the Walister people, whose village was burned to the ground by the Dark Knight Lanselot of the Holy Lodissian Empire. 

As you might expect, there's a lot of lore and history behind Tactics Ogre's story, but you learn about it incrementally as the narrative progresses. Interestingly, the scope of the story starts out rather small by focusing on the trio, but as they're thrust into the middle of a war, things significantly expand in both scope and drama. The writing in Tactics Ogre is still utterly fantastic, adding a layer of complexity to the already complex and politics-laden story. 

That narrative is exactly the same as it was in terms of content, but the way it's delivered has seen some serious improvements. Voice acting is the big new addition here, and it's something I was initially hesitant about, not sure if it could properly convey the gravitas and weight of the game's script.

Color me surprised, then, when Reborn's voice acting turned out to be my absolute favorite addition. The cast does a phenomenal job across the board, imbuing real dimension to a variety of characters and turning the story into an even more dramatic affair than it was. I can't think of a single tactical RPG I've played that has this quality of voice acting, aside from perhaps Fire Emblem Echoes. Bolstering that, character art has been retouched to look even better than before, and there are some previously generic characters that now sport unique designs. 

The bulk of Reborn's changes, however, appear in the combat system. The core concepts are the same: choosing classes for characters, equipping items and consumables, and managing MP. But the biggest change is how leveling works, with each character leveling separately instead of classes. Adding a layer to that, your entire party now has a level cap that only increases as you complete certain battles in the story. 

This means you can't endlessly grind to improve your characters but instead need to focus on strategy to overcome tougher battles. This makes the leveling system a double-edged sword. I appreciate the constant challenge, but some of the more intense battles can grow incredibly frustrating, especially when bosses feel so far above your party's power level.

Luckily, other small changes make battles more approachable. You can review incapacitated units, rewind time with the Chariot tarot, and predict trajectory for ranged attacks. Buff cards that appear across the battlefield can also be picked up by both you and the enemy. 

Tactics Ogre's battles are more challenging and dynamic than ever before, and your skills are constantly put to the test, whether it's at hour five or hour 40. There is a wealth of other changes I could spend another couple thousand words listing off, but the crux is that Tactics Ogre's systems are more approachable than ever. However, that doesn't exactly mean they couldn't be more so. 

Just like the past two versions of the game, Reborn is still a relatively obtuse tactical RPG that requires you to put in a ton of work to simply understand its systems. There is a play guide you can read, but most of the decoding is left up to you through trial and error. Capturing creatures and the Loyalty mechanic are still largely unexplained, and players can easily overlook or underutilized them. 

Tactics Ogre: Reborn Review  The Bottom Line


  • Superb story made even better by incredible voice acting.
  • Meaningful changes that make combat feel constantly challenging.
  • New mechanics like Buff Cards genuinely make battles feel more dynamic.


  • Still has a lot of obtuse systems that aren't properly explained.
  • High difficulty may turn off players looking for a more accessible experience.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a thoughtful re-release of a classic that adds meaningful changes to make the experience more approachable in relation to previous installments. Those changes, by and large, are a good thing, but the complexity of Tactics Ogre isn't lost in the process. Diehard fans will likely be happy to hear that, but it would have been nice to see Tactics Ogre: Reborn strive to be even more accessible for newcomers. 

Despite that, Tactics Ogre remains one of the most imaginative and engrossing tactical RPGs ever made, and this is easily the best version of the game to date. If you happened to miss any of the past iterations of Tactics Ogre, there's never been a better time to jump in, and hopefully, this means the franchise still has a future.

[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Tactics Ogre: Reborn used for this review.]

Signalis Review: Signifier, Signified, Horrifier, Horrified Tue, 08 Nov 2022 14:46:01 -0500 Daniel Solomon

Wake up, the game tells you as a means of a preamble as you boot up Signalis for the first time. 

Elster, protagonist and synthetic humanoid technician, opens her eyes as she rises from stasis, and it’s for you to fumble through the darkness of a ruined ship to see where you are and why. Things quickly go from bad to worse as she navigates this familiar, uncanny dystopian hellscape, where time may or may not be linear, and the line between dream and reality is blurred from the off. 

Fans of classic horror (and/or the first season of True Detective) will no doubt clock the copy of Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow, which makes an appearance as you take your first steps into the facility following Signalis' brief prologue. This real-world bit of intertextuality plays well with the game's themes of loss, memory, madness, and the uncanny. Literature buffs, too, will surely take great joy in spotting the myriad ways that references to the work surface throughout Signalis.

Each of the game’s main areas plays out in the quintessential, old-school survival horror mode of managing your limited offensive and healing resources as you navigate a labyrinth full of interconnected puzzles to continue. Signalis really nails the tactile feel of its early survival horror influences, too. 

Items can be turned over in your hands to find further clues, and many of the game’s puzzles are environmental – finding valves and fuses to open passageways leading to more puzzles. It all feels like a big, horrifying escape room, much in the way Resident Evil 1 accomplishes the same.

And most of the puzzles err on the right side of difficult, rewarding further exploration with key contextual information for things that don’t make immediate sense when first seen. Some even require note-taking (or screenshots, though the Xbox UI was the bane of my life for these) as you discover complex solutions to problems on the other side of the map. There are a few moments that do stray into the obtuse and almost Byzantine, though they are thankfully few. 

You’ll constantly be wrestling with your restricted inventory, however; key items are not separated out from the pool and will take up one of your six precious slots when you leave a safe room with them. Later puzzles can require multiple solutions, forcing you into forgoing some healing items or extra ammo, which both succeeds in ramping up the tension and serves to infuriate a little. Though, it's unlike, say, Resident Evil, where bigger items take up more room; your shotgun is, for the purposes of your inventory, the same size as a key, equipped or otherwise. 

The influence of early classics like Silent Hill doesn’t end there. While Signalis mercifully has done away with the infamous tank control scheme, combat is a decidedly slow affair, with limited movement while aiming down sights and, no surprises, a scarcity of ammunition. The twist on this is that enemies do not necessarily remain dead unless you have the means to off them for good. 

Some mid-game weapons introduce a strategic element to this, as you can choose a handful of monsters to permanently retire – though that choice can come with a cost. Are you better placed trying to clear a section entirely, making your safe rooms safer, or keeping the heavy hitters off the field permanently? What about the ammo that you don’t have room in your inventory to bring back – will the enemies stay down long enough for you to make a return trip to your storage? 

Signalis really nails down the overall vibe of classic survival horror; it’s a vision of a promised future as seen from the tail end of the 90s. It's a clear love letter to all things 32-bit, though brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century with some superb lighting effects and world design.

Artists 1000 Eyes and Cicada Sirens have also delivered one of the greatest soundtracks in recent memory. It swings between a minimalist beauty and being absolutely horrible in the best kind of way, and it deserves being listened to on the Signalis soundtrack Bandcamp page, even if you have no intention of playing the game.

Signalis Review — The Bottom Line


  • Superb writing, pacing, and plot.
  • Almost pitch-perfect entry into the PS1-era horror canon
  • Broadly, the atmosphere, but specifically, that soundtrack. 


  • Some puzzles are a little too wonky.
  • Very restrictive inventory capacity.

Signalis does a lot of heavy lifting, bringing 90’s genre tropes into the cold light of the present, and it does enough to modernize them to both feel contemporary and timeless, almost to the point that playing Signalis is analogous to how you remember such games as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. While the latter may have aged somewhat now, this is old-school survival horror rendered preeminently. 

While it’d be remiss of me to discuss some of the specifics that truly elevate Signalis, particularly in terms of the story and its experimental delivery, you can believe that developers rose-engine have made good on their promise. They’ve delivered a top-tier game that marries cosmic horror with altogether more grounded points of conflict. Signalis is a vital experience for anyone who fondly remembers being terrified of vague pixel arrangements of early survival horror games.

[Note: The GamePass version of Signalis was used for this review.]

Bayonetta 3 Review: This Witch Deserves More Tue, 08 Nov 2022 13:06:25 -0500 Bryn Gelbart

It has been many years since Bayonetta 2, the last outing from Platinum Games' witchy heroine, and a lot has changed. The standards for game graphics and performance keep elevating, while Nintendo's nearly six-year-old Switch is failing to keep up. Despite all its highlights, Bayonetta 3 is a perfect example of this ongoing challenge.

Bayonetta 3 succeeds in being an excellent action game while struggling to carry the torch for the iconic series. Still sporting the stylish action and campy cutscenes the series is known for, the changes made to Bayonetta 3 are subtle. Some additions help bring the game to new cinematic heights, while others left me scratching my head.

At its core, though, Bayonetta is a game about snappy action that controls excellently, and the third entry stays true to that mechanical foundation. It is a smooth, stylish, and outrageous action game that boasts some of the tightest combat in the genre. And while its ideas ooze with ambition, Bayonetta 3 runs straight into limitations of story, design, and the very hardware it's exclusive to — making it feel like a subpar port of a great game. 

Bayonetta 3 certainly isn't lacking in style. The title, under the supervision of original Bayonetta director Hideki Kamiya, brings its cadre of personalities back and — even with Helena Taylor out and new voice actor Jennifer Hale taking over — Bayonetta brings her trademark attitude to the forefront. Everything that happens is over-the-top, cranking the dial to 11, and for a while, that rollercoaster approach is enthralling. 

The combo-based action continues to be a blast from moment to moment. The addition of Infernal Demons is the most bombastic change, letting you summon Kaiju-sized demons to help you out in combat. Taking a page from the beastmaster V in Devil May Cry 5, Platinum's latest title applies the concept of controlling creatures in a uniquely Bayonetta way. Between the regular combat sections (Verses in Bayonetta parlance) and the cinematic set pieces, these building-sized monsters are consistently a source of awe. 

Bayonetta 3's early hours also introduce you to its new story concept — the multiverse. In her journey to save the worlds, Bayonetta travels across space and time, encountering various versions of herself and her friends. This trendy premise is promising in the context of these characters, and it's exciting to see alternate-universe versions of Bayo and Jeanne in all their fashionable glory. 

Bayonetta is all about riding the line between silly and sexy, and that energy is not lost here. The multiverse concept is a great excuse to show off the creativity of the design team behind Bayonetta 3. Each Bayonetta you encounter brings a new weapon, demon, and outfit to the party, all of which can eventually be acquired in some form or fashion. 

However, while I loved most of the artistic decisions behind Bayonetta 3's visuals, I found the enemy designs quite lacking. The standard Homunculi all share a generic luminescent green and silver coloring that screams boring compared to, for example, Bayonetta's plethora of costumes. A majority of the enemies assume this generic aesthetic, sticking out like a sore thumb amid the creative designs surrounding them. 

In addition to playing as Bayonetta, you also play as two other witches, including new character Viola. Controlling this young punk witch in a handful of chapters spices up the variety, but compared to Bayonetta, her moveset is pretty limited. With just a sword and her trusty Cheshire Cat demon (speaking of great new designs!), Viola lacks the on-the-fly weapon and ability switching of Bayonetta 3's titular character. 

The biggest change to combat flow while playing Viola is how Witch Time works. Long-time fans are familiar with how perfectly dodging as Bayonetta activates this crucial slo-mo effect. Bayonetta sets itself apart from Devil May Cry by making dodging part of the combos, encouraging frequent use of Witch Time. As Viola, you can block with your sword, and Witch Time is only activated upon a perfect parry. 

Given how few Viola chapters there ultimately are, there isn't enough time in one roughly 10-12 hour playthrough to ultimately click with the character. The parry mechanic means it's easy to get completely annihilated as Viola, even if you are decent with Bayonetta. I'm admittedly not the best at these games, but Viola just inherently feels trickier to get a handle on than her counterpart, and even once you do, her combos aren't as varied by comparison. By contrast, I enjoyed the other character you play in Bayonetta 3 immensely. 

During specially marked "side chapters," you control Bayo's bestie Jeanne in 2D stealth missions reminiscent of indies like Gunpoint and Mark of the Ninja. These sections seem to already be dividing fans, but personally, I found them the best non-combat part. They are well-balanced, tense but not too punishing. And unlike the other aspects of Bayonetta 3, these levels never wear out their welcome. Plus, the intro cinematic to Jeanne's stages is outstanding and a perfect example of how the game nails the trademark jazzy Bayonetta tone. I never skipped it once. 

Platinum Games has stuffed Bayonetta 3's stages full of content. Larger and more expansive than ever, each level encourages exploration but often, the rewards are downright awful puzzles and platforming sections. Actually, the amount of optional platforming you're asked to do in Bayonetta 3 is astounding. It's shockingly easy to spend more time failing and retrying all the tedious side activities than in actual combat in any given stage. 

And while all of this is optional, you are rewarded with collectibles and currency that will eventually give your characters more health, magic, and moves. Completely failing to engage with any of it results in a much harder (and less fun) game. 

And all the time you spend not engaging with the best parts of Bayonetta 3 draws even more attention to the game's sorry technical state. The game looks and runs noticeably worse than the HD remaster of Bayonetta 1 on last-gen consoles. The scale of the set pieces suffers from this lack of smoothness, but even in its quieter moments, Bayonetta 3 looks like a PS3 game.

Combat is rarely impacted by huge framerate drops (thankfully), but between dithering and enemies going translucent when you get too close, it's clear the developers struggled to maintain even a steady 30fps. This is an extreme disappointment, considering the Switch versions of Bayo 1 and Bayo 2 run at a steady 60fps on the same machine.

The other place where Bayonetta 3 drops the ball is its story. Without saying much about how it ends, the final two chapters are a severe disservice to the character of Bayonetta, who has become a feminist and queer icon in the gaming scene. The creators behind the story of Bayonetta 3 seem to be more than willing to throw the goodwill of the fans away for a rushed ending that leaves the door ambiguously open for more sequels. 

It's easy to look back at the highlights of Bayonetta 3 and think about what a truly great game it could have been. But the sour taste in my mouth from both the ending and the performance issues lingers even days after watching the credits roll.  

Bayonetta 3 Review — The Bottom Line 

  • Character action is still the best in the business. 
  • Exhilarating set pieces from start to finish.
  • Campy tone and a fashion sense to match.
  • The Jeanne levels rock, actually. 
  • Looks and performs like a PS3 game. 
  • Bland visual designs for the enemies. 
  • Disappointing story. 

Bayonetta 3 is a campy 10- to 12-hour rollercoaster ride through the multiverse. It's a fun, often mechanically engaging ride held back by the hardware it runs on. Try as it might, the Nintendo Switch cannot contain the epic scale the game attempts. It would be easy to forgive these flaws for many titles, but the nature of Bayonetta's technical action requires precision, and this is by far the least precise of the trilogy. 

Fidelity aside, Bayonetta 3 stumbles elsewhere to make it a disappointing sequel. While it is sure to satisfy fans of the character action genre, the game fails to give Bayonetta the send-off she deserves.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Bayonetta 3 used for this review.]

The Fridge is Red Review: Tales of Madness Fri, 04 Nov 2022 13:43:19 -0400 Jonathan Moore

On the surface, The Fridge is Red presents itself as a compelling prospect for horror fans and anyone that looks fondly upon those genre games from the 32-bit era. An anthology of six interconnected stories exploring various states of loss and grief, 5Word’s retro-styled horror attempts to haunt and scare through more complex means than the jump scare (though there are a few skulking about in the dark ready to frighten you). Its tales of terror instead mostly rely on a psychological dread that winnows through the mind, looking for cozy, bloody places to burrow. 

It’s a shame, then, that The Fridge is Red is full of spoiled meat left fetid beyond its expiration date. Any potentially alluring aspects that have drawn you into its fitful, fever-dream narrative are often undone by stale, tedious gameplay or outright bellicose design that frustrates more than enthralls. None of that is helped by its slow, meandering pace that can grind progress to a halt in two of its six chapters. 

The Fridge is Red follows the story of a man wrecked by misery and his attempts to find peace beyond the tragedies that have befallen him. Each of the six episodes explores his journey through these different stages of suffering and acceptance, all while acting as nightmarish allusions to the actual events that ushered him into madness in the first place.

At the center of it all is the eponymous fridge, which is anachronistcally shoehorned into every story. Looming over the start screen, you interact with the fridge to begin a chapter, each represented by some foul leftover food item. There are two stories/items available at the start, and more rotting concoctions appear on the racks as you complete stories. It’s a unique, memorable take on chapter select and a nightmarish visual that sticks with you well after the credits roll. 

The first story, Fidgeted Sherry, is the game’s simplest if most unnerving tale, sharing similarities with horror shorts like Stephen King’s The Mangler. A callback to when The Fridge is Red was an product crudely titled Do Not Take Your Eyes Away From the Fridge, Fidgeted Sherry does a lot with a little. Here, the red appliance moves ever forward whenever you look away — which you must do to solve the chapter’s puzzle — keeping the tension high and fear inescapable.

Subsequent yarns grow more complex in design and gameplay but progressively less effective at cultivating fear and dread. Chapter 2, For Daddy to Work, has one of the game’s only proper (and successful) jump scares and quite literally descends into an acrid hell-swamp of bits and gore. But overlook an easily-missable item near the end or fail to comprehend the meaning behind the final obtuse puzzle, and you’ll fully understand the meaning of eternal damnation. 

Seaside follows and is a genuinely sorrowful account made ineffectual by the looping, maddening hospital halls in which it takes place. The chapter is made most memorable by its needlessly infuriating design and exasperating mechanics instead of what it has to say about the aftermath of death. While it could be argued Seaside’s point is to push you utterly into the pits of madness, forcing you to identify with the protagonist at each agonizing step, it so egregiously misses the mark that you wouldn’t be at fault for closing the game and never looking back. 

Episode 4, Charlene Mufi, contains what are perhaps the game’s creepiest elements, involving possession at a funeral service and implied cannibalism. Though it starts strong, it ultimately falters under the weight of its second half, in which you’re stalked by a murderous priest through the catacombs beneath a graveyard. It’s a game of cat and mouse played out in dozens of other horror games with its only truly compelling quality being its surrealist setup. 

Goldi Vern, Episode 5, is an interesting but woefully executed chapter made worse by poor driving mechanics, another looping, maze-like level structure, and a reliance on tired horror tropes that only serve the story because of their inalienable connection to the genre. The chapter’s unforgiving checkpoint system, the car’s proclivity to flip and get stuck upside down, and the unclear signposting near the climax make playing through to the anthology’s underwhelming, if tragic, ending a chore at best.

Finally, there’s Chili Handled, which brings the narrative full circle, showing the true meaning of the red refrigerator that’s appeared in all previous chapters. 

Despite its failings elsewhere, The Fridge is Red succeeds in building a thick, foreboding atmosphere across its interconnected chapters. A sickly-sweet aura engulfs many of the environments, some even implementing fog (or gas where it makes environmental sense) in what can only be interpreted as a (good and welcomed) callback to games like Silent Hill

The ways in which 5Word implements the low-fi, Playstation-1 era graphics not only harken back to some of the best games of that time but also increase the fear factor of every scene; your eyes will play tricks on you simply because things can be hard to see. Is that a “thing” lumbering in the shadows or just the result of how light plays off the darkness in these low-poly environments?

Rounding out the retro visuals are the VHS scanlines that scramble across the screen from the initial starting menu through each of the chapters, lending the whole experience the chilling analog feeling so recently popular in other similar games and films. 

Special mention should be made of the game's use of silence to underpin the atmosphere. Some chapters completely eschew the melancholic synthwave-adjacent soundtrack — which itself builds an indelible, complementary ambiance when it appears — to leave you alone with nothing but your footsteps echoing down a dark hallway or the creaking of a door that shouldn't be opening. 

The Fridge is Red Review — The Bottom Line


  • Firm narrative payoff to a sad story. 
  • Nice references to horror books, films, and games. 
  • Creepy retro graphics and visual effects.
  • Expert use of silence to create dread and scares through sound.


  • Inconsistent signposting.
  • Story too reliant on horror tropes. 
  • Tediously repetitive level design.
  • Poorly mixed sound effects.
  • Unnecessarily garbled voice overs that require subtitles.
  • Lack of several basic game options, namely inversion controls.

With repetitive level design that relies on the same basic principle chapter after chapter, unclear and inconsistent signposting that leads to disorientation at best and frustration at worst, and a lack of compelling gameplay, it can be hard to see what The Fridge is Red could have been. 

But if you can look past its many faults, that image starts to emerge from the darkness. There are some memorable moments here, and the story, while predictable and rife with weary tropes, explores a relatable topic that would touch all but the hardest of hearts in its final moments.

5Word Studios is on to something with The Fridge is Red, and while I'm doing what I hate to do by giving a game a low score, I'm still interested in what this studio could do with its next horror game, whatever that may be. 

[Note: tinyBuild provided the copy of The Fridge is Red used for this review.]

Resident Evil Re:Verse Review — If I Could Turn Back Time Tue, 01 Nov 2022 17:59:02 -0400 Daniel Solomon

I love Resident Evil. Perhaps a little too much. I even find merit in the series’ many wonky attempts at multiplayer. Resident Evil 6 can be an absolute blast in co-op if you have a friend willing to sit through all 20-odd hours of it with you. Resident Evil Re:Verse, however, is not one of those attempts I’ll be returning to despite my near-infinite goodwill for the series. 

Resident Evil Re: Verse stems from a sound concept: a competitive multiplayer shooter based on the franchises’ iconic characters and locations — all with a twist. When you die, you resurrect as a zombie and have another go at your opponents. The monster you revive as is random, and they come in tiers, determined by the amount of T-Virus elixirs you collect while still human. There are some heavy hitters here, but they don't hit very hard. 

The combat feels weightless and floaty. Gone is the series’ trademark hefty gunplay, which has been refined to some of the best-in-class for survival horror across recent entries. What shambles out of the darkness is instead an approximation of the mechanics in the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 remakes, with the same over-the-shoulder perspective and slowed movement while aiming. Because of that, everything feels uncannily incorrect. 

The characters offer some variety in playstyle between them, but only insomuch as their fixed loadouts differ. Leon has a shotgun, Ada her trademark crossbow, and the others an assembly of pistols and semi-automatics with familiar names. Each has a pair of unique abilities, too, which are often a kind of buff or an attack. 

You’ve long had to play intentionally while aiming down the sights in a Resident Evil title, but the cursor here just zips about wildly with a mind of its own. It’s imprecise to the point of sheer frustration, and it made me question whether I actually liked the gunplay at all. After once again booting up Village for a test — cue the Principal Skinner meme — it is, in fact, Re:Verse that's wrong. 

It’s no better as the undead, either. You’ll first flail about with an assault rifle as Chris Redfield, then flail about trying to punch people as a Bioweapon. What should be the real strength of the game is janky and half-baked. 

The two headliners are the Super Tyrant and Nemesis. Each feels fairly similar to play, and save for their respective abilities of various big punches vs a rocket launcher and some tentacles, they're of the same size and speed, relying on melee attacks while waiting for their abilities to cool down. They're not even all that different visually at a glance. 

While the Bioweapon characters have definitively more damage output than their human counterparts, the disparity is offset by a constantly draining health bar, meaning no one can reign supreme indefinitely. And it makes sense in an attempt to balance the game, providing you don't get stunlocked into a corner, which is easily done by pretty much any of the characters spamming a standard attack or a few rockets. 

There are no atmospheric changes when the big bads show up, either. There are no music cues, nor is there a change in lighting. It's simply another player out there somewhere stumbling around trying to make sense of it all. And while it's reasonable given the game's pace, the sum of these errors strips any tension out of the experience.

It's a surreal thing to see characters that haunted you in previous games reduced to buffoons. 

The absence of content, too, is so stark as to compare it to a void. At launch, there are only six playable human characters, five monsters, two maps, and one game mode. One. There’s no promised team deathmatch or anything beyond a free-for-all either in Resi 2's RPD station or the Baker’s house from Resident Evil 7

There’s nothing to the stages beyond fan service, the novelty of which falls away almost immediately. Where things could have been interesting — for example, letting you play as members of the Baker family on their homestead or introducing more of William’s G Stage variants for the RPD station — you get the same beige offering at both locations. All the pickups are the same across the stages, too, and there are no interactive environmental elements at play to break up the monotony between them. 

Having a battle pass for such a mess, regardless of a promised roadmap, is unfathomable. I can say with some confidence that it will be a road less traveled; only a few days after launch, even with crossplay enabled, it took me around a minute to join a match, and only five other people are required to start one.

Steam Charts paint a more damning picture, one where the total player count a mere four days post-launch is around the 250 mark, with an all-time peak of 2,000. Compare that to Village’s own peak of 15,000 for the launch of the Gold Edition. Even players who own the game seemingly aren’t interested, and more power to them. 

You have to wonder why we got this over a co-op addition to mercenaries mode, which by all accounts, people actually like. 

Resident Evil Re:Verse Review — The Bottom Line


  • The two stages are well-realized, and it's fun to see them outside of their original context. 
  • The matches themselves are mercifully short.


  • The characters handle like steering melting butter around a frying pan.
  • You'll see everything the game has to offer in about 15 minutes. 
  • And honestly, pretty much everything else. 

Had Re:Verse simply been a curiosity accessed from the in-game menu in Village, it would have still been met with a resounding sigh and swiftly forgotten. But following a seemingly pointless 18-month delay, shoehorned microtransactions, and a shockingly sparse amount of content, this low-stakes imitation of the classic series should have been left on the cutting room floor. 

It all adds up to a feeling akin to watching a young local band fail at covering a classic song. You almost want to applaud them for trying. Almost. 

[Note: The version of Re:Verse included in the reviewer's purchased version of Resident Evil: Village was used for this review.]

Eville Review: A Murder is Announced Tue, 01 Nov 2022 16:30:23 -0400 Josh Broadwell

They say you never really know your neighbor. They also say ignorance is bliss, but in Eville, if you don’t figure out who your neighbor is, you probably won’t live to see the next dawn. A group of nefarious rogues has infiltrated your charming medieval village, and it’s up to you to stop them before it’s too late or join them and bring the townsfolk to their knees

Eville is a social deduction game with a distinct tabletop flair. Its unique role features and RPG mechanics help distinguish it from other, more established games in the genre, but an unforgiving day cycle and lack of solo options mean it doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it should. 

True to its inspirations, Eville functions more like a board game than a deduction video game like Among Us, sometimes to its detriment. It splits time between day and night. During the day, you wander the town, shore up your personal defenses, take on quests, and try to figure out who your fellow villagers are. At night, you sleep – and hope you live to see another day. 

Only villains and certain villagers can move around at night. The baddies try sabotaging the village and murdering innocent folks while the callous, distant moon hangs overhead. Whether you survive the night depends on luck – a dead neighbor is sad but better than a dead you – and whether you planned ahead during the day accordingly.

Villagers can call emergency meetings to declare someone guilty or wait until someone dies and hold a town gathering. Then, it's time to vote on their innocence. Get it right through teamwork and a keen nose for detection, and you save the day. If not, you just helped the rogues by crisping one of your neighbors.

Villagers can set traps and certain defenses to catch a barbarian or rogue unawares once the sun’s safe glow slips beneath the horizon, sometimes eliminating an enemy without you even having to put a potentially guilty party to the vote.

The trouble is finding the time to do it – or anything at all. The day lasts no longer than a minute, so unless you know the village’s layout intimately, you’ll likely spend several days figuring out where quest givers are and where to find what they need so you can stock up on crafting resources and get yourself ready for the dark nights ahead.

If you think about Eville as a board game, where you may spend a turn speaking with an NPC, for example, and then another turn seeking an item, the structure makes sense. In practice, though, it feels frustrating until you learn the layout and have a better idea of what you’re doing. Limited tutorials and fewer opportunities to practice make your first several matches choppy and mildly annoying. 

A day will consist of finding the local herbalist and getting a quest. Then if you survive the night, you can (maybe) fulfill the quest. You can spend or craft your rewards when dawn comes the next time, and so on. And that’s a bit of a shame. Once you find a rhythm and learn Eville’s ins and outs, it ends up being one of the more absorbing and enjoyable social deduction games.

Everyone’s role comes with a few unique traits. You may be able to craft potions or gain insight into someone else’s role. Some can announce their own role to everyone else, but only once, a much more subtle ability that makes you focus on staying alive and contributing to the village in other ways.

Rogues and villains have their own abilities, as well, and not just for killing and causing mayhem. Misdirection and subterfuge are the names of the game, as you strive to blend in and carry out normal duties as much as possible. As with the likes of Among Us, selective murder is your friend. If someone accuses you of villainy, and you’re voted innocent and target the accuser, it won’t be that hard to figure out your true nature.

Death is not the end in Eville. You can float around town as a ghost and carry out your own ghostly agenda or just learn more about the layout while you wait for justice to be served. It’s a welcome addition. Matches can last quite a while, far too long to spend doing nothing while you wait for the villains to expose themselves.

The execution – no pun intended – is genuinely clever, and rounds can be enormously satisfying when they play out well. The downside is trying to assemble enough people for a proper game. You can try it alone, but Eville warns you a solo experience isn’t what the developers intended and may not function properly. I tried it a few times and wound up with absolutely nothing happening – no other villagers, no enemies, no events. Just silence and an empty routine.

I’m surprised and a little disappointed that solo mode isn’t a viable option. An active community built up around Eville during its testing phases, but looking at Steam Charts data (October 2022), that still translates to roughly 80-100 people playing the game at a certain time. If your timing is poor, like me, you may log on and find yourself having to wait a while before a game ends so you can join a new party.

Even if you do find others to play with, the way Eville splits its abilities and handles deduction means it's much easier and more enjoyable to play with friends you can communicate with over voice and who, presumably, won't be quite so brusque and impatient as random strangers often are.

Eville Review — The Bottom Line


  • Clever twist on the social deduction genre.
  • Deceptively deep skill system with plenty of room for strategizing.
  • Fun and quirky.


  • Frustratingly short day cycle.
  • Would benefit from a solo mode.
  • Difficult to communicate effectively via text chat.

Eville is full of potential, and the benefit of being a live game is that it can only get better from here. Whether the points I took issue with get smoothed out, I'm eager to see what lies in store for one of the year's most enjoyable social games.

[Note: Versus Evil provided the copy of Eville used for this review.]

New Tales from the Borderlands Review: A Most Disappointing Sequel Tue, 01 Nov 2022 16:19:16 -0400 George Yang

Telltale Games released the first Tales from the Borderlands game in 2014, and it received critical acclaim for plenty of good reasons. Its fantastic narrative, charming characters, and amazing pacing made for one of the best games of that year.

So when Gearbox announced there would be a follow-up, I was ecstatic. As a long-time Borderlands fan, I hoped that New Tales from the Borderlands would be as magical as its predecessor. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Instead, New Tales from the Borderlands is a disappointing game filled with insufferable characters with cringe-inducing dialog.

New Tales from the Borderlands follows three new characters: siblings Octavio and Anu, and Fran. Octavio is a street-smart kid who desires fame and fortune, while Anu is a scientist dedicated to saving the planet. Fran owns a frozen yogurt shop and is Octavio’s boss.

Events start spiraling out of control when Anu gets fired and Octavio gets into trouble with the Tediore weapons manufacturing company, which just so happens to be invading the planet. Along the way, the trio finds a magical shard that can heal any wound and even resurrect the recently deceased. Of course, when Tediore discovers its existence, the mega-corporation focuses its efforts on capturing the protagonists. And things spiral further. 

While the story here is fine on its own, it quickly devolves into an unbearable mess with the most annoying characters in the medium. It doesn't help that the irksome dialogue often drags on and on, continually overstaying its welcome. 

In one chapter, Anu contemplates taking an object that could help get her out of a sticky situation. She repeats the same joke over and over and over and over again: “Should I take you? Oh, I shouldn’t take you…but I need to take you! I’m going to take you! Ok, I just took you.” 

Jokes like these are littered across the script in New Tales from the Borderlands and after a chapter or two of a five-chapter run, the lack of self awareness from both the story and its characters grows tiresome. Octavio comes off as a Gen-Z Tiktok kid completely unaware of how dumb he sounds. Anu is socially awkward, but the writers completely overwrite her anxiety to the point of mockery. And Fran's sexual and perverted jokes simply come off as creepy.

It’s a shame because the trio is composed of underrepresented characters in gaming. Both Octavio and Anu are South Asian Indians, a group rarely given the spotlight. The same goes for Fran, who is disabled and requires a hoverchair to get around. I appreciate their identities aren’t integral to their overall personalities, but they're woefully mishandled at best. 

The first Tales from the Borderlands is filled with action-packed scenes but finds room for slower, character-focused moments, too, leading to an impeccable sense of pacing from beginning to end. Even in the most intense scenes, New Tales from the Borderlands doesn't feel exciting outside of the final boss battle, which itself is undermined by the game's vexing penchant for getting in its own way. 

New Tales from the Borderlands does have a few bright spots, specifically its art style and voice acting. The cel-shaded lines and vibrant colors look clean and amazing on pretty much every asset. Despite my qualms with the dialog, the voice actors deliver their lines well, conveying genuine emotions throughout the game. I'm glad that actors like Michelle Rambharose are at least given the proper opportunities to portray ethnically authentic characters.

While New Tales from the Borderlands tries too hard and is generally unfunny, there are some comedic moments worth calling attention to, specifically those involving L0U13, the crew’s assassination robot. In one scene, I chose to let Octavio tell the truth about a near-death experience the characters had with escaping a monster instead of embellishing the story. L0U13 berated him, telling him that the truth didn’t make Octavio sound cool, and that he should just lie next time instead. L0U13's serious and stoic nature contrasts well with the over exaggerated characteristics of the trio.

New Tales from the Borderlands Review — The Bottom Line


  • Beautiful art style.
  • Great voice acting,
  • Features an underrepresented cast of characters.


  • Cringe-inducing dialogue and writing.
  • Annoying cast. 
  • Almost joke lands on its face.

New Tales from the Borderlands doesn’t have an ounce of the charisma or nuance found in the first game. Its script is obnoxious, and its characters ultimately unlikable, making for a groan worthy 10-hour run time. It looks pretty and dialog is delivered well, but that’s about all it has going for it. As a huge fan of the original, I can’t help but feel completely let down by New Tales From the Borderlands

[Note: 2K Games provided the copy of New Tales from the Borderlands used for this review.]

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Review — Shine On Tue, 01 Nov 2022 13:28:49 -0400 Bryn Gelbart

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was one of the first surprise Nintendo Switch hits back in 2017. The tactics RPG was a wonderfully wacky marriage between Rayman's Raving Rabbids and the Super Mario universe that was, on top of the already unbelievable mashup, a departure for a company as precious about their characters as Nintendo.

Was it weirder that Kingdom Battle gave Mario and all his friends guns or that the Rabbid counterparts were actually cosplaying the heroes from the Mushroom Kingdom? Both sound absurd on paper, but the weirdest part was that when it all came together, the game was what it set out to be. 

Five years later and Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope might be the strangest Mario spinoff yet. It is certainly the trickiest to understand at a glance. Like its predecessor, Sparks of Hope is primarily a tactics game with hints of platforming and environmental puzzles.

These supporting flavors are stronger than hints this time around and even the tactics portions have ditched the grid-based battle system of the first. In terms of both its genre and how it lets you play with its systems, the new Mario + Rabbids is inventive and playful, making it a bold step up from Ubisoft's first attempt. 

The original Mario + Rabbids was easily reducible to "Mario meets XCOM." Perhaps this was on oversimplification in the first place, but Sparks of Hope does work to dispel any reductive sentiment. The game is still a turn-based, cover-based shooter, but every element of the experience feels retooled for the better this time around. 

From the get-go, everything about Sparks of Hope feels looser. The tactical battles no longer operate on a grid system. Instead, characters are free to run around and interact with anything and anyone within their range of motion. This immediately adds a flexibility to every turn that the first game couldn't accomplish by aping the grid system so tried and true to the genre. 

The change pays off, especially as you level up and are allowed to do much more on a given turn. Eventually, Luigi and Mario can move from one side of a map to the other in just one turn using a conjunction of the non-combat abilities Sparks of Hope gives all characters. 

The overworlds, too, feel more like playgrounds now. Each is filled with side quests that consist of more battles, but a healthy dose of environmental puzzles and Coin challenges add variety to the mix. And, with some late game exceptions, these puzzly sequences manage to stick around just long enough, not overstaying their welcome.

As should be apparent by now, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope isn't afraid to make big changes to the established Mario + Rabbids formula. After retiring for some R&R, Mario and the original game's cast of heroes (minus Yoshi) are sucked back into a galactic conflict against the evil Cursa, who is allowing Darkmess energy to destroy the universe. It's after getting this verbose excuse to galaxy hop that you are introduced to the biggest new addition and the game's namesake — the Sparks. 

A specific callback that connects Sparks of Hope to Super Mario Galaxy, the Sparks are fusions of the Lumas from the 2007 game and Rabbids. Each Spark has a unique passive and active ability. Many apply elemental effects to weapons and increase elemental resistances, but some let you buff your teammates, and eventually, you unlock Sparks that allow you to Summon allies.

Each of the nine heroes you eventually unlock has two Spark slots. Sparks level independently from the heroes and can be equipped and moved from character to character at any time — a lot like Materia, for you Final Fantasy VII fans. Star Bits, another connection to Mario Galaxy, are in used to level your Sparks. 

In short, the Spark system is a wonderful and much-needed addition that keeps the Mario + Rabbids sequel fresh for nearly its entire 30+ hour runtime. Each world you travel to has a bounty of side quests — this is a Ubisoft game, after all — that will earn you currency to spend on items that will quickly upgrade your Sparks. This loop repeats for each of the five overworlds you explore, and while the structure is formulaic, the gameplay only gets better as you only more abilities for your heroes. 

The first half of Sparks of Hope isn't without its issues. Difficulty levels seem to arbitrarily spike in a handful of the boss fights and other major encounters. This forces you to grind on the side content, which shouldn't be an issue for anyone already completing the most content they can. Just know you will have to engage with a good deal of side content to reach the recommended level cap by the time the final boss rolls around.

As you near the game's end, though, it can get easy to feel unstoppable in regular encounters, so the late-game challenges that do arise are welcome. 

Throughout the entirety of Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, I found myself cycling between characters. For almost everyone I found a unique, versatile build. Mario can be a damage-dealing traversal machine, stomping on heads and dashing through Goombas left and right. New character Edge gets a dash that increases her range of movement on every successful hit.

Chaining these free movement damage bonuses together with each character's Sparks and Skills makes for increasingly dynamic and rewarding turns. In these moments, Sparks of Hope shines as an excellent genre-twisted mashup of platforming and strategy. 

The only place where Sparks of Hope fails to match the creativity of the first game is in its storytelling. Not that the writing in Kingdom Battle is especially memorable, but that game has moments of self-awareness that poke fun at the Mario franchise that feel absent in Sparks of Hope. The only fully-voiced characters are your robot companions, including the return of Beep-O, your robot guide who tended to get on my nerves whenever I wasn't skipping through the dialogue.

At best, the writing in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is inoffensive, but at its worst, the humor can be grating for adults. Which is a shame, considering how mature the rest of the decisions in the sequel feel. 

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Review — The Bottom Line


  • A refined mix of turn-based tactics and Mario-inspired platforming.
  • Sparks add a whole new layer of customization and player expressivity.
  • Heroes are balanced and each worth using and leveling.


  • Supporting characters are awfully annoying.
  • Random difficulty spikes can be frustrating.

Both a great entry point and a refreshing departure for fans of the genre, the sequel to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle adds an approachable flexibility to the first game's formula. This creative approach to the tactics genre finally gives the series an identity of its own. It won't be winning any awards for its writing, but Sparks of Hope still manages to be a blast at nearly every turn.

Merging tactics, RPG elements, and platforming, the Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is one of the best Mario spin-offs on the Switch. 

[Note: Ubisoft provided the copy of Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope used for this review.]

Dragon Ball: The Breakers Review — Strong Concept, Bad Execution Sat, 29 Oct 2022 13:47:51 -0400 Hayes Madsen

Dragon Ball has seen dozens of video game adaptions over the years, but the franchise still manages to squeeze out wildly different experiences. Dragon Ball: The Breakers is easily one of the most unique Dragon Ball games, and its ambition is abundantly clear. But ambition can only take you so far, as The Breakers has a lot of work left to do, even if the overall foundation is surprisingly strong.

Dragon Ball: The Breakers is an asymmetrical multiplayer game in the same vein as Dead by Daylight, pitting six human survivors against iconic villains like Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu. One player controls the Raider and is tasked with hunting down the survivors, while the other six have to team up and find "Power Keys" that activate a Super Time Machine, which restores the world. 

Each match of The Breakers takes place on a map split into different zones, with survivors dropped randomly across the map. Before matches, you can pick your setup and equip two key factors, skills and Transpheres.

Skills essentially give you super-valuable pieces of equipment that are set on cooldown timers, like a grappling hook or smokescreen. Transpheres, on the other hand, allow you to harness the powers of Z Warriors like Goku and Piccolo, getting the chance to fight back against the Breaker on more even ground. 

That ties directly into the items you gather during matches. As you explore, you'll find various chests and breakable objects that contain money, helpful support items, and Power Cubes that charge your D-Change Gauge, which lets you use Transpheres. 

All of these factors provide a wealth of different approaches and character builds, as well as a lot of useful tools for survivors to hold their own. This is where The Breaker's biggest flaw starts to show, however: for all the tools survivors have, the game is still far too weighted in favor of the Raider. 

Survivors are incredibly squishy  as you'd expect  and often go down in one hit. It would be fine except for the fact that the Raider can very easily lock onto and hit a survivor from across the map, and Frieza and Majin Buu also get abilities that let them see nearby survivor positions. There's clearly some balancing that needs to happen in this regard, but glitches and wonky gameplay only compound the game's problems even more. 

It's clear that The Breakers was made on a smaller budget than some other similar games, but one of the most needlessly annoying factors is that your character doesn't stay in the middle of the screen. Movement is fluid, but it can be distracting when you move around the screen and are forced to constantly adjust the camera for the right view. 

At the same time, there are some weird ways character models interact, especially in melee combat. The Breakers isn't a fighting game, but its mechanics feel reminiscent of Dragon Ball Xenoverse, but not nearly as fine-tuned. Melee attacks simply don't hit right a lot of times. The same can be said for energy attacks; it often feels like you should have been able to dodge a ranged attack when it instead tracks and hits you.

Even more frustrating is your D-Change transformation, your primary way of fighting back. While it's a good idea in theory, the Raider can deplete your transformation HP in just one or two attacks, even when you've raised your gauge to the highest level, which takes an agonizingly high amount of work to do in and of itself. 

The other aspect that bears mentioning is the game's terrible progression system and surprisingly aggressive monetization. A host of daily and weekly challenges let you raise your Dragon Level, which, in turn, rewards various stickers, cosmetics, and in-game currency. That currency can be used to unlock new skills and cosmetics, but its primary use is in the game's gacha system that unlocks new Transpheres. 

Using the "Spirit Siphon" system you can spend currency and summon tickets to unlock new Transpheres, but the problem is getting one Transphere doesn't mean you unlock all of its features. Each Transphere has different skills, forms, special attacks, and costumes, but you only get one or two of these for each gacha pull.

This means to even complete one Transphere, you'll likely need to do a ton of pulls, but the game doles out currency at such a sluggish pace that it takes forever to gain enough to do more than one or two. The game simply isn't rewarding the player on a consistent basis, which is a problem for an experience entirely built around a sense of reward. 

Dragon Ball: The Breakers Review  The Bottom Line


  • Strong concept that feels truly unique.
  • Playing as the Raider can be a blast.
  • Working with a good team and winning feels incredibly satisfying.


  • Huge balancing issues with the power of Raiders.
  • Sluggish progression and aggressive monetization.
  • Single game mode wears thin after a while.

Dragon Ball: The Breakers has a lot of great ideas at its core, and it's an experience unlike anything else out there. Playing as an average survivor is a great spin on the Dragon Ball series, and when a team really works together and comes out on top, it's a serious high with an intense sense of reward.

The problem is those victories are few and far between because The Breakers has such bad balancing issues interms of Raider power. Because of that, playing as the Raider can be a blast, but anything else can quickly lead to an overall sense of defeat. 

At the same time, The Breaker's singular game mode can wear thin after a few hours, and the success of the game, in general, will rely on how well Bandai Namco can support it for the months to come. If serious changes can be made to its progression system and balancing, on top of providing meaningful new content, Dragon Ball: The Breakers could turn into something special. As it stands now, however, it's an underbaked experience that has equal parts frustration and fun.

[Note: Bandai Namco provided the copy of Dragon Ball: The Breakers used for this review.]

Saturnalia Review: Fear Itself Sat, 29 Oct 2022 13:22:44 -0400 Will Borger

It starts on the title screen. The fear. A woman whispers in a language I don’t understand. Strange sounds move around her voice. I haven’t even started playing Saturnalia, and I’m already unsettled. It’s at this point I know this game is going to be something special.

Jointly developed by Santa Ragione and Big Trouble Game Studio, Saturnalia is a unique take on the survival horror genre, mixing roguelike elements with incredible art design and an ambitious narrative to create a game that’s quite unique – even if it may not seem that way at first.

Saturnalia is set in Sardinia, a culturally rich region of Italy known for its unique folklore, which features in the plot. The story takes place in the fictional mining town of Gravoi. Initially, we follow Anita, a geologist who has spent the last year surveying the mine to see if it can be reopened at the behest of a prospective buyer. Unfortunately, reopening the mine has awakened… something that begins to stalk the town. I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil anything; you really should go in with as little information as possible.

Over time, you’ll unlock more characters, ultimately ending up with four in total. Each has a different ability. As a geologist, Anita has a map of the mine and can memorize the way to any point in town you’ve previously visited. Paul is a photojournalist with a camera who can take pictures of clues and stun the creature stalking the town with the camera’s flash. Sergio has a satellite phone – Saturnalia takes place in 1989 – and can call for backup from the other characters from almost anywhere. Claudia, small and thin, can squeeze through gaps other characters can’t.

Each character also has their own story driving them forward. Anita has been having an affair with a married man and has to decide whether to leave the town or stay and try to start a family. Paul is returning to the town to learn more about his late parents. Sergio is a former drug addict who left the town years ago after the end of a relationship with an older man and has come back for closure. Claudia is the daughter of a local bar owner dealing with the strange circumstances surrounding her aunt’s suicide.

Characters progress their stories independently of one another, so it’s possible to complete the game with any combination of them done – or any combination of characters alive. There are multiple endings depending on who lives and what you accomplish. You’ll want to do them all, but two things stand in your way: the town itself, and the creature chasing you.

The creature is terrifying. Its approach is accompanied by a rattling sound, like the loudest version of the world’s angriest rain catcher. It’s terrifying the first time you hear it and loses none of its power as the game progresses. As it gets closer, the sound becomes louder and louder, and when it's close, you can see its silhouette in the dark.

It’s scary to see the creature, but worse to hear it because you don’t know where it is. You only know that it’s near you, and it’s coming. You cannot fight it; your only options are to run and hope you lose it, or hide.

Being found doesn’t mean death – at least, not right away. You’ll immediately switch to another character, and have a limited amount of time to save the one that got grabbed. Fail to do so, and they’re gone. And this is where the town comes into play. Gravoi is a claustrophobic, sprawling place, stacked upon itself and full of dead ends, side streets, and confusing pathways. Navigating it feels like stepping into a labyrinth, no matter how many times you’ve walked it.

In the dark, it's foreboding and challenging. You can only see a few feet in front of you without lighting a match, one of several limited resources you have to manage. Some things help – maps dot several of the street corners, and you can light bonfires scattered throughout the town for light and landmarks – but every match, and the coins it takes to buy them and other resources, is almost always spent in the mines, where light is precious and rare.

This feeling of helplessness and being limited weighs on you as time wears on and resources become scarcer and scarcer. Every match spent walking across the map, every trip to acquire another resource, is anxiety-inducing because you’re not only spending resources but risking another encounter with the creature.

You can team up with other characters and travel together for access to everyone’s special abilities, but doing so makes more noise, as does opening doors and doing just about everything else. And the more noise you make, the more you risk attracting the creature. You have to constantly weigh the risk of traveling alone and running into an obstacle your current character can’t deal with, and increasing the risk of attracting the creature. Both can be frustrating and set you back, but which trade-off is worth it is up to you.

As you progress, each trip becomes a test of endurance. You’ll want to follow up on the clues you find, but is another trip to the mines or the church worth the potential outcome? I often found myself having to work up the courage to attempt to see everyone’s story through. Worse still, memorizing the town’s layout means nothing; losing every character completely resets the town’s layout. Thankfully, you’ll keep any clues – handily sorted into an interactable mission screen and connected by lines to show how they’re related – and story progress if find yourself so unlucky.

The whole thing is wrapped up in beautiful art. Everything looks like it was hand-sketched. Heavy lines outline the characters and buildings, merging with the deep darkness of the night and the neon-pink fog that covers much of the town. The visual design – a mix of inspiration from Giallo films, theatre, stop-motion animation, and roto-scoping – achieves an arthouse style that feels effortlessly cinematic, and the excellent sound design, which draws on ancient music and sounds, makes Saturnalia an audio and visual joy, even at its most terrifying.

Saturnalia also deserves praise for its accessibility options. You can control almost every facet of it, from whether or not the village resets on death to how aggressive the creature is in hunting you, or whether or not you have infinite matches or an auto-walk to location system. You can even enable permadeath. This allows players to customize the settings to their liking individually or via a series of presets. 

Saturnalia Review — The Bottom Line


  • Stylish visual and sound design.
  • Compelling story and characters.
  • Accessibility options allow you to manage difficulty and scares.


  • The odd audio or visual bug.
  • Navigating the town can be frustrating.
  • It might be too scary for some.

Saturnalia isn’t a long game; you can complete the whole thing in a dozen hours, and often fewer, depending on how you play, but it’s a memorable experience nonetheless. It uses horror in smart ways to explore social topics – the town’s isolation, resistance to change and to outsiders, and the ugly social beliefs that those things inform.

Those facets combine perfectly to make a game that isn’t just horrifying because of the monsters that stalk us in the night. It’s horrifying because of the monsters we make, too – and the things we’re capable of becoming.

[Note: Santa Ragione provided the copy of Saturnalia used for this review.]

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review – Bustin' Makes Me Feel Fine Tue, 25 Oct 2022 11:52:50 -0400 Will Borger

Few movies have ever seemed more primed for video games than Ghostbusters. You don’t need much: a few friends, some proton packs, a trap or two, and a ghost to bust. While there have been plenty of Ghostbusters games since the original 1984 film that let you wear the slime-covered shoes of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore, Illfonic’s latest title, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed, takes things a little further by letting you play as a Ghostbuster or one of the ghosts they’re assigned to take down, all in asymmetrical multiplayer.

If you’ve played Illfonic’s other titles, like Friday the 13th or Predator: Hunting Grounds, or genre bigwigs like Dead by Daylight, you’ll already understand the basics of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. It’s a 4v1 title, with both sides trying to accomplish different objectives. The Ghostbusters are trying to capture a ghost and destroy the rifts that allow it to come back once captured, and the ghost is trying to avoid capture long enough to finish haunting a building and then survive a short timer and escape.

The Ghostbusters are kitted out exactly like you’d expect: they’ve got a PKE meter for tracking ghosts and rifts, a Particle Thrower for tethering ghosts and destroying rifts and haunted objects, a Proton Pack for managing the heat and power of said Particle Thrower, and a Ghost Trap, which... well, you get the idea.

On the other side, there’s the ghost. There are several different ghosts to play as, all of which are a little different, but the core idea is the same. They come equipped with a basic attack, two special abilities regulated by cooldowns, the ability to haunt and possess objects, and an extremely powerful ultimate skill with a substantially large cooldown.

The ghost’s job is to control the map by haunting individual objects and using its powers to scare the bejesus out of the poor civilians unlucky enough to be in the area. Haunting items and scaring civvies badly enough makes them leave the map, increasing the haunt meter the ghost needs to fill to win. It also makes it easier for Ghostbusters to find the ghost – just follow the screams.

At best, it’s an interesting game of cat and mouse; the Ghostbusters have to coordinate to win, while the ghost has to play smart. To get there, though, you’ll have to suffer through the game’s story.

There are good things there, most notably Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson returning to reprise their roles as Ray and Winston, respectively. The former runs a bookstore across the street from the iconic firehouse that specializes in the supernatural, while the latter is the boss of the Ghostbusters. There are other new characters, too, and all of them are fine enough. The real issue is your character.

You create your own Ghostbuster in Spirits Unleashed. It’s a robust character creator, but everyone you make looks like they’ve stepped out of Fortnite. They look fine, just kind of... bland. What’s worse is that your created character doesn’t have much to say beyond the odd combat line, so when you’re in a cutscene, characters just talk at you rather than to you.

And these conversations could have desperately used trimming. They all go on too long, and while they’re occasionally funny, it’s not enough to make up for all of the monologues, and it’s hard to care about a story where your character seems to be little more than a personality-free gig worker.

Still, questionable art style aside, the game does a good job of capturing the look and feel of Ghostbusters. Between missions, you’ll spend time in the firehouse and Ray’s bookstore adding to Egon’s spores, molds, and fungus collection, chatting with the cast, customizing your buster, and just generally enjoying the look and feel of the Ghostbusters universe.

This is also where the tutorial takes place. Spirits Unleashed does a decent job of teaching you the ropes, though does often throw a lot of dialogue and text boxes at you at the same time, especially in the ghost tutorial, which can make it hard to figure out what to pay attention to. You can skip it, of course, but it’s a good thing to play, as the game has a lot of mechanics to learn.

Once it’s done, you get to the real meat of things, and that’s where Spirits Unleashed starts to falter. It’s fun when it works and you have a full squad. You can play alone if you want; bots will fill in the gaps. It’s a nice touch, but the Ghostbuster AI is remarkably stupid – it’s not typical to see all three of your AI companions go down in a pile of slime at once – and the ghost AI, while better, is still very easy to beat.

It’s better with a full squad, but even then, the general gameplay experience in Spirits Unleashed is honestly pretty dull. Almost everything is measured by some sort of meter – the Particle Thrower’s heat, the ghost’s abilities, how haunted the area is, how scared civilians are, and so on – and you’ll spend most of your time managing them as a result.

There’s lots of strategy and teamwork. Ghostbusters must work together to find rifts, trap ghosts, and calm down civilians, and the ghost has to be smart about when they use their abilities and how they manage their powers, but there’s not a lot of room for individual skill, and things become repetitive very quickly. It doesn’t help that there are only six maps.

The five different spooks and the ability to customize your Ghostbuster’s gear to more specialize your playstyle helps – you can sacrifice recoil control for a better tether, for instance – as does the fact you and your abilities level up as you play. But in the end, you just do a lot of the same thing over and over and over again. And as with any multiplayer game, enjoyability largely depends on the people you’re matched with, especially since you’ll probably have to talk to them (unless you’re the ghost).

It’s better with friends, of course, but even then, the game never captures the tension, urgency, or moment-to-moment decision-making of something like Dead by Daylight, and your individual choices, whether as a ghost or a Ghostbuster, don’t impact the outcome in a way that makes long-term play sustainable. The lack of content – only one mode, only a few maps, only a few ghosts – doesn't help. Realistically, you can see most of what the game has to offer in a few hours, and once you do, there doesn’t feel like much reason to play.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed Review The Bottom Line

  • Nails the look and feel of Ghostbusters.
  • Bots enable solo play.
  • Fun with a group.
  • Limited maps.
  • Low individual skill ceiling.
  • Your character doesn't really interact with the story.

Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed isn’t a bad game; every cast member, sound effect, and visual reference communicates its love for the source material, but it’s ultimately not that engaging to play solo, and the novelty wears off quickly even with a group.

Hardcore Ghostbusters fans and dedicated groups who love these kinds of games will no doubt find something to love here, but right now, there’s just not that much to interest anyone else. Bustin’ is supposed to make me feel good, but I spent most of my time with Spirits Unleashed the way the civvies do during haunts – waiting for it to end.

[Note: IllFonic provided the copy of Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed used for this review.]

Resident Evil Village: Winters' Expansion Review — A Little More of Everything Mon, 24 Oct 2022 13:15:25 -0400 Thomas Wilde

The Winters' Expansion DLC is less of a second helping of Resident Evil Village and more like a cherry on top. There's nothing here that's actually bad, and if you're a Village fanatic, it's just the excuse you needed to justify revisiting the game. At the same time, there's nothing here that strikes me as crucial, particularly in comparison to the breadth and depth of DLC that Resident Evil 7 received.

I'm aware that this is a hot take — it seems like most of the Internet only needed to hear "playable Lady Dimitrescu" before they slammed the pre-order button — but frankly, I expected more out of this DLC than it was prepared to offer.

It's probably best to start this off with a spoiler warning. I can't imagine too many people who haven't already beaten Village are interested in reading about its DLC. Just the same, it's difficult to discuss the Winters' Expansion without spoiling the conclusion of Village.

This is primarily due to Shadows of Rose, a short single-player campaign that serves as an epilogue to both Village and the Winters family storyline in Resident Evil.

Set 16 years after the conclusion of Village, SoR stars Ethan and Mia's daughter Rose. Now a teenager, she's grown up as an outcast due to the side effects of the powers she inherited from her parents.

In an attempt to remove those powers, Rose participates in an experiment with a sample of Miranda's mutated mold. This inadvertently drops her into a bizarre dream world within the mold, which is built out of the memories of people who died while in contact with it.

Put another way: it's a three- to four-hour recycled-content bonus level. Rose's trip through the "strata" of the mold's memory sends her through various environments you'll recognize from Village, such as Castle Dimitrescu. You'll use a couple of the same weapons, meet a couple of the same characters, and answer a couple of lingering questions from Village's original ending.

Full disclosure: my press preview of Shadows of Rose glitched out during a critical moment in what I assume to be the final boss encounter, so this is effectively a review in progress in that regard. I wasn't able to clear the whole game.

Even so, it's easily the highlight of the Winters' Expansion. There's less of an emphasis on combat in Shadows of Rose, with a limited arsenal and few available resources, which makes it feel closer to a classic survival horror game than Village or either of the recent remakes.

It also does a lot with what it has. The reused environments in Shadows of Rose aren't a simple cut-and-paste job, but instead are visibly falling into ruin as they're consumed by Miranda's mold. The most common enemy is also brand-new and features one of the most gruesome attack animations in the history of the Resident Evil franchise. I am not exaggerating when I say I would actually be happier if the zombies in SoR just bit out my throat.

My major criticism of SoR is primarily tonal. It doesn't really show or tell why Rose is so determined to get rid of her powers, and it's easily 70 minutes before even a weak justification arises. It doesn't mesh with Rose's depiction in Village's ending, where she's scary enough that her handler won't talk to her without ranged support, or with the gameplay, where she mostly relies on guns like almost every other Resident Evil protagonist.

It's also got one of the biggest plot un-twists in recent video game history, where you will absolutely figure out one of SoR's primary mysteries a solid two hours before Rose does. You have access to more information than Rose — it's not like she played Village — but it's still annoying to sit through a cutscene that asks you to pretend you don't know what you know.

Another feature in the Winters' Expansion lets you replay the main game in either the original first-person view or in a third-person perspective in the same style as recent games like 2020's Resident Evil 3 remake. Preanimated scenes are still shown from the first-person perspective, but playable segments all stick you directly behind him.

Frankly, it doesn't add much to the overall Village experience. Playing the game in third-person serves to reinforce the degree to which the overall experience is built around a first-person view. Some scares don't land, some sections actually block your vision in crucial moments, and a couple of moments simply don't work as well.

So much of Village is set in deliberately cramped, cluttered environments that seeing them from a different perspective feels like a handicap.

It's a good step for accessibility. I know a couple of people who would have played Village by now, but get motion-sick in first-person perspective games. I usually don't, but I have to admit there are a few parts of both RE7 and Village that tested me on that, particularly when Ethan is knocked prone or the camera shakes violently. It's nice to have options.

Finally, the DLC adds three new playable characters to Village's version of the long-running Mercenaries minigame: Chris Redfield, Karl Heisenberg, and, pause for applause, Lady Dimitrescu.

Chris Redfield enters the fray with his full set of gear from the main game, so he's heavily armed from the start for free. While Chris can't block like Ethan, he can punch the hell out of enemies instead.

Heisenberg primarily relies on his hammer for powerful melee attacks and can magnetically fire scrap metal at distant targets. With a few upgrades, he's effectively a charge character, where you can hold down the fire button to power up his projectiles or deliver a short-ranged ground slam.

Dimitrescu is mostly here for meme value. She's taller than every other character, so she towers over most enemies, and it takes a lot to make her stagger. As she inflicts damage with her claws, Dimitrescu builds a meter called Thrill for more powerful attacks.

The best part is that one of her attacks is the ability to throw her vanity mirror, which does as much damage on impact as a hand grenade. Dimitrescu is running around the Mercenaries maps with a theoretically infinite amount of combat furniture strapped to her back, and frankly, I couldn't be happier about it.

All three characters effectively address my biggest problem with the default Mercenaries. Ethan has to start from scratch on every map, which means he suffers through at least one level in each round with his knife and default pistol. By the time you've got a good arsenal going, the map's over.

All three new characters bring enough unique mechanics to the table that they're more entertaining to play than Ethan ever was, which does a lot to address the flaws of Village's take on Mercenaries.

Resident Evil Village: Winter's Expansion Review — The Bottom Line


  • One of the creepiest levels in any Resident Evil game to date.
  • Chris makes learning Mercenaries easier.
  • I giggle like an idiot whenever I crush a zombie with Dimitrescu's vanity mirror.


  • There isn't a lot going on here.
  • Third-person view doesn't add much to Village's main campaign.
  • If you don't like Mercenaries, this is about four hours of new stuff here.

Taken as a whole, the Winters' Expansion is a little insubstantial, with a new gameplay perspective, a short additional single-player campaign, and a few new characters to choose from. It's a great extra add-on for Village's Gold Edition, but on its own, it's not much.

Shadows of Rose is a memorable, short run, however, especially if you're invested in Village's bizarre storyline. It's a must-see for horror fans, particularly its middle segment. The new characters in Mercenaries are interesting, varied, and occasionally hilarious, but it's still Village's spin on Mercenaries, which is the least entertaining version of the minigame. Finally, the third-person mode for Village feels like a hindrance at best.

The Winters' Expansion does add some value to Resident Evil Village, but it's not worth picking up on its own unless you're a Mercenaries (or Dimitrescu) fanatic. If you hadn't checked out Village at all yet, though, then the Winters' Expansion is a great excuse to pick up the forthcoming Gold Edition of the game.

[Note: Capcom provided the copy of Winter's Expansion used for this review.]

Fueled Up Review: It's a Gas Thu, 20 Oct 2022 10:05:45 -0400 Will Borger

Ever since Overcooked burst onto the scene in 2016, there's been a notable uptick in chaotic four-player party games starring cute animals and lovable weirdos that could be best described as "Overcooked but..."

Fueled Up is the latest game in the "Overcooked but…" genre, but instead of cooking delicious food, your team of intrepid adventurers is tasked with fixing, fueling, and transporting damaged spaceships to safety. You must do so before they're destroyed by the evil space octopus, who will be chasing each and every spaceship you salvage for the duration of the game.

It starts simply enough: take a fuel crystal, refine it, and put it in the engine to keep it running. But you'll also have to deal with debris, which periodically peppers your ship with holes. Failing to do so will tank your ship's durability. If it gets low enough, your ship will explode. Then, of course, there are batteries, which do things like keep the airlocks closed and need to be regularly replaced unless you feel like taking an unexpected spacewalk.

You'll also have to manage asteroids, which will explode into fireballs or green goop that slows down anyone walking through them if not disposed of quickly. Sometimes you'll be separated from your teammates, and you'll need to throw switches to open doors for one another or pass items along conveyor belts.

As the game goes on, more challenges get added. Early levels might task you with managing only one or two things, but later levels might have you contending with almost all of the game's mechanics – and by the end, there is quite a bit.

As the title implies, keeping your ship fueled is the key to victory. As long as your ship is moving, you'll gain points. The more points you gain, the more stars you'll earn, up to a maximum of three. The better condition your ship is in, the more points you'll get, and adding fuel to an engine boosts your multiplier.

If your engine runs out of fuel, however, your ship stops, and you start losing points. Running out of power also gives the evil space octopus time to catch you. If it catches you, your ship will explode, and you'll have to start the level again, no matter how well you did up until that point. Make it far enough, though, and you'll jump to hyperspace and safety.

Things get even trickier when you have a ship with multiple engines because each engine must have fuel to keep the ship moving, and each engine has its own fuel capacity that must be managed separately. While most engines can take simple fuel refined from a single crystal, some engines are a bit more complex, requiring you to add an additional crystal to already refined fuel and refine it again, essentially doubling the time it takes to power the engine.

Playing Fueled Up is pretty simple. You can pick up, put down, and use items, and move your character. That's about it. The difficulty comes from the decisions you'll have to make. Do you dispose of an asteroid before it can explode or replace a dead battery to close an airlock? Should you put out a fire or finish refining a crystal for an engine that's about to run out of fuel? Do you fix holes on a ship that's at low health or throw water on a generator that's about to overheat and explode?

At its best, Fueled Up requires you to manage several things simultaneously while coordinating with your team and trying to maximize your score while keeping your ship from exploding. Levels are highly chaotic and wildly inventive. Ships are populated with teleporters, toxic waste pits, moving platforms, and even a volcano.

Deciding what to do – and doing it without falling into toxic goo, blocking a crewmate's way in a narrow corridor, or getting sucked out of an airlock – and trying to control the chaos around you is part of the fun. The fact that you can play as a cat in a space suit, a disembodied brain, a banana, or a sentient balloon is just icing on the cake.

Even the most challenging levels are pretty doable when you have a full team of four, but later levels can feel impossible with smaller crews; the game doesn't seem to scale with how many people are in your crew at a single time. This doesn't matter much when you're only dealing with a few things.

But when you're worried about fueling up multiple engines, moving asteroids, making sure your battery-powered airlocks have enough juice, fixing holes in the hull, managing conveyor belts, and putting out fires, a single mistake can often be the difference between a ship that's running efficiently and one that explodes or gets caught by the evil space octopus.

On later levels, having at least three players seemed mandatory for success. You can beat about two-thirds of the game's 32 levels – which are divided into five worlds – with two players, but at a certain point, there's simply too much to manage for two people, no matter how well-coordinated the group is or how familiar they are with the genre.

One level in world four took my partner and me over 20 attempts, and when we did complete it, it was by the skin of our teeth. Adding a third person instantly made the following levels much more doable. Developer Fireline Games has released a patch that does rebalance the difficulty, but this was a notable point of frustration in the pre-release build I played.

The game's other major problem is legibility. By default, the camera is incredibly zoomed out, and it can be hard to see your character, how much fuel an engine has left, or where items are on the ground. This issue is somewhat mitigated by options that zoom in the camera and add heavier highlights to items, but it can still be a problem in some levels.

Even with those options enabled, the game's chaotic nature can often make it hard to tell what's going on or where things are in the more visually busy levels.

But when Fueled Up works, it feels amazing. It controls well, looks great, and features a wonderful soundtrack that perfectly fits the hectic pace of the levels while providing a sci-fi feel. The game also provides a lot of accessibility options.

The aforementioned option to zoom in the camera and toggle the highlights is great. Still, you can also choose to hold buttons instead of mash them – an option I immediately enabled to save my fingers some wear and tear. I played it on PC, but playing it with a controller, remapping my buttons, and determining whether I wanted to see Xbox or PlayStation button prompts was as easy as enabling a few options.

Fueled Up Review — The Bottom Line


  • Lots of accessibility options.
  • Chaotic and challenging, especially with friends.
  • Wonderful music and art design.


  • Levels don't seem to scale based on the number of people playing.
  • Sometimes it can be hard to see what's happening or where things are.
  • It's fairly short (though there is replay value to be had).

Fueled Up isn't a long game – you can beat the whole thing in a few hours – but there's plenty of replay value here when it comes to chasing high scores and completing bonus missions; each level has two, and they vary quite a bit. Some ask you to keep the engines running throughout the whole level, open an optional safe, or use a limited number of batteries. The best ones, though, lean into Fueled Up's weirdness – like asking you to feed the monster living in the goop puddle or having everyone jump out of an airlock at a particular moment.

These objectives are purely optional – you don't get anything for doing them – but they're a welcome change of pace that makes levels both more challenging and more fun.

It would be easy to dismiss Fueled Up as another game in the "Overcooked but…" genre, but it's much more. This clever entry blends cooperation and chaos in a way that is challenging, fun, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. If Fireline can fix the game's scaling issues, they'll have something special here. Until then, make sure you have a couple of friends to play it with.

Gotham Knights Review: A Different Kind of Batman Game Thu, 20 Oct 2022 07:00:01 -0400 Justin Koreis

The hero of old is gone and in steps someone new with big shoes to fill. The plot of Gotham Knights could just as easily be about its developer, WB Montreal, and their tall task of creating a Batman game in the shadow of the acclaimed Arkham series. The result is a game that is clearly inspired by what came before, but, like the heroes you play as, it carves out its own identity on the path to becoming a worthy spiritual successor. 

At first glance, Gotham Knights is a straightforward, third-person action game. You assume the role of Batman's four proteges, taking up the mantle after your mentor's death. As Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, and Red Hood, you attempt to piece together Batman's final investigation with the limited clues left behind.

Most of Gotham Knights takes place in the streets and on the rooftops of Gotham City. You can choose and change which protagonist you play and beat up bad guys with an assortment of light or heavy attacks, dodges, and gadgets. There are occasional enclosed missions, similar to a dungeon mechanic, but a majority of your playtime will be spent cleaning up Gotham at night. 

It's natural to compare Gotham Knights to the Arkham series directly. The games have essentially the same art style, and the flow of combat ending with a slow-motion flourish on the last enemy is a direct copy. I fell into that comparison trap in my first few hours with Gotham Knights, especially when considering the fewer options for melee combat and stealth. If you expect a 1:1 update to the Arkham series, then expect disappointment — that's not what Gotham Knights is. 

Instead — and this became increasingly clear the further I ventured into the game — Gotham Knights is an action RPG, and a damn good action RPG. Stats matter, as does weapon and suit crafting, mods, and creating builds to accentuate playstyles. There is a cumulative power level across your equipment, which, alongside some very slick designs, provides a strong incentive to update costumes and weapons continually. 

While the characters are all largely different flavors of the same experience in the early going, the abilities that each of the four protagonists unlock as they progress are strongly divergent. Robin becomes a stealth specialist, with the ability to take out more enemies with subterfuge. Red Hood, meanwhile, becomes a long and short-range powerhouse, damaging from a distance with his guns while performing literally explosive grapple moves up close.

There's a distinct way to play each of the heroes. By the end of the main story, I was selecting characters based on the type of mission I expected, trying to make smart decisions to take advantage of what each of them does best.

The experience with movement skills is similar. In the early going, you can use your grappling hook to move across rooftops or the Batcycle for fast ground movement. The lack of a gliding, like in the Arkham games, or the slower speed of the motorcycle relative to the Arkham Knight Batmobile, means that getting around Gotham is fun but sometimes tedious over long stretches.

That changes drastically if you complete the Knighthood challenge for each character. These optional objectives unlock a unique traversal ability. Nightwing has a jet-propelled glider that allows him to ascend indefinitely, while Robin can effectively just teleport. They are literal game changers that significantly improve the fun of getting around the city.

And that's a recurring theme in Gotham Knights. Generally, I had pretty tepid feelings towards playing early on, as it looked like I was stuck in a stripped-down version of the previous Batman games. As more abilities and tools became available, my enjoyment increased significantly, and the fact that it takes so long for these strengths to come through is unfortunate. This is a game that continually gets better the deeper into it you venture, and sticking it out to the end is well worthwhile.

Co-op is extremely impressive, too. There's random matchmaking, or you can join up with a friend. Gotham Knights normalizes levels between players, so even though there was a massive discrepancy between my end-game Robin and a friend's Red Hood (he had only completed the first few missions), we were able to enjoy participating in activities together. Co-op also proved to be an extremely effective way quickly level up. 

One of the more interesting aspects is that there's no real tether between players in Gotham Knights co-op; my crime-fighting partner and I could go to opposite ends of the entire city (full north and full south on the map) and pursue our own adventures; fast-travel doesn't take your whole party from one area to another, for example, letting you stop crimes together all over the city at the same, just not the same place.

Closed-off areas, like certain missions and the Belfry, required us to be in the same place, but otherwise, we had total freedom, and things were smooth from a technical standpoint. Any collectibles we found only counted for our individual pursuits, but the fact that they counted at all was incredibly welcome. Any experience, materials, mods, or blueprints stay with you after leaving co-op. 

But just because you can explore away from teammates doesn't mean that you will necessarily want to spend all of your time apart. Stealthily clearing out enemies with coordinated maneuvers is thrilling. Standing side by side with another hero and fighting off an entire mob is extremely enjoyable, and the Gotham Knights themselves banter with each other in a nice, immersive touch that's true to the characters. 

The story is surprisingly good, as well, with an overarching plot that goes a few interesting (if predictable) directions before finishing extremely strong. Smaller side stories are sprinkled throughout, and the gallery of villains is as colorful and interesting as ever. It's a very solid Batman story. 

The best parts are the smaller character moments between missions. The four heroes have very distinct personalities with their own traumas and hang-ups, and each processes their grief in different ways. It's surprisingly compassionate and heartfelt, and watching the characters lean on one another for support is refreshingly humanizing.

Gotham Knights Review — The Bottom Line


  • An engrossing and humanizing story.
  • Strong co-op.
  • Characters with increasingly unique playstyles.
  • Surprisingly deep RPG mechanics. 


  • Presentation elicits direct and unfortunate comparisons to the Arkham series.
  • The best parts are generally held until late in the game. 
  • Some systems and mechanics could be explained better.

Gotham Knights is a surprising game. On the surface, it looks like a lesser knockoff of the Batman games that came before, but underneath that rough exterior is a well-crafted action RPG with outstanding co-op, engaging characters, and a story worth taking time to enjoy.

It's a shame that many of the things that make it excellent are hidden in the back half of the game, but players willing to give it a shot and let it stand on its own merits — rather than in the shadow of its predecessors — will be well rewarded for their time.

[Note: WB Montreal provided the copy of Gotham Knights used for this review.]

A Plague Tale: Requiem Review — A Sublime Sequel Mon, 17 Oct 2022 14:04:54 -0400 Hayes Madsen

At the end of A Plague Tale: Requiem, I looked down to realize I had a white-knuckled death grip on my controller. It wasn't because of an intense action sequence or anything like that. Instead, it was the unnerving emotional roller coaster I'd just been on.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is a special sequel, one that improves on nearly every aspect of the original while still retaining the unique core elements of its predecessor. It's quite simply one of the most enthralling games of 2022, with a story that packs a serious emotional gut punch. 

Requiem picks up six months after A Plague Tale: Innocence, with Amicia, Hugo, their mother, and the alchemist Lucas searching for a new place to call home, all while trying to learn more about the supernatural power that runs through Hugo's veins. As the Macula starts to take hold of Hugo, hordes of rats appear once again, sending the siblings on a quest to find a mysterious island from Hugo's dreams. 

Just like its predecessor, Requiem is primarily a narrative adventure game, even with its widely expanded gameplay options. This means story and narrative always take center stage, but that's absolutely a good thing here. Right out of the gate, Requiem isn't afraid to throw Amicia and Hugo into the deep end of life-threatening situations. To its credit, Requiem knows when to alternate between high-intensity set pieces and quiet characters moments, seesawing back and forth between the two with ease. 

Clocking in at roughly 18 hours, this campaign gives you a lot more time to get to know the siblings and some fantastic new characters. The intense bond between Amicia and Hugo is the central pillar around which the narrative revolves, and the two make some valuable new allies in the process, like the fantastically-written Sophia, a savvy pirate captain that always has a quip or two. 

While there are plenty of twists and red herrings packed into the story, what really stands out is how the narrative doubles as an allegory for healing trauma. Amicia and Hugo are children that have been thrust into a cold and uncaring world, and much of Requiem's story dives into the mental strain that causes, and the way said trauma can dominate our lives and decisions. 

The story is elevated by presentation and strong writing. A Plague Tale: Requiem is an utterly gorgeous game, with some almost uncannily good character animations. Part of the heartbreak is seeing these utterly gorgeous locations filled with life turned into grey husks by the plague. The voice cast also deserves an extra mention as, across the board, the actors give some incredible performances, with Amicia's being a stand-out. 

As the narrative unfolds, Requiem's gameplay is largely split into three major sections: stealth/combat segments where you deal with enemies, puzzle sections where you navigate through hordes of rats, and more open-ended exploration sequences where you, well, explore. 

Stealth is again a major focus, with segments essentially acting as massive areas with multiple routes and options for either sneaking past or taking down enemies. With that in mind, Amicia has far more combat options available this time around, some familiar and some new. 

Her primary weapon is a sling that can instantly take out unarmored enemies with headshots, but she can also craft different types of ammo with unique effects. Ignifer can light up braziers but also be combined with jars of tar to create explosions that engulf enemies in flames; tar can also kindle a fire to push rats back even further.

Meanwhile, Odoris can be used to attract hordes of rats to certain points, clearing the way for a short period of time. But Amicia's best piece of new equipment is a deadly crossbow that can take out enemies in one shot and launch flaming arrows into wood to create safe spots from the rats. 

Alchemical tools are crafted from materials you find lying around the environment, and exploration is key to keeping yourself stocked on not only materials but also crossbow bolts and knives for those instant kills when combat is the only option.

Hugo's abilities also play into things more, as well; if there are rats around, you can hold use a kind of "rat vision" that reveals enemy positions. Hugo can also control small groups of rats and use them to devour enemies gruesomely. 

What surprised me most about Requiem's gameplay is how much of a viable option straight-up combat can be, and there are multiple segments where it's even required. While you can play the entire game like a pure stealth experience, later on, I found myself having more fun by systematically eliminating every enemy in an area through a combination of Amicia's crossbow and alchemical tools.

That being said, Requiem falters in its later chapters, which put a heavy focus on combat. So while the combat itself is solid, the lack of stealth in these latter segments creates a tangible imbalance and feels somewhat antithetical to the game's overall style. 

There are two unique systems that can affect gameplay in Requiem: a dynamic skill system and an upgrade system to improve your equipment. The skill system is entirely new in Requiem and works similarly to something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Amicia's skills are split into three categories that enhance stealth, combat, and alchemy, but the only way to raise these skills is by actually using that play style. If you sneak around a lot, you might unlock a skill that reduces the sound of Amicia's footsteps, but if you directly confront enemies more often, you might unlock a skill that lets you push enemies into fires or rat hordes.

You aren't locked into any of the three paths, and you'll constantly be gaining experience in all three categories as you utilize those playstyles. 

The upgrade system, on the other hand, is much more straightforward; you'll find tools and pieces scattered around the environment that you can use to upgrade everything from Amicia's sling and crossbow to your alchemy storage capacity, similar to the system found in the Innocence

Exploration is tremendously encouraged, not only to find those upgrade materials but also the handful of collectibles scattered across the various chapters. There are multiple points where Requiem opens into massive explorable areas crammed with little details to find, and these sections are a nice change of pace overall, especially since Requiem nails its collectibles by tying them directly into the narrative. 

A Plague Tale: Requiem Review  The Bottom Line


  • A harrowing emotional tale backed up by phenomenal performances.
  • A wealth of gameplay options that let you choose your own style.
  • Utterly gorgeous world and environment.
  • Interesting collectibles that all tie into the narrative.


  • Latter part of the game focuses too heavily on combat.
  • Pacing feels a tad sluggish in the middle.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is an enthralling sequel that makes real refinements to the original. Its narrative manages to feel both utterly crushing and incredibly hopeful at the same time. And the degree of freedom in its gameplay options means there's never a dull moment. 

Running from tidal waves of rats never ceases to be terrifying, but there's a strong message underlying everything in Requiem, too. It's easy to see how this could go down as one of the greatest sequels of all time, alongside the likes of Assassin's Creed 2 or Uncharted: Among Thieves.

[Note: Focus Entertainment provided the copy of A Plague Tale: Requiem used for this review.]

Overwatch 2 Review: More of the Same Mon, 17 Oct 2022 13:28:03 -0400 John Schutt

Trying to review Overwatch 2 feels like cheating at the ol' reviewing game. You can count the number of significant changes between the sequel and its predecessor on two hands, and while the updates here are large enough, the core is the same as it was in 2016.

The joke that this is Overwatch 1.5 or some other fractional number is truer than we'd hoped, but that's not always bad.

At the center of Overwatch 2's design philosophy is its vast roster of unique characters, all of whom play differently and fill different roles, even within their specific niche.

No two DPS heroes play the same, with the likes of Soldier 76 requiring a completely different playstyle than Sombra or Genji, or any of the other dozen or so heroes in the class. That doesn't account for the differences between a DPS and a Tank, a Tank and a Support, and so on.

In short, there is something for every kind of player in Overwatch 2 — within a few limitations. Better still, you can be a credit to your team using almost any hero in the roster, though some are leagues better than others.

Blizzard's changes during the first Overwatch's tenure are still here. Some other heroes have received additional tuning to make them either more viable, more active, or simply to upend how they play at a base level. It's mind-boggling that Blizzard was able to keep everything balanced as well as it has, especially with the addition of the three new heroes in Sojourn, Junker Queen, and Kiriko.

It's more impressive that these three characters are so different from the others in their class and yet are viable — even essential — at most levels of play. Sojourn, in particular, is a monster at the higher skill tiers. Kiriko and Junker Queen don't get as much play in the Master and Grandmaster-level lobbies, but both can be terrifying in the right hands.

The returning heroes that didn't receive significant updates are as effective as you remember them. If you're new to the series with Overwatch 2, you'll quickly learn the likes of Genji, Ana, Winston, Zenyatta, and D.Va remain at the top of their game. Veteran players returning after a hiatus will find these characters play much as they remember them, and newcomers will quickly learn to fear players who can use them well.

Those heroes who saw reworks — Bastion, Doomfist, Torbjorn, and Orisa, among others — are a mixed bag. Bastion and Torbjorn, for instance, are currently disabled due to bugs, but the changes made to their mechanics have made them more mobile and overall more effective in battle.

Orisa is a menace in the right hands, capable of out-damaging even the best DPS characters while still mitigating thousands of points of incoming damage. Doomfist has been sent to the trash by the community's estimation, where many believe he should stay.

Considering there are 35 heroes available to play, the majority of them are viable in almost any situation, which is a testament to the skill and care Blizzard gave and gives to the game. While there aren't many new additions, the ones on offer are all great fun to play and fill a somehow unfilled niche within their respective classes.

Like the hero roster, most of the maps in Overwatch 2 return from the first game. In fact, the old maps have received no updates to speak of save the time of day when the fighting takes place. That's probably fine, as the maps in the original Overwatch were excellent, so there's no real reason to change them.

The new maps are split between two modes: Payload, a classic attack and defense mode, and Push, where two teams fight over control over a robot that pushes a barrier to either team's base.

The Payload maps — Paraiso, Midtown, and Circuit Royal — are good, but they lack some nuances of the original game's offerings. Where levels like Watchpoint: Gibraltar and Eichenwalde offer plenty of gameplay variety, the options introduced in Overwatch 2 are more straightforward, with fewer ways to get around and engage with the game's mechanics.

Push as a game mode is a fun idea, but in practice, it comes off as sluggish and far less fun than either zone control or Payload. There are two factors causing this: the movement of the objective away from spawn and the concentration of fights around the robot.

In Push, you have two spawns: your default and a forward position once you push the robot past a certain point. You'll lose access to the forward spawn if the enemy pushes back beyond that same point, forcing your team on the back foot. As a result of this back and forth, you'll spend half of your time getting back to the fight than actually fighting.

Fights around the robot are somehow even more hectic than in Payload or zone control, with not only a smaller space around the objective but also a tighter environment in general.

There aren't nearly as many open areas with longer sightlines or hiding places, making certain heroes less effective than they would be in other modes. Some parts of the map are even optional, in the sense that they aren't on the robot's path, offering flanking routes and places to catch your breath, but that you'll be less likely to use given how out-of-the-way they can be.

All that said, the good maps are good enough that playing on the bad ones sometimes doesn't bother as much. The only real issue is how heavily Push maps are weighted compared to the others, meaning you'll play them more often than you'd like.

Overwatch 2 Review — The Bottom Line


  • Well-designed shooter mechanics.
  • Tons of gameplay variety across the many heroes.
  • Great level design.


  • Horrid monetization systems.
  • Not enough new content.
  • Buggy and unfinished.

Overwatch 2, on launch, is a PvP-only free-to-play live service game. There is a PvE mode on the way come Halloween 2022, but anything else is up in the air. Being free, it needs some way to make its money back and seems to have taken the worst possible route. The battle pass and real money shop prices for new and old skins are just this side of exorbitant, and leveling the pass is a slog unless you play every day for at least a few hours.

Things are so predatory and hard — or impossible — to earn in-game that players have asked for the loot box system to return. Given that the original Overwatch went a long way toward popularizing loot boxes on the broader market, having the community ask for their return is a testament to how bad things are.

Sadly, there's not much more to say about Overwatch 2. It's a fun shooter with great gameplay variety, solid map design, and well-designed mechanics, but the same could be said for the original game, which no longer exists. The new iteration is less than a sequel and more a payment model transition that comes with a few new characters and maps. Was all the hullabaloo surrounding this "sequel" necessary? No, and the fact it was marketed as such is frustrating, at the least.

Is Overwatch 2 a good game, though? Yes, and one you should play if you enjoyed the first outing. However, we don't recommend spending a cent on it, especially if you played the original. If you're new, we still don't recommend spending anything if you can help it. There's nothing here worth the cost.

[Note: The free-to-play version of Overwatch 2 was used to write this review.]

Lego Bricktales Review: Building Something Special Mon, 17 Oct 2022 13:15:23 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Between trips to Gotham City and galaxies far, far away, LEGO games don't often have the chance to actually do what LEGO does best: bring out your creative side by stacking a pile of plastic bricks together. LEGO Bricktales fills that gap with a unique spin on the puzzle genre.

The game tasks you with building solutions to a range of head-scratchers using whatever bricks you have at hand. While some of the controls may be fiddly – especially on console – Bricktales is an intelligent spin on the genre and a lovely little package.

LEGO Bricktales starts with a visit to your dear old grandad who runs a zoo with a secret laboratory underneath it, because, of course he does. A series of tutorial-shaped mishaps means he needs your help building basic structures to get out of the lab, but that's just the start of your troubles. It turns out his beloved zoo is in danger of being closed down since he sort of, maybe, forgot to take care of it a little. Oops.

Your task is going through a series of portals to the park's far-flung locations, including a jungle and desert, to clean up grandad's mess and keep the park from closing. Traveler's Tales might not be in charge of this adventure, but in typical LEGO fashion, charm and zaniness characterize the story. 

No one questions why your grandfather, the zookeeper, is experimenting with portals that defy the logic of time and space or why everyone else seems to forget how to build things and desperately needs you to do it for them. The tone is perfect for the kind of light puzzle-builder Bricktales is, even if the writing suffers from inconsistency at times, swapping between silly, lighthearted chatter and oddly stiff exposition.

Each portal takes you to a themed biome that functions like a mini-open world. Puzzles lie scattered about, waiting for you to piece together solutions, and whatever creation you come up with becomes part of the landscape. Want to make a wonky staircase instead of a straightforward ladder? Boom, you've permanently left your mark on the world.

Most of the worlds and even your efforts in them are just there for decoration or to lend themselves to setting up puzzles, and that's absolutely fine. Bricktales isn't trying to be a grand puzzle adventure. Just bear that in mind if you go in expecting something else.

The puzzles themselves are a clever and varied lot that sits halfway between Scribblenauts and something like Bridge Building Simulator. Most of the early challenges gently lead you to the right solution. Build a walkway to transport a robot. Make a ramp. Fathom a staircase and bring it to life.

These kinds of puzzles also pop up later, but they're mixed with a different, more open-ended kind where you have to use the available bricks to bring your imagination to life and solve a bigger problem. Or it might be more accurate to say, "bring your imagination to life within reason," since your creations all have to pass a use test.

It's all fun and creatively proportioned helicopters until it won't actually fly and someone gets hurt. Puzzle games like these can easily misstep and be frustrating if they're too precise or the physics aren't quite right, but LEGO Bricktales rarely deals with this issue. There's a level of generosity that means steps that should technically be a smidgeon too high will work anyway, and it helps create a more relaxed mood that makes getting absorbed in creating much easier and more enjoyable.

At least, that's what it does on PC. On console, I imagine the controls are probably a bit of a nightmare. LEGO Bricktales doesn't require precision placement, but the mouse can be overly sensitive even on PC. The camera can also be a bit cumbersome to navigate along with some of the other commands, though you gradually grow used to Bricktales' quirks.

Lego Bricktales Review — The Bottom Line


  • A wide range of well-designed puzzles.
  • Mostly gentle difficulty curve.
  • Best use of the LEGO concept to date.


  • Biomes feel a bit empty.
  • Awkward controls.

LEGO Bricktales is a delightful surprise, even with its fiddly controls. Pairing puzzles with LEGOs seems like such a natural thing to do; I'm surprised it took this long to see it happen. And I sincerely hope it's not the last such puzzle game from Thunderful.

[Note: Thunderful provided the copy of LEGO Bricktales used for this review.]

Scorn Review: My Work is Not Yet Done Fri, 14 Oct 2022 17:58:12 -0400 Daniel Solomon

You come in reeling from the main menu, having just opted to start a new game, and watch the title art unfold as you tear yourself from the writhing mess in which you find yourself embroiled. Haunted by visions, the passing of time, or perhaps both, you awake somewhere, and it is your lot to now march stoically unto progress or death. Before long, you find yourself pulling out an umbilical cord, and this game's intent is immediately clear – you’re to receive no help here.

And this stark message tells you all you need to know going into Scorn; you will get no commands or directives, the systems and controls will not be explained, and there will be no conveniently exposition-heavy conversations either now nor towards the game’s climax. Nothing is even named. There is, in fact, not a single word present outside of the game’s menus, written or spoken.

My advice? Memorize the control scheme in the pause menu from the off, and try each command whenever the next esoteric grotesquerie finds its way into your possession. Don’t be like me and realize you have an approximation of an inventory screen as you’re nearing the end. Though this, of course, is told in the game’s own language of viscera and must first be deciphered.

There is a minimal HUD here, too – it surfaces when absolutely vital to do so, displaying a few key details, such as your remaining health, before scurrying away to leave your eyeline of Scorn’s world unbroken. It’s all the better for it, too, as you’ll be dying to see every last inch of this immaculately detailed living gallery that Ebb has created.

The Giger counter on Google Trends must be absolutely off the charts right now – Scorn’s promo art is even served as a top result for a search of the Swiss artist, evocatively name-dropped in press release and review alike, alongside Zdzisław Beksiński’s otherworldly visions. And it is absolutely a marriage of these artistic approaches – perhaps owing a little to earlier surrealists such as Alfred Kubin, too – and has been realized and executed par excellence.

The level of detail on display is astonishing, to be perfectly honest – there’s not a wasted pixel across Scorn’s handful of biomes, spanning a multitude of dank, labyrinthine buildings peppered with the occasional bit of out-of-doors. Each component part of the decaying, biomechanical world is highly stylized and often recognizably of-Earth despite its distinct capital-A Alien flavor. A window’s shutters can look like the chitin of a beetle’s shell, spines appear to hold up the ceiling in places, and there’s a glut of more, shall we say, explicit references, as well.

Sex, birth, life, and death loom large here, and these themes feed into the design ethos of both environment and equipment. Weapons thrust and pulse, and you’ll insert your limbs and digits into a huge number of fleshy holes that serve as switches or input devices for machinery before the credits roll. Despite the narrative silence, a subtle game this is not. But for all of its experimental leanings and bucking of established forms and conventions in the medium, Scorn is still very much a game, and ultimately, unfortunately, to its detriment.

While Scorn is billed as a horror title, it’s far more a ponderous and mood-led piece than most other examples of the genre. There is palpable tension and atmosphere in spades, but Scorn is not a scary experience as such. You may well squirm from the numerous gratuitous displays of gore or body horror, but there are no definitive nope moments, such as the likes of Mr. X’s first appearance in Resident Evil 2 or most of Outlast. And I feel that a good part of this is due to the lack of any real threat for most of the game.

Which is to say, while the handful of enemy types are pretty lethal, with even the smallest of foes capable of wrecking you quite quickly if you let them, they are also pretty darn stupid. They’re damage sponges, too, but all it takes to dispatch them is positioning and a little cover, of which there is plenty everywhere.

Ultimately, there’s very little recourse for them. Even the toughest fights of the game are rendered fairly inert by kiting around a pillar. And if there isn’t a pillar, simply turn and run the other way; odds are, when you return to the room, they’ll have left. You could also just press straight past them, as most won’t pursue you for any real distance.

The combat itself is a fairly bog-standard, first-person survival horror affair, and nothing to write home about – all scarce ammo supplies and slow movement. Paired with the AI’s shortfalls, however, it quickly becomes a thrill-less chore. Mercifully, there isn’t that much of it to be done, and less still that is obligatory.

The other major grievance here is the signposting around some of the game’s puzzles. Across my six-hour playthrough, a quarter of that was trying to navigate the prologue’s first puzzle, which, it turned out, had not rendered the indicator on the solution and instead left me staring at a series of identical options with nothing but trial and error between me and actually getting into the game proper.

While I believe this has been addressed in a day-one patch, and it didn’t affect everyone in the pre-release build to begin with, the opening section is still punishingly obtuse. This could be a real sticking point for players, particularly as Scorn is on Games Pass, and a good chunk of the player base will not feel obliged to continue if it infuriates rather than pleases that early on.

Act I is far and away the worst offender for this, though. It’d be a real shame for people to miss out on Scorn’s union of aesthetics, environmental narrative, and the solutions to the problems that arise as you trudge ever towards your uncertain destination, which it does succeed in evoking most of the time.

Scorn Review — The Bottom Line


  • Possibly one of the greatest realizations of an artistic vision seen in a video game.
  • Remarkable world design.



  • Janky, unsatisfying combat.
  • Some puzzles are torturously ill-signposted.
  • The plot is perhaps a little too vague.


Scorn occupies a strange, fringe space in a wider survey of video games, sitting halfway between something of a survival horror game and  not in pejorative terms  a walking simulator. Instead of being repulsive, the distorted and blood-strewn world draws players in. Rather than trying to get from A to B ASAFP, as you may in a more traditional horror game, you’ll find yourself losing a lot of time just poking around the labyrinth and drinking it in.

It’s lamentable that the game itself around this fantastical world serves to mar your presence in it somewhat. Some tweaks to how the puzzles are laid out, and admittedly some much more considered efforts around the combat – which, in its current state, is fairly non-threatening and easily cheesable – could elevate Scorn to the horror pantheon across mediums.

It’s still an easy recommendation if just for the art, which I’m sure it will be remembered for. But the full picture is one of a frustratingly imperfect piece of art; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair for what it could have been.

[Note: Ebb software provided the copy of Scorn used for this review.]

Valkyrie Elysium Review: So Nier, and Yet So Far Tue, 11 Oct 2022 13:33:02 -0400 Daniel Solomon

You’d be forgiven for not knowing Valkyrie Elysium is the fifth entry in a series. Forgetting the critically-panned freemium mobile effort that surfaced in 2016, this is the first Valkyrie game since Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume on the Nintendo DS almost 14 years ago. It’s also the first to move away from the series' JRPG combat trappings, instead offering a more free-form, character-action game experience. However, this is not the Final Fantasy 7 Remake moment that long-suffering fans of the series may have been hoping for.

You play as the titular Valkyrie, out traveling Midgard to purify lost souls in the wake of Ragnarok. Odin sits weakened on a gilded throne in Asgard, and you're sent to undo this calamity and restore his power, Naruto-running all the while. This quest is given to you because Odin says so, and as a Valkyrie, it's not your lot to question orders. Yours is to go out and fight. And this is much of the central plot shown in Valkyrie Elysium – that, and our protagonist's reckoning with what it means to be human. Stop me if you've heard that before.

The vast majority of your time with Valkyrie Elysium will be spent fighting the hordes of enemies thrown at you; the rest is either walking through a handful of fairly linear maps or watching cutscenes. The combat system is solid and, after you find a rhythm, incredibly satisfying Valkyrie zooms around the battlefield at pace, propelled by a grappling hook-style ability that is sorely underutilized. Your Einherjar, a woefully typical rag-tag bunch of warriors with archetypal, tropey personalities feed into this rhythm.

They function as summonable allies, each with their own elemental affinity that affects your normal attacks. In the instance that you summon Eygon, your lightning pal from pretty much the start of the game, your attacks are also imbued with lightning for the duration of his time on the battlefield alongside you. This helps greatly in exploiting enemy weaknesses, which are handily displayed alongside their health and stamina, as you don’t have to rely solely on your Divine Arts – Valkyrie Elyisum’s equivalent of magic.

Used in tandem, though, you’ll deal out serious damage, and the screen will also quickly fill with all sorts of madness. This, when you’re equipped for the fight, is fantastic.

However – and it’s a pretty big however – the UI for your abilities is ill-considered to the point of negligence. You can only equip up to four spells at any one time, one for each of the face buttons. Consider this against the fact that there are seven types of spells in the game. Five are required to gain an elemental advantage over enemies, one is for functional spells such as healing, and one is an anomalous sixth earth type, which in my playthrough, I didn’t see signposted as a single enemy’s weakness.

The encounters in the back half of the game routinely require that you change up your Divine Art usage  which there is no quick menu for  such as that found in FF7. To switch spells, you pause the game, navigate to your equipment menu, decide which spell you can do without, and then find a replacement from a list ordered neither alphabetically or by type.

You can find yourself doing this every few minutes as the game goes on. It’s exhausting and takes you right out of the flow state that the combat offers when the game isn’t getting in its own way. Some encounters even have enemies of four elemental types, forcing you either to do away with your heal or keep diving back into the equipment screen as you clear out enemies of whichever elements you do have equipped.

This would be less of an issue if there was another reliable means of healing mid-fight, but there’s no currency and, subsequently, no shop in Valkyrie Elysium. Any potions you’re to use must first be found in chests, and you have a limited carry capacity for them. You can carry up to four of the largest healing potion. Four. Any excess you find is left right where they are found, in lieu of a system where overstock is kept in the ether and replenished at checkpoints or between levels. This is to say that Valkyrie herself has some weird pockets, capable of carrying six hefty weapons but only a handful of bottles of juice.

All of these mechanical gripes serve to detract from Elysium's one redeeming feature, which with some minor tweaks, I’d very much welcome being lifted wholesale into a more considered title by developers Soleil in the future. But for a game that offers practically nothing but combat, the lack of considered design around the combat systems, and to be honest, anything else of note, relegates Valkyrie Elysium from the sort of title you’d recommend at a cut-rate price to one you should probably outright avoid.

In an attempt to justify the previous hyperbole, the lack of variety on display is quite easily quantifiable. Valkyrie Elysium’s nine chapters and myriad subquests play out across just five stages, which are reused time and again – much like most of the assets. There are 10 or so enemy archetypes, though they do have variations; the human enemy type that looks lifted out of Demons Souls’ Boletaria can be found carrying a sword, bow, or spear. They've only got one set of clothes, though.

There are no real set pieces to be found, either, which could elevate Valkyrie Elysium significantly. It's just wave after wave after wave. Boss fights repeat ad nauseam, too, with the worst offender turning up on four separate occasions. You won’t get away next time, our party says half-heartedly. But they do get away and will do so again.

This speaks to the half-baked quality of the plot and its delivery. The voice performances are mostly weak and sound like they were met with a resounding “that’ll do” by the recording engineer. The script does them no favors – the Einherjar are painted as sycophantic and servile, despite their initial protests in that classic Hero's Journey fashion. 

The wider writing is often clunky and, infrequently, outright jarring. The worst example by some margin is a reference to “the Goddess of marriage, Frigg herself.” Oof.

It’s notable that Motoi Sakuraba has returned to the conductor’s stand once again, famed for his soundtracks to the earlier Valkyrie games, as well as his Dark Souls score and many, many others. His input here, though, is a largely background affair. If you’ve played anything remotely action or RPG-adjacent over the last 30 years, you’ll have heard any number of similar suites of music before.

There is praise due, however, for how seamlessly the tracks swell and quieten when you go in and out of battles, as the arrangements grow in scope to up the intensity or cut back to allow you a moment’s peace. If only the game took these cues to heart and allowed for some dynamics in an otherwise one-note performance.

Valkyrie Elysium Review — The Bottom Line


  • When the fighting clicks, it's superb. 


  • There's altogether too much combat, to the game's detriment.
  • Unwieldy UI that often breaks the game's pace. 
  • Almost nothing else of note on offer. 

Your arc with Valkyrie Elysium will be entirely determined by your patience for subpar presentation and design, the latter being infinitely more frustrating. A few slight adjustments could salvage the almost-stellar combat from an otherwise forgettable game and make it fairly easy to recommend if you want to switch your brain off and rampage. As it stands, though, your mindless fun is consistently interrupted by systems seemingly built to prevent a flow state, perhaps as a lasting hangover of its JRPG heritage. 

Your mileage may vary, of course, but if you really want to play a character action game now, as opposed to when, say, God of War Ragnarok launches in a few weeks, then I'd still advise against it. Play Nier Automata again instead, which I found myself longing for quite soon into starting Valkyire Elysium. 

As the Weird Machine in Pascal's Village says, "there's an important lesson here: the more of a fool people take you for, the more you'll learn of their true nature." And I can't help but feel the true nature of Valkyrie Elysium is to get firmly in the way of any enjoyment you may take from it.

The DioField Chronicle Review: For King and Country Fri, 07 Oct 2022 13:55:57 -0400 Hayes Madsen

The DioField Chronicle is a JRPG that punches above its weight, managing to overcome a clearly constrained budget and presentation to create a wildly unique experience that tackles fascinating narrative themes. There are some notable issues that plague the experience, but The DioField Chronicle has a vision that, for the most part, it manages to fulfill. 

In all regards, DioField isn't your typical JRPG in terms of how the narrative and combat play out. The game takes place on the titular DioField Island, where the ancient Kingdom of Alletain rules with the help of the Granvelle Church. You follow a small group of mercenaries named The Blue Foxes, who go from obscurity to playing a central role in shaping the future of DioField.

DioField's story is pretty heavy on exposition, with much of the narrative told through narrated scenes on the world map or lengthy dialogue sections between characters. The slow narrative presentation, coupled with sluggish pacing and writing, is where many players will likely end up hitting a wall, even if the eventual result has plenty of intrigue and fascinating characters.

Perhaps what's most compelling, however, are the themes of clashing ideals the game toys with. This is a kingdom steeped in tradition and reverence for the establishment, but there's a rising movement for democracy beginning. Your characters are on the side of the monarchy, and DioField superbly juxtaposes the flaws of both governmental systems. It's rare to see a game willing to question ideas in such a dynamic way, and it works to the overall narrative's strength. 

However, combat is where the game shines, using a hybrid of typical JRPG systems and real-time strategy. Each battle takes place on a self-contained map, and you can take up to four units into battle, with each unit accompanied by an adjutant. Characters are split into four different unit types  Soldiers, Cavaliers, Magickers, and Sharpshooters — that all function differently. Within these classes are sub-classes, providing even more variation. 

You move your units around the map in real time but can pause the action to select skills, use items, or select new positions. Skills are dictated by a resource called EP, while you also have powerful Magulimic Orbs that can unleash powerful creature summons. 

Right off the bat, DioField's combat feels wholly unique, and it's a system that encourages both strategy and experimentation. There's a ton of fun to be had in trying out different skills and equipment sets, then seeing how contrasting characters work together. Things shine when maps provide you with unique challenges, like ranged towers that fire at you, or alternate pathways by which to approach enemies. 

Between battles, you'll have a chance to run around the Blue Fox's base and upgrade your army in the process. There are a variety of options for expanding your army, from researching new weapons to upgrading various skills for your units, bestowing them with new power or alternate effects. 

While you can explore the base and talk to characters, it's mostly a static area that never changes across the experience. It's one aspect of DioField that feels as if it could have been something far grander, especially when compared to other strategy RPGs that let you explore dynamic locations, like Garreg Mach Monastery in Fire Emblem: Three Houses

DioField also puts a big emphasis on side quests, and there are a few instances where you're encouraged to grind to meet a level requirement for the next main story quest. It's in these moments that DioField's shtick starts to wear thin. While I love the strategy and variety involved in the core combat experience, the game's map design falters the more sidequests I played. The main missions do a great job of mixing things up, but so many sidequests simply boil down to taking on a bunch of enemies with a real lack of more complex objectives. 

It also feels as if there could be more variation in the presentation in general. While the game's hand-drawn portraits and art are absolutely gorgeous, the character models feel wooden and cold by comparison. At the same time, too much of the story is delivered through static conversations rather than the more active and flashy cutscnes. This same idea also applies to the fantastic score. What's there is great, but there just aren't enough tracks; hearing the exact same music in battle after battle after battle after battle gets old. 

The DioField Chronicle Review  The Bottom Line


  • Fantastic combat that feels strategic and unique. 
  • Complex and surprisingly ambitious narrative themes.
  • A ton of customization options for your army that encourages experimentation.


  • Side content doesn't have enough variety.
  • Slow-burn story that relies on exposition dumps.
  • Lackluster presentation that often falls short.

The DioField Chronicle has some fantastic ideas, even if some of them feel a bit underbaked. This could be the foundation of something ambitious for Square Enix, and if another game could build upon the combat system and narrative style found here,  it could really turn into something special.

DioField's story is a tremendous slow burn that might turn people off, but the combat has enough depth and strategy to make up for it. The DioField Chronicle is easily one of the most unique games of the year and a breath of fresh air in the JRPG genre, even for its problems. 

[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of The DioField Chronicle used for this review.]

Deathverse: Let It Die Review – Alone in a Crowd Mon, 03 Oct 2022 16:13:40 -0400 Daniel Solomon

From the off, you just know that Deathverse: Let It Die is going to be a trip. It opens with a huge, gaudy, swinging show-tune number, proclaiming the game’s intent as a funky Death Jamboree. It’s a banger and worth the storage space just to hear it. And the game could be too, for the most part, save a few pretty egregious missteps.

Supertrick’s Deathverse has a straightforward premise dressed in surreal clothing; on paper, it’s a fairly run-of-the-mill multiplayer battle royale in which 16 players fight to the death on a shrinking battlefield. Deathverse, though, is set in the wake of a cataclysmic event exacerbated by a playful grim reaper, detailed in the spiritual prequel Let It Die.

Now, hundreds of years in the future, humanity has fully embraced its weird side and is reveling in the launch of an ultraviolent reality show called Death Jamboree, in which 16 contestants – you guessed it – fight to the death on a shrinking battlefield.

This plays into the language around the game’s mechanics. You earn Good Points (GP) from the show’s audience by being entertaining (brutal and murderous, in other words), and GP is your main source of healing and stat boosting in-game. GP is the metric by which you’re scored in the Death Jamboree, and the more the audience likes you, the higher it goes, and up goes your health with it.

Starting Deathverse, you’re quickly thrown into the Crazy Violent Basic Training program, led by Uncle D2 – a small flying robot in the shape of a skull. He graciously takes you through the combat mechanics and introduces you to your very own small flying robot – the Wilson device. The Wilson device serves as your faithful companion and useful multi-tool in navigating this world; it’s your weapon, shield, scanner, and skills all rolled into one. And when the Wilson takes a hit (such as when an enemy breaks your shield), so too does your offensive capability.

The combat itself has certainly taken a few cues from the Souls franchise – all shoulder buttons to attack and what-have-you – which is easily forgotten as a relatively recent design choice. It does differ in a few key ways, though; there’s no locking on or parrying, and playing offensively almost all the time is actively encouraged here. Since your attacks generate GP and heal you, the result is an interesting tug-of-war dynamic. This means it’s never too late to win and that landing a few choice blows, even when you’re on your last legs, can quickly turn a fight around in your favor.

With the training out of the way, you’re free to jump into one of the game’s two modes – Ranked or Exhibition. Aside from the rankings system, they are fundamentally the same; both are set on Bonuriki island, a reasonably sized stage divided into seven zones, each with a distinct feel and layout.

The show’s hosts, Bryan Zemeckis and Queen B, will announce the arrival of you and your fellow players, and you’re in. It’s then time to put that brief tutorial to use and try to come out on top.

Matches play out in a familiar enough fashion. You spawn with a little breathing room, allowing you to grab a Sub-Skill (typically explosives, debuffs, or distraction techniques) and some charge from a Power Pod for your Main Skill. These are specific to the weapon you’ve chosen, and there are currently five categories with three variations of each, consisting of a machete, katana, hammer, mechanical arms, and a buzzsaw.

These weapons are unlocked by crafting, and they all feel great to play with, offering a wealth of options to suit your playstyle. The katana is fast, has a high damage output, and has some flashy Deathblows (special moves) in its repertoire. If you really want to wind people up, though, the buzzsaw gives you a lot of mobility and can be extremely difficult to interrupt.

There is a slight PvE element to the Death Jamboree, too, as small monsters known as cryptids roam the stage – easy pickings for some bonus GP and some crafting materials. The other AI enemy, the hunter, is a much more frightening affair, however. They are summoned by the hosts with the express purpose of ruining your day, and if you don’t turn tail and run at the first sight of them, they will succeed. The hunter is immortal and will tear a contestant to shreds with just a few attacks, though mercifully, they will retreat after a moment or two.

All this chaos plays out as the island’s contaminant, SPLithium (yes, that’s honestly what it’s called) rolls in, forcing the remaining players closer together until only one remains. While I did say that the comparison to Dark Souls’ combat only ran so deep, the whole feeling of playing reminds of a lighter-hearted version of the invasion system in those games. Players are out to stunt on you. I’ve even knocked someone clean off the stage when they thought they were safely harvesting materials – and this speaks to the game’s greatest strength; it is silly but a real joy to be in on a moment-to-moment basis.

And yes, there is jank – Deathverse is clearly a AA budget game at best. A particularly weird moment is when a match ends, and the winner is interviewed in silence by one of the hosts. Let’s hear from our champion, they say, and we hear nothing.

Despite all I like about the game, battle royales live and die by their social aspect, and Deathverse truly does itself no favors in this regard. As it stands, the only way to play with friends is by hosting a private room, a function that's locked behind the highest tier Jamboree Pass (Deathverse’s battle pass equivalent) at around a $30 cost to the player.

There’s a small saving grace in that you don’t need to have this tier, or any in fact, of the Jamboree Pass to join a room, but envision the following scenario: four friends want to play together, and one buys the platinum Jamboree Pass. Said friend leaves after an hour. The remaining members of the group must now either go their separate ways, or one of them too must now cough up three hours’ worth of the average worker's wage to keep going as a group. All of this for a feature that is free in literally every other example of the genre. A truly baffling aspect of this, too, is that established groups of friends will likely never even try the game for this exact reason.

One hopes that this will get walked back pretty quick-sharp if Deathverse wants to last out its roadmap – which it needs to because it’s feeling fairly bereft of content at launch, with just one map, one hunter, and five weapon types. And to be clear, I want the game to succeed – it's got some interesting stuff in the pipeline, including a feature whereby random matches will be broadcast to the developer's official Twitch channel in a kind of metagame recreation of Deathverse’s premise. But as it stands, it’s very hard to recommend to your friends.

Deathverse: Let It Die Review – The Bottom Line


  • Genuinely fun to play.
  • Short and snappy matches give it a real moreish, just-one-more-go quality.
  • The whole vibe of the thing.


  • Matchmaking with friends locked behind the most expensive battle pass.
  • Lack of launch content.
  • Virtually no cosmetic customization options for free players.

Deathverse is a game of two jarring, contradicting halves; the psychedelic presentation and anarchic spirit of this contender to the battle royale throne is coupled with some of the worst monetization in a game in recent memory. If you’re the sort of player who doesn’t care for the social aspect of multiplayer gaming, there’s a lot of fun to be had here – and it looks like it’ll only get better.

But as it stands, the content deficit and paywalled parties mean that as someone who values the moments of human interaction higher than most other facets of the genre, I won’t be taking this trip again anytime soon.

[Note: The free PlayStation 5 version of Deathverse: Let It Die was used for this review.]

Hokko Life Review: A Familiar Experience Mon, 03 Oct 2022 10:18:33 -0400 Alex Perez

The start of the fall season typically marks the beginning of what many consider the “gauntlet” of juggernaut game releases. This year is no different. But on top of the big releases like Gotham Knights, God of War Ragnarok, and Callisto Protocol, there are plenty of smaller scale games that come out around this time that can be diamonds in the rough. 

Hokko Life is a cozy farm/life-sim that mirrors a lot of what Animal Crossing does and is entering its 1.0 release (it’s been available on PC in Early Access June 2021). While it offers an interesting blend of ideas, like deeper customization, a bigger area to explore outside of the village and town, and an array of bugs and items to collect,  there are a lot of games that do better than what Hokko Life is trying to do.

Hokko Life opens almost exactly like Animal Crossing for the Nintendo Gamecube. You’ll start by creating and customizing your character, though the suite is surprisingly limited for a game that establishes deeper levels of customization in other areas later on. Once you’ve selected your hair and other features, there is a very brief cutscene of your character on a train and … you’re at your destination – a town in need of sprucing up. 

You’ll quickly find yourself at the local inn, chatting with the residents, and moving into the village nearby before starting your quest to revive the area and bringing in new citizens and shops. It’s a very run-of-the-mill introduction, though an accessible one that doesn’t burden you with too much information or too many mechanics. 

Hokko Life starts slow, perhaps slower than other games in the genre. In the first few days, you're told to just "enjoy life" while waiting for things to happen. However, there isn’t much to do in those initial days except chop trees, pick flowers, and catch bugs. The tools to mine, dig, fish, and craft are all given quite a few days after you arrive. That means there’s a lot of standing around or going to bed very early. It’s an odd and unnatural design choice, which leads you to cutting most of your initial week or so short just to get to what’s after.

As you progress, unlocking more blueprints, meeting new anthropomorphic animals searching for new horizons, and generally exploring the world around you, the gameplay loop remains just about the same as when you first hopped off the train. From chopping down trees for wood and planting new trees to create more wood (there’s a lot of chopping and planting), to mining rocks for ore and charcoal, fishing, catching butterflies, and crafting new designs and items to customize the village and its homes, there aren’t too many big surprises along the way for life-sim fans. 

While easing players into the mechanics like this is a nice idea, it’s a double-edged sword. It gives them time to understand things, but it also takes a long time to get into the meat of Hokko Life. Once you finally – and truly – arrive, you’ll be met with an extremely simplistic and sometimes frustratingly opaque suite of mechanics and systems.

Even helping new residents move in the early going isn’t as straightforward as it seems: gather materials, choose a design, place a house, and wait for it to build. Your first new citizen is given to you, but the rest require you to meet them at the Inn. The game never tells you that, meaning you could easily miss out on new shopkeeps and other interesting characters, leaving you to amble around the village aimlessly. 

Despite its simplicity and initially obtuse nature, there is a lot to do in Hokko Life once you reach the middle parts of Spring. The map begins to open up, with you gaining access to new areas like the mines and the farm (if you focus on the right in-game challenges, like waving at certain number of neighbors or picking "X" number of flowers).

The problem with that burgeoning map size is that Hokko Life has long loading screens everywhere. There’s a lot of back and forth with buying and selling things, getting crafting materials, talking to one resident before running to another to deliver an item. That’s normal for a life-sim, the issue is that these transitions are rough at best. 

The town square is separated from the village, which requires a loading screen. Heading to the beach from the village requires a loading screen. Going north towards the mines requires three loading screens. And so on. It all works to form a quite unfriendly user experience, and while time is not the enemy here like it is in Animal Crossing (you can just sleep to the next day or even sleep to the evening), there is maybe a bit too much traversal and thumb-twiddling. 

Hokko Life can have its relaxing moments, though. There are times where mining rocks for charcoal, copper, and iron, planting and tending a forest or garden, or making a unique furniture design puts you into a nice flow state, where the loop feels not only fun, but also gratifying. The soundtrack also adds a layer of comfort.

The songs are very easy to listen to and are quite cozy; they help encapsulate the overall zen aesthetic of the game. The sound design is well done, too, full of calming sounds like waves crashing softly or birds chirping gleefully in the distance, all of which coalesce with the soundtrack to create natural soundscapes that make each biome and season feel alive and soothing.

Though the game has been in Steam Early Access for more than a year, there are still bugs that plague the overall experience, at least during our review period. Early on in my playthrough, a bridge leading to a new area just completely disappeared. To reach the resources on the other side, I wasted an entire in-game week just to plant trees, harvest them, and rebuild the bridge. The game even made the very bizarre choice of prioritizing the growth of a tree that was placed next to the bridge instead of the construction of the bridge.

There were also issues with the in-game recipe shop offered by the master crafter, Sally. Often, the game wouldn’t load the designs that were offered, and I had to restart the game twice before it fixed itself. It was a very bizarre situation that really hampered the experience.

Hokko Life Review – The Bottom Line


  • Great sound design.
  • Excellent soundtrack.
  • Crafting experience is surprisingly deep and has a ton of freedom to it.
  • No fighting against the clock, whether real-time or in-game


  • Villagers aren’t well designed.
  • The shops’ daily rotations are extremely limited.
  • Bugs.
  • A few too many loading screens.
  • Early game is slow with no clear direction.

Hokko Life may add some quality-of-life features to the life/farming-sim genre, such as bulk building and a robust crafting system, but it ultimately feels directionless, lacking the charm many other genre titles have.

Some of its systems are unique and add a new layer to traditional mechanics that other games should employ, but there’s a lot of waiting around “to do things,” and it’s often unclear what’s required to move the game forward. Hokko Life can be fun at times; you just have to really work for it.

[Note: Team 17 provided the copy of Hokko Life used for this review.]

Temtem Review: A Challenging Twist on Monster Catching RPGs Thu, 29 Sep 2022 18:17:32 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Child meets monster, leaves town on an adventure, and saves the world in their spare time. The formula is one we've seen multiple times since Game Freak first loosed Pokemon on the world, and while Temtem may stick a bit too closely to that basic concept, there's a clever and rewarding RPG underneath those similarities.

Temtem begins on a note familiar to most Pokemon-alikes. You, a young critter enthusiast, wake up on a momentous day. The moment you meet your first Temtem is here at last, so off you go to impose yourself on the local professor, yet another academic expert who sets up shop in a backwoods hamlet. 

The story unfolds as you might expect. A nefarious group of ne'er-do-wells who see Temtem as tools get up to some mischief that only you can stop, and your end goal is defeating the region’s top trainers – er, tamers – and claiming the title of champion for your own.

Temtem wears its Pokemon inspirations a little too proudly in this regard. Game Freak’s legendary franchise popularized the genre, so the appeal of adopting this model is fairly evident, even if it does miss the opportunity to create something more interesting. If you want a meatier RPG story, Monster Crown or the older Dragon Quest Monsters entries should be your go to games.

As far as mechanics, Temtem differentiates itself from other critter catchers in some surprising ways as soon as your journey begins. Your three starter Temtem are equivalent to Pokemon’s Psychic, Fighting, and Rock types, which opens some much more interesting and detailed battle options than you get with the usual introductory Grass, Water, and Fire types. Picking Houchic, for example, gets you a status effect move and a powerful special attack from the start.

Designs are a bit of a mixed bag, though critiquing any monster catcher comes with the obvious baggage of personal bias. Saying Crystle the Crystal Temtem seems a bit tacky completely overlooks the fact that Pokemon's equivalent Rock type is literally a well-coifed stone called Geodude, and most of us were fine with that at the time.

Personal preference aside, what stands out about Temtem's design is how fresh and exciting the game's overall visual direction is. Few games have such a bold look, and it does more to set Temtem apart even compared to its combat systems.

The other, even more interesting mechanic unique to Temtem is stamina. Pokemon, Coromon, and the like use a familiar point-based system to determine what moves you can use, and unleashing attacks gradually drains your points until you replenish them with items. Temtem uses a fluid system. Every move costs a set amount of stamina, which you can recover either naturally over time or in larger proportions by skipping a turn.

It results in a surprisingly deep and satisfying combat system, even if the learning curve is a steep one.

Temtem expects you to make the most of every turn. You might face the Temtem version of Rattata and other bland early-game monsters, but unlike the humble Pidgey, these creatures can, and will, hurt you badly. Crema took complaints about Pokemon’s easy difficulty to heart and made Temtem significantly more difficult.

Part of that difficulty spike is built into the combat system. Every Temtem battle is a double battle, meaning you face two opponents and have to use two Temtem – or you must coordinate with your partner tamer and use one each. Balancing support attacks and targeting the right foe at the right time is key to battle strategies, and the end result is a deep and satisfying combat system – albeit one that gets in its own way at times.

In trying to solve the Pokemon difficulty issue by making Temtem difficult, Crema overlooked the core of Pokemon’s problem – having no options. Winning a difficult monster battle is intensely satisfying, but after a while, the grind starts to wear the experience down.

Tough battles against key tamers are fine. Getting wiped out by your average schmo? Not so much. And it's even less fun considering tamers are thrown at you in bunches, so you can face nearly a dozen opponents in a single short stretch.

Including the option to tone difficulty down could have made an important difference in how enjoyable Temtem remains from about the midpoint on, especially for people who don’t have much time to grind.

Those who do make it to the endgame and beyond have a nice surprise in store. Unlike most monster catchers, Temtem features a robust player-versus-player scene and intense competitive matches that make the most of the deep combat system. You can start trying to climb the ranks from the beginning, but the real challenge comes from the endgame. Taking on the most powerful tamers means digging into Temtem’s impressive breeding system, making the most of your critters’ attributes, move pools, and team pairings.

Temtem Review — The Bottom Line


  • Rewarding combat.
  • Fresh, ambitious visuals.
  • Excellent PvP system.


  • No difficulty options.
  • Very grindy, especially after the halfway point.
  • Still adheres a bit too closely to the Pokemon formula.

Temtem may play a lot like Pokemon on the surface, but a suite of tweaks to the battle system, exciting visual design, and heavy emphasis on PvP more than make up for the similarities with it and other monster catchers. While a deeper story would certainly be welcome, Temtem is a unique and rewarding experience for those with the patience to master its intricacies.

[Note: The writer previously purchased the version of Temtem used for this review.]

Prodeus Review: That's One Doomed Space Marine Tue, 27 Sep 2022 17:03:41 -0400 Thomas Wilde

A few years ago, while discussing a couple of retro-styled strategy games, a friend made an interesting distinction. There's a difference between how you remember a genre, he said, and how playing it actually felt. By that metric, Prodeus is a version of Doom that we could only imagine existing in the '90s.

I don't care for the term "boomer shooter." Actual Boomers, in my experience, play ultra-realistic military action games, ideally set in World War II. That being said, Prodeus is an ideal example of the subgenre.

If your idea of a good time in an FPS is circle-strafing at Mach 10 while you hot-swap between a dozen guns to turn an army of demons into angry paint, then Prodeus was made for you. For everyone else, it's going to depend on your tolerance for speed, speed metal, and high-speed murder.

Prodeus Review: That's One Doomed Space Marine

The story of Prodeus is nearly irrelevant. I think researchers experimenting with alien technology have turned a human mining colony into a warfront between demons (Chaos) and aliens (Order; also, the titular Prodeus).

You're one of the last human survivors, turned into a cyborg by Prodean technology. Initially, you're out to shoot everything you see, but then you get the chance to shut down the Order/Chaos incursion. This will, happily, require you to shoot everything you see.

The plot is about as relevant moment-to-moment as Doom's. This is a critical comparison, because Prodeus comes off like a particularly thorough total conversion mod for Doom.

The primary enemies are close matches with Doom's rank-and-file demons (Fiends are Imps, Bloaters are Cacodemons, Skull Fish are Lost Souls, etc.), your initial arsenal is similar, and it has an onscreen character portrait that gets increasingly skeletal as your health drops. If you showed a hardcore shooter fan Prodeus footage and told them it was a new Brutal Doom, they'd believe you.

Blood on the Walls

Prodeus sets itself apart from Doom in a lot of little ways. The soundtrack is heavy industrial; the stages are nicely cluttered and vertical; and every weapon has a useful alt-fire mode. Exploring each level reveals hidden ore samples you can exchange for upgrades, like a double-jump or the weirder guns.

Most importantly, Prodeus has some of the most satisfying kills I've ever seen in an FPS. Every enemy in Prodeus takes location damage, can be dismembered, has multiple death animations, and will splatter if hit hard enough. The first couple of times I killed a monster in a confined space, I thought I heard another enemy's footsteps afterward, but it was actually the sound of the last demon's corpse bits bouncing off the walls.

Even better, demons' bodies disappear in Prodeus, but bloodstains don't. You can track your passage through each level by the gore you've left behind, especially once you've unlocked some of the more destructive weapons. Prodeus's version of the super shotgun has four barrels, you can alt-fire to hit something with all four shells at once, and doing so turns the target into a modern art project.

The stage design does take a while to take off. For the first 75% of the single-player campaign, you're fighting through a procession of dark industrial environments. It's not until the endgame that things get more interesting. There's one all-time great level where you fight your way onto and back off a space station, and there are a few more where the stages distort around you as you progress.

Even so, Prodeus' 10-hour base campaign runs out of steam before the end. Chaos and Order field most of the same enemy types; Chaos throws more cannon fodder at you, whereas Order has fewer but tougher monsters in each wave. By the last couple of stages, every second wave is primarily comprised of tiny explosive monsters, visibly just there to inflate your kill count.

The real climax of the game comes early, on the stage Hexarchy. It's the toughest challenge in the default campaign, as an ersatz boss rush against the forces of Order, and almost everything after it is a step down.

Even the final boss is a relative pushover compared to Hexarchy, because he challenges you in a small room, and you've got at least two different grenade launchers. Welcome to splash damage hell, lunch meat. You aren't leaving.

Infinite Murder Party

Prodeus has a robust albeit user-unfriendly level editor built into the PC version, with a big community of creators that have been playing the game for the last couple of years via Steam Early Access.

While this is a particularly masochistic audience — it seems like all the best-reviewed maps are also the most brutal — it gives you substantial content to blast through once you're done with the campaign. At the time of writing, the Xbox version doesn't have the level editor, but it does have the Community Workshop option in its UI, which has nothing in it. Maybe crossplay is coming later.

It also seems like the multiplayer modes are dead on arrival; I was never able to get a pick-up match going during my time with the game. It does give you the option to build your own maps, then bring up to three friends for whatever custom-made FPS experience you're looking for.

Prodeus Review — The Bottom Line

  • Nicely bite-sized servings of absolute mayhem.
  • Almost all the weapons feel great to use.
  • Really satisfying enemy death animations.
  • Smooth, customizable difficulty curve.
  • Some weapons' muzzle flash is so intense you can't see what you're aiming at.
  • Maybe a little too much of an assault on the senses.
  • The last boss of the campaign is a comparative pushover.
  • Could've used a few more enemy types.

Prodeus is one of those Kickstarter success stories. It's laser-focused on a specific audience that knows what it wants: dark metal, bloody kills, and fast-paced action. It's self-billed as "the boomer shooter you've been waiting for" and just about lives up to that hype.

At the same time, it's got some of the typical crowdfunding pitfalls, like visible inconsistencies and obvious design creep. Some of the guns aren't in the base campaign, the most challenging stage isn't anywhere near the finale, and it takes a while before you reach the best levels.

It's still one of the better action games I've played this year, and I can see myself loading it up again whenever I'm in the mood for some stylized ultraviolence. Whatever issues I have with Prodeus become as irrelevant as its storyline whenever I liberate a demon's entire upper half with one four-barreled shotgun blast.

[Note: Humble Games provided the copy of Prodeus used for this review.]

NBA 2K23 Review: Not Quite a Perfect Release Fri, 23 Sep 2022 13:41:04 -0400 Alex Perez

The NBA season is right around the corner, which means another entry in the NBA 2K franchise is again taking its shot to be the best sports game available. This year, NBA 2K23 brings a slew of new gameplay enhancements, a revamped Jordan Challenge, a big city to explore in MyCareer, a new spin on MyNBA with different playable Eras, and other improvements that will keep fans busy for the rest of the year. 

However, the cracks begin to show after a few games, and the immersion breaks a lot easier than in previous games in the series.

NBA 2K23 Review: Not Quite a Perfect Release

From the moment you enter a game, which happens lightning fast on the Playstation 5, the atmosphere conveys the feeling of watching a real NBA match-up. The arenas are electric, the crowds are energetic, and the player introductions are entertaining. This has always been the case for the 2K series, but it is especially prominent this year. Without a doubt, NBA 2K23 is one of the prettiest games on current-gen consoles and in the series; the player animations coupled with signature taunts and shots help create a sense of place few other sports games can muster. 

It’s too bad, then, that excitement fades after playing a few games and hearing Kevin Harlan and Brian Andersen provide the same commentary they did two games ago. 2K23 hasn’t done much to improve on the already stellar lineup of broadcasters, and if you played last year's title, you know what Harlan and Andersen will say after and between every big play. 

And while the players look their best this year, there are still a few issues that get in the way. Players’ eyes move around randomly, and there are moments where they clip through each other while interacting on the bench, all things that ruin some truly fun moments and celebrations. Overall, it’s indicative of the series taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” stance without updating and upgrading old systems to feel fresh.

2K23 has a lot to offer on and off the court, though the modes are just about the same as those in 2K22. The differences lie in the choices you can make within those modes. 

MyCareer is exactly what you’d expect: it’s a story that follows a blossoming star facing an uphill battle to prove they deserved to land where they did in the NBA Draft. There are dialogue choices that affect in-game boosts and shape the player you’ll become as your career moves forward. The system takes cues from Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade system, only replaced here with the confident Trailblazer, á la Mamba Mentality or General, who lets their game speak for itself. 

MyCareer is filled with quest markers and points of interest; there is a lot of walking around and meeting quirky characters around the city, which is big for a sports sim title. However, what you do between games is a bit tedious: you walk in The City to a quest marker, talk to a character, complete trivial objectives, like running two drills at the gym, working out, and completing time trials on a skateboard, and then jump into the next game before repeating it all again. Navigating in these areas feels especially slow, and the pace suffers because of it, further exacerbated by consistent frame rate drops while exploring.

Overall, the experience is a bit cumbersome, especially because it’s a shared online hub, and 2K23 relies on an internet connection, causing quite a few hiccups with connectivity and the inability to even access the mode close to launch. It was something especially prominent when using the NBA 2K App to apply a face scan for the player, which just didn’t work during my review. 

In recent years, fans have lamented MyCareer’s story for poor voice acting and goofy inclusions like Jake from State Farm. While the voice acting is a lot better this year, 2K23 still really wants to lean into its quirkiness: Jake is still here, and joining him is Ronnie2k and a bunch of NBA legends and stars like Zion Williamson and Kevin Garnett. While these characters are a lot more grounded and help push the narrative toward making your player a Legend, the interactions are still awkward, and a lot of the dialogue, while acted well, isn’t written well.

Aside from MyCareer, there have been some big additions to MyNBA that create more replayability and opportunities to experiment with the addition of Eras. With Eras, you can play from one of four major periods in NBA history: the Magic vs. Bird Era, The Michael Jordan Era, The Kobe Era, and The Modern Era. Each has different options and rules that are set before jumping into the first game of the season. 

The All-Star game in the Kobe Era and prior, for example, still has fan voting but no captains. There’s also the inclusion of the play-in tournament for the Modern Era. These differences are a great way to create more variety on the path to an NBA championship and create a lot of fun “what-if” situations to play around with. The Kobe Era takes place right before the legendary 2003 draft class, so what would happen if Cleveland didn’t get the Number 1 pick? 

Within each game, however, the on-the-court experience is relatively the same, with the exception of the Eras before the Modern Era, which don’t include half-time shows but have fun, old-school replay animations and graphics alongside a retro filter that conveys the feeling of watching historic broadcasts. Ultimately, MyNBA is still a great mode, and while it’s been lacking major updates, these updates are a step in the right direction.

There are also new additions to the WNBA modes across the board. However, the changes in these modes only mirror the NBA modes at a basic level. Even the game broadcasts feel staler compared to its NBA counterpart. It’s heartening to have the WNBA involved more with the 2K series, but like in real life, there needs to be more attention drawn to these modes and players to offer better experiences. 

The Jordan Challenges return this year with 15 different career-spanning games to play through as the legendary Bulls shooting guard. Each requires you to meet three conditions, like scoring 19 points, winning a game by 15 points, and/or securing 9 rebounds in a game to earn three stars before moving forward. That gameplay is complemented with authentic commentary matching the specific game being played, and the videos that launch before each match-up help encapsulate the importance of the individual moment.

The difficulty of the Jordan Challenges is not exclusive to the mode. The changes NBA 2K23 brings to the court make schemes around isolation play a bit more demanding. First and foremost, the shot meter has been overhauled – and includes a variety of different ones to choose from – making it so the player doesn’t know if they green’d a shot (hit a perfect shot release) until after the ball drops in. 

It’s also a lot harder to green a shot if a defender is difficult to shake, making adrenaline boosts that help ball handlers create their own shots important. The offset is that those boosters deplete energy faster if you continue to hold the ball. This balancing act is meant to create more ball movement and keep players from ball-hogging, especially in online play, and it ultimately meshes well with the systems around it.

NBA 2K23 Review – The Bottom Line


  • Challenging experience.
  • One of the best-looking games on current-gen platforms.
  • Further expansion of the WNBA is a solid step in the right direction.
  • Presentation is top of the line.
  • Attention to detail for players and their signature moves is still great.


  • Player emotions and expressions are off-putting, mainly because of odd eye animations.
  • Not as much attention given to the WNBA modes.
  • Broadcast starts to feel stale after a few games.
  • Online connectivity creates problems for MyCareer.
  • No major updates to differentiate from last year’s title.
  • Astronaut in the Ocean included unironically.

NBA 2K23 brings quite a few changes to the court while making sure things feel the same and players feel comfortable. While that strategy mostly works this year, 2K needs to start implementing better changes moving forward.

Just because something isn’t broken, doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t cracks in the foundation, and unfortunately, that is where NBA 2K23 is, even if it is one of the better sports titles available.

[Note: 2K provided the copy of NBA 2K23 used for this review.]

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review — Zero to Hero Tue, 20 Sep 2022 10:47:05 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Releasing a game is risky at any time, but it's downright daring when that game is a 12-year-old RPG and part of a series that's already seen a number of improvements over the years.

Such is the case with Trails from Zero, the fourth game in Nihon Falcom's ongoing Trails series and part of a duology that was never released officially outside of Japan and China. While Trails from Zero may not be the most lavish port in recent years, it doesn't really matter.

Zero is one of the most captivating RPGs, whose thoughtful use of setting and skillfully balanced storytelling make it a peer to the classics from the genre's golden age. 

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review  Zero to Hero 

Trails from Zero pulls off an impressive balancing act, weaving high-level politics with personal narratives and expanding previous stories while remaining accessible to newcomers. Its narrative style sits comfortably between Trails in the Sky's more intimate approach and Trails of Cold Steel's grand, epic vision, building on the best of both sub-series and creating something unique in the process. Zero even manages to squeeze all this into roughly 45 hours – fewer, if you use high-speed mode – while still preserving a strong, even pace throughout.

At the center of everything is the city-state of Crossbell. This tiny nation sits between two superpowers who both ran it at some point in history and only refrain from conquering it again after an international treaty forces them to play nice – on the surface. 

To all appearances, Crossbell seems like the ideal city, with its thriving businesses attracting investments from across the continent, burgeoning research and technology sector, multicultural society, and even a highly desirable tourist attraction. Underneath the pristine facade is another story, though, a roiling, toxic brew of political deceitful machinations, back-alley deals, and violence with both of Crossbell's neighbors looking for any excuse to force their way in and declare the city under their protection.

Into all this steps Zero's four protagonists, part of the Special Support Section, a newly-formed branch of Crossbell's police force whose mandate is, ostensibly, to help with smaller requests the police would otherwise have no time for. Like much else in Crossbell, more lies beneath the surface of these requests than you might expect, and the four heroes quickly realize their missions have deeper connections to volatile issues, including the city's corrupt government.

If you played Trails of Cold Steel, you know where all this eventually leads. If not, you're in for a surprisingly fresh spin on the established underdog story. No one wants the SSS to succeed, and everyone expects it to fail, and while the SSS' journey to becoming Crossbell's heroes might be a familiar one, Zero makes it almost impossible not to feel attached to the squad, their mission, and the people who eventually grow to trust them, thanks in no small part to the story and side quests you undertake.

Zero is well suited to the structure Falcom nearly always uses for Trails. Each chapter has an overarching mission that takes you to new parts of the city-state, with plenty of side quests along the way that acquaint you with the people who live there, their problems, hopes, and stories.

By the end, when hell quite literally breaks loose, you feel a strong sense of investment in this place and its people, more so than usual in Trails games. Crossbell's future matters because you grow to understand why this place, wracked with conflict as it is, means so much to the people who live there.

Few games create as strong a sense of place as this, and even fewer use it to such a meaningful effect as Zero.

What makes it even more impressive is just how much Falcom manages to cram into this comparatively small area. Zero covers the entire spectrum of locations, sending you to remote villages that make their living from selling honey, ritzy hotels, seedy antique stores, a blasphemous cult's underground hideout, and a seemingly normal suburban neighborhood where one family hides a dark, tragic secret.

One chapter culminates in a spectacular theatre performance that manages to even outdo Final Fantasy VI's famous opera scene, and in true Trails fashion, the story doesn't end with Zero. Despite it being a self-contained narrative, Zero only tells half of Crossbell's tale, and some of its story threads stretch even beyond the Cold Steel games and into the series' later installments. 

Trails from Zero's combat sits closer to Trails in the Sky's than the more modernized Cold Steel combat. It uses Sky's grid-based movement system, similar to a tactics game, where a character's movement stat determines how far they can go, and it adds an extra layer of strategy to nearly everything you do, making you think about each attack carefully.

You also have to plan more carefully before battles even start, thanks to the quartz system. New arts – magic spells, in Trails speak – unlock as you add quartz to your orbment – a technologically advanced device that lets you harness the power of elements – and reach a certain value for a given element. A basic healing art might require a water value of one, but a more advanced attack spell could use higher water values and throw in extra elements, such as earth.

The quartz requirement system comes with a limitation, though. Less room exists for experimentation with these requirements, especially at higher levels, where you just stuff your orbment with as many high-ranking quartzes as possible to unlock stronger arts. Tio, for example, has water and time pre-sets, so getting the most from her build often means skipping out on other quartz and, by extension, other arts.

The situation stands out in light of Trails of Cold Steel's expanded, newer combat system, which removed quartz requirements in favor of letting you use pretty much whatever you wanted. 

Not that you'd notice Trails from Zero is that old – well, unless you're playing the PlayStation 4 version, the only one missing PH3's impressive assets overhaul. Smoother models, cleaner backgrounds, and the range of quality of life features The Geofront fan group first added, including high-speed mode and a text log, make Trails from Zero feel less dated than you might expect from a game that came out in 2010.

An English dub and the choice to pick between the original soundtrack and Japan-exclusive Evolution version would've been nice, but their absence also makes sense in a way. Falcom ported Zero and its sequel so new players would understand Trails into Reverie's plot. Meaty remasters or remakes, welcome as they may be, never entered into the equation. 

Bear that in mind if you go into this expecting significant improvements over the original release and something akin to the more ambitious remasters of recent years. 

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero Review  The Bottom Line


  • Spectactular world-building and storytelling.
  • Meaningful use of setting.
  • Thoughtful combat.
  • Fresh spin on familiar styles and structures.


  • Combat can feel more restrictive than more modern entries.
  • Missing some welcome features, such as an English dub and soundtrack choices.

Trails from Zero might be missing a few features it could, and maybe even should, have had, but if you've never played it before, don't let that hold you back from giving it a try. This decade-old RPG lost none of its potency as time wore on and remains an essential experience.

In short, Zero is a remarkable feat of RPG storytelling and worldbuilding; even 12 years after its original release, little else like it exists.

Soulstice Review: The Guts to Survive Tue, 20 Sep 2022 10:05:52 -0400 Hayes Madsen

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that's not always true. Soulstice wears its inspirations on its sleeve but sometimes struggles to use those inspirations to create something truly new or unique. There's a robust combat system at its center, but the overall experience suffers from padding and repetitive design.

Meanwhile, the lore-heavy story is filled with good ideas that aren't always executed well. That's not to say Soulstice can't be fun or compelling. When combat really clicks, it can be an absolute blast, and boss battles really crank the challenging combat up to 11. What results is a strong character action title that should appease fans of the genre but doesn't really break any boundaries. 

Soulstice Review: The Guts to Survive

A single glance at Soulstice is all you need to understand it's heavily inspired by the seminal manga Berserk, created by the late Kentaro Miura, as well as the aesthetics of Dark Souls, which was, well, also inspired by Berserk. It was something that got us excited for the game in the first place.

The narrative revolves around a pair of sisters named Briar and Lute, who together make a sort of supernatural being named a Chimera. Chimeras serve the Holy Kingdom of Keidas and combat horrific creatures known as Wraiths, which cross over something called the Veil and consume humans. Soulstice opens as the sisters arrive in the city of Ilden, where a massive tear in the sky has unleashed hell on the inhabitants. 

The game's narrative is a mostly solitary experience that pits Briar and Lute against a city filled with horrors, revealing their backstories in a series of flashbacks. There are a few other interesting characters you'll meet along the way, and Soulstice is filled to the brim with lore on locations, enemies, and organizations, all of which can be read about in your journal. Despite how focused the story is on Briar and Lute, there is a sense of the larger world outside, and that the sisters are simply a cog in a massive machine. 

The actual storytelling, however, is a bit of a mixed bag, as Soulstice draws heavily from anime tropes. There's the scarred old warrior with a heart of gold, the evil religious organization that has ulterior motives, and the wild transformations. The siblings' tragic past also feels far too reminiscent of anime like Demon Slayer or Fullmetal Alchemist, especially in how it's all presented. While the core arc is enjoyable, it all feels fairly predictable and some of the big "twists" can be seen a mile away. 

Like most character action games, Soulstice is split between combat segments, platforming, and puzzle solving, although combat takes up the biggest chunk. You directly control Briar, who wields a massive blade that can transform into other weapons. Lute, on the other hand, attacks on her own, can use counter abilities and can put up two different aura fields needed to fight enemies and solve puzzles. 

Briar has light and heavy attacks that can be comboed, while Lute's counter can be used whenever you see the icon with the button appear over an enemy. Lute can also use blue and red fields to fight Wraiths and Corrupted; Wraiths glow blue and can only be damaged when the blue field is up, and Corrupted glow red, only receiving damage when the red field is activated. Corrupted can also be possessed by wraiths, forcing you to mix and match fields quickly. 

The system is surprisingly deep and complex, rewarding you with new weapons and moves at a steady clip. By and large, it's fun and can easily be compared to something like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, encouraging you to stay mobile and dodge attacks, while finding the time to unleash your own combos. It consistently introduces new weapons, enemies, and mechanics, and there's a good difficulty curve that slowly increases as you progress.

Soulstice has over a dozen different enemy types, and part of the challenge is making sure you have the right field up to deal with these various types. You can't leave a field up indefinitely, however; if Lute has it up for too long, she'll overcharge and be out of commission for a few seconds. 

Successfully landing combos without getting hit also gives the sisters "Unity" and when unity is high, you can unleash stronger attacks and enter a beast-like Rapture mode that lets Briar unleash devastating attacks. 

There's a ton of variety in terms of different playstyles in Soulstice, and Briar and Lute's abilities level up independently, using two types of experience. Defeating enemies, breaking objects, and finding glowing crystals can yield red and blue shards. Leveling up Briar grants new combos and attacks, or increases the proficiency of specific weapons. Leveling up Lute will open up new counter options, make her fields more effective, or give you new defensive options.

Finding experience is the main reason for exploring, and there are massive crystals scattered throughout each level that can yield extra, on top of secret challenge missions you can find. The biggest issue with Soulstice, however, lies in the actual level design outside of battles. 

Ilden is a gorgeous gothic city, but it all runs together after a while. You spend literal hours running through and past the same gray hallways, sewers, and houses. By the same token, you'll solve a lot of similar puzzles over the 18 or so hours it takes to beat the game. I consistently found myself growing tired of the drab visuals of the city. 

There were also a few small technical issues I ran into on PC. I had virtually no problems during gameplay, but I consistently had issues with things suddenly getting very choppy during cutscenes, especially ones with more visual effects. 

During exploration sections, the camera is set at static angles, but you're able to control the camera freely in some battles. These camera options make Soulstice feel like an Xbox 360-era action game, but not always in a good way. The fixed camera can make it hard to find secret pathways and hidden objects, and the free camera simply isn't as responsive as it should be.

These hiccups don't ruin the experience by any regard, but there are lots of instances where the view will be obstructed by an enemy during combat, or the camera might get stuck for a second on a corner, adding a bit of frustration to the mix. 

Soulstice Review  The Bottom Line


  • Deep combat system that provides a ton of playstyle options.
  • Great presentation and sense of style that draws heavily on Berserk.
  • Good difficulty curve that consistently introduces new enemies and elements.


  • Lack of variety in terms of environment and puzzles.
  • Small technical issues during cutscenes
  • Story relies too heavily on tropes and predictable twists.

Soulstice is a completely serviceable action title that contains plenty of thrills and some stellar combat, even if its story and presentation fail to rise above its inspirations. Nothing about Soulstice will redefine the character-action genre, but if you're hungry for a deep and challenging experience, it should fit that need nicely. 

[Note: Modus Games provided the copy of Soulstice used for this review.]

Splatoon 3 Review: High-Octane Squid Game Sat, 17 Sep 2022 12:37:56 -0400 Bryn Gelbart

As a newcomer to the series, I can see why Splatoon has garnered such a dedicated fanbase over the years. Nintendo's ink-fueled take on the multiplayer shooter is now on its third iteration and still stands out as an anomaly in the genre. It's an approachable, vibrant offering with game modes for every type of player.

I fell for each of the modes in their own ways, but I wound up agreeing with the consensus: the heart of Splatoon is its multiplayer. Above all, Nintendo's commitment to fostering the most expressive parts of its community is admirable. Splatoon 3 isn't an evolution  it's a refinement. And it's a perfect place to jump into the series for the first time.

Splatoon 3 Review: High-Octane Squid Game

In 2015 Nintendo introduced WiiU players to Inklings — or Squid Kids if you must rhyme — and the novel inking, shooting, and swimming of Splatoon. It was a relatively barebones proof of concept, but 2017's Switch sequel added many of the characters and game modes seen in Splatoon 3

This trip to Splatsville keeps with the hyper-colorful aesthetic and jazzy but still rock-and-roll attitude the series is known for. Boasting three modes that exist in their separate hubs (all easy to jump to via a main menu), Splatoon 3 offers something for anyone interested in this genre. It feels like a throwback to the Xbox 360 and PS3 era of shooters. 

Turf Mode remains the cornerstone of the Splatoon multiplayer experience. A 4v4 mode where, at the end of a breezy three-minute round, whichever team has inked the most territory wins. This combination of high-speed team deathmatch and territory control is the main game mode. It's also the most compelling.

While Nintendo has front-loaded Splatoon 3 with tutorials, the brilliance of Turf War is in its simplicity and approachability. It encourages players to have and play to different strengths; you don't need to be a splatting machine to be an MVP. Best of all, the brevity of these matches keeps them tense and snappy, stoking that "just one more game" endorphin rush after every victory. 

Turf War is the single competitive mode outside of ranked Anarchy Battles, which don't unlock until you hit Level 10. Keeping in line with Splatoon 2, maps cycle in on a timed schedule, but Turf War remains the single casual mode. While I desperately wish there were ways to play other modes like Clam Blitz and Tower Control casually, Turf War hasn't yet grown stale. 

This is partly because of the massive assortment of creative weapons Splatoon 3 has to offer. They are all variations on a dozen or so core types, ranging from old standards like the Roller and Splat Dualies to new friends like the windshield-wiper-inspired Splatana. As a Splatoon newbie, I was shocked at how different they all operate in terms of form, feel, and function. Splatoon 3 is a rare achievement in justifying (and balancing) a great excess. 

The main hook of the progression system is in the form of tickets that can be exchanged for new weapons. This steady clip of new loadouts is especially refreshing in the free-to-play shooter era. Plus, it keeps things from becoming too overwhelming for new players.

Splatoon 3's other two modes are as meaty and robust as its main attraction. Hero Mode offers an expansive campaign that can last up to 10 hours if you really want to dig into it. Starring Splatoon 2's Callie and Marie as your fellow agents, you must navigate through six islands overtaken by Mario-Sunshine-esque fuzzy ooze to rescue Cuttlefish from his mysterious captors. 

Each Site has multiple short missions that test not just your combat skills but also your platforming and puzzle-solving abilities. Some of these act as light tutorials, but many are challenging in their own right. At its best, the Hero Mode requires you to view Splatoon 3's tools in a whole new light, something that feels more significant than just an introduction to multiplayer mechanics.

The Sites are engaging in their own right, containing various secrets and hidden routes. Some of the later overworlds have some really neat designs that I dare not spoil.

Not every single Kettle (as the levels are called) is the most fun or most creative, though. Some lean a little too hard on platforming, while too many others are just variants of running a "shoot the targets" obstacle course. But overall, it is worth seeing what the entire single-player mode has to offer. 

Splatoon 2's limited-time co-op mode Salmon Run has been turned into an official permanent mode in Salmon Run Next Run. The wave-based co-op mode is still best with friends, but a meta-game that has you occasionally facing off against a giant Salmonid gives strangers a reason to stick together round after round. With a progression system that notches up the difficulty just when you think you're a master, Salmon Run is a satisfying and challenging alternative to the other modes on offer. 

A big change that's difficult to discuss is the new way Splatfests work. Now a three-way conflict, these special Splatoon 3 events add a short window where you can participate in Tricolor Battles with three teams of different colors. This is certainly a way to make these events feel special, but it begs the question: why are these battles not in the game in the first place?

After five years, it's easy to see how this kind of shake-up is the type of new twist Splatoon was aching for. Nintendo's tendency to introduce its best Splatoon ideas in these limited-time events is frustrating. 

There are other new features around the edges, as well. You can save outfit loadouts (called "Fits" in Splatoon lingo) now. Fashion in Splatoon is something to take seriously, especially since Splatoon 3 adds a way to copy outfits from other players and buy them for yourself, which brings us to just how much of a social experience Splatoon 3 is — something that shouldn't be a surprise for veterans of the series.

All of these modes are brought together in Splatsville, Splatoon 3's hub area. Here, you can run around from building to building, accessing each separate mode. You can conveniently hop to almost anything from the menu, which is fantastic, but exploring Splatsville is worth it to see the Splatoon community on display. Just get used to a chunky, inconsistent 30fps in Splatsville compared to the smooth, steady 60fps of the rest of the game.

On the streets of the hub, you can see player outfits and Graffiti messages in a social aspect of Splatoon that began in the first game's MiiVerse. These drawings are consistently impressive, funny, and respectful. Splatoon 3's community has won me over. 

Splatoon 3 Review — The Bottom Line


  • Matches are as snappy as the gameplay.
  • Excellent weapon variety and balancing.
  • New single-player is challenging and inspired.
  • Player expression is at an all-time high with Fits and Graffiti. 


  • Framerate suffers in Splatsville.
  • Tricolor Battles only in Splatfests. 
  • Other competitive modes limited to Anarchy Battle.

Splatoon is Nintendo's best new IP of the last two console generations, and Splatoon 3 is the most polished version of the concept yet. While it doesn't break any new ground, Splatoon 3 is still a unique joy within the shooter genre. There are the typical Nintendo design quirks built into the online experience, but they don't spoil the thrilling combat loop at the game's heart. 

More approachable than ever, Splatoon 3 is exhilarating family-friendly mayhem for competitive and co-op gamers alike. 

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Splatoon 3 used for this review.]

Metal: Hellsinger Review — One Helluva Tune Mon, 12 Sep 2022 11:19:23 -0400 John Schutt

Metal: Hellsinger has one mission: deliver Doom-quality FPS action to a heavy metal soundtrack featuring some of the biggest names in the genre. I'm happy to report that it succeeds with flying colors.

This is the complete package, with satisfying gameplay, fantastic music, non-stop action, and a story that hits familiar beats but is both well-told and well-acted. There's also no filler — Metal: Hellsinger knows exactly how much game it needs to get its point across and adds nothing extra to take away from the experience.

Metal: Hellsinger Review — One Helluva' Tune

You can't talk about Metal: Hellsinger's gameplay without talking about its music. The two are inseparable. As a rhythm shooter, your performance and combat effectiveness are directly tied to how well you shoot to the beat of each level's unique track. Thankfully, none of the early songs are particularly fast or challenging to sync your shots to, with the tutorial level being particularly forgiving.

That doesn't mean the tutorial soundtrack is lacking, though it is one of the shortest songs in the game, befitting the level's brevity. Everything you learn in that first easy experience carries over into the rest of Metal: Hellsinger. Slaying to the beat, as the game's marketing calls it, is essential, and there are both audio and visual cues to assist you in shooting along with the music.

The percussion is more pronounced to rise above the noise of gunshots and exploding demons. The aiming reticle takes up a good portion of the center of the screen as well, ensuring the beat markers are easy to see even in the most hectic of scenarios.

As you make your way through the game, the HUD becomes less and less of a factor as you become more and more accustomed to the combination of gunplay and music.

Difficulty in Metal: Hellsinger ramps up quickly and follows how music gets harder: it gets faster. The first two levels — the tutorial and Voke — are relatively casual songs compared to the high-tempo shred-fests of the mid and late game.

Every level has a short learning curve as you get used to the new beat, but because of the precise controls and enjoyable shooting mechanics, you'll want to engage with the music. The shift in soundtrack when you reach a boss can be a little jarring after 20 or so minutes of learning a new rhythm, but never enough to cost you anything.

All of these factors come together when you're in the thick of things, exploding and dismembering demons with the weaponry on offer. You start with nothing more than a sword and a particularly talkative, flame-spewing skull. Throughout the first four levels, you'll add a shotgun, dual revolvers, a rocket-launching crossbow, and a pair of infernal boomerangs, which are more deadly than you'd think.

Every weapon on offer is incredibly effective if properly used. Still, the dual revolvers are by far the most consistent because of their damage over long ranges and their Ultimate ability, which summons a second instance of the player character to do damage on your behalf. Paired with the shotgun as a backup, I rarely found a need to use the crossbow or boomerangs except to add some variety to my loadout.

What was never in question was my desire to be at the highest bonus tier. Metal: Hellsinger is, after all, more than just a shooter. It's an arcade-style shooter with scores and multipliers and buffs. The higher your score multiplier (called Fury), the more of the music you'll be able to hear, and at maximum Fury (16x), not only will you be raking in the points, you'll be able to hear the vocals as well. Every enemy you shoot and kill to the beat raises your Fury, but taking hits reduces it, so staying aggressive, accurate, and deadly is paramount.

The dynamic music usually works as intended, with the melody increasing in complexity and intensity the better you do. If you swap between Fury tiers, however, the music can get a little muddled, and it goes from kickass to mildly bungled quickly. This can frequently happen in boss fights, especially on a first encounter, taking what are otherwise amazing fights and transforming them into garbled messes. Not unlike the encounter at that point, really, but off-putting all the same.

There are also challenge rooms called Torments that provide selectable and increasingly powerful buffs that make getting high scores even easier. These Torment levels won't add more than a few more hours to your playtime, but they do get quite challenging and don't give much room for error.

Hell is a Sequence of Arenas

Metal: Hellsinger's story is primarily told through hand-drawn cutscenes with plenty of exposition from your friend Paz, the talkative skull. The levels themselves add little to the narrative, existing primarily as a well-realized and aesthetically interesting series of arenas for you and the demons to fight in. Free of Paz's dialog, expertly voiced by Troy Baker, each level could be a featureless collection of rooms filled with demons and accomplish the same purpose.

That's not to say the setting isn't appreciated. Hell has been associated with metal music for a long time, and having a long series of generic arenas set to this game's fantastic soundtrack would be confusing in the extreme. In other words, while the levels themselves are uninteresting from a layout perspective, combined with the rest of the game's aesthetic and tone, they function exactly as they're meant to.

The story follows much the same throughline. You are the Unknown, a particularly angry and tenacious damned soul in Hell who had her voice stolen from her by the Red Judge (voiced by Jennifer Hale) eons ago.

Following an extended stay in an extradimensional prison, she forces her way out with the help of Paz, who calls himself the Pulse of the Universe. You then spend the next four or so hours of in-game time carving a path of destruction through increasingly more hostile levels of Hell, taking down Aspects of the Judge on your way to killing the Devil herself.

The story is done well, but the overarching narrative relies on more than a few cliches and is content to tell you what happens rather than let you experience it. There are a few twists and turns, but you, as the player, have almost no say in what goes on in the cutscenes, and they serve primarily as window dressing that connects each level. There are some plot holes as well, which the game tries to handwave these away, but they are all the more noticeable for it.

All that said, there is nothing offensive about the story of Metal: Hellsinger, and there are a few cool surprises along the way. While it was frustrating to see it lean on old tropes as much as it does, I was invested enough in the Unknown's plight primarily because she's such a cool character, reminiscent of Doom 2016's Doom Slayer. She's more a force of nature than character sometimes but has enough emotive presence to be engaging in a way that made me want to see her succeed.

Metal: Hellsinger Review — The Bottom Line



  • One of the best soundtracks of the decade.
  • Fantastic gunplay and music integration.
  • Satisfying fights no matter what you're killing.


  • A trope-y story more told than shown.
  • A small selection of weapons, some of which are more fun than effective.

Metal: Hellsinger doesn't overstay its welcome. It knows exactly what it wants to be and gets it done in the space of no more than five or so hours. It is the perfect length, its music is just this side of perfect, the gunplay is terrific despite the limited weapon selection, and every level is enjoyable enough to play again and again.

The enemy variety is surprisingly large for such a tightly-built experience, with every mob needing a different approach and each boss taking a new spin on established mechanics. The later game enemies are some of the toughest challenges, but by the time you face them, you'll have enough mastery that they won't take long to overcome.

Metal: Hellsinger's only real failing is technically its narrative, but that isn't even a failing so much as it is a secondary concern for the game it wants to be. I'd have liked it to take a few more risks and be a little more engaging, but like the rest of the game, it does exactly what it means to and then gets out of the demon-slaying.

All in all, Metal: Hellsinger is a short, sweet, and immensely enjoyable experience worth every second of your time. It more than earns its purchase price. I cannot wait to see what the team at The Outsiders makes next because if this outing is anything to go by, they have one Hell of a future ahead of them.

[Note: Funcom provided the copy of Metal: Hellsinger used for this review.]

Saints Row Review: New Look, Same Old Problems Fri, 09 Sep 2022 13:52:39 -0400 Michael Feghali