Reviews Category RSS Feed | GameSkinny.com Reviews RSS Feed on GameSkinny.com https://www.gameskinny.com/ en Launch Media Network Witcheye: Redesigning Platforming With Just One Eye https://www.gameskinny.com/gqe8r/witcheye-redesigning-platforming-with-just-one-eye https://www.gameskinny.com/gqe8r/witcheye-redesigning-platforming-with-just-one-eye Wed, 21 Aug 2019 16:57:15 -0400 Joseph Rowe

Platforms. Gaming has a long history of characters jumping between, off of, and onto them.

In the Super Mario Bros. series, you play as plumbers who jump on platforms and each other and weird little mushrooms.

In Crash Bandicoot, you play as a bandicoot that runs from boulders while jumping across deadly chasms — and, of course, much more.

However, Witcheye adds a little spice to the platformer cauldron by removing the ability to jump altogether! You're not a plumber, a bandicoot, a bobcat, a jazzy jackrabbit, or even a sentient ball of meat. You're a flying eyeball.

"That sounds like a hot mess," you're thinking (maybe). If so, you're wrong.

Witcheye is the latest release for Android and iOS by developer Moon Kid and publisher Devolver Digital. Moon Kid, also known as Peter Malamud Smith, created the mobile puzzle game Satellina. He was also half the team behind the Great Gatsby adaptation for the NES.

His knowledge and skills were put to good work when he created this new kind of adventure platformer. I say a "new kind" because no other game in this genre solely revolves around controlling a floating witch’s eye to fight bad guys and collect gems.

The goal of Witcheye is to control a witch who has turned herself into a floating eye as she tries to reclaim her stolen belongings from a klepto knight. It is also a platformer where you float – you do not jump. There is no jumping here.

Thankfully, the game’s controls are so simple and intuitive that you won’t miss jumping. Swipe to go in a direction, tap to stop. That's essentially it. Easy peasy. 

The game’s challenge comes from avoiding attacks while killing enemies and traveling through levels. Some of the enemies are simple to kill, whereas others require you to perfectly time your swiping and tapping to kill them.

It's natural that enemies will repeat as you go through the game's various levels, which include beaches and an autumn setting for example. But luckily, each new area introduces new enemies with new attacks. 

The game stays fresh by going at a quick pace. Unless you get stuck on a particular foe, you’ll clear each level before you have the chance to get bored of it. For players that might want to take their time, each level also has a subgoal: retrieving four gems by killing enemies (some of which are hidden). This adds a layer of replayability to the game, albeit a small one.

There are also two additional difficulties to unlock after beating the game on normal, so subsequent playthroughs should be more satisfying for players craving something more challenging.

On top of additional difficulties, the game has an unlockable speedrun mode, as well as boss rush and mini-boss rush modes full of tough enemies. In true old-school fashion, beating the game will also unlock a sound test tucked away in the options menu (which is a great bonus since the Witcheye soundtrack is awesome, complete with NES-era charm).

Pros:
  • Intuitive control scheme makes the game simple and fun
  • Original character designs reminiscent of games from a bygone era
  • Enemies, especially bosses, are fun to fight
  • Great soundtrack
  • Unlockables
  • Amazing price point
Cons:
  • Short
  • Might be too easy for some players before unlocking harder difficulties
  • Not fun if you don't like the eye gimmick

One of the most appealing aspects of Witcheye is its retro graphics. It's true that many games over the past decade have employed graphical styles from the 8- and 16-bit eras, and while some have succeeded in capturing the ethos of those eras and others have failed, Witcheye is of the former camp.

Witcheye is a good investment considering what you get for the price point. It's obvious a lot of thought went into every detail of the game, whether it’s the character and sound design or the extra features added into a game that only costs a few bucks.

In an era where console games are largely recycled AAA releases and most mobile games try to take every single penny they can, it is refreshing to have a complete, stand-alone retro-inspired “platformer” on mobile. 

[Note: A copy of Witcheye was provided by Moon Kid for the purpose of this review.]

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Remnant: From the Ashes Review — Left 4 Souls https://www.gameskinny.com/1dz0m/remnant-from-the-ashes-review-left-4-souls https://www.gameskinny.com/1dz0m/remnant-from-the-ashes-review-left-4-souls Tue, 20 Aug 2019 00:00:02 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

If you've ever played Dark Souls or Left 4 Dead, you've had a certain kind of feeling. You know the one. Low on resources, you trudge through an area toward a bonfire or a safe room that's just around the corner, but as you do, you wonder if you should test fate or turn back. Do you face the enemy head on or regroup, saving your resources for another day? 

Remnant: From the Ashes, a co-op third-person shooter from Darksiders developer Gunfire Games, does its best to recapture that heavy, creeping feeling. And, for the most part, it succeeds.

With a few friends firing alongside you, Remnant: From the Ashes is a blast from start to finish, and it offers plenty of replayability along the way. 

Death Takes Root

Remnant: From the Ashes is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster as far as what it actually is.

On the surface, Remnant is a three-player, cooperative third-person shooter. It has randomly generated levels, but they essentially follow the same progression each time you play through. It also features more than a few callbacks to Dark Souls, which we'll get into.

It all sounds a bit like someone said, "What do gamers like? OK, let's just do all of that then. In a single game."

Oftentimes, that can be a recipe for disaster. Somehow, though, Remnant: From the Ashes is anything but that. It's extremely well-made and a joy to play. There's great give-and-take between making you feel powerful and bashing you over the head with harder and harder enemies.

Somewhat cliched, you take control of a character after the world has essentially fallen apart. A race of monsters called the Root has invaded Earth and destroyed much of humankind, leaving crumbling cities and a few desperate survivors clinging to life.

Survival is your goal, but finding the source of the Root and how to save the planet is something that you may be able to achieve along the way.

Soul Remnants

It won't take you long to see the influence of Dark Souls on Remnant: From the Ashes. Your movement is similar, although a bit quicker and less clunky than when trekking around Lordran, and you have a few different dodges and attacks at your disposal, too.

Approach a red, floating crystal and have a seat; it will heal your character, replenish your ammo, and serve as a fast-travel point. It will also bring back every enemy you've killed.

No bonus points for guessing what lies beyond the doorway encased in fog.

If you've played Dark Souls, you'll feel right at home with Remnant: From the Ashes. However, the game itself plays quite differently. It's familiar, but not a copy.

The central difference is that, in Remnant, you're equipped with guns. You have a melee weapon, a pistol, and a "long arm," usually some variation of a hunting rifle or shotgun. Swapping between weapons is immediate, and learning to quickly assess a situation and what weapon you should use is key to surviving.

Deadly Foes

The other area that Remnant: From the Ashes might draw some comparisons to Dark Souls lies in its difficulty. Especially solo, this is a tough nut to crack. Regular enemies are easy enough when isolated or even in small groups. It's just enough to make you overconfident.

Then, a swarm of them will drop from the ceiling, surrounding you. What's that? You're also bleeding now? And an elite foe just entered the fray? You're going to have to restart at your last crystal, I'm afraid.

These types of deaths will happen frequently, but they rarely feel undeserved. Remnant rewards you for playing cautiously and improvising according to your situation.

Early on, you encounter little goblin-type creatures in some of the dungeons you come across. With a sweeping melee weapon, I found myself wading into groups of up to 10 foes at once, swinging a hammer and watching them fly backwards. However, if I caught a glimpse of a disease-causing kamikaze enemy coming around the corner, I would quickly move out of melee range and start blasting from afar.

It's something that represents the perfect level of adjustability at play here; "commit to your strategy but be ready to change on the fly." You learn very early on to use the third-person camera to your advantage, swiveling back and forth as soon as you start the animation for a melee swing.

Locating more dangerous foes is critical, especially when you hear an auditory cue indicating that an elite has appeared. If they aren't tackled properly, you will be trapped and killed almost immediately.

Stay Awhile, and Listen

Even though it looks totally different, another game that Remnant: From the Ashes calls to mind is Diablo. The dungeons you come across, loot you find, and bosses you fight are semi-random, and they are drawn from a pool each time you start a new game.

The first time walking through the first area, you might come across a sewer dungeon with a giant creature wielding a curved blade as the boss. Reroll the world, and you might find the same dungeon (with a slightly different map) guarded by a gigantic sorcerer. Play through a third time, and there might not be a side dungeon in the first area at all, but instead, a very similar sorcerer is guarding a dungeon in the third area.

That idea of familiarity while exploring the unknown can backfire, but it can also lend almost infinite replay value when done well. It is difficult to tell just how much content is locked away in different playthroughs and difficulty settings, but Remnant: From the Ashes seems like a game that will stay fresh even on multiple playthroughs, provided you can eventually skip the boring tutorial.

More importantly, though, it also brings up another wonderful part of the game: cooperative mode.

The Family that Slays Together

You can tackle Remnant: From the Ashes as a solo experience, but it's really made to be played with two friends. You can find a game with a few randoms, or set yours to "Friends Only," letting people on your contact list drop in and out of your game as they see fit.

Friendly fire is on, and strategy becomes even more important when you start slinging multiple shotguns. If one member of your team goes down, the other two need to decide if they want to push forward to reach the next checkpoint or hightail it back and retry.

As you kill more enemies and gather more items, you will incrementally improve your character. Max out your armor and health and wade into the middle of fights with your hammer swinging. Pump all your resources into a shotgun and watch foes fall in a single blast. Build up a healing ability and max out a long rifle.

There are so many different ways you can approach things in Remnant. But again, you have to adapt.

Certain traits only open up for characters after killing a certain boss or clearing a certain area; if a specific boss area or boss isn't in a playthrough, you'll have to reroll the world to try to find it. Before long, you'll have multiple characters rolled. Each of these will have certain specialties and weaknesses, which you'll parse through as you try to figure out who to bring on the next expedition.

The difficulty spikes and the ability to jump in and out of games with different characters lead to far more strategizing than they initially seem. This is the type of game where you could spend hours just thinking about the best ways to approach certain challenges.

Bang Bang

Pros:
  • Tons of viable strategies and approaches
  • Very difficult, but fair
  • Replayable
  • Simple but intuitive fighting
Cons:
  • Could grow stale
  • Generally generic enemies, environments, and presentation.

Ignore the fact that Remnant: From the Ashes sounds like an AI did a madlib to come up with the title. Ignore the somewhat odd, generic design choices, too such as when characters randomly quip during combat but never speak to each other.

Overlooking such things, you realize that Remnant: From the Ashes is fantastic. If you've got a couple of friends looking for a strategic shooter challenge, this is a no-brainer. If you want a new Dark Souls-esque game to take on, here's your chance.

Provided the community for this game stays strong, this is one that the developers could keep adding to. Remnant could continue to grow and evolve for years to come  it's that good.

There's really something here for everyone, despite it initially looking a bit uninspired. Look past that, and you'll find a pretty amazing experience here, whether you're playing on your own or with friends.

[Note: A copy of Remnant: From the Ashes was provided by Perfect World Games for the purpose of this review.]

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GameSir G6 iPhone Touchroller Review: Give Yourself the Mobile Edge https://www.gameskinny.com/lk5vy/gamesir-g6-iphone-touchroller-review-give-yourself-the-mobile-edge https://www.gameskinny.com/lk5vy/gamesir-g6-iphone-touchroller-review-give-yourself-the-mobile-edge Mon, 19 Aug 2019 12:25:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

While a slew of titles have arrived on mobile phones over the years, there are still plenty of gamers-on-the-go who wish their iPhone was just a bit more like an actual handheld console.

For some, the RotoRiot controller works great. However, it doesn't quite convey that handheld vibe. 

For those who prefer a horizontal joystick and ABXY button setup, GameSir has a line of "touchrollers" like the G6, which are somewhere in-between a one-handed gaming controller and an extension of your phone's standard touch capabilities.

Between the compact, lightweight design and the easy wireless connection, the G6 offers a simple way to get a more full-fledged gaming experience on your phone, although it clearly works better for some games than others.

G6 Design And Handling

The whole point of gaming on a phone is maximum portability, ditching the need to lug around a console carrying case. Obviously, to be worth buying, a touchroller needs to be as light and comfortable as using the phone normally.

That's where the G6 shines, as this sleek little piece of black plastic doesn't add an appreciable amount of weight to your iPhone, but the sliding rack for fitting different sized devices still feels sturdy.

The rack and grips fit snugly, but they don't feel like they are going to break your phone either, and the curved edges are easy to hold in either one hand or two while the phone is horizontal.

Rather than plugging into the phone's power port, the G6 connects via BlueTooth and setup is quick and simple: just hold three buttons while your phone's BlueTooth pairing is turned on. From that point, the controller automatically pairs whenever you turn on the power.

I haven't experienced any lag or dropped BlueTooth connections so far while gaming, although there is one issue with the hardware to keep in mind: make absolutely sure to run the joystick calibration before loading up a game, or you'll end up running in the wrong direction!

That was the only frustrating part of my experience with the G6, as it took me a few minutes to figure out that the "L3 button" used for calibration meant pushing down the joystick since that wasn't listed anywhere in the instructions or marked on the controller.

Since the sliding rack wraps around your phone, it does just slightly muffle the back speaker, but not enough to ruin your enjoyment of any given game.

Of course, that won't be an issue if you use headphones, which are supported.

While it might vary depending on your specific device, with the iPhone 8, I had no problems with port positioning, and there's ample room to connect your headphones (or plug in to charge).

On that note, GameSir claims the G6 lasts 80 hours on a charge, and we all know those estimates tend to be wildly wrong in product spec sheets. However, I can say the controller battery will far, far, far outlast the battery on your actual iPhone.

I've charged my iPhone three times since charging the controller and its not even close to dead yet! 

Do I Need an iPhone Controller?

Now that you know how it works, it's time to answer the most important questions: who actually needs this, and is it worth the money?

The G6 is unquestionably more useful for some types of games than others. To be blunt, a touchroller is pointless for games that don't allow horizontal orientation, like aquapark.io or hole.io, and only moderately helpful for titles like Pocket Mortys.

In the latter case, it's the thumbstick that's the draw for its improved movement scheme, as you'll still be tapping the screen to select battle commands or do anything else. 

Where you'll get the most use out of the G6 is playing shooters, MOBAs, or battle royale titles like Fortnite, PUBG, or the slew of mobile knock offs available in the app store.

In those cases, having a joystick and bumpers definitely gives you an edge over the rest of the mobile crowd, as the buttons make it easier to quickly switch weapons, zoom in with a sniper rifle, build structures, jump over obstacles, and so on while also sprinting or aiming.

The Bottom Line

Pros:
  • Gives you a serious edge in battle royale, MOBA, and FPS apps for iOS
  • Comfortable and huge battery life
  • Cheaper than buying a full-sized controller
Cons: 
  • Slightly muffles the speaker
  • Really only useful if you love Fortnite or PUBG
  • You need to periodically run the joystick calibration

Note that this particular model only supports iOS. If you've got an Android phone, the GameSir T6 is what you want instead, and it does sport a slightly different design with fewer buttons.

For battle royale fanatics who want to play on their phones rather than console or PC, the G6 is a great investment, and its actually a better choice than larger phone controllers.

Devices like the G6 are one tier down from GameSir's gamepad line, which literally connect your phone to a standard sized, two-handed game controller.

Besides a lower price, touchrollers such as the G6 steamroll the controller competition for iPhone users, since games like Fortnite won't detect it as a simulator tool and block you from playing (as has happened with full-sized controller peripherals in the past).

[Note: A G6 review unit was provided by GameSir for the purpose of this review.]

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Vermintide 2 Winds Of Magic DLC Review: A Rotten Wind With An Unpleasant Price https://www.gameskinny.com/p0eq4/vermintide-2-winds-of-magic-dlc-review-a-rotten-wind-with-an-unpleasant-price https://www.gameskinny.com/p0eq4/vermintide-2-winds-of-magic-dlc-review-a-rotten-wind-with-an-unpleasant-price Fri, 16 Aug 2019 15:41:09 -0400 Ty Arthur

Having been away from Warhammer: Vermintide 2 for a number of months, I was really needing to scratch that Left 4 Warhammer style itch, and the Winds Of Magic DLC seemed like the perfect time to jump back into the fray.

Unfortunately, this wind stinks of something rotten... and its not the hordes of unwashed beastmen.

Following two previous map packs, Winds Of Magic is the first "major" expansion for Vermintide 2, although what constitutes a major DLC versus a minor one will definitely be a point of contention for fans here.

What You Get For Your $19.99

 Look at the little baby! What kind of monster would want to hurt that adorable little guy?

Green flaming meteors from the sky always seem to herald bad things for any given world (just ask the folks in the Darkest Dungeon hamlet or any Lovecraft protagonist ever), and that's no exception with the new Dark Omens level.

If you did a double take reading that sentence, let me reiterate -- yes, there is only a single new level.

Were you expecting a new campaign based around the beastmen and their meteor? That's too bad.

Then again, when you've played the same levels over a couple of hundred times anything new is welcome, but the lack of content is kind of odd considering the other packs at half the price had 2 - 3 levels each.

Dark Omens itself is a pretty standard wilderness and underground mine level that doesn't bring much new to the table. You'll run around out in the woods looking for the meteor crash site, survive waves of enemies, and then destroy some banners at the end before taking the bridge of shadows back to home base. 

The biggest challenge in the DLC? Wood banners.

There's no new boss with the DLC, so if you were expecting to have to figure out tactics for a beastman version of Burblespue Halestorm or Bödvarr Ribspreader, you're out of luck

In fact, there are really only a handful of new enemies, which makes this feel more like the chaos faction got a few extra soldier types rather than the arrival of a whole new faction.

The obnoxious bannerman are the real threat in that roster of enemies, setting down a banner that must be destroyed in melee and significantly buffs the horde in the nearby area.

Besides serving as the focal point in Dark Omens, with the DLC installed the beastman randomly appear with hordes in other levels for a little extra variety while mowing down ratmen and chaos warriors.

 Nope, I see it now. Exterminate them!

If Winds Of Magic just consisted of the Dark Omens level the fanbase would riot, so now we also get short, randomized levels called weaves, where you upgrade weave-specific weapons.

With the weaves come the addition of "seasons" so you have to start over with weave progress again periodically. Since the progression in the weaves doesn't affect your main game characters, this sort of feels like spinning your wheels. 

The point here is to reach the top of the newly added leaderboards, but there's not much incentive to do so at the moment, although its nice to have something different to do if you've already mastered all the other levels.

Next up we get the return of an even harder Cataclysm mode, although bizarrely this top tier difficulty level doesn't include correspondingly better loot or a new tier of chests -- its just harder for the sake of being harder.

So what's the absolute best addition with Winds Of Magic? Probably the new weapon for each class (Sienna's flaming flail is pretty rad) but I mean, does that feel like it would be worth $20 to you?

The Winds Need To Change

A slew of patches arrived for Winds Of Magic during the pre-release period for advance review copies, and they are still coming hot and heavy now in the days after official release.

Sadly they are all needed, and there better be more in the works.

Wednesday's patch for instance wildly nerfed Sienna's fire damage, which was thankfully fixed with a patch that just hit this morning. That patch also changed the weave system so you now get partial experience if you fail a weave, just like with a normal level

Other issues remain, however, like hit detection on the new beastmen enemies in the Dark Omens level needing some polish, as it feels off compared to the rest of the game.

There's also a really odd issue where the sound of the bannerman isn't originating from the correct position, so it will sound like they are ahead of you when they are actually behind you, or vice versa. 

The one issue that desperately needs to be fixed is an option to add in bots while playing weaves, because matchmaking with random players is a nightmare right now.

In a normal level you can set a game to private and get three bot allies who aren't great at anything, but will at least revive you when get grabbed by a packmaster or sliced up by an assassin. That's not an option with weave matches. 

If you have three friends who regularly play Vermintide 2 and can commit to specific times then you're golden, but if you are just jumping into the pool of other players, get ready for some major wait times on non-peak times.

The Bottom Line

Pros:
  • You get a new level to play with
  • Extra enemies
  • If you have a reliable group of friends, the weaves are fun
Cons: 
  • For the price, this should include a full new campaign
  • No new boss?!?
  • Every patch seems to break something else from the previous patch

Obviously, its not great when the biggest addition to your game and the place where players were supposed to get the most hours from the expansion is a deserted wasteland.

If you're a Vermintide 2 fanatic and have played every other level into the ground, it might be worth picking up Winds of Magic for Dark Omens and the weaves... but frankly this DLC is priced too high for the content.

Long story short? Wait until it's half off and the bugs have been ironed out.

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Corsair Nightsword RGB Review: Top Notch Comfort and Customization For Wired Mouse Fans https://www.gameskinny.com/5t9fa/corsair-nightsword-rgb-review-top-notch-comfort-and-customization-for-wired-mouse-fans https://www.gameskinny.com/5t9fa/corsair-nightsword-rgb-review-top-notch-comfort-and-customization-for-wired-mouse-fans Thu, 15 Aug 2019 19:14:54 -0400 Ty Arthur

A whole new crop of high performance gaming mice hit shelves this summer, including Corsair's re-designed Nightsword RGB wired model.

As would be expected by the $79.99 price tag, there's a whole lot of mouse to play with here, from a wide range of programmable buttons to extensive lighting options and a customization-focused weight system.

I switched over to the Nightsword RGB after exclusively using the Logitech G305 wireless mouse for the last six months, so I'm approaching this as someone used to snipping that pesky cord and having true free-range mobility.

Even with the cable, I can easily say the Nightsword is an incredibly strong offering from Corsair that's well worth the asking price, with just a few minor design issues present that might not be perfect for all users.

Corsair Nightsword RGB Button Layout

I'm in love with the positioning of #10

To be clear from the get go, this is a righties-only mouse (sorry left handers!), considering the positioning of the thumb rest and sniper button.

You get a total of 10 buttons plus the scroll wheel so this is a mouse that works well for the macro-obssessed MMO crowd as well as the twitchy first-person shooter fans.

It's the positioning of those buttons that's impressive, though, as everything is on the center and left side within easy reach of the thumb or pointer finger.

In particular, I have to mention that the sniper button positioning is spot-on perfect and almost feels a bit like cheating in an online match. Just slightly depress your thumb at its normal resting position, and you quickly drop down to 400 DPI for perfect sniper aiming, then let go to immediately return to your previous DPI setting.

In addition to the sniper button, there are two separate buttons for changing the DPI settings: one for going up and one for going down. This configuration is opposed to the single-button cyclers found in other models. This config is much more useful than the other design style if you need to regularly change settings during a game. 

Moving over from a Logitech mouse with a single DPI button, I found I never accidentally hit the DPI switches while moving my finger, which has happened a few times in the past with the G305 because of its centrally placed single button.

For extra comfort, the Nightsword utilizes the tried and true side thumb rest, and I have to say I wish my wireless gaming mouse had this nifty rubber bit on the side. It makes a big difference during extended gaming sessions, especially for major click fests like action RPGs.

As for the (single) downside regarding the button and grip design: the Nightsword is fairly fat, making it potentially difficult for those with small hands. However, that also means it works well with bigger hands and is aimed more at the palm grip style.

If you don't like the meaty design or prefer using a claw grip, then the Logitech G502 has a similar style with the same sniper button position and side thumb rest, but in an overall sleeker format. Or, you might want to try out the slimmer, and abidextrous, Corsair M55 RGB Pro

Fine Tuning With The iCUE Software 

 Changing RGB lighting and DPI settings is simple with iCUE

When you get into this price range, of course, your mouse is going to come with multi-zone back lighting. Here, the zones are found on the front, sides, and top via the logo.

While they undeniably look cool, those are really just bells and whistles that aren't as important as performance or grip. Your palm will always cover the logo while you play games, so having lighting there is just kinda pointless.

What's more useful are the three light indicators on the left side of the mouse that let you know which DPI setting you currently have active. Of course, those three settings can be customized however you want through Corsair's iCUE software.

The highest DPI option available through the software on this mouse is a whopping 18,000 DPI, which is sort of absurd; you'd never need movement that fast during normal desktop operations, although there are some strategy games and shooter games where you want to go from one extreme periphery to the other with a tiny flick of the wrist.

 I'm not entirely sure Roadrunner can even hit 18,000 DPI!

Besides color and DPI customization, Corsair's software has a surface calibration option that is simply phenomenal.

It automatically adjusts settings after you rotate the mouse in a spiral on your current surface, whether that's a mouse pad, kitchen table, glass desk, or whatever. Movement gets noticeably smoother and more responsive after running the test.

I was playing a lot of the same games with the Nightsword while testing out the Audio-Technica ATH-G1WL wireless headset, and found great performance for FPS games like Black Ops 4, RPGs like Pillars Of Eternity 2, and strategy games like Age Of Wonders: Planetfall.

However, I do have one other complaint regarding the mouse's design, and this one's a bit subjective.

I've gotten used to a certain standard of living by using a wireless mouse with total freedom of movement, and that's tough to compete with when a wired mouse shows up. No matter how I position the cable on the Nightsword RGB, there's still a slight sensation, almost like its pulling to the left a hair more than I want.

That issue is particularly noticeable when I pull my hand off the mouse entirely while playing a game with scrolling map corners. Although, to be fair, if you generally use wired mice, you might not even be able to tell the difference.

On the other side, it is kind of nice to not have yet another device that needs to charge or have batteries changed out regularly, and the heavy duty braided cord will stand up to regular usage and transportation.

Extreme Weight Customization

Lots of mice have back lighting customization and a ton of buttons, so what sets this one apart and really justifies the price?

That's the tunable performance system, offering the maximum amount of comfort by completely customizing not just the overall heaviness of the mouse, but also the positioning of that heaviness by using six different weights.

No matter your hand size or mouse weight preference, you can get the perfect fit here by swapping and re-positioning the internal mass.

That process is super easy, with no screwdriver or parts retriever tool necessary. The bottom pops off, weights snap into place with a little push, bottom snaps back on, and iCUE automatically detects where you put the weight and which kind you used.

After a little trial and error, I found that adding the three hollow 2.8g weights on opposite sides in a triangle pattern got me closest to the weight and glide of my G305, so I feel more at home with my usual mouse style.

The Bottom Line

 The software automatically detects weight placement

Pros:
  • Customizable weight system
  • Excellent surface calibration software
  • 10 buttons that can all be programmed
Cons: 
  • Slightly bulkier model than the typical sleek high end gaming mice
  • Wish it was wireless!

For wired mice fans, this model is a serious winner, especially if you typically use the palm grip and like to play shooters or MOBAs on a regular basis.

With the excellent sniper button position, dual DPI switches, and comfortable weight tuning system, Corsair's Nightsword RGB should be at the top of your list if you're planning on buying a new gaming mouse soon.

Prefer a different mouse style or wondering what other high end offerings to look out for? Check out our roundup of the best wired and wireless gaming mice in 2019 at every price point.

Here are the full Corsair Nightsword RGB specs:

Program Buttons  10
DPI 18,000
Sensor PMW3391
Sensor Type Optical
Backlighting 4 Zone RGB
On Board Memory Yes, 3 Profiles
Button Type Omron
Connectivity Wired
Durability Rating 50 million L/R Click
Grip Type Palm
Weight Tuning Yes, 6 Included Weights
Cable Type 1.8m Braided Fiber

 

[Note: A Nightsword RGB review unit was provided by Corsair for the purpose of this review.]

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Ewin Knight Series Gaming Chair Review: Not a Valiant Steed https://www.gameskinny.com/3ha8k/ewin-knight-series-gaming-chair-review-not-a-valiant-steed https://www.gameskinny.com/3ha8k/ewin-knight-series-gaming-chair-review-not-a-valiant-steed Thu, 15 Aug 2019 14:34:24 -0400 Jonathan Moore

A good gaming chair is worth its weight in gold. Whether sitting for a few minutes or for a few hours, comfort is the name of the game. For many, a good gaming chair moonlights as an office chair. It pulls double duty and bears double the burden. 

EwinRacing's Knight series gaming chair seeks to provide a solution for both situations. Built for long gaming sessions and long workdays alike, it's meant to be an elegant, ergonomic solution.

Despite the grandeur and allure it carries with its name, the Knight doesn't shine and it doesn't sweep you off your feet. It isn't completely uncomfortable as there are a few configurations that keep it from inducing early-onset arthritis. However, it's a chair that ultimately fails to deliver on its promises. 

Unboxing and Assembly

Unlike some other chairs, assembling the Knight is easy and straightforward. Using the tools provided in the box, I assembled the chair in about 20 minutes entirely by myself.

The included instructions are mostly easy to follow, and they do a great job of leading you from one step to the next. The only hiccup I ran into was when the instructions called for attaching the chair's lumbar cushion to the main body of the chair via a strap — which isn't included in this specific model. 

However, I do appreciate the lengths to which Ewin goes in labeling and segregating each piece of the chair, along with separating the nuts and bolts for each piece into tidy little bags. It's a huge help in the assembly process, drastically reducing the time it takes to put everything together.

Moreover, Ewin provides additional nuts and bolts in case something is missing out of the box, which is a nice touch considering that's not always the case with other brands and pieces of furniture. 

Design

The Knight gaming chair is undeniably sleek. Its overall design mimics that of other professional gaming chairs, such as those from DXRacer and Secretlab. In many ways, it's similar in style to the Ewin Champion series gaming chair we reviewed two years ago, although it does eschew some of that chair's more luxurious trappings to reach a lower price point.

Both the backrest and the seat feature black faux leather. Smooth to the touch, the non-stick material is perfect for staying cool during marathon gaming sessions. 

The Ewin logo is emblazoned at the top of the backrest and nicely stitched colored highlights climb up the sides and across the top. The chair I reviewed has red stitching and highlights, but white and blue variants are also available. 

The chair's armrests utilize what Ewin calls "2D technology," although all that means is that they're adjustable up and down; the "4D technology" used in the Champion edition chair allows for lateral adjustments and rotation. 

Overall, the armrests are adequate and what one would expect from an office or gaming chair. Instead of buttons, though, the outside of each armrest features a plastic trigger which is used to raise and lower it. 

Finally, the bottom of the chair is the tried and true 5-star base design featured in almost every chair on the planet. The wheels bear the chair's chosen highlight color. In my case, red. 

Comfort

However, there's a chance you might see red no matter what color you choose. That's because the Knight feels like sitting on plate armor. 

Comparing the Champion to the Knight, it's clear to see that the Knight is much scrawnier than its compatriot in both the seat and the backrest.

Ewin says it uses cold-molded memory foam as support in the Knight. From what I can tell that's mostly accurate: it's cold, harsh, and heartless. It provides very little actual cushion to your aching muscles. Outside of the cushy and comfortable armrests, there's zero give to the rest of the chair. 

The one positive I can muster is that the lumbar support is pretty damn good. The pillow is comfortable and although it moves around and falls over every time I get out of the chair, it fits snugly and alleviates a good amount of discomfort.

The chair can be somewhat comfortable with your feet propped up in front of you, and after pulling the head cushion down underneath your neck.

It can also be somewhat comfortable in a reclined position, which is easy to achieve with the chair's lever-operated reclining mechanism that can produce various reclining angles from 85 degrees to 155 degrees. Unfortunately, my lower back began to ache after only about five minutes in a fully reclined position. 

Finally, sitting straight up, with your butt all the way to the back of the seat, without the lumbar support appears to be how the chair was meant to be used. It's the best position for long-lasting back comfort.

Unfortunately, this too isn't ideal. Since the armrests don't move forward or back, sitting straight up means you elbows often sit at the posterior of the rests. It's not an ideal position for your arms, and one that can slowly send nagging pain up into your shoulders and down into your forearms. 

Pros:
  • Easy to assemble
  • Sleek, professional look
  • Comfortable armrests if you sit forward
  • Quality base
  • Nice lumbar cushion
Cons: 
  • Uncomfortably thin foam padding
  • Hard, unforgiving backrest
  • Hard to roll on the carpet
  • No strap for lumbar cushion

It's difficult to recommend the Knight series gaming chair, especially at its $289 asking price. No matter what I tried, I couldn't find a consistently comfortable configuration while using the chair for more than a week. 

In almost every situation, whether it was at work or play, the Knight was more uncomfortable than not. Ultimately, that's what matters in any chair, no matter what bells or whistles it might or might not have.

One positive I can offer is that the chair does make me sit up a bit straighter. In doing so, creates a somewhat better angle for typing. Marketed as an ergonomic choice, that gives it a few small points in my book. 

It pains me to give something such a low score, but if my back and forearms ache after sitting in this chair for more than 30 minutes, I simply can't recommend it. 

[Note: An Ewin Knight series review unit was provided by Ewin for the purpose of this review.]

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RAD Review: A Shining Light in the Post Apocalypse https://www.gameskinny.com/az3nh/rad-review-a-shining-light-in-the-post-apocalypse https://www.gameskinny.com/az3nh/rad-review-a-shining-light-in-the-post-apocalypse Thu, 15 Aug 2019 13:40:52 -0400 diegoarguello

Double Fine, the studio behind the infamous Psychonauts and many other charming, beloved titles, revealed an all new IP last year that looked, well, RAD.

As short and funny as it sounds, RAD introduced itself as a roguelike starring a group of kids tasked with bringing hope to a decaying world.

Using a top-down perspective and boasting a cartoonish art style, it is exactly as what you would expect from many of the recent entries in the subgenre. But there's a distinct personality to it, something that sets it apart.

As the chosen savior, you're granted with the ability to absorb rads from the world, thus allowing your body to mutate in hilarious and terrifying ways.

See, the world has went through not one, but two apocalypses, and a the machines in charge of survival are beginning to fail.

The Menders, a group of people that attempted to put the irradiated and broken pieces back together, naturally failed in their task. And now, someone needs to get out to the wasteland (called Fallow) in search of a new power source.

After choosing between a group of brave characters — something that does not affect gameplay but merely aesthetics — you jump into a procedurally generated world, wielding nothing but a baseball bat, a simple set of controls, and your guts.

Here we go. 

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Familiarity strikes at first.

As expected, your character can do basic attacks, jump, and combine the two for either an aerial kick or a mid-air stomp. Hold the attack button, and they will charge a special ability that spins around, hitting everything that gets close. Dodge is also an option. And that's pretty much it.

You begin fighting against a couple of small enemies — horrifying, yet cute creatures, each with a unique attack pattern. There's a fungus-like monster that releases a deadly gas when you get close, while others fly around and attack at a distance. Variety is short in scope during these first few moments, and so are your attacks, which makes the initial experience a bit shallow.

But as soon as you gain a level in RAD, everything changes.

As you progress, a random mutation attach itself to your poor youngling, adding either a passive skill (such as immunity to acid pools or fire) or a completely new ability. Wings! A massive arm that can be used as a boomerang! Crab legs! A small creature that clings to you back and shoots at enemies! Spiders — with your head on them!

The array of possibilities is ridiculous, and I haven't seen all of them yet. Only two abilities can be equipped at once, however, so you won't become an unstoppable force like in something such as The Binding of Isaac. There's a small sense of experimentation and building the best combo, but it's not the focus here. Abilities are supposed to help you survive in the wasteland, either with a combat advantage or by allowing you to explore an otherwise inaccessible area.

Once I got the wings, clearly displayed on my character after an intense close-up animation, I had two ways of putting them to use. On on hand, they are perfect escape tool, helping me take the high ground and glide to someplace safe in a short, but acceptable distance. On the other, they are the perfect traversal tool, helping me fly across a massive gap where once lied a bridge, exploring a different part of the map altogether.

A Green Sea of Nostalgia

It's clear that RAD's mutations and environmental design get along, but the game's procedural generation tends to get in between.

Of course, we aren't talking about a metroidvania, where wings would probably be used to unlock entire new areas, for example. It's just that most of the time, the random mutations can keep you from breaking through a crack in the floor or exploring a corner of the map.

Despite  that, everything else comes down to skill. I might feel betrayed for a brief moment, but a miscalculation in the next area might throw me back to the hub with a different run waiting for me. It's a fairly small one, but it has everything you need. A local vendor, NPCs that give you useless chatter, and others that ask for an specific item. There's also a Pac-Man arcade machine since, well, RAD is being published by Bandai Namco.

In terms of on-going progress, there are unlockables that can you obtain after each run depending on your score, from new abilities to pick-up items and potions.

You can also store money (represented as cassettes) in a local ATM found in the small world hub, which has a vendor, NPCs that provide useless chatter, and a Pac-Man arcade machine since, well, RAD is published by Bandai Namco. Your savings can either be withdrawn on your next run or during your ventures in the wasteland if you find a machine out there.

Humor is also a big part of the game's charm, but RAD also leans on nostalgia to tell its story, and does so in a fantastic way. Jean vests with spikes over the shoulders, CRT TVs used as decorations, keys disguised as floppy disks. There's a lot to love in RAD aside from the mutations and gameplay, and I felt compelled to keep helping this group of rascals again and again.

Pros:
  • All sorts of mutations to have a laugh with
  • A compelling world that feels worth fighting for
  • Sense of nostalgia all around
  • Humor is subtle enough to be a pleasant companion
Cons:
  • The procedural aspect gets in the way of environmental design
  • Barebones feeling during the first few moments

I've played more roguelikes than I can count, but I've only seen the end of a mere few of them. According to RAD's handy and stylish notebook — which displays everything from unlockables to brief backstories for each enemy and each character — there are six different endings waiting for me.

I hope that none of them are bad, since the group of kids have started to grow on me; I could trust them with whichever post-apocalypse mission we'll find ourselves into in the foreseeable future.

It's not the first time that we see this scenario displayed in a game, it's just that RAD actually took the time to present me with a world that I want to save.

Leaving a green path behind me, I watch the flowers grow as I wait for my arm to come back to me, boomerang style.

[Note: A copy of RAD was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.]

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Ion Fury Review: Hail to the Queen, Baby https://www.gameskinny.com/5invx/ion-fury-review-hail-to-the-queen-baby https://www.gameskinny.com/5invx/ion-fury-review-hail-to-the-queen-baby Wed, 14 Aug 2019 10:36:27 -0400 diegoarguello

Do you remember CRT monitors? Clunky, white keyboards that could last for decades? The scream of your parents whenever you spent way too long locked in your room playing games?

Well, welcome (back) to the 90s. Ion Fury, published by genre standard-bearers 3D Realms, evokes all of that nostalgia at once.

If you grew up with playing classics like Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, or even DOOM, you'll feel right at home with Ion Fury

However, if this is your first time playing a game made on the Build Engine, there's enough to keep you hooked, so don't worry. The engine still excels 23 years later, rendering gorgeous animations and small details in every nook and cranny. With this latest release, there's even revamped controls, ushering the engine into the modern landscape. 

Ion Fury arrives during a resurgence in throwback FPS titles, all of which are bringing new life to these classic experiences. Thankfully, this entry continues to push that trend forward. There's enough in its DNA to appease both past audiences and modern ones, introducing itself as an inheritor of sorts for Duke Nukem 3D, but ditching the macho protagonist altogether.

Instead, 3D Realms has passed the torch to a badass woman by the name of Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison, who also has a penchant for shouting quippy one-liners. 

Boomstick!

As can be the case with shooters of any era, the story here is a mere excuse to justify the shooting that comes afterward.

An evil transhumanist doctor creates a cult of tech baddies that are storming the city, and, of course, you're the tool by which those numbers will be drastically lowered.

You'll do so through hand-crafted levels filled with secrets, stuff to shoot at, and weapons to experiment with.

Weapons and shooting fall in perfect balance between old and new. The revolver you start with is fast and powerful, landing headshots with ease if your aim is true. Interestingly, it also includes an alternative fire mode that lets you target multiple enemies at once, only to unleash a rain of bullets a la McCree's Overwatch ultimate when you release the button.

On top of a shotgun that can be turned into a devastating grenade launcher, there are also munitions called bowling bombs, by far one of the weapons I had the most fun with. They feel new and interesting, even if I have been throwing grenades in video games for years.

Physics, and the careful craft behind each impact and each projectile that leaves your hands, meld perfectly to make every weapon feel meaningful and different.

Luckily, movement ties everything together.

Ion Fury ditches the limited possibilities found in some of its forebears and offers agile inputs that easily feel like most modern shooters. This is not only for fashion, but it's also as a way to get you comfortably pushing through the levels and keep you alive

That's good, too, because there's no health regeneration here, and pick up items are either found or earned by killing enemies. Movement is key to survival, and strafing is, of course, as important as ever.

Hail to the Queen

As is often the case with games of its ilk, Ion Fury's campaign takes you through different suburban landscapes, from the usual decaying cities to train stations and beyond.

Far from the bold and intricate level design from other throwback FPS such as Amid Evil, here, the game takes us places we've been before, but ones we know and love. A bar with almost endless shot glasses to use as dummy targets, flashing lights in a disco tech, an arcade full of beeping, ping-ponging machines. 

All of the game's levels are hand-crafted, so don't expect any procedurally generated bonanza in Ion Fury. This is both a blessing and a curse for the game. While I appreciate sticking to its classic roots, especially when so many games now take the procedural approach, the campaign can get tiring during long sessions.

Don't get me wrong, I can't stop thinking about going back to the game after I'm done with it. But I think it plays best in short sessions, exploring each scenario (which always grants you a reward) and enjoying it without overstaying your welcome. Perhaps it's the enemies who, even though they bring up a good fight, don't feel as groundbreaking as I had hoped they'd be.

That being said, I was hooked by Ion Fury from beginning to end. There's something about the way each weapon feels, how animations shine within the walls of an engine that might as well be considered ancient.

In no short order is it something to behold. 

Pros:
  • A reinvention of the Build Engine I didn't know I needed
  • Thoughtful and interesting shooting all around
  • A completely new experience to dive into, even when everything seems familiar
Cons:
  • Enemy design could be bolder
  • It's best enjoyed during up and coming sessions

There's clear harmony between everything I loved from my first FPS experiences and the quality of life updates that the genre has grown accustomed to throughout the years.

For me, the major achievement of Ion Fury is making you feel like you're entering a new world altogether, despite recognizing the polygons and sprites that pay tribute to its past influences.

It's only the beginning for this these throwback shooters, and this particular entry has the potential to be remembered as one the pioneers of its resurgence.

[Note: A copy of Ion Fury was provided by 3D Realms for the purpose of this review.]

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Audio-Technica ATH-G1WL Wireless Review: Meh For Music, Absolutely Epic For Gaming https://www.gameskinny.com/2stnu/audio-technica-ath-g1wl-wireless-review-meh-for-music-absolutely-epic-for-gaming https://www.gameskinny.com/2stnu/audio-technica-ath-g1wl-wireless-review-meh-for-music-absolutely-epic-for-gaming Tue, 13 Aug 2019 15:38:43 -0400 Ty Arthur

Audio is a critical component in any gaming experience, and I don't just mean for games like Beat Saber or Dance Dance Revolution.

From hearing where gunfire is coming from in Fortnite to accurately getting classic lines like, "You must gather your party before venturing forth," dunked into your eardrums, sound effects and music can be just as important as graphical quality.

The fact that we now have lag-free wireless headsets for phones and laptops still kind of blows my mind, especially having grown up with felt-covered Discman headphones that could charitably be called "absolutely awful."

Audio-Technica's 2019 product lineup now includes a wireless model specifically aimed at gamers, and if you play games more than you listen to Spotify or Apple Music, then they should definitely be on your wishlist.

Bells and whistles aside, of which the ATH-G1WL has plenty, there's really only one thing that matters with a pricey headset like this: how does it sound?

While I'm not the guy who insists on downloading the FLAC lossless audio files from Bandcamp or the one who will argue about why vinyl sounds better, I can say one thing for certain: after reviewing music for a decade and getting to interview musicians and audio engineers regularly, I do put a premium on sound quality. So, hopefully, the analysis below should be helpful to audio junkies and the average gamer alike.

Alright, ready? Let's dive in and take a look at how the ATH-G1WL compares to other headphones in terms of sound quality, comfort, and overall features.

How the Sound Stacks Up

To get a proper baseline and explore the differences between headphones with varying designs, I tried out three different models to compare and contrast the ATH-G1WL's sound:

  • Crappy $10 earbuds from Big Lots
  • Denon DJ HP1100 wired headphones
  • Audio-Technica ATH-G1WL wireless Bluetooth earphones

Since headphones aren't just for gaming or even a single type of gaming, I compared the three across three different test beds: music reproduction, single-player gaming with lots of music, and multiplayer gaming with lots of chaotic sound effects like bullets, explosions, and sword-clanking.

For the music test, I went with Ihsahn's "Mass Darkness" off the Arktis album. It's something heavy with catchy elements, a bit of a progressive twist, and a combo of harsh and clean vocals that hit all the various sound types in one song.

The track has a clean enough production that you'd notice if the sound quality is off, but it is still heavy enough that it's something I'd listen to regularly for a pulse-pounding backing soundtrack to a gaming session.

So how did the three models stack up?

To be blunt, the Big Lots earbuds were garbage. Just straight up, unmitigated garbage. Somehow they take this epic track and make it sound like '90s era Mayhem, all with an extremely fuzzy tone muddling the low notes.

Moving onto the wireless Audio-Technica ATH-G1WL wireless headset, the quality is leagues ahead of the earbuds (of course), although it is still not pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, the headset still has a slightly fuzzy tone to some of the backing notes, which becomes much more noticeable at higher volumes.

Strictly for listening to music, (especially with heavy guitar notes and booming drums), there's no question the Denon DJ wired headset came out on top for sound quality. 

For gaming, it's an altogether different story. 

Where Audio-Technica's wireless offering really shines is with PC game audio. When tested by that metric, the ATH-G1WL easily lived up to its pedigree. 

Echo effects and deep-bass strings found in Pillars Of Eternity 2 come through crystal clear and provide a killer surround sound atmosphere. There's also no appreciable lag in sound despite the lack of a wired connection.

Clicking Tekehu's icon at the bottom of the screen, resulting in, "Yours to command, captain," immediately filtered into my ears in full 7.1 surround. Ditto when launching a lightning attack with my scepter in the ultra fast-paced Ziggurat.

Fortnite, Call Of Duty: Black Ops, and Homefront: The Revolution all had the same high-quality sound when played online.

How the Design Compares 

Now that we know the game audio is top-notch, what about all the other features like button placement and comfort?

First up, I love being able to change the volume directly on the headphones. While a lot of models have on-ear volume wheels, the positioning here is easy to reach while gaming, and the wheel is easily discernable from the other buttons and switches.

Rather than just swiveling up out of the way, you can fully remove the mic for when you aren't gaming online and don't need it in your face. The mic also has a bendy attachment string so you can put it into any position you want, an added bonus for any use.

The mic easily picks up sounds, it's clear, and I never had any issues with teammates not being able to hear me. On top of that, the volume on/off switch for the mic is on the far side, which is a nice touch. it makes it easy to remember which button is for the audio output and which is for the mic input.

Where the ATH-G1WL absolutely annihilates the competition is in overall comfort level. This model fits perfectly over my ears, and it is significantly lighter than I expected. While something like the Audeze Mobius weighs around 350g, this Audio-Technica model weighs 290g without the detachable mic. 

The level of "barely there" comfort makes multi-hour usage much preferable to other large over-ear headphones. The difference is so noticeable that I now get ticked off when I plop my Denon DJ headset back on. That's because I know how much more comfortable high-end headphones could be if they went with the current Audio-Technica design.

However, the ATH-G1WLs don't fold up for storing like other Audio-Technica models, or those from Logitech or Audeze. 

Since this pair doesn't come with a storage bag, either, it's worth investing in a charging stand for aesthetically-pleasing storage — and so they don't get banged up while on the coffee table or thrown into that pile of cords by the door.

The Bottom Line

 

 

Pros:
  • Crystal clear audio for PC gaming
  • Ludicrously light and comfortable
  • Easy button access for volume and muting
Cons:
  • Sound quality is tailored toward gaming and isn't great for music
  • No Bluetooth for phone pairing
  • Wireless means charging — and remembering to charge

When it comes to video game audio, the ATH-G1WL is easily the best headset I've ever used. The fact that it's wireless puts this model in the upper echelon of headphone contenders.

After charging all night long, I got a solid and respectable 14 hours of listening time, although other wireless gaming headsets, such as some from HyperX and Logitech, provide upwards of 30 hours of battery life. 

There's one final design issue worth noting: this model is tailored exclusively towards gaming, and that shows in more than just sound quality. Despite being wireless, these headphones don't provide a phone- or tablet-pairing option via Bluetooth. For some, it's a small issue that easily disregarded. For others, it might be harder to overlook. 

That issue aside, if you want a wireless option and play games more than listen to music, you can't go wrong with the Audio-Technica ATH-G1WL.

You can pick them up on the Audio-Technica website for $249.99. 

The full specs can be found here: 

Driver Diameter  45mm
Frequency Response 5-40,000Hz
Sensitivity 101 dB/mW
Impedance  45 ohms
Battery Internal, 3.8V rechargeable
Battery Life 15 hours
Charging Time 7 hours
Weight w/Mic 297g
Weight w/o Mic 290g
Mic Type Condenser
Mic Sensitivity -43 dB (1V/Pa, at 1kHz)
Mic Frequency Response 30-20,000Hz
Mic Polar Pattern Hypercardioid
Included Accessories 6.6ft charging cable; USB transceiver;
spare earpads, windscreen


[Note: An Audio Technica ATH-G1WL review unit was provided by Audio Technica for the purpose of this review.]

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Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Review: Fight On, Space Cowboy https://www.gameskinny.com/32xu8/rebel-galaxy-outlaw-review-fight-on-space-cowboy https://www.gameskinny.com/32xu8/rebel-galaxy-outlaw-review-fight-on-space-cowboy Mon, 12 Aug 2019 14:55:27 -0400 John Schutt

As Rebel Galaxy Outlaw opens, the screen fades up from black, and protagonist Juno Markev walks into a bar and puts a gun to someone's head. That person then gets up more angry than hurt and chases her across space, eventually shooting her down onto a lonely desert planet, leaving her with nothing but her wits and a long list of old connections.

She'll need all of them.

At its core, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a character piece set in a Western-inspired sci-fi future. The game is at its best when you're making money any way you can. Whether it's through trade, mercenary work, convoy protection, piracy, or many other uses for your space ship, there's real magic in flying about trying to make your fortune.

That said, the story and characters of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw are up there as some of the better ones we've seen this year. I don't think they'll win any awards, but they're straightforward and well-conceived. Even the villains — when they get more than a few moments of screentime — are compelling enough for me to want them dead or otherwise out of the way.

Revenge Benefits No One

At its core, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a story about one woman seeking revenge and the long road she has to take to find it.

Juno Markev is a forty-something ex-pirate and she's lost something dear to her. After failing to find vengeance, you'll guide her out of obscurity and back onto the world stage, help her reconnect with old friends, take down rivals new and all but forgotten, and discover what matters to her is not what she expected. 

There are some twists and turns on her journey and plenty of colorful characters, some she's known for years and others she'll meet only once. Thankfully, all of them are interesting and well-developed, and some are even a little bonkers.

The occasional humor is a welcome reprieve from the darker side of roughing it in space. You don't have to look far for the seedier types who want to make a profit at any cost, and even someone with Juno's reputation is bound to run afoul of at least one power-broker with something to gain.

For her part, Juno knows all about that part of the system. Though she doesn't seek it out purposely, she understands there isn't always a way around it. Fortunately, she keeps a perpetual chip on her shoulder and a sardonic wit ready, because without both she's liable to end up on the wrong end of a missile lock or a gun to her head.

Her only real problem is in her willingness to help others whenever they might need it. More often than not, Juno will all but jump at the chance to help someone she cares about, even if it isn't directly to her benefit.

This tendency, unfortunately, extends into gameplay occasionally as well. Out of the dozens of story decisions Juno makes throughout the game, only a few demand player input. That isn't to say moment to moment choices in space aren't her own. The player usually decides whether Juno is on a constant rampage or trying to make the best of her bad situation. When it comes to her story, though, Juno's very much her own woman with, as she is fond of saying, "[her] own problems."

If Ships Made Sound in Space 

While the heart of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw lives in its story, everything else exists in space. Just about every one of the game's strengths exists here too, relatively unfettered by a heavy need for narrative or designer control. The ship controls are tight, combat satisfying, the reward systems are well-tuned, and you can take on the galaxy alongside some fantastic music.

It's a double-edged sword, however, because many of the glaring issues with the game live in space, too. From inconsistent mission difficulty to questionable design choices and sometimes genuine tedium, the life of a spacer in the Dodge Sector can grate on the nerves and your sense of patience.

Taking to the Stars

The first time you embark into space in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, it's clear this is a different kind of space simulation. Where games like Elite Dangerous and EVE Online overwhelm with their sheer scope and depth of play, Outlaw chooses instead to be approachable. 

There are only about 30 or so star systems in the game's world, and each system only has a few stationary locations to visit. You'll spend the majority of your time either moving from station to station or asteroid belt to asteroid belt.

Some stations you come across are faction-oriented, but you'll only really be dealing with two: the Red Devil pirate group and the Commonwealth consortium, the non-pirate faction. Earning enough reputation for one alienates the other, but offers bonus perks like increased station access and lower encounter rates for your favored group.

Traveling is easy as well. Because Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a purely single-player experience, you can skip many of the animations and interactions at your leisure. There's no "fast travel" per se, nor is there true autopilot. You won't be able to hit a button and be where you want to be in ten minutes, for instance. Thankfully load times are quick enough that it hardly matters.

When it comes to combat, the game is just as easy to pick up. There's one button to lock on, one to fire your main guns, a third to fire missiles, and a fourth to manage your speed. 

The combat takes the "easy to learn, tough to master" mantra to heart as well. You could rely on your ship's auto-lock and missile damage, but if you want to make life easier for yourself you should learn to lead your shots, manually track a target, optimize your ship's power output, prioritize targets, and a lot more. 

Ensuring you have the best loadout is vital, too. That means different things to different people, but thick armor and durable shields are a must.

You also have to consider whether you want range, chunky weapons or if you prefer close-range, fast-firing options. Both will cost you something, but there are no wrong choices, only different choices. The ship you fly is primarily up to personal preference as well, until you get to the endgame.  

What you do with that ship is also up to you; whether you spend time bounty-hunting, playing the pirate, or doing the various missions offered at each station. Add on a pair of guilds with curated missions, and you'll never be at a want for something to do.

Probably the best part about all this is the fantastic soundtrack. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw boasts over 24 hours of licensed music and a soundtrack that could carry the game on its own. That your radio has annoying space-commercials is a nice touch, and the fact Juno reacts to them with the same disdain you'll have is much appreciated. I really can't praise the soundtrack enough in both quality and attention to detail.

Distress Signal Received

As much as I enjoyed everything else about the game, there are some glaring issues I can't overlook that risked ruining the experience. 

First, there are the constant distress signals that stop your automatic movement between waypoints. I had a high Lawfulness rating near the end of my playthrough, so every time I wanted to move between stargates or stations, I'd be stopped by a distress beacon. 

On their own, this isn't the biggest annoyance in the game. However, if answering a distress call ends in a high-risk ambush, I'm not keen on answering them at all. Doubly so when the rewards are rarely worth the effort or time.

I often felt that way about story missions, too, especially in the early game. Until you've upgraded your ship and improved its overall loadout, almost everything in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw will be an "extreme" threat.

If you want to avoid such a frustrating fate, grinding missions, mining, and pirating in the low-danger zones is the only real option. The first ship you unlock has almost nothing going for it, so while you could take your trash truck to the end of the story, there's not much reason to.

Even if you grind your brains out to get the best ship and gear possible, some of the missions seem to be designed for player failure. Enemy spawn locations, tactics, and general firepower can be punishing to the point of ridiculousness.

The later game encounters are much better tuned, I think. That said, I can see some players being turned off by the early difficulty spikes, or at least the heavy grinding that seems all but necessary. 

Pros:
  • A well thought out narrative and a strong character focus
  • Incredible soundtrack
  • Fantastic ship-to-ship combat that will keep you on your toes
Cons:
  • Incredible early-game difficulty spikes make it hard to progress
  • Lack of depth later on
  • Some annoying design choices that do little more than clutter the experience

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a very well put together space sim, and one that offers some of the best ship-to-ship combat around, from an indie developer, no less. It's got a kicking soundtrack, plenty of exciting opportunities for encounters and emergent gameplay, and one of the strongest central protagonists of 2019.

It isn't perfect, and there's plenty that needs addressing or improving, especially early on. I got Fallout 4 "Another settlement needs your attention" vibes with the constant distress signals, and not in a meme-y way. 

Still, this is a game well worth your time and money, as it offers an approachable, easy to learn, hard to master set of systems, a well-told narrative, and plenty of charm.

[Note: A copy of Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw was provided by Double Damage Games for the purpose of this review.]

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Pix the Cat Review: Purring on the Nintendo Switch https://www.gameskinny.com/s7d2x/pix-the-cat-review-purring-on-the-nintendo-switch https://www.gameskinny.com/s7d2x/pix-the-cat-review-purring-on-the-nintendo-switch Mon, 12 Aug 2019 13:07:42 -0400 Joey Marrazzo

It's nice to cleanse the gaming palette once in a while with a fun and quick game, rather than something narrative-driven, riddled with side quests, or full of complex character creation. 

Back in 2014, the team at Pastagames created a game for that specific moment. Originally released on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, Pix the Cat is a mash-up of two of the most iconic video games ever created: Pac-Man and Snake

You play as Pix and in each puzzle, you are tasked with collecting ducklings and bringing them to certain spots in the puzzle. You collect them in a similar way to how Pac-Man picks up orbs, but imagine if those orbs lined up behind you and created a long tail kind of like a snake. 

Sounds simple, but that's because it is. Pix the Cat is a game that is quick, and easy to grasp so you can just run with it. As you play through its four different game modes, that initially easy concept transforms to bring you a challenging puzzle game that is good in short sessions or for a fun game-night with friends.

Arcade Mode

In the game's Arcade Mode, you are given 300 seconds to get as far as you possibly can. There are no loading screens; you move from one puzzle to the next as you complete them. You start off with a simple puzzle while moving at the slowest speed, but that speed dramatically increases as you progress, ramping up the difficulty as you go.

As you play through the puzzles, you must maneuver your way around objects and sometimes enemies. This includes making sharp turns and trying not to have your tail of ducks surround you (which ends the puzzle immediately).

If you can't handle the increasing speed and find yourself not able to make the quick turns necessary to bring the ducks to the right location, the puzzle will end. If you can handle the speed, you will start building up a combo score, which will carry through all the puzzles.

One of the best parts of the game's Arcade Mode is the background music. It goes perfectly with the speed of the game and will make you feel the pressure to deliver the ducks. 

Arena Mode

In Arena mode, you and up to three friends take to the battleground and compete against each other. In this mode, you collect the eggs that will form your tail, and what will be the ammo you use to take down the other players. 

If you don't want to use the eggs to destroy your friends, you can eat the eggs instead and perform a dash ability that can also hurt your opponents. 

You can also activate the ghost feature, adding a new wrinkle to the game. When your Pix turns into a ghost, you can go after your friends. If your ghost hits a friend's living Pix, you will come back to life and your friends Pix will become a ghost instead. 

While I didn't spend too much time in this mode, I can already see that it can make for a fun and relationship-ending game night next time I have people over. 

Laboratory and Nostalgia Modes

While Arcade and Arena are the most polished game modes, the game has two more to try your hand at. 

The first of the two modes is called Laboratory. In this mode, you are tasked with picking up cells and taking them to the marked spots on the puzzle. The trick with this mode is that you are given a Par score to match, like in golf. You can, of course, go over.

What differentiates this from the Arcade mode is that when you complete the puzzle, it doesn't immediately send you into the next one. You will go back to the mode screen and choose the next level.

The other difference is that if you forget to pick up a cell and already dropped off the other ones, the puzzle will end.

I didn't find this mode that entertaining or fun to play. The basic gameplay is pretty much identical to the Arcade mode, which is much more entertaining.

The final mode is Nostalgia, where you have to collect all the eggs on the screen before the flower gets eaten by the goat. It sounds strange, and it is.

If you visualize the horse-racing carnival game, it is similar to that. Collecting all the eggs before the goat eats the flower will give you a perfect score for that round. 

Pros:
  • Arcade and Arena mode are fantastic.
  • The soundtrack is motivating and keeps you moving.
  • Ducks
Cons:
  • The other game modes (Nostalgia and Laboratory) don't add much to the game.
  • Very fast-paced (Only a con if you have slow reflexes)
  • Cats

Pix the Cat is a quick and fun palette cleanser to play before you go to bed or in between intense gaming sessions.

While the Nostalgia and Laboratory modes don't have much to offer, the Arcade and Arena sections of the game carry the load to make this a fun game to pick up.

The Arcade mode is fun to play alone and with friends. Once your 300 seconds are up, you can easily pass the Switch to your friend and see if they can beat your high score. Or you can take it to Arena mode and go head to head to see who is better.

While the game has been on the other major platforms for a few years, it just arrived on Switch this past week and is priced at $9.99. If you love arcade games and love the rush and intensity of games getting faster as you go, this could be the game for you. 

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Sairento PSVR Review: Tech Keeps This Ninja Fantasy From Being Reality https://www.gameskinny.com/e9whe/sairento-psvr-review-tech-keeps-this-ninja-fantasy-from-being-reality https://www.gameskinny.com/e9whe/sairento-psvr-review-tech-keeps-this-ninja-fantasy-from-being-reality Fri, 09 Aug 2019 13:51:38 -0400 Ty Arthur

While early hardware adopters might be abuzz at the prospect of major upgrades for a next-gen PSVR, there are still plenty of VR games coming to the PS4 to justify jumping in now.

One of the most recent is Sairento, a ninja-em-up that made the leap from PC to the PSVR and lets you live out your cyberpunk cyborg samurai dreams in a neon-lit Tokyo.

While Sairento has received rave reviews across the web, I have to be honest I was less than enthralled with it. While the ability to fly through the air and perform crazy decapitations is undeniably awesome, there are two major issues that keep me from playing Sairento as often as other PSVR titles.

Don't Ninja Usually Put Their Best Foot Forward?

 These are some sad PS1-era graphics

The first problem assaults you as soon as you put on your VR headset. It would be charitable to call the game's character models and environments ugly. What we are dealing with here is a crime against your eyeballs.

Abysmally poor polygonal box cars, flat buildings, and unconvincing gore effects assault your field of vision at all times —  from moment one. 

Of course, graphics don't make a game, and you can't judge Sairento on that element alone. I mean, West Of Loathing is literally a black and white game made of stick figures, and it was still one of the best releases of 2017.

When you move past the dated visuals and master the controls, there's a lot of fun to be had wall-running, sliding along floors, performing gravity-defying jumps, and flipping around behind enemies to slice them apart or unleash a hail of bullets.

Tackling enemy encounters any way you want is where Sairento shines, and it has plenty of secrets to uncover on that front, like figuring out you can actually do backflips in mid-air with certain arm motions.

Sadly, that leads me to my second big complaint: the pace of movement.

There are two methods of movement in Sairento, and, unfortunately, they are at odds.

Ostensibly, Sairento is meant to be a fast-paced, action-packed game where you streak across walls while shooting and slicing through enemies... and it is that ... when going forward and backward.

It absolutely isn't that when going left to right.
 

To mitigate potential player nausea, the game defaults to 90 degrees left and right turns, which are wildly distracting and simply don't jive with the game's hyper-speed and teleporting.

Simply put, the game is basically unplayable on its default settings, as it's too difficult to line up shots and aim at enemies when you have to shift your position 90 degrees at a time.

Thankfully, those who don't get sick from fast-motion VR can change this setting to free movement — only it isn't really "free." Here, movement is still noticeably slower and jankier than if you were moving around in a first-person shooter on a standard controller using thumbsticks.

The end result is a constantly nagging feeling, that Sairento could be an amazingly immersive and unforgettable ninja VR experience but it's always just falling short.

That problem is exacerbated with a few other limitations on movement, like how you can't turn while wall-running, and standing too close to certain vertical objects prevents you from jumping.

Where It All Comes Together

 You think you've got me surrounded? Oh sirs, you are in for a surprise...

Story-wise, there's nothing awe-inspiring or earth-shattering here, as the story is simply a vehicle to get you acrobatically killing goons, which is where the game comes together.

Even if the story and graphics aren't particularly pleasing, the sheer number of combat options present may change your mind about Sairento.

Before even getting into the weapons, there is a host of skill trees to pick from, offering abilities like life regen, increasing slow-mo duration so you can be a Matrix badass, and adding the ability to jump a third consecutive time in mid-air for even more aerial insanity.

When you get into a fight with a cybernetic armored samurai, it's a dual-wielding dance of death where you can choose between any combination of swords, claws, pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns, and even thrown weapons like stars. 

Of course, each of those weapons can also be modified with relics to enhance their deadliness, adding bonuses such as critical damage, drain life on hit, and more.

While the game's movement is clunky, Sairento does have a very satisfying VR feel when you grab a gun from a holster at your hip or pull a sword off your back with the Move controllers.

As a matter of personal taste, I prefer the guns over the swords, simply due to a lack of "presence" with the melee weapons.

That's a recurring issue with several PSVR titles (and a major sticking point for Everybody's Golf VR, where it didn't feel like you were actually holding and swinging a golf club that had real weight or heft).

Other games have overcome this limitation in a variety of ways that could have been employed here. Beat Saber, for instance, uses timed beats to great effect to make it feel like you're hitting something, and it utilizes haptic feedback when your two sabers cross paths. Something of that nature, like a gentle shock when landing a sword blow, would go a long way towards making the melee combat here more satisfying.

Choice is the name of the game, though, and swords don't have to be used in melee, as you can also unlock the ability to throw ranged shockwaves with melee blades.

The constant variety of choices keep Sairento from being a throwaway, as there is just an absolutely absurd number of options for tweaking absolutely everything. Here's just a small sampling:

  • Prefer sitting over standing? No problem, the game supports that.
  • Want a 45-degree movement option instead of 90 degrees or free movement? Done.
  • Need your guns to automatically reload so you have one less thing to do while flipping, flying, leaping, and shooting? Sorted.
  • Want your guns to only reload when you fling your arms up? What about only reloading when you fling your arms down?

Every single mechanic in the game has that level of customization across a whopping five separate pages of option screens.

The Bottom Line

 You want options? You got 'em!

Pros:
  • Tons of weapon, skill, and gameplay tweaking options
  • You get to be a cyborg ninja in VR with guns and swords 
Cons:
  • The movement and control scheme just don't work well enough yet to pull off the developer's vision
  • These are some of the worst graphics I've seen in a PSVR game to date

Ignoring the hardware limitations and wonky movement, there's plenty to do in Sairento between unlocking skills and switching between waves of enemies, stealth assassinations, and area-clearing campaign missions.

Coupled with a decent amount of variety in the levels and a wide range of weaponry, this is an overall solid PSVR entry that just falls short in the visual department and doesn't have a great control scheme. 

If futuristic ninja are your thing, you'll probably want to give Sairento a try anyway.

However, the recently released Blood & Truth delivers on this premise a little better, since it gives you high-octane shooting mechanics and other satisfying elements like VR lock picking.

[Note: A copy of Sairento was provided by Mixed Realms for the purpose of this review, which is based on the retail version of the game. The North American retail edition is now available.]

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Silver Chains Review: Tried and True Haunted House Horror That's Better as a Let's Play https://www.gameskinny.com/zwdrf/silver-chains-review-tried-and-true-haunted-house-horror-thats-better-as-a-lets-play https://www.gameskinny.com/zwdrf/silver-chains-review-tried-and-true-haunted-house-horror-thats-better-as-a-lets-play Wed, 07 Aug 2019 17:55:27 -0400 Ty Arthur

I'm always up for a new horror adventure title. It doesn't matter the time of year (begone summer, bring us that glorious October already).

Silver Chains from Cracked Head Games does an admirable job of working within the standard genre norms to tell a haunting tale now and in the haunting season.

However, the game doesn't shatter any of those norms. It doesn't push any of those boundaries further out into the blackening abyss. Unfortunately, we all know the drill of a horror game like this.

We open things with our poor, doomed protagonist stuck in a big building for an unknown reason. Of course, they must occasionally hide from a un-killable monster while trying to unravel a mystery. 

Silver Chains even embraces classic tropes in its opening segment, and it's something straight out of 1991's Uninvited

But after that opening scene that we've already seen a million times before, Silver Chains offers up a mix of folklore, traditional ghost tales, psychological horror... and a whole lot of dolls.

What Silver Chains Does Differently

 ...like, an ungodly number of dolls

The very first thing that stands out in Silver Chains is the high level of graphical polish the game presents, which is far beyond most other indie walking-sim horror games.

Aesthetically speaking, this particular haunted-mansion is just flat out beautiful, and the environment is a genuine joy to peruse, especially when you aren't being chased by some awful thing or other. However, this isn't a game where exploration is rewarded, or even necessary. 

There are some achievements to miss if you don't explore, but you won't have to worry about missing too much when sneaking between walls, exploring libraries, and running at top speed down dusty hallways.

Like most titles in this style, you always know you are on the right track because the big bad will appear and chase you whenever you find the next storyline objective. In this case, its the monstrous Mother.

 I'm sorry, I promise to finish my vegetables next time, Mother!

Speaking of Mother, Silver Chains employs a truly solid monster design, here. There's no doubt she elicits a more viscerally terrifying reaction than a lot of other "run-and-hide" horror games that have released recently.

Besides her wildly flowing hair and spooky supernatural aura, Mother can skitter along the walls in a most unsettling manner; getting caught in her oversized hands isn't a fun way to die, especially when you consider the animation is accompanied by an extremely unpleasant snapping sound.

Although neither the atmosphere and nor the story's execution is as dark as, say, Outlast 2, Mother is easily a scarier antagonist than the pickax-wielding Marta. Silver Chains does a fantastic job of wrenching up the gruesome quotient so desperately lacking from death sequences in other games.

It's something that motivates the player to not get caught, and it's something more games in the genre need to take heed of. 

 There's also some dolls sometimes.

Chase sequences aside, Silver Chains has its fair share of effective jump scares, especially if you play in the dark with the volume up. That's because the sound and music is mostly a step up from other indie horror titles. 

While walking on the kitchen tile sounds godawful (and thankfully, it only occurs in that one room), everything else here is meticulously crafted to increase the game's atmosphere, from the creaking wooden horses to the children whispering, "She's coming!" when Mother is on your trail.

When you aren't jumping out of your seat from a sudden ghostly appearance or hiding from the deadly Mother, the bulk of the game consists of finding ways to access new areas, which is where Silver Chains' monocle mechanic comes into play.

With the spirit monocle equipped, you can follow ghostly signs to find hidden entrances or changing rooms, which is a bit different from what you'd expect in this genre.

Unfortunately, the puzzles are pretty standard fare for the most part. Input a safe code, gather three doll parts, twist some nobs to a specific pattern, find four paintings — it's all fairly standard fare.

One Big, Unavoidable Problem

 If I recall correctly, there may have been a doll or two.

Besides its rather by-the-numbers mechanics, Silver Chains has one major problem that can't be overcome by high-end visuals or amazing sound effects— there's even less actual gameplay here than Layers Of Fear.

You don't even get to open cabinets and drawers in the search for the next journal entry or key. It's all "walk here, press 'E' to interact" — and that's it.

For many players, Silver Chains will work better as a Let's Play than an actual game.

Having both played the game and then watched a playthrough, I can confidently say that the latter is a better experience with the lights off, headphones on, and a YouTube clip at full screen. At least then you don't have to deal with the frustration of repeatedly dying or trying to figure out the puzzles.

The Bottom Line

 Did I mention the dolls?

Pros:
  • Beautiful graphics for an indie title
  • Sound effects and music match the atmosphere
  • Classic haunted house storyline and terrifying main enemy
Cons:
  • Extremely short 
  • Puzzles are by very by-the-numbers
  • Lack of gameplay elements makes this more fun to watch than to play

If you dig Outlast, Amnesia, Layers Of Fear, or The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter, then Silver Chains can find a place in your collection of puzzle/adventure horror games.

Unfortunately, it's a very short experience that makes the price tag hard to justify. I finished it in less than four hours and one sitting. If you can guess all the puzzles on your first try, you could complete it in just over an hour.

Considering that you can watch the whole game online without having to deal with frustration puzzles and deaths, and get the same overall experience, I have to (sadly) say that Silver Chains is a well-crafted game that's only worth buying if you must play every game in the genre.

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Rotor Riot Controller Review: This Mobile Gamepad Expands Our Horizons https://www.gameskinny.com/pchlq/rotor-riot-controller-review-this-mobile-gamepad-expands-our-horizons https://www.gameskinny.com/pchlq/rotor-riot-controller-review-this-mobile-gamepad-expands-our-horizons Tue, 06 Aug 2019 13:14:44 -0400 Mark Delaney

Despite playing video games for as long as I can remember and owning virtually every platform between SEGA Genesis and Nintendo Switch, there's one platform I've just never been able to get into: mobile.

I'm not one to say mobile games are all bad. I know many developers play to the strengths of the platform and millions around the world are hooked on all sorts of games for the platform. But it's just never been for me.

Last year I played hundreds of hours of video games and probably not even five of them were on phones and tablets — and it's mainly because of touch controls. 

This year, the same has been true. However, the second half of the year is about to be a lot different thanks to the Rotor Riot Made for iPhone (MFi) Gamepad.

Form Factor

The Rotor Riot controller takes all of its design cues from the Xbox One controller. Considering I think that's the best form factor on the market, that seems like a wise decision. The Rotor Riot even sports the L3/R3 clickable thumbsticks, which the company says makes it the first MFi controller to do so.

Combining that with the same face buttons (albeit with a slightly different color scheme), the same off-center thumbsticks and middle D-pad, and the same trigger and bumper buttons, the Rotor Riot will feel right familiar for anyone who has used an Xbox controller before.

That's not to say the form factor is quite as strong here. Instead, it's a really good imitation, but it lacks the sturdiness Microsoft's product provides. Every button responds well and without issue, but the D-pad feels loose and clunky, reminiscent of the Xbox 360's D-pad. Though unlike the version pictured above, my review model has the eight-way lattice design of the Elite Controller for Xbox. Suffice it to say, the Rotor Riot's D-pad feels less than elite.

Overall, though, it's more than a decent imitation with reliable, responsive buttons in all ways but one. Those touted clickable joysticks feel great, the size of the controller is nearly identical to that which it's trying to mimic, and it all just feels comfortably familiar.

As for the phone holder, I've had no issues during my extended use of the device. The weight of a newer iPhone like my 8s Plus does take some getting used to. Despite the Rotor Riot's supposed zero gravity design of the stand, it's a feeling that, while not uncomfortable, isn't nonexistent either. 

The part that closes around your phone is very tight, as it should be, and when I tested trying to get it to fall out, it never did, even with several good shakes. Once you get used to the weight of the phone sitting above the controller like a top-heavy Switch, it's not awkward. Even my six-year-old son got a lot of playtime out of it and never complained of the weight of the complete contraption. 

The stand is, of course, optional, and it could work just fine on a table or propped up against a book or something else if you prefer, but the stand really suits gaming on the go, like on a bus, train, or plane.

In any case, you'll need to be plugged directly into the phone. The Rotor Riot controller is not wireless, but that wasn't an issue in my time. The cord is just the right length to allow iPad use without getting in the way when you're playing instead on your docked iPhone.

The wire is meant to cut down on latency, and while I can't compare it to a wireless counterpart, I can say I streamed PS4 games to my phone all week with very few problems. The entire experience has really been eye-opening. I didn't quite realize this tech was already here, and now I find myself excited to play games on my phone for the first time in my life

The controller is stated to use less battery than a pair of headphones and that seemed about right in my time with it. As usual, it appeared to be the games that were so taxing on phone battery life, but if the controller exacerbated this drainage at all, it was so minimal I didn't notice.

If you're really worried, you can even charge your phone via a charge-through USB-C input on the controller. By that time, your setup would start to look a bit surgical, with wires and hard plastics popping out in different directions, but it's not obstructive. If you believe in function over fashion, this sort of setup could last you a transcontinental flight and beyond.

Compatible Games

So far, it's been mostly good news for the Rotor Riot, but a mobile gaming controller is only as exciting as its compatible games list. Thankfully, the Rotor Riot's library is quite varied, and it includes some major titles that anybody would love to have.

Some, like Fortnite and Stardew Valley are already available for mobile gamers with Nintendo Switch, but if you don't have one and already have an iPhone, the controller is a much more affordable means of taking such major console games on the go with you.

My favorite games from the compatible library, which features over 1,000 titles in the controller's affiliate app, Ludu Mapp, are the PS2-era Rockstar Games. Nearly all of them — GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas, Liberty City Stories, and the DS classic Chinatown Wars — are all revived thanks to this functionality, and even as the series has come so far, replaying San Andreas wherever I go has actually been a highlight of my time with the Rotor Riot.

Other classics such as Bully and Max Payne are in the store, too.

Popular indies like Hyper Light Drifter, Playdead's Inside, and Fez all place near the top of the platform's available titles. With 1,000 games working with the Rotor Riot, there is a surprisingly deep roster on offer, though many have likely played some of its best games on home consoles.

Perhaps the Rotor Riot's best feature is its compatibility with streaming apps like PS4 Remote Play and Steam Link. Using these, you can play your home PC or PS4 from anywhere in the world. There's also an Xbox streaming app, though it's not free like the others and demands the same network.

It's worth noting, though, that Microsoft's xCloud technology is meant to debut soon, which will hopefully mean future compatibility with the Rotor Riot.

Playing Days Gone on my iPhone was stunning. That was the precise moment I realized technology had surpassed what I was aware of. The world looked just as gorgeous as it does on my big screen TV, and the game ran with only the occasional slowdown.

This feature will be the one that brings mobile gaming into its next phase, where it redefines the ubiquity of games, and as of now, the Rotor Riot is the best tool for the job.

It's worth noting that before the end of the year, both the DualShock 4 and the Xbox One controller will be iOS-compatible via Bluetooth, and when that happens, the same library will become available as it does for all MFi controllers, so while the Rotor Riot is the best option today, it may feel more redundant in the future, unless you really prefer the wired connection or don't want to take any special controllers you may have out of the house.

The 25 Best Rotor Riot-Compatible Mobile Games

If you're wondering about more of the MFi-compatible games that are out there right now, I've curated a list (in no specific order) of some of my favorite mobile games that you can jump into with full controller support. Goodbye, touch controls. You will not be missed.

  • Grand Theft Auto Vice City
  • Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
  • Stardew Valley
  • Life is Strange
  • Telltale's The Walking Dead
  • NBA 2K19
  • Minecraft
  • Terraria
  • Bully: Anniversary Edition
  • Max Payne
  • Fortnite
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Oxenfree
  • INSIDE
  • The Talos Principle
  • The Witness
  • The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
  • Tales from the Borderlands
  • Oceanhorn
  • FEZ
  • NecroDancer: Amplified
  • Transistor
  • PAKO 2
  • Bastion

I'd be remiss to not also mention Final Fantasy IV-VII are all compatible, too. I've never played any game in the series, but I imagine many fans would want to know. I'm also partial to console-quality experiences on my mobile device, but there are quality mobile-first games on there, too, like the addictive Asphalt 9: Legends and the unique Stone, an adventure game starring a koala bear without a care.

As the console-like gaming scene is still pretty new to mobile devices, the library could use more of a boost. A ton of popular games like Madden Mobile and PUBG Mobile are natural fits with the Rotor Riot and MFi controllers in general, but they aren't available yet. That's not really a problem in the hands of Rotor Riot, but as it's being sold all the same, such a caveat unfortunately comes along for the experience.

Pros:
  • Good form factor comes via replicating the industry's best
  • The only MFi controller with L3/R3 triggers 
  • A robust library of mobile games, console ports, and classics from the old days
  • Can be charged while playing and hardly taxes your device's battery anyway
  • Works great with PS4 and Steam streaming apps
  • To hell with touch controls
Cons:
  • D-pad feels flimsy and imprecise
  • With console controller compatibility just weeks away, the shelf life feels anxiously brief
  • Some glaring library omissions, although that's not really their fault

I have a Switch already, but I've quickly found having the Rotor Riot isn't redundant. It broadens the possible games on my docket when I'm on the move, and it's awesome to have a controller that allows for my phone to be a legitimate gaming device for the first time in my life. I've never used any other MFi controllers but browsing them in stores, they always seem like cheap science-fiction knockoffs one might see in a movie or TV show.

With the Rotor Riot, I've found my favorite controller form factor is now available on the go with many of my favorite games and more being added all the time; coincidentally, Hyper Light Drifter was added as I wrote this review. 

An ever-expanding library and a quality controller have gone far to open my eyes to the world of legitimate mobile gaming on iPhones and iPads, and the Rotor Riot is the first sign that the future we all hoped for is finally here.

[Note: A Rotor Riot MFi review unit was provided by Rotor Riot for the purpose of this review.]

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The Forbidden Arts Review: Raking Up the Past https://www.gameskinny.com/5pyx5/the-forbidden-arts-review-raking-up-the-past https://www.gameskinny.com/5pyx5/the-forbidden-arts-review-raking-up-the-past Tue, 06 Aug 2019 12:28:22 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Trying to capture the feel and style of days gone by is a difficult task, but it's a challenge indie developer Stingbot Games set for itself with its debut title, The Forbidden Arts.

The game is a mix of high-fantasy and sidescrolling action, with a smattering of RPG and a touch of collect-a-thon panache. In it, you take control of Phoenix, a young man who accidentally stumbles into a large, dangerous world when he finds out the power of the Forbidden Arts resides within him.

It's a compelling setup that, unfortunately, falls prey to the traps of recreating yesteryear's glory, incorporating style and mechanics that were better off staying in the past.

You're a Wizard — Now Save the World

The story found here may be minimal, but serves its purpose.

There are a number of elements in the world of The Forbidden Arts — earth, fire, air, and the other usual suspects, but then death gets thrown into the mix. It's a bit of an odd addition since it doesn't fit with the rest, and that sense of things not quite meshing the way they should stays with you for the remainder of the game.

According to the story, each element once had a segment of practitioners specializing in that element, but the Necromancers were the most feared because they sought to replace natural life with life gained through death.

Unfortunately, the narrative is mainly unimportant. It's the stuff of high-fantasy novels that might entertain but doesn't always astound.

You basically know what you're in for as soon as you start learning about the game world. It acts as a decent background for the rest of the game, and sometimes, running around in a world full of elves is all you really need, but it ultimately doesn't quite click.

A Bit Too Familiar

Unfortunately, The Forbidden Arts doesn't offer much for those who don't want to just run with elves, and the gameplay actually makes it difficult even for fantasy lovers to fully enjoy it.

One of the first things you notice about The Forbidden Arts is how game-y it is. That might seem like an odd criticism to level at a video game, but it's a prime example of the off-kilter balance of The Forbidden Arts.

The game opens with Phoenix waking up and talking to a guard, who then promptly tells Phoenix things he should already know about the area surrounding the place he's lived. Shouldn't the protagonist already know where the local witch lives?

Take the map as another example. When you aren't in a town or exploring an area, you roam a 3D map. You can easily see the second main area from the beginning — the old mines — on your way to the witch, but naturally, you can't access it.

After clearing the initial quest and gaining the power of flame, you're supposed to head to the mines, but you find you now can't leave the first area until you clear it because this is a game and that's what the developers want you to do.

These are things you'd expect from an NES-era game or maybe if Phoenix were an amnesiac protagonist or if the whole map didn't look accessible, but this isn't and he isn't and it isn't. These quirks set the imbalanced tone for the game's general style, which are only exacerbated when the game's antagonists, the Dark Elves, randomly appear after a bit of basic plot. 

There's no denying plenty of games used to play out like this, and you do feel like you've stepped back in time when you're playing The Forbidden Arts. But that doesn't mean revisiting outdated presentation and design is consistently fun either.

We don't see many of these things in modern gaming for a reason.

Run Away

There are some issues with combat as well, namely that it isn't worthwhile and can be completely cheesed.

Most enemies can be dispatched by mashing "Y" for your basic attack, during which time they can't counter. Some are stronger and break your attack cycle with their own charged attacks, but you can take them out from a distance with an elemental attack, thus avoiding damage entirely. Others are only weak to a certain element, but even then, they aren't hard to defeat.

The easiest way to avoid damage, though? Double jump over every enemy and keep running. You can do that throughout the entire game for almost every enemy, which makes all of your abilities and magic mostly redundant, to say nothing of the combat system itself.

Finding novel ways to avoid enemies and progress through each level quickly is, again, characteristic of older games. However, being able to bypass most of the game this way seems a slightly bizarre design choice, especially when it makes the game's chief feature — using elemental attacks — entirely unnecessary.

Are We There Yet?

Jumping is something you'll be doing a lot of throughout The Forbidden Arts. Stages are multi-level affairs, with lots of ledges to climb, walls to scale, and gaps to leap. Despite other weaknesses noted, it's easy to notice the strength of design here.

Gaps and jumps are measured with great precision, so executing a jump at just the right moment clears those seemingly impossible leaps or propels you to that ledge just out of reach.

While the platforming aspect is executed effectively, it does get somewhat repetitive over time. Stages don't mix up the platforming very much, except with some basic puzzles here and there, and each stage is fairly long, too, so it all becomes a bit stale after a short while.

That's exacerbated by the fact that most levels trend towards the rather plain, with huge blocks of earth or stone taking up most of the screen in each stage or the main action area just being a flat plane of color.

The game's pre-release screenshots suggest The Forbidden Arts has a fair bit of 3D gameplay as well. That's not actually the case.

3D is limited to moving around the overworld map, and there's not much to do there. It's a shame, because the 3D parts are much more attractive in their presentation than the 2D areas, with more to see, more color, and more variation in general.

One nagging issue when exploring the 2D environments is the map. Expanding it isn't an option, even though the stages have multiple paths leading to dead ends or gold, the latter of which acts as the game's collectible item.

You can use it to rebuild certain towers on the world map if you collect a certain amount of it, but the trouble is in getting to them. The game's dummy paths are long as well, and Phoenix doesn't move very quickly, so getting to paths that end in gold can get irritating the more you play.

Repeat Track

Finally, let's talk about the audio.

There's some good variation in tracks throughout the game, but most are far too short. Many tracks seem like they are more appropriately sound bytes than full soundtrack pieces. You'll spot loops very quickly and turn the volume down even faster.

Pros:
  • Effective fantasy setting
  • Well-considered platform design
Cons:
  • Tedious levels that border on bland
  • Comes across as artificial and padded more often than not
  • Combat system needs work

The Forbidden Arts is a testament to how fickle nostalgia can be. There's a good reason some aspects of game design have fallen by the wayside over the years. We may remember them fondly, but it's often the case that they just don't work anymore.

That being said, your mileage will vary with The Forbidden Arts. If you don't mind some of its less appealing quirks and are just looking for a basic platformer with a fantasy setting, then this might be for you after all.

Everyone else would do better looking elsewhere.

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Metal Wolf Chaos XD Review: Back to the Past https://www.gameskinny.com/nrs23/metal-wolf-chaos-xd-review-back-to-the-past https://www.gameskinny.com/nrs23/metal-wolf-chaos-xd-review-back-to-the-past Tue, 06 Aug 2019 09:51:54 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Beginning a review of Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a tall order. There's no real way to introduce the concept of this game, the story behind its re-release, or the game's cult status in any kind of cohesive way.

In short, if you've never heard of Metal Wolf Chaos, it was an Xbox-exclusive mech game released by From Software in 2004. At the time, From Software's most popular IP was the Armored Core series, and Metal Wolf Chaos was the developer's attempt at creating a mech game for western audiences.

From did that by creating a game where you play as the president and blow up the entire United States of America...

Hail To The Chief

Right off the bat, given our current political climate, the story of the game might make some folks squinchy in a Dr. Strangelove kind of way.

The TL;DR is that the vice president has seized control of the United States and installed a fascist dictatorship. Under the guise of revolution, military coup d'etat forces instate martial law, complete with a propaganda network that blames the country's problems on immigration and "terrorists," like the player character.

If you like your video games to be escapist fantasies, and you live in the United States, be warned.

Of course, any serious anti-war message here is somewhat undercut when you're piloting a gigantic mech shooting railguns at tanks in the middle of San Francisco.

This ridiculous story is what the game is mostly known for. And I'm happy to say that it doesn't disappoint. It's blatantly over-the-top and bombastic, full of explosions, quips, and hilarious translation errors. For some, the cutscenes might be worth the price of admission alone.

The gameplay, however, is a different beast altogether, and will likely turn off a few folks who had been looking forward to this game for years.

Showing Its Age

Metal Wolf is very, very much a product of 2004.

Though it's unfair to judge the game's graphical quality by today's standards, the general color palette of the game is drab and bland, as was the trend for many action games circa 15 years ago.

In addition, there's not much strategy to be had. Granted, that's not a bad thing on its own, but for folks expecting a deep Mechwarrior-like blend of combat and strategy, there's none of that to be found here.

Instead, players are given a game that plays a lot like the Earth Defense Force series. You'll be mowing down waves upon waves of opponents, blowing up everything in your path (with the occasional dodge), and completing objectives in small, self-contained stages. And just like the EDF series, its gameplay is an odd blend of repetition and satisfaction.

This kind of loop will likely be frustrating for some, especially because the game isn't exactly newcomer-friendly.

Your HUD is full of meters, bars, and gauges, and the game never really makes it clear which is for what. The game also never tells you how your shield works, that stomping does massive damage to buildings, that you can boost in the air to hover, or that your burst move works in mysterious ways. You'll have to find all that out on your own through trial and error, a tough ask given the game's stages don't have checkpoints.

It seems like the remaster team skimped on the part of the budget meant to go to audio. Certain post-mission cutscenes are insanely loud compared with the rest of the game, and depending on where the camera is situated, a horrible whooshing sound will drown out the rest of the audio during gameplay. Hopefully, the audio can be normalized in a future patch.

That said, there's a reason the Earth Defense Force games are so popular and enduring among their fans. It feels good to charge up a railgun and line up a shot that lances through two buildings and a helicopter. Stomping enemies and causing them to fly out in a perfect, circular splash is almost therapeutic. Seeing explosions from two console generations ago is nostalgic.

The game stimulates some primal part of your brain, and for some, that'll be worth the $25 asking price.

The Results Are In

Pros:
  • Ridiculous, hilarious story
  • Satisfying action, akin to the Earth Defense Force series
  • A pitch-perfect time capsule from the gaming world of 2004
Cons:
  • Action is repetitive 
  • A distinct lack of tutorials in the game's systems means there's a lot of trial and error 
  • A pitch-perfect time capsule from the gaming world of 2004

The big question is whether, after a 15-year wait, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is everything it's been hyped to be. 

And the answer is an emphatic no. The game hasn't aged much worse than other 2004 action titles, but at the end of the day, this is a popcorn game, best played in short hour-or-so-long bursts until you finish the brief campaign and never really think about it again.

Judged on its own merits, however, there's a lot to like here for fans of simple, satisfying games. If you meet the game in its current state, you'll find a well-constructed mech game with hilariously over-the-top dialogue and story. We can confidently recommend this game for all fans of the Earth Defense Force series, and for others, it's definitely at least worth playing the demo.

[Note: A copy of Metal Wolf Chaos XD was provided by Devolver Digital for the purpose of this review.]

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Wolfenstein: Youngblood Review — Old Meets New https://www.gameskinny.com/7t3vd/wolfenstein-youngblood-review-old-meets-new https://www.gameskinny.com/7t3vd/wolfenstein-youngblood-review-old-meets-new Mon, 05 Aug 2019 10:19:52 -0400 Sergey_3847

As the grandfather of the FPS genre, Wolfenstein has always been considered one of the best shooter series in the world. Aside from competitive multiplayer, the Wolfenstein games have always been single-player games. However, modern times dictate a different approach.

From the very beginning, Wolfenstein: Youngblood has been marketed to audiences as a kind of experiment. This time around, it's not just your typical Nazi-blaster, but a looter-shooter with a hefty handful of RPG elements.

This isn't Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus or Wolfenstein: The New Order. There's no B.J. Blazkowicz; instead, the narrative tells the story of two completely different characters, although they're irrevocably tied to the old Nazi killer.

Story and Setting

Things begin when Blazkowicz suddenly disappears in Nazi-occupied Paris. His two daughters, Jessie and Zophia, set off, as one does, to find him. After they arrive in France, the La Resistance group immediately takes the twins under their protection and even vaguely hints at the possible location of B.J., which spurns the twin sisters forward.

The game's beginning is actually quite intriguing, but then you begin to realize that story doesn't play a big role in Youngblood, and that B.J.'s daughters aren't like their father at all. They can't take anything seriously, and to them, the whole idea of war seems more like a game.

In general, the scope of the story is much smaller than the narratives found in previous Wolfenstein games, and the tone tends to lean away from the serious; much of what here seems to be here for pure entertainment this time around.

Now it's all about character progression and gathering trophies and achievements.

On the other hand, the game's visual representation is superb. Bethesda manages to believably convey the eerie aesthetics of alternative history, where the Nazis have ruled over the world for many years after the alternate WW2 we've come to know throughout the series.

Location design is extremely well done, with a lot of ways to enter and leave buildings, which is great for players who prefer to sneak up on enemies instead of running through a location guns blazing, although that's certainly still here as well. 

Gameplay Mechanics

New Enemies

Youngblood's basic mechanics have not changed much since New Colossus. Many enemies from New Colossus have returned, including ordinary soldiers, ubersoldats, snipers, robot dogs, and many others you'd expect to see in Nazi-occupied Paris.

However, some enemies have become stronger and are now protected by barriers in addition to their armor. There are two types of barriers in the game, and each requires a different approach. For example, armor-piercing weapons will do nothing to a soft barrier, but they will obliterate a hard barrier. 

Adding a small wrinkle to gameplay, you most certainly will have to change weapons more often, whether in firefights or when engaging a single enemy. 

In the 20 years between Youngblood and New Colossus, the Nazis have significantly improved their defenses, as well. One of the enhanced types of enemies in Youngblood are commanders, which are now equipped with much better weapons, and, as always, ought to be killed first. Otherwise, they will alert other soldiers.

Besides commanders you will see flying drones and new kinds of robots with high-tech weapons, which you can pick up as well. 

Compulsory Co-Op

Wolfenstein: Youngblood is the first game in the series to offer co-operative campaign play. Both sisters can be used in co-operative mode, however, they both have the same skill trees and weapons. It's a missed opportunity to flesh out both characters and give players the opportunity to synergize abilities and skills.

While a Buddy Pass code comes with the Deluxe Edition of the game at the release, making sure that players who buy the edition will have a friend to play with, playing the game in co-op is not required. Without another real-life player, the super helpful AI simply takes over. 

Predominantly concerned with keeping you alive, Youngblood's AI will revive you if you go down. It's a really cool feature, and it makes playing with AI totally worth it.

RPG Elements

Skill trees and other character progression elements have been present in the Wolfenstein series before, but not to such an extent as in Youngblood. Here, players can't contend with enemies several levels above their own. This system basically forces you to complete side missions to progress to the required level.

You can repeat the same missions over and over again to grind for a certain perk or weapon upgrade. But for many players, such a system is a nuisance, and it flies in the face the quick gameplay previous Wolfenstein games are known for.

Making matters worse, enemies also tend to respawn in the same locations, which makes the whole idea of clearing an area increasingly pointless. 

Microtransactions

It has to be mentioned that Wolfenstein: Youngblood has microtransactions and in-game currency, which can be earned by completing missions. But fortunately, MTXs don't influence important gameplay elements and are used solely for cosmetics.

Pros:
  • Gorgeous, atmospheric open world
  • Well-designed locations
  • Weapons feel more powerful
  • Feels less casual than previous games
Cons:
  • Too much grinding for character progression
  • Lack of plot development and no big story
  • Protagonists can be annoying at times

Wolfenstein: Youngblood indeed offers a somewhat fresh look at the long-running franchise. The gunplay is basically the same, but grinding and RPG elements do make the game feel slightly different from the rest of the games.

Long-time fans of the series will probably dislike Youngblood for the compulsory co-op and disappearance of B.J. Blazkowicz from the primary action. Many players may not like the RPG elements that require a good deal of grinding in a game that was marketed as the continuation of New Colossus.

An open-world design and side quests are fine, but that's not exactly what players expected from the new Wolfenstein.

If you're a Wolfenstein purist who adored the single-player aspect of the previous games, or you are attached to B.J. Blazkowicz, then chances are you might not like Youngblood.

But if you don't care about any of that, and new quirky characters with their own brand of original humor excite you, then it's definitely a shooter you need to try out.

[Note: A copy of Wolfenstein: Youngblood was provided by Bethesda Softworks for the purpose of this review.]

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Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Triumphantly Propels the Series Into a Sci-Fi Future https://www.gameskinny.com/95a2s/age-of-wonders-planetfall-triumphantly-propels-the-series-into-a-sci-fi-future https://www.gameskinny.com/95a2s/age-of-wonders-planetfall-triumphantly-propels-the-series-into-a-sci-fi-future Mon, 05 Aug 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

 Clear your calendars, buckle up, and get ready for a long drop into orbit. Age Of Wonders: Planetfall is going to consume your life. 

While the fan base may have been apprehensive about such an established fantasy franchise making the jump into hyperspace, but they needn't worry any longer. After having put a few dozen hours into the game, I can easily say the transition was smooth and worth the long wait between entries. 

Even if you normally prefer strict medieval fantasy, endlessly re-playing Heroes of Might and Magic titles or the previous Age Of Wonders III, the updated mechanics found in Planetfall are worth experiencing, if for nothing more than expanding your horizons and taking a trip into the future.

How Going Sci-Fi Changes The Game

 Screw your frost wyvern. I'll keep my TANK!

There's one question on the minds of all returning AoW players right now: just how different is Planetfall from the other games? 

Thankfully, Planetfall employs the right amount of different-but-familiar gameplay to work for any player.

There are a handful of similar 1:1 holdovers from the previous game, like needing to research Aquatic Deployment before you can move armies onto water tiles. Everything else, however, is distinguished enough from the fantasy version that Planetfall doesn't just end up a re-skin of Age Of Wonders III.

Now there are Tactical Operations instead of combat spells, and spells that would have affected the game map are now split between Strategic Operations, like creating drones that hinder enemy movement in a province, and Doctrines, which provide global bonuses and affects.

Of course, the territory acquisition mechanics have been upgraded, and changes have come to resources and weaponry. You'll be calling in orbital strikes and placing recon outposts instead of lobbing fireballs or sending magic crows on scouting missions.

In either campaign mode or in random scenarios, maps now wraparound like a Pacman board since you are landing on and conquering spherical planets instead of traversing flat landmasses. That's a subtle change that reinforces the shift into planet-conquering, far-future gameplay. 

Further, the soundtrack is more pulse-pounding than in previous entries. I wouldn't call it extreme metal by any means, but the rapid fire drum beats in manual combat make for significantly more exciting battles.

Between the soundtrack overhaul and the tactical battlefields filled with objects you can interact with, there's more reason to actually play each clash of armies rather than just hitting "auto" every time.

Aside from combat changes, there's a lot more going on with annexed provinces, such as how you interact with them and how they generate resources. These mechanics are befitting advanced technological societies that can generate huge amounts of power or grow biological food on a massive scale.

One of the most welcome tweaks arrives in the form of a handful of long-overdue quality of life upgrades.

The tedium of clicking through every event has been minimized, and now there's an icon clearly showing what a settlement is currently constructing and how many turns it will take to complete.

Long story short, if you've already mastered Age Of Wonders III, you won't have any problem figuring out this version of the game. Luckily, there's still enough new here to change the experience and keep the gameplay fresh.

Planetfall Factions And Gameplay

So how many factions can be played, and how do they differ from one another?

Another area in which Planetfall really shines, there are six strong, main factions to choose from, along with a variety of minor NPC groups to interact with that feature their own unit types, from the degenerate human Spacers to the mechanical AI collective, Autonom.



These are the factions you can pick as of launch:

  • Vanguard: Rough and tumble human survivalists who can drop drones and turrets but otherwise use standard firearms and laser weapons.

  • Kir’Ko: Psionic insects focused on rapid population growth and working in tandem during battle with swarm abilities.

  • Dvar: Thrifty miners focused on explosives, area of affect attacks, and terraforming mountain terrain.

  • Amazon: Beast riders focused on biological weapons, laser attacks, and using forest terrain.

  • Syndicate: Decadent criminal houses that use arc and psi weapons, ignore morale penalties through slavery, and focus on stealth and information gathering.

  • Assembly: Cyborgs that break down and reassemble human flesh, with a focus on arc weapons and faster research.

Although the Dvar are clearly space dwarves, the rest of the factions aren't just obvious analogs to the fantasy version of the franchise, and that's a huge plus that makes the game more exciting for returning fans.

The Vanguard is probably the easiest faction to pick up and play, since they are so strongly focused on military conquest and can pump out a steady stream of useful ranged units.

That being said, my personal favorite is easily the Assembly at the moment. Their creepy, death-and-resurrection focused cyborgs that use the body parts of the fallen to heal themselves and craft new troops is very compelling. It's a sneaky way to get necromancers in sci-fi game, but Triumph makes the faction feel significantly more futuristic. 

No matter what race you go with, you'll interact with other NPC factions much more often than in the previous game, and in some brand-new ways, too.

NPC factions with which you aren't actively warring request tributes of you much more often than before (probably to a degree that needs to be scaled down in a patch) but there's a two way street there.

You can now spend a new resource called Influence to buy units, items, and technology from allies. The more you buy, the more they like you and the more often they give access to higher quality inventory. Staying on good terms with your neighboring communities can be more lucrative than outright conquering and absorbing them.

Every faction is strongly represented by its roster of heroes. While there are fewer item slots for your heroes than before (since they aren't wearing helmets, magic rings, and so on), there's much more flexibility in what abilities you get by swapping out items and placing modifications.

Here's the big twist: you can apply these mod changes to any units,not just heroes. Want a melee skirmisher that deals bleed over time effects and can heal other units? Prefer a sniper with a high critical hit chance and more defense than normal? No problem, just spend some energy and cosmite to apply whatever mods you've researched.

The best part? The UI automatically creates a template anytime you put a new mod combination on a unit, so you can then create new instances of that unit with those same mods already applied, rather than having to manually add them anytime you produce new armies.

While combat remains a big focus no matter what faction you choose, there's now greater choice in how you want to tackle missions via diplomacy, exploration, or military conquest with rewards and quests available depending on which team on the map starts down which path first.

Taking a cue from Civilization, there's also now a branch of the research tree that lets you win randomized maps without military conquest at all. So long as you can be a good neighbor for a set number of rounds and keep diplomatic relations strong, you can unify a planet without first burning it all to the ground, which offers up a very different way to play random Age Of Wonders scenarios. 

The Bottom Line

 ....the hell?!?

Pros:
  • Updated graphics and a host of quality of life changes
  • The sci-fi setting works amazingly well with Age Of Wonders gameplay
  • Distinct starting factions and more options to decide how you want to play any given map
Cons:
  • The story and dialog are pretty hit or miss
  • Some resources are still clearly better than others, so a few branches of the research tree aren't going to be used often

Campaign or random map, cyborg necromancers or dino-riding amazons, military conquest or diplomatic unification: there's just a ton to do with Planetfall, and the missions are lengthy and meaty enough to keep you playing for hours. Taking the cautious defensive route, going for diplomacy, and completing all the side quests, it took me 69 turns to complete the first mission.

Of course, in a game this huge, there will be some problems, and I do have a few minor complaints with Planetfall. Notably, some resources and abilities clearly outpace others. You always need more energy, so its far more useful to focus on upgrades that increase that resource as opposed to anything else.

Although its not a big enough deal to distract from the gameplay, the story and dialog aren't anything to write home about. The missions occasionally get silly or are too on the nose, and Triumph shows a weird obsession with evil, genetically modified penguins that some will love and others will get annoyed by fairly quickly.

That being said, the core of the game is rock solid, and its replay value is high. Planetfall even has a mods tab as soon as you launch the game, so clearly that side of the community is being well supported.

Simply put, Planetfall accomplishes everything it set out to do, and between the campaign, randomized scenarios, and the upcoming mod onslaught, I'm expecting to get hundreds of hours of play here in the coming years.

[Note: A copy of Age of Wonders: Planetfall was provided by GoG for the purpose of this review.]

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The Church in the Darkness Review: Heaven's Great https://www.gameskinny.com/6o671/the-church-in-the-darkness-review-heavens-great https://www.gameskinny.com/6o671/the-church-in-the-darkness-review-heavens-great Fri, 02 Aug 2019 10:25:02 -0400 Mark Delaney

It's 1977.

At the behest of your sister, you're sent to the jungles of South America to search for your nephew Alex. He's in a community named Freedom Town, whose 500 or so people packed their bags amidst supposed persecution ten years prior and left the capitalist machine of the United States behind.

Whether a name like "Freedom Town" fills you with suspicion or hope when you arrive on the outskirts of the commune likely reveals part of your own worldview, and the best part of The Church in the Darkness is you'll be right and wrong at different times no matter your predisposition.

Sometimes Isaac and Rebecca Walker, the charismatic leaders of the Collective Justice Mission, will practice what they preach and exist as the open arms to all who search for a new way of life. Other times, their intentions, though perhaps once noble, have been trampled by years of paranoia, subversion, and in-fighting.

You've just stepped into a small, town-sized powder keg. This malleability is the greatest ambition of The Church in the Darkness, and it largely succeeds at fulfilling its promise.

Only God Can Judge Me

The Church in the Darkness is built on stealth first and foremost, and while it allows you to go louder and messier if you prefer  the same way many genre games do  it's often the wrong approach because you can easily end up the bad guy.

Cults rightfully have a bad reputation, but it's also true that we only tend to hear about the communities that end like Jonestown or Heaven's Gate. There are surely some communities that could be considered cults, but they live on without human rights violations and mass suicides, so they don't make the news.

Sometimes that's who the Collective Justice Mission is. Sometimes the Walkers truly are the loving, kindness-practicing leaders who just want to live a way of life that is incongruous from Cold War United States politics. Other times, the chorus of kumbaya never comes, because one or both of them are unhinged.

No matter which personalities you get for the Walkers on any given playthrough, the game masks who they really are and drip-feeds the reveal to you by way of dialogue, collectibles, and the leaders' temperament if or when they capture you.

There's a small number of other CJM members with whom you can interact and from whom you pick up side missions, and though their objective, like your own to find Alex, never changes, where you find them and where you'll find what they need changes with every playthrough.

There seem to be four major personality possibilities for the Walkers, but then those permutations have permutations that react to how you're playing. Even if you've deduced that the Walkers aren't worthy of praise or trust, you can still alter the course of how that playthrough ends based on what you've done to their people. Every interaction is a moral dilemma and even as the community members are mostly faceless zealots, the sense that you could light a figurative fuse in Freedom Town and cause more harm than would otherwise unfold presents an engaging utilitarian dilemma.

Do you knock out a guard knowing he'll awaken shortly or just kill him on the spot? Do you hide a body or flee the scene in a disguise? Do you rob a farmer for their food or sneak past and save them from that trauma? How will you manage your inventory when health and bullets are often so low?

The game constantly feels like it's doing the math and solving the equations you present in real-time, and that makes for over a dozen different endings, and you'll definitely have favorite finales — I know I do.

Working In Mysterious Ways

The top-down map is wide open but constructed in a maze-like manner because of the various treelines, buildings, and armed guards you'll have to circumnavigate. On easier difficulties, this is done using vision cones which can temporarily be spotted when the player crouches. On the highest difficulty, you're completely without them  and death is a one-shot kill away.

The four difficulty modes are well-balanced. A systems-heavy game like this, where so many variables are interacting at once, feels like the perfect backdrop for perfectionists to chase the most difficult playthroughs, like moving through Freedom Town and extracting Alex without anyone ever knowing you're there or doing so without being harmed on the way.

Completionists will also love filling out the game's endings page, where you can see which you've seen so far and on which difficulty you've seen them. 

Maybe because the game is so ambitious, it doesn't quite hit the high mark it's going for, even as it admirably comes close. With so many permutations in play, enemy behaviors don't always logically continue from the data you've given the game. It can sometimes be really easy for guards to stop chasing you, even after they may have found several dead bodies. The game also doesn't have a sound mechanic that alerts nearby Freedom Towners of gunshots. Instead, it's all seemingly based on line of sight and vision cones.

It's consistent, at least, but dissatisfyingly unrealistic in this way.

Some parts of the UI also tend to get in the way by taking up too much of the screen and staying on screen longer than needed. As each playthrough will contain multiple objectives and side missions before you can escape with Alex (or not), confront the Walkers (or not), or expose the Collective Justice Mission (or not), time is often of the essence.

The game's way of sharing new information via large blocks of text can sometimes obstruct vision cones or enemy movements, too, leaving you at their mercy for a moment too long. On harder difficulties, this is especially problematic because it takes that vital autonomy out of your hands and nearly blindfolds you amid a host of trigger-happy gunmen where one shot erases it all.

Other times, some minor bugs get in the way, too, usually revolving around escorting your nephew. He's a reliable AI, don't worry about that, but sometimes interacting with him during your getaway can leave some extra UI stuck on the screen. I found a workaround to fix this, but it's obviously not supposed to happen. 

Anyone for Kool-Aid?

While it's first and foremost a game driven by its well-defined but flexible gameplay elements, I found a lot of the narrative content compelling. Reading descriptions for collectibles is fun because they too change with the many versions of Freedom Town. But most of all, I was often stunned by the constant dronings over the speakers by Isaac and Rebecca Walker.

They make some really strong points about the United States' shortcomings and its bloody, terrible history as the richest country in the world built on the backs of slave labor. They recall the Stonewall Riots, mock the presidents of their time, and even come down particularly hard on my hometown of Boston. 

The Walkers, even when they're at their most vile and violent, can still make uncomfortably strong arguments, at least for why Freedom Town was originally necessary.

Their public speeches like these serve as a constant reminder of how cults often reel in some of the smartest people in our society, not just our most outwardly vulnerable. We know this is true from history, and Church depicts this accurately and cleverly across the many versions of the charismatic leaders.

Pros:
  • Ambitious, moving-parts story design mostly works and invites many playthroughs
  • Compelling characters in the Walkers who beg philosophical questions in all iterations
  • Collectibles done right

Cons

  • UI issues get in the way, especially on higher difficulties
  • Falls a bit shy of reacting realistically to all your decisions

The Church in the Darkness comes from a small team determined to toy with big ideas, both in story and in gameplay, and for the most part, it gets those elements right.

The employ of stealth as a self-measuring moral barometer is satisfying every single time, and the Walkers' soapboxing is unnervingly hard to argue against.

The game does show its constraints in some ways, but by and large, it's worth singing its praises. Hallelujah.

[Note: A copy of The Church in the Darkness was provided by Paranoid Productions for the purpose of this review.]

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Lexip Pu94 Gaming Mouse Review: Unusually Customizable, But Who Actually Needs These Features? https://www.gameskinny.com/joc8d/lexip-pu94-gaming-mouse-review-unusually-customizable-but-who-actually-needs-these-features https://www.gameskinny.com/joc8d/lexip-pu94-gaming-mouse-review-unusually-customizable-but-who-actually-needs-these-features Thu, 01 Aug 2019 11:18:55 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Lexip is a French company, which mounted a successful Kickstarter early last year to deliver a specialized gaming mouse to the world. The trademark feature of the Pu94 is that it integrates two separate internal, miniaturized analog joysticks. One's on the left side of the mouse, under your thumb; the other is controlled by subtly rocking the mouse's shell on its spring-loaded base.

To be honest, when I first heard of it, I wasn't sure why Lexip thought I'd want it. Having a couple of extra makeshift joysticks on a gaming mouse sounded like a level of innovation for innovation's sake, something that you don't often see outside late-night commercials. They might as well have stuck a garlic press on there, or a mandolin slicer, for all the practical application it seemed to have.

The goal, according to Lexip, is to buy yourself a couple of extra seconds in-game by allowing you to move and click simultaneously with the same hand. You can reassign your "WASD" keys to one of the integrated joysticks, for example, so you can pivot, aim, move, and strafe entirely with your mouse.

Lexip's initial product launch last year was bogged down a bit by glitchy software. The company showed up at E3 this year ready to roll with some updates, aiming to make up for lost time, and offered me a chance to test-drive a new edition of the Pu94.

After a couple of weeks of play, it does have a lot going for it.

I'm rough on hardware, and the Pu94 is one of the more sturdy-feeling gaming mice I've ever used. It's got a nice long braided cord, ceramic "feet" along its bottom for a surprisingly smooth glide, two extra buttons on its left side, and one extra "Lexip" button on top underneath the scroll wheel. It's also comfortable in my hand.

I do have to ding the Pu94 straight out of the gate, however, for a lack of documentation. The manual and box appear to be written on the assumption that you're probably buying the mouse straight from Lexip itself, so you've obviously already done your research. Nothing that comes with the mouse tells you about its control panel, which is a free download from Lexip's website, and which is required before you can take advantage of the Pu94's additional options.

Without the control panel, it's just an expensive plug-and-play mouse, with a strange rocking base and a thumbstick that's little better than a second, pointier, oversensitive scroll wheel.

Once you install the control panel, which is still a little glitchy (one of the menus consistently stayed open on my screen even after I closed the panel) but entirely usable, you can start tinkering with the Pu94's DPI, change the colors of its lights, customize the buttons, and adjust the sticks' sensitivity. It comes with a number of pre-set options for games like Kerbal Space Program, DOTA 2, World of Warcraft, and Counter-Strike.

The general idea is meant to be that once you're used to it, you can use the mouse to do some or all of your in-game motion, instead of the mouse plus a keyboard, which means you gain valuable seconds in the heat of the fray.

It does require a lot of custom tinkering unless you're playing one of the games that are already included as presets, however, and once you've got it working, there's a fairly hellacious learning curve. It takes a lot of time to decouple yourself from the old "WASD"/mouse combination, although it's surprisingly useful to be able to save your left hand for things like context commands and quick-selecting weapons.

Mostly, though, this is a gimmick. The Kickstarter and website for the Pu94 are both littered with testimonials from satisfied players who've used the mouse to gain a new competitive edge, but for the amount of work you're putting in here, you have to take your fun fairly seriously. I don't see the real utility here unless you're actually looking to go pro.

There are two big exceptions, though. One is obvious: this would be an ideal solution for any player who happens to not have full use of both hands. The Pu94's actually a surprisingly great accessibility option.

The other is that the dual joysticks make the Pu94 a nice option for playing certain kinds of games that are heavy on spatial navigation. Some players have reported that it's excellent for flight simulators, for example, or building games like The Sims. I actually found it a decent option for playing the non-VR edition of the recent release Bow to Blood, a sort of naval-action game, as it let me move through space a bit more elegantly than a simple "WASD"/mouse combination would allow.

Pros:
  • A comfortable, sleek ergonomic gaming mouse that's built to last
  • Adjustable all the way up to 12,000 DPI
  • Incredibly useful for certain genres, such as flight simulators
  • A great potential accessibility option for disabled or recovering players
Cons:
  • The packaging and manual in the box do not actually mention the control panel software at all; I guess you're supposed to go to the Lexip website out of sheer curiosity and find it that way

  • Definitely a hardcore option for serious players, as only the most driven or dedicated fans will sit down and spend a couple of hours customizing a control scheme like this one

  • A niche product; if you don't intend to use it for its specific hardware options, you'd do better to get a Logitech or Razer product for a bit less money

The Pu94 isn't a bad mouse on its own, and I'd be interested in buying a stripped-down model that simply featured the same degree of comfort and sensitivity. The big key features here, however, take enough work to set up that I question the value of the product as a whole. It's not bad, but outside of a few edge cases or particular genres, it's not particularly necessary.

If you like tinkering with weird hardware, though, this is a must-have. One way or another, there isn't much else like this on the market today.

[Note: A Pu94 review unit was provided by Lexip for the purpose of this review.]

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses Review — Cream of the Crop https://www.gameskinny.com/vc83w/fire-emblem-three-houses-review-cream-of-the-crop https://www.gameskinny.com/vc83w/fire-emblem-three-houses-review-cream-of-the-crop Wed, 31 Jul 2019 16:20:54 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Put an RPG in a school setting, and you'll likely get lots of exasperated eye rolls from fans. Anime School often brings with it lots of well-used tropes. That's why Fire Emblem: Three Houses surprised and concerned many when it came out the game was partially set in a school.

Competing factions? Check. Shy mage girls and brash, would-be Casanovas? Check. In fact, "check" for everything you might expect out of a school-based RPG.

Add a Persona-style calendar and stat-raising system with some distinct plot elements reminiscent of Nihon Falcom's Trails of Cold Steel, and you have a game that seems mostly derivative on paper.

Fortunately, the difference between theory and reality is made plain from the moment you boot up Three Houses. This Fire Emblem skillfully balances innovation with established mechanics to create the most immersive and finely crafted game in the franchise.

The Bonds You Form

Three Houses presents what's easily the most sophisticated — and coherent — Fire Emblem story, and it does so in ways subtly different from the series' usual storytelling methods. Note that some minor story spoilers from the opening segments follow.

It's no secret that churches and organized religion are frequent targets in JRPGs. Three Houses isn't different in this regard, but it doesn't expect you to be surprised by that fact. You're actually shown the Church of Seiros' dark side in the game's opening movie sequence.

By chapter five, which is still quite early in the game, you and your students are in no doubt about the Church's morally ambiguous nature and tendency towards authoritarianism.

What makes the plot especially strong is how all this isn't necessarily the primary emphasis. How each character reacts to what they learn, how they take part in or are affected by the political machinations around them — that's what makes Three Houses' narrative compelling.

It doesn't fade as the game progresses either. Despite some intentionally predictable developments, there are still plenty of surprises, many of which relate to how you're forced to interact with the students you once considered friends once the real war starts.

This setup and heavier focus on characters and character development is a definite boon for the game. That's because Fire Emblem has always been about its characters, even before Intelligent Systems turned them into breeding machines with Awakening.

As we initially predicted after the first gameplay reveal, the school setting is a natural way for the game to emphasize this strength. You don't really have a choice: you're going to become invested in your students.

You help them grow and achieve their goals, you learn their troubled backstories, you come to understand their hopes and dreams, and you spend your rare free time with them.

After the time skip and each House splits, all this time and effort means it's almost like facing off against your own kids during battle (if your kids were fictitious and lived in a fantasy world, that is).

Support conversations are more important than ever thanks to this setup, especially since these are where you interact with students one-on-one and see how they relate to their classmates.

What's even more interesting this time around is that support conversations often have some plot significance, with the conversations between House leaders and their second-in-command proving most useful in foreshadowing how that House's path will play out.

Wanting to see how each House's path plays out means Three Houses has tons of replay value as well. Plus, that desire bears witness to the story's strength on the whole. Even after dozens of hours finishing one path, you'll want to jump right back in to pick another path.

Tangled Threads

It's not all about the characters, though; there's still a strong plot independent of them. Even with the many changes to the series, the usual Fire Emblem content is still here: characters who go bad, surprise-not-surprise revelations about an important character's lineage, lots of political intrigue and the like. As fantasy food goes, it's all satisfying stuff.

However, Three Houses' political issues seem more deeply rooted in political history, with a splash of literature thrown in for good measure. (Bonus points for anyone who gets the house name references to King Lear in the Golden Deer path.)

No longer does King X invading Country Y to fulfill evil, arcane Mission Z make up most of the world-building. It's there, but there's much more as well.

Clashes between democratic ideals and monarchy, burgeoning nations and the established hegemony, are as old as civilization. These different themes are common throughout medieval European history, and the tangled motives and conflicting paths are a refreshing take on Fire Emblem's usually more one dimensional narratives.

All of this is wrapped up in the Church of Seiros' dark secrets and the forces that move against it, not all of which work together.

Whether you're versed in politics and history or not, it's easy to appreciate the detail Three Houses lavishes on its world and nations, not to mention the nuanced treatment given to the story.

Welcome to Your New Life

Fire Emblem games usually introduce something new in each entry, but the changes tend to be conservative. Some new class paths here, an overworld map there, skirmishes, removing weapon durability, and other similar changes have all featured in each successive Fire Emblem game in the West since 2003.

In comparison, Three Houses is like a quiet revolution. Not only does it do away with the weapon triangle, a series staple, but it introduces a host of new mechanics, expands existing ones, and does all this in a way that feels completely natural for the series and genre. It's a perfect setup for longtime fans and series newcomers alike.

Teacher's Pet

The most noticeable changes come first thing when you're recruited as a professor and have to choose a House.

The branching storyline mechanic isn't new, though it's certainly perfected far beyond what it was in Fire Emblem Fates, thanks to more meaningful changes in the plot.

But the big change here is, of course, being a professor, which in Three Houses means choosing in what your units will excel and what they will prioritize.

Being responsible for teaching your students introduces an almost intimidating level of customization and lets you make any unit whatever you want it to be. Unlike earlier games, the only restrictions on classes are skill levels and, for some, gender. Want to see what happens when Marianne the weak mage focuses all her might on her Brawling skills? Go for it.

That being said, each character has innate strengths and weaknesses, and some of them act like guides for how you could chart their growth paths. You can ignore them if you want, tweak them a bit, or just forego the customization element completely and let them train themselves.

Letting you choose to engage in the new mechanics or not is a smart move. Sure, auto-instruct might not grant the same level of investment in your students, but some people just want a traditional Fire Emblem game and that's fine, too.

Those who do engage in the new features are in for a treat. Once you get the hang of goal setting and choosing which skills to promote with each activity, the teaching turns into an incredibly satisfying loop that also helps determine how you spend your time in the other big, non-combat change: the monastery.

It's a huge area that functions like an overworld, with plenty of places to explore — so many that you're still unlocking new areas several chapters into the game.

You have a set number of Activity Points to spend during exploration and a wide range of things to do. You can choose to engage in tournaments, complete activities with students to raise support points, fish, garden, host tea parties, complete side quests, return lost items, answer notes left in the cathedral — there's a staggering amount of activities you can pursue outside of combat and instruction.

Taking breaks from combat to explore and focus on bonds helps keep from getting into the strategy game slog, where consecutive maps easily lead to game burnout.

On the Battlefield

Then there's the combat, one of the most important parts of any strategy game. It's largely unchanged except for a few key areas.

The first is battalions, groups of soldiers or mercenaries you can hire for each character, should you have the funds and requisite Authority ranking.

Battalions offer a variety of advantages, from stat boosts to special Gambit skills. Gambits are powerful attacks often involving more than one character, and they can have several different effects.

The most common one early in the game is Onslaught, which can prevent a counterattack, push an enemy back, and seal its movement for the next turn. Others like White Magic Resonance magnify healing magic and spread it over multiple tiles. Your enemies get battalions too and make good use of them.

These Gambits aren't all-powerful skills, though, and your battalions eventually wear down. However, replenishing them is easy and inexpensive, so while it's not a good idea to blow through your battalion right away, the game certainly encourages you to use them frequently.

Another minor but important change is with skills. Each skill set gets a variety of passive and combat skills, and good use of combat skills can turn the tide of a difficult battle — at a cost. Weapon durability is back, and combat skills wear weapons down at a faster rate than normal combat.

Magic is tied to the Reason and Faith skills this time. That means you don't have to buy tomes and staves, but you do need to invest a lot in Reason and Faith to make mages useful.

Though these changes are minor, they all combine to make Three Houses the most streamlined and engaging game in the series so far, with plenty of options to keep combat fresh.

Finally, we come to map variety. Three Houses continues the theme Echoes: Shadows of Valentia started by exchanging complex and exotic maps with open spaces, simple terrain, and multiple paths in a given map.

Some fans prefer the diverse map design from Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, with challenging gimmicks and layouts that hinder as much as they assist.

However, there's something to be said for the simpler variety. The lack of features means you have to focus more on strategic unit placement, taking advantage of what terrain there is and deciding whether to split your army up or press forward as one. It ends up fitting very well with the game's greater emphasis on training and wisely choosing skills too, so even if it isn't as flashy as other games, it works perfectly in the context of Three Houses.

New Horizons

Speaking of looks, Three Houses is easily the best looking Fire Emblem game to date. Colors are deep and rich, and the various areas of the monastery offer their own visual treat, from the sun shining on the flagstones to the warm hues of the cathedral.

Character models move much more fluidly than in previous games, even if they don't have too many movements outside of combat. They do have feet, though, which is important for anyone who's played Awakening.

As with more recent entries, scenes are told via both gorgeous 2D portrait art and 3D models, though the Switch's hardware naturally makes Three Houses' story sequences look and play the best of them all. There are more lovely looking anime-style cutscenes as well, helping punctuate important moments with that extra bit of visual impact.

Unfortunately, it seems like Three Houses might have been a bit too ambitious for the hardware in a few areas. There's frequent slowdown when moving about the monastery, and while it doesn't really affect the game's flow, it is noticeable. There's also evident screen tearing in the Entrance Hall and some of the monastery's corridors while in handheld mode. Again, it doesn't detract from the game, but it's easy to see.

Three Houses is an audio treat as well. The soundtrack features various remixes of the main theme, but they're all suited perfectly to whatever situation in which they play, from the quiet melodies of exploration to the truncated, percussion-heavy sounds of combat.

More important is the voice acting, which is stellar and much more extensive than the grunts of past games. Every line of dialogue, even NPC and random Seiros guard dialogue, is voiced, and fortunately, it's all high-quality work.

Each actor manages to capture the emotion behind their lines, and like all good acting, it makes the experience even more immersive than if it were just text. This writer didn't use the Japanese voice track, so he can't really comment on it, but that's a testament to the English track's quality; never was the temptation there to switch tracks or shut it off, even on the odd occasion when voiced dialogue and script didn't match completely

---

Pros:
  • Expansive story, with plenty of replay value
  • Meaningful player choices
  • Immersive character customization and development
  • Consistently engaging and high-stakes plot
  • Impressive coherence between all aspects of the game
Cons:
  • Map design may be too simple for some
  • A few technical problems

Fire Emblem: Three Houses has enough to keep the strategy faithful happy while still being accessible for newcomers, making it a very versatile game indeed. It builds on the traditional Fire Emblem formula, introducing a number of improvements that build naturally on the series' biggest strengths. Combat is smooth and deep, the story is impressively detailed, and there are countless ways to spend your time in the game.

It all blends seamlessly together to create a satisfyingly immersive experience that lasts throughout the game and well into several extra playthroughs.

[Note: A copy of Fire Emblem: Three Houses was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]

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Steelseries Arctis 9X Review: Mission Accomplished https://www.gameskinny.com/vk4ud/steelseries-arctis-9x-review-mission-accomplished https://www.gameskinny.com/vk4ud/steelseries-arctis-9x-review-mission-accomplished Wed, 31 Jul 2019 15:09:21 -0400 Stephen F. Johnston

The Arctis 9X for the Xbox One is the next in a line of successful gaming headsets that SteelSeries claims is the "most-awarded headset line in history". With over 50 awards across the board, it's hard to argue that the underlying hardware pedigree is well established, especially when you consider how we've previously reviewed the Arctis 7 and Arctis Pro headsets. 

With a tidy set of main feature areas, the 9X is one of the few officially compatible Xbox One headsets in the company's line. The Arctis 3 Bluetooth is technically compatible alongside a few others, but the 9X comes from a direct partnership with Microsoft, all with the goal of bringing the best sound experience to the Xbox One. 

I can say that goal was accomplished. 

Design

The 9X includes 40mm drivers capable of 20-22,000 Hz response and a retractable ClearCast noise-canceling microphone which tucks into the left earcup. 

Like other headsets in the Arctis line, the 9X sports an all-black finish from top to bottom. The cans feature a matte finish on the outside of each premium, padded earcup, with a more brushed finish encircling them and moving around the headband. 

The more noticeable change here is the green-wire design found on the cloth across the headband. The color is the same as the official Xbox green. 

Overall, its core design is comparable to the Arctis 7 in almost every way, and it doesn't particularly stand out from the average headset in the line. 

Features

While the 9X might not have everything found in the Pro, it does have a few unique features. Notably, the microphone is well worth attention since it's one of the best out there in our experience. It's clear and precise, and it doesn't sound like you're talking through a tin can. 

On top of that, the 9X features built-in EQ, a nice feature that can easily go overlooked, especially in a headset made for console. The 9X provides four presets that mostly cover the gamut of what many users will expect. However, in a twist not often found on console-centric headsets, you can tweak the presets with the SteelSeries engine if you have a PC. 

The headset also features a dual wireless connection for Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth, which we'll talk more about below. 

Of course, it also features SteelSeries' infamously comfortable ski goggle fabric across the headband, making it (once again) one of the most comfortable headsets on the market. 

Performance

Adding to an already excellent foundation is a top-notch Xbox-compatible wireless setup with notable bells and whistles.

SteelSeries didn't just slap wireless onto a headset and call it a day. The Arctis 9X supports a dual wireless connection, which means you can connect to the Xbox One and to your Bluetooth phone at the same time. This allows you yo pipe audio in from the phone if you need to take a call or want to listen to your favorite playlist.

In addition, the headset allows an audio-only wired connection for when gaming sessions outpace the headset's 20-hour battery life. 

The headset can also be used on PC if you have one lying around. In my testing, it didn't require any additional hardware on Windows 10, but SteelSeries claims a device is required for low latency connections.

Overall, sound with the 9X is great. You'll find something comparable to what's available in the Arctis 7 or even the Arctis Pro. These cans pack a lot of punch in the high- and mid-tiers, and they provide clear tones that are easily differentiated from each other. 

Pros:
  • Easily connects to Xbox One and PC
  • Provides dual wireless connection
  • Great sound
Cons: 
  • High price point might deter some gamers
  • Doesn't support all platforms

Overall, the Arctis 9X is one of the best headsets SteelSeries has made. You can't go wrong with it, especially if you're an Xbox player.  

The Arctis 9X is available for $199.99 at GameStop and Steelseries.com.

Here are the headset's full specs: 

 Drivers Neodymium 40mm
Frequency Response 20-22,000Hz
Headphone Sensitivity 98 dBSPL
Headphone Impedance 32 Ohm
Microphone Frequency Response 100-10,000Hz
Microphone Pattern Bidirectional
Microphone Sensitivity -38 dBV/Pa
Microphone Impedance 2,200 Ohm
Microphone Type Retractable
Connection Type(s) Wireless, Bluetooth
Range 20ft (6m)
Battery Life 20 hours
Bluetooth Version 4.1
Bluetooth Profiles A2DP, HFP, HSP


[Note: An Arctis 9X review unit was provided by SteelSeries for the purpose of this review.]

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ARMA 3 Contact Review: Occasional Aliens https://www.gameskinny.com/y1joc/arma-3-contact-review-occasional-aliens https://www.gameskinny.com/y1joc/arma-3-contact-review-occasional-aliens Wed, 31 Jul 2019 11:23:12 -0400 John Schutt

There is no widely-known military simulation game quite like ARMA, and despite a large portion of its fame coming from its DayZ mod, the series nonetheless has a core contingent of fans. Whether they came for the zombies and decided to stay or wanted something more tactical and freeform, the ARMA playerbase remains dedicated to the game after many years, iterations, and DLCs.

Contact is the latest downloadable content to hit ARMA 3. Though it comes with a new map and plenty of new assets for hardcore players to dig into, the real draw here is the singleplayer campaign where an alien intelligence visits earth in a first-contact scenario.

Making a Playbook

Initially set as a large-scale military exercise in the fictional country of Livonia, you play as Specialist Aiden Rudwell, and it's your job to assist both the Livonian Defense Force (LDF) and their American allies in a mock invasion by the Russians. 

Things start innocently enough, as the entire first mission of the DLC is nothing more than a failed attempt to steal fake data from a terminal behind enemy lines. You learn a little bit about the world you're inhabiting (it's not particularly interesting), the people you'll be working with (a fairly standard bunch), and the equipment you'll be spending a lot of time using (it's ARMA, so it's awkward). 

Then, events begin to spiral downward, and they do so quickly. An explosion rocks the base where Rudwell and his team are stationed, revealing a strange structure that defies description.

Two weeks pass without much news, at which point one of Rudwell's buddies — and his immediate superior — Corporal Stype starts to get a little paranoid. Through a series of increasingly silly shenanigans, a darker story nonetheless starts to tell itself.

It's typical science-fiction fare. Someone's trying to cover something up, there are unknown figures and voices in places they shouldn't be, and Stype, ever the not-conspiracy-theorist-but, only finds his paranoia rewarded with each passing moment.

Rudwell, for his part, wants nothing to do with any of it, but partly because he's the protagonist and partly out of curiosity, he goes along with Stype's plans. 

Or he does until every piece of electronic gear in the country gets knocked offline, everyone panics, and a giant blue-black space ship shows up to some unknown purpose.

Finding Answers

It's not a terribly paced first act if I'm honest. While predictable and marred by voice acting that leaves much to be desired, the story is told well enough. 

Once the aliens actually arrive, however, everything starts to go sideways. Stype does something stupid, of course, which leads the LDF to have shoot-on-sight orders for any Americans they see. Comms and equipment not shielded against electronic warfare are inoperable, and the chain of command, while intact, is shaky at best. 

Oh, and there's a couple of weird dudes from overseas who know exactly what the plot needs them to know, and no more.

At this point, there's a huge shift in gameplay style and the quality of the storytelling. No longer a war simulation, Contact now asks the player to go into stealth mode.

You're forced to rely almost exclusively on the Spectrum device, a frequency transmitter/receiver that has as many applications as the developers need to make the plot move along. The device can: send and receive enemy transmissions, send and receive orders to enemy squads so you can sneak by them, pick up and "talk" to alien entities, plus a few other minor features that make these primary tasks easier. 

The reliance on stealth and subterfuge does several things to make ARMA 3 Contact a lesser experience.

First, it highlights the glaring flaws in the game's AI. From its inhuman ability to detect the player to aim that would give a Stormtrooper a run for their money, the AI foibles you would usually solve with a gun are all too plain to see. 

Second, you won't be firing a single bullet for hours. And yes, I know that makes sense in the context of the story, but the game goes out of its way to give you a new weapon with every mission, even when it knows you won't need one. You're incentivized from the beginning to distract and deceive, not to kill, as the people you'd be shooting are technically your allies. That the game eventually throws this out notwithstanding, I found it irksome that I had access to so many different pieces of gear that served no purpose beyond window dressing.

Third, half of the ARMA experience doesn't existThere's very little squad play, even with your NPC allies. Almost everything you do is done solo with only said NPCs on the radio to keep you company. You don't have access to many vehicles, either, as the need for stealth makes such noisy machines a hindrance. And because you're walking everywhere, it takes several minutes just to get to your next objective, seemingly just to pad out gameplay time.

Last, is the "Danger Zone" mechanic, which prevents you from saving as long as you're inside the red circle, forcing you to rely on the game's awful autosave system. Checkpoints are few and far between and with such droll voice acting and mission variety, a single death can cost almost 15 minutes. 

The game did have its moments, infrequent though they sometimes seemed. Duping the AI never got old, simply because they were so eager to follow fake orders. Using the map and topography to place yourself effectively was also incredibly satisfying, and I would be lying if I said there were genuine moments of awe at some of the alien designs. They weren't anything revolutionary, but I still found their presence menacing, strange, and fascinating.

The Occasional Alien

Despite its claim to be primarily a "First Contact" scenario, the Contact DLC doesn't focus on the aliens themselves much. They are a presence, something beyond our understanding and control, the kind of force we can only hope to avoid or redirect than face head-on.

I think that's my favorite part about Contact, as well. Stories of alien contact shouldn't answer too many questions, and I've always felt that aliens that take too much of the spotlight do a disservice to the human stories that we can actually relate to.

Mystery is essential when it comes to crafting an extraterrestrial narrative, and Contact makes no attempt to truly understand The Visitors, as they come to be called. They are as strange and incomprehensible at the beginning as they are at the end, and though I would have loved to see what kind of creatures they were in the flesh, I am nonetheless satisfied with their presence in the ARMA universe. 

Pros:
  • Interesting aliens that perfectly straddle the line between threatening and mysterious
  • A vast, well-constructed map to explore 
  • A serviceable narrative that doesn't break new ground and gives its players seven or eight hours of pleasant diversion
Cons:
  • An almost complete disregard for what makes ARMA the franchise it is
  • Poor performance even on good hardware
  • Baffling design choices that cost players time for a single mistake

ARMA 3 Contact is a valiant attempt to tell a unique and engaging science-fiction story in a realistic setting. It spends a little too much time getting in its own way, and there are moments where it seems a little too inside its own head. However, it remains a serviceable narrative regardless of its other shortcomings.

ARMA veterans will find something to like in Contact, if only as a pleasant distraction from the standard gameplay loop of the core game. The new map and assets are likely to be much appreciated, but for someone not already enthralled by the military-simulation genre, there's little here to convince them to jump in and see what the fuss is about.

[Note: A copy of ARMA 3: Contact was provided by Bohemia Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

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Turtle Beach Recon Spark Headset Review: A Colorful, Slightly Pricier Recon 70 Upgrade https://www.gameskinny.com/iadsh/turtle-beach-recon-spark-headset-review-a-colorful-slightly-pricier-recon-70-upgrade https://www.gameskinny.com/iadsh/turtle-beach-recon-spark-headset-review-a-colorful-slightly-pricier-recon-70-upgrade Wed, 31 Jul 2019 11:04:56 -0400 Thomas Wilde

A Turtle Beach representative told me at E3 that the company had done some research, and apparently, there's quite a potential market for PC and console headsets that are not primarily jet black.

Who knew?

The Recon Spark, which retails for $49.95, is the first result thereof. It's the first of a planned series of headsets from Turtle Beach that will receive what it calls the "Spark treatment," which begins with a unique visual style.

The Recon Spark is bright white with lavender cords, which is more of an eye-catcher than you'd expect, and more color options are intended to follow in the coming months.

As the name suggests, the Recon Spark is an update and cosmetic redesign of Turtle Beach's entry-level Recon line of wired headsets. The Spark is a cross-platform model with a 3.5mm jack, intended for use with any modern console or tablet, and comes with a splitter cable for PC compatibility.

Like the Recon 70, the Spark features a volume dial on its left speaker, the ability to mute its mic by sliding it into an upward position, and an adjustable, reinforced metal headband.

The extra $20 price tag above the Recon 70 does get you a few bonus features besides the new color scheme, however. The Spark doesn't feel as flimsy or cheap as the Recon 70 does, and it's markedly more comfortable. It's got a wider headband, with a glasses-friendly design on its speakers' padding. The 70 tended to sit a little uneasily on my ears, but the Recon Spark was comfortable and stable through several multi-hour gaming sessions on PC, Switch, and PS4.

Just for the hell of it, I also tested the Spark by spending half an hour on an elliptical machine while I watched Netflix on a tablet. While I don't recommend that as, you know, a life decision (yeah, work out in earmuffs, see what happens), the Spark stayed firmly in place throughout the experience. It's got a nice bit of grip and weight to it, comfortable without being heavy or restrictive.

As far as the audio quality goes, I didn't really notice a difference between the 70 and the Spark. It's still a perfectly serviceable option for games and still sounds decent if you're watching movies or streaming video.

As with the 70, then, the Recon Spark is aimed strictly at a no-frills, entry-level audience. The extra $20 over the 70 might seem a little steep, but that extra money is getting you a lot of additional comfort, as well as a much-needed splitter cable that addresses one of the 70's primary issues. 

 

Pros:
  • One of the rare gaming headsets that you can also use for music or TV without a noticeable dip in audio quality
  • It systematically addresses many of the issues I had with the Recon 70
  • Decent sound
Cons:
  • $49.95 feels like a slightly tall ask for an "entry-level" product
  • It's a little warm and bulky, even by the standards of a stereo headset with big speaker cups
  • As with the 70, the best thing you can say about it is that it does the job

[Note: A Recon Spark review unit was provided by Turtle Beach for the purpose of this review.]

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Madden NFL 20 Review: Rebuilding for Prime Time https://www.gameskinny.com/m3w54/madden-nfl-20-review-rebuilding-for-prime-time https://www.gameskinny.com/m3w54/madden-nfl-20-review-rebuilding-for-prime-time Wed, 31 Jul 2019 10:57:24 -0400 Mark Delaney

Like many annual sports games, Madden NFL is often cast as a copy and paste job. There have been years where that's closer to the truth, but the last several years have seen Tiburon and EA Sports try to implement some sweeping changes, putting that truth in question. 

The problem is that not all of those changes have worked, and some have even disappeared from games within a few years.

This year, Madden NFL 20 brings quantitatively fewer big changes, but qualitatively, the changes it does bring feel like the building blocks of a future champion.

Just Throw It Up There, I'll Go Get It

Though the game's cover star doesn't always denote its direction, Patrick Mahomes seems like a good fit for this year's iteration. Why? Because Madden NFL 20 is largely focused on the league's most explosive playmakers, and no one was more fun to watch last season than the Chiefs' instant superstar. 

For Madden, his and others' game-changing abilities manifest as new X-Factor abilities. Superstars and their returning, lesser abilities are spread out to the point where you'll find several on every team, but only 50 players in the league have been designated as X-Factors. They're given special skills that can be activated during a game after certain parameters are met. 

For Mahomes, it means earning an additional 15 yards of throwing distance after he throws multiple passes that travel 30+ yards in the air. For others, like Aaron Rodgers, it means disabling the ability for defenders to get an interception for a while. Twenty skills are assigned across 50 players for skill positions and defenders.

This focus on the league's best players is done in an arcadey way, but it's meant to represent the real-life explosiveness of players, letting them take over a game. It's a system that carries across all game modes: franchise, online, and even in Madden Ultimate Team (MUT), where you can assign X-Factor roles to your players.

Sometimes you see a new Madden feature and you know it isn't long for this world (see: QB Vision), but X-Factors feel like something that will stick, even as that's partly because it's an easy headline to market each summer.

Step Into the Spotlight

Over the past two years, Madden story modes went from bad to painfully worse. Thankfully, the Madden team must've agreed change was needed because this year's new take on narrative-driven Madden is the best it's ever been. Like X-Factors, this year's Face of the Franchise feels like it'll stick around for years to come.

By taking a more hands-off approach than Longshot mode, Madden NFL 20 allows the story to behave as a brief but interesting preamble, and then quickly shuffles it off stage a la' NBA 2K, all before it can get too absurd or make too many head-scratching plot decisions.

For the first time ever, you can also choose a college to attend from a pool of about 10 major programs and play the two-game playoff series as you push for the National Championship and eventually attend the NFL Combine. This background helps flesh out your draft prospects all before you get drafted by one of several eligible teams, each of whom are QB-needy in real life, like the Dolphins and Bengals. 

In this year's mode, you're immovably cast as the quarterback, but one could easily envision this same sort of mode reappearing for years ahead. While not every position would be compelling sorry interior linemen and kickers upstart running backs, trash-talking wideouts, and defensive leaders could appear over the next few years and make Face of the Franchise a new series staple.

It's not perfect, and at times it's ironically almost too rushed, but as a first attempt, it's a lot of fun.

Ultimate Team Piles On

EA has made Ultimate Team the focus of all their sports franchises, but if you're not someone who got in with the series years ago, it can be hard to find the right jumping-on point. To EA's credit, MUT is the deepest experience annually, with more content than seemingly anyone could ever make time for. This year's game helps ease newcomers in with missions, a more guided approach that sort of holds your hand through the many menus of MUT. 

MUT is a live service mode, so new challenges and players come to it all the time, but it's good to see at launch there are some chase-worthy cards already built into challenges, like 86 overall Baker Mayfield and Deacon Jones. 

Outside of that, the mode does a lot more of what it always does: teases you with card packs to buy. The roadmap of missions help you stay on target better so you're not lost in the sea of MUT menus, but it's still difficult to resist the packs which promise all sorts of treasures and shortcuts to get your low-ranked team ready to compete.

I'd be curious to know what the statistics show regarding how many MUT diehards refrain from buying cards whatsoever. They certainly make it tough to dodge.

Pros:
  • Rebuilds story mode in a better light
  • Better guidance in MUT mode, which continues to grow more robust each year
  • X-Factors help bring real-life explosiveness to the game
Cons:
  • MUT still feels like it's too heavy on buying card packs to progress at an enjoyable pace
  • Story is miles better than before but could still use better writing

Madden NFL 20 feels built for new audiences without abandoning the diehards that are there every year on day one.

Face of the Franchise erases the ugly past of Longshot and builds a much stronger foundation for the future. MUT introduces missions to hold new players' hands so they can navigate the dizzying menus, even as EA still clearly hopes everyone buys a pack or three. X-Factors help the game mimic the real NFL which has never felt more explosive.

The major changes this year mostly feel like course corrections for past mistakes, but they're the building blocks of a contender for years to come.

 

[Note: A copy of Madden NFL 20 was provided by EA for the purpose of this review.]

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Logitech G Pro X Gaming Headset Review: Sound Like a Pro https://www.gameskinny.com/mwxjs/logitech-g-pro-x-gaming-headset-review-sound-like-a-pro https://www.gameskinny.com/mwxjs/logitech-g-pro-x-gaming-headset-review-sound-like-a-pro Mon, 29 Jul 2019 10:11:08 -0400 Jonny Foster

The latest addition to Logitech's arsenal of 2019 gaming gear is the Logitech G Pro X headset, a refinement over the company's previous Pro model. For a small price increase (up to $130 now), the G Pro X adds some bells and whistles that make it an enticing option, especially for streamers, content creators, and eSports athletes. 

Before we jump into the meat of this review, though, it's worth mentioning that Logitech G is also releasing an updated version of the Logitech G Pro headset for $100, that it's helpfully named: (drum-roll please...) the Pro.

Setting aside the fact that there are also 'Pro' lines of Logitech keyboards and mice, there are now three nearly identical headsets with nearly identical names. 

So that everyone's clear: we're specifically reviewing the new G Pro X Gaming Headset with BLUE VO!CE. It's the BLUE VO!CE integration that makes the G Pro X so special, but it's also what pushes the headset over the $100 price tag that many gamers are so keen to stay below.

On top of that, the improvements require Logitech's G HUB Software to use, planting this firmly as a PC headset. PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch owners will see no improvement over the regular Pro headset, narrowing the headset's market further.

With the competition for gaming headsets under $100 already so fierce, Logitech has an uphill battle in this regard. It's filling a niche demand, sure, and it does that superbly, but it's not the recommended headset for everyone.

Design

The G Pro X is instantly recognizable as a Logitech headset. Save for the metallic silver "G" logo on the outside of each earcup, the headset boasts a simple, sleek black aesthetic. It features aluminium and steel for the headband and frame and memory foam leatherette for padding. 

Thanks to the lightweight metal frame, it's far more durable than cheaper plastic headsets as well as some of Logitech's other offerings. Though, it obviously comes at a cost. At 320 grams, it's not the lightest of headsets, sitting between Logitech's G935 and G432. However, it's far from bulky, either. 

As with its predecessor, the word "Pro" is emblazoned across the top of the headband, this time in a subtle black finish. Overall, it's a very stylish design, straying from the typical "gamer" look that may put casual users off.

You'd have no problem using these to listen to music or a podcast in public: they're nondescript enough without looking boring, and the microphone is detachable, which is always a nice touch.

There still isn't much movement with the earcups, unfortunately. There's no 90-degree swivel that Logitech's other headsets employ, so the G Pro X can't be flattened to pack away or set on the chest when not in use. We've been fairly vocal in the past that it's a crime for modern headset design to forgo this, but it's primarily a preference at the end of the day, so some certainly won't be bothered by the omission. 

The in-line volume wheel and mute slider can be found on a clip about 1ft down the headset's cable. Although other Logitech headsets, as well as those from other brands, have mostly moved to on-cup controls for volume, mute, etc., the in-line controls found here aren't necessarily a detriment and are easy to find while in use. 

Comfort

For the G Pro X, Logitech has included both leatherette memory foam earcups and cloth memory foam earcups, though the headband padding is solely the former. 

The leatherette gets hotter than the cloth over long periods, and I preferred the smell of the cloth to the leatherette. It might seem odd to critique the smell in a headset review, but I found the standard leatherette earcups were strangely pungent. 

The G Pro X is certainly comfortable for longer using the velour, but other users have complained of a small fit. If you have littler ears like I do, this shouldn't be an issue for you. However, these earcups definitely cut a trimmer figure than their bulky Logitech counterparts.

The headband never became an issue, either, with quite a wide range of adjustability. The leatherette sits comfortably atop your noggin, and it's even wide enough to sit snugly over a VR headset, which is an added perk.   

Performance

Having only briefly mentioned it earlier, I should explain exactly what BLUE VO!CE is.

Put simply, Logitech has teamed up with BLUE, the makers of the famous Yeti and Snowball standalone microphones, to bring souped-up microphone technology to the G Pro X.

Using the G HUB software, you can tweak the compression, noise, and balance of your microphone, as well as add filters to give the mic a more professional audio profile. It won't make you an overnight V.O. superstar or radio personality, but it's an impressive piece of kit. 

The microphone quality is on par with the Snowball, making the G Pro X a solid all-in-one option for anyone looking to get into streaming, video creation, or eSports. In fact, the audio profiles have been fine-tuned by professional gamers, with presets of some of your favorite eSports athletes available in the software.

The 50mm drivers pack a punch, too, presenting an impressive soundscape with the G Pro X headset. At the $100+ price range, though, you can easily find headsets with greater frequency ranges and better impedance.

It has good audio for a "mid-range" headset; voices are crisp and clear, while explosions are deep and footsteps are noticeable. It doesn't provide the spacial awareness of other headsets in the $150+ range, but it's a fine set of speakers for gaming. 

I fear, though, that the addition of BLUE VO!CE may have pushed the price too high for the average gamer. The "Pro" moniker itself should be a clear indicator that this is aimed at a more serious crowd, but when it comes to gaming and audio, no-one likes second best. 

If you're sick of your squad telling you they can't hear your orders, or you want an all-in-one audio solution that can also help you create quality recordings, the Logitech G Pro X gaming headset may be the perfect set of cans for you. 

For everyone else, though, the BLUE VO!CE integration is probably wasted. It only works when you're plugged in using the included USB soundcard and synced up to the cumbersome G HUB app, so this is purely a headset for PC gamers.

It will work on other systems, and you can still plug it into your phone as a set of headphones and mic, but you lose the USB of the G Pro X, making the regular $100 G Pro a better option.  

Pros: 
  • Excellent microphone quality, when using BLUE VO!CE integration
  • Good sound quality with 50mm drivers
  • Sturdy construction but not too heavy
Cons:
  • G HUB software can be fiddly and a nuisance to use
  • Only get the full experience when using a PC
  • Better quality audio is available in the price range 

Overall, the G Pro X is a great all-in-one package. You can definitely find worse headsets for a higher price, be that in terms of audio, microphone, or build quality. It's got a sleek look that lets it easily double as a pair of travel headphones, and it's comfortable on the head, too.

The main drawback with it, however, is the price. At $130, it's certainly not going to break the bank, but its audio doesn't necessarily stand out when compared to other headsets in the same price bracket.

Anyone looking for a good pair of headphones and a reasonable microphone to do some recording with will surely be happy with their purchase of a Logitech G Pro X. But if microphone quality isn't of great importance to you, you're probably better off sticking to something like the $90 HyperX Cloud Alpha or spending slightly more for the powerhouse that is the SteelSeries Arctis 7.

Here are the headset's full specs: 

Frequency Response 20Hz to 20kHz
Sensitivity 92dB SPL @ 1mW & 1cm
Impedance 35 Ohms
Type Wired
Cable Length 6.6ft
Audio Stereo
Mic Type Cardioid (Unidirectional
Mic Frequency Response 100Hz to 10kHz
Mic Sensitivity -40dB (+/- 3dB)

 

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

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review — Heroic Hack and Slash https://www.gameskinny.com/mjtbd/marvel-ultimate-alliance-3-the-black-order-review-heroic-hack-and-slash https://www.gameskinny.com/mjtbd/marvel-ultimate-alliance-3-the-black-order-review-heroic-hack-and-slash Fri, 26 Jul 2019 16:37:21 -0400 Joseph Rowe

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is the long-awaited sequel to the MUA and X-Men Legends franchises. Fans have been waiting for this day for years, and they will not be disappointed with what Team Ninja, Nintendo, and Marvel bring to the table with this release.

Before getting into this review for MUA 3, I must admit something: I love this genre, but I have never played the previous entries in the franchise. That means I am unable to compare it to the previous games in the series. I do not know how original fans would feel, but my experience with the game was highly favorable.

Let's start with the plot for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as it is probably the least important aspect of the game. An exploration of different worlds and dimensions in the Marvel universe, the plot focuses on familiar heroes, anti-heroes, and foes alike. Thanos is the big baddy, of course, and there is a rush to prevent him from getting the Infinity Stones. He works with, you guessed it, the Black Order.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot. I didn't go in expecting War and Peace, and I was entertained. It's a mishmash of some of the best characters Marvel has to offer, so it's filled with lots of fan service and entertaining dialogue.

One of my favorite little tidbits throughout the game's story mode is the introduction screens for each of the important characters. It is done in a sort of Borderlands-esque style with a fun description underneath their names, which can add a good bit of humor to some of the more serious characters, like Green Goblin. 

Although Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is filled with many fan-favorite characters, it also misses some seemingly obvious inclusions. The choices made for the cast make sense as they are based off some of the more popular characters from the last five to 10 years, but it is missing some notable characters like the Fantastic Four, or slightly less famous but still beloved characters like Squirrel Girl.

At launch, there are 36 playable characters that are mostly unlocked by playing through the story mode, though some of them are unlocked by completing extra missions called Infinity Trials. These missions are basically the same as the ones in the story mode with some sort of twist added, such as "you can only damage enemies with Synergy attacks" or "you need to kill enemies to add time to a countdown clock."

Some fans will be pleased to know that there are currently three DLC packs scheduled for release, which will include some of the more notably absent characters. Other fans will be less pleased to know that some of these DLC characters are likely to be based on characters that are already in the game as NPCs who come along with you on story missions.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. It strikes a balance between the art style of the comics and the art direction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even still, it employs its own stylized approach.

Abilities and attacks all have interesting effects. Some characters, who are similar to each other, tend to have abilities that don't look all that different, but stylizations still manage to make the on-screen action hold your attention.

While MUA3's soundtrack didn't particularly stand out during my time with the game, I enjoyed much of the moment-to-moment sound design. Fighting effects are satisfying, and the voice acting is well done for most of the characters. The only issue long-time fans might have is adjusting to new voice characters for familiar characters.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is an incredibly fun experience for fans of the genre, and it is especially fun with friends while playing couch co-op.

Players who are not fans of hack 'n' slash or beat em' up games but still love Marvel might enjoy the game, but players who are neither fans of Marvel nor the genre are unlikely to enjoy it due to some repetitive elements.

The combat's simplicity is familiar, and it's actually kind of therapeutic to mow down waves and waves of enemies. Thankfully, the game has immense replay value, implementing the expected New Game+ mode, which lets players test their skills on a ramped-up difficulty setting. 

Although Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3's combat can somewhat get stale, the rest of the game's RPG-style systems keep it interesting by giving you lots of ways to improve your characters and teams, such as collecting and improving ISO-8 crystals, enhancing abilities, and synergizing team bonuses by finding optimal compositions.

The ISO-8 system in MUA3 is based on collecting and earning ISO-8 crystals that will improve characters' stats, modifying either offensive or defensive attributes at the cost of the other, improving a character's ability to tank by drawing in more aggro, and much more. It encourages players to make choices about which crystals to improve, which to scrap, and how they should distribute them amongst team members.

The leveling system also provides a lot extra gameplay. Leveling a character not only makes them stronger by enhancing their stats, but it also gives you points to use to strengthen one of your character's four abilities based on their superpowers.

Choosing which abilities to level first is an important part of the gameplay as you will need to balance your team with a diversity of abilities to properly utilize the Synergy system. This system allows other characters to join yours in using an ability, thus increasing damage to enemies. 

Each character also has a set of traits that, when placed on a team with another character who has the same trait(s), enhances a team's stats. Furthermore, each character has a different combat style, role in a party, and set of abilities that must be considered when placing them with others.

One of the most appealing aspects of MUA3 is its multiplayer. Action RPGs like this one are best enjoyed with a party of friends.

Thankfully, the game is very flexible in its set up. You can play it on one Nintendo Switch with a single Joy-Con or you can play it with four players using both Joy-Cons, Pro controllers, or even old school Gamecube controllers. You can play it in couch co-op on the same screen, offline with multiple Nintendo Switches, or online. 

 

The Verdict

Pros
  • Entertaining enough plot with lots of fun dialogue thrown in
  • Tons of characters to choose from with more on the way
  • Lots of options for team building and character leveling
  • New Game+ and Trials provide extra hours of gameplay
  • Great co-op fun
Cons
  • Combat could possibly get repetitive
  • While the plot is entertaining, it is simple

All in all, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is definitely worth consideration, especially for fans of the franchise — or fans of Marvel in general. The game is shallow in some aspects, but deep in others.

It is visually pleasing and well designed in terms of sound. Its story mode is nothing to write home about, but it should entertain you.

At the end of the day, it's just a lot of fun to play with buddies, and that's really what these types of games are all about. 

[Note: A copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]

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The Blackout Club Review: Stranger Things Meets Thief In One of the Year's Best Games https://www.gameskinny.com/j1ne6/the-blackout-club-review-stranger-things-meets-thief-in-one-of-the-years-best-games https://www.gameskinny.com/j1ne6/the-blackout-club-review-stranger-things-meets-thief-in-one-of-the-years-best-games Fri, 26 Jul 2019 12:02:29 -0400 Mark Delaney

A fearless group of kids investigates the mysterious and malevolent forces that lurk beneath their small town's soil and streets.

Few believe the threats are real. In fact, some may even be complicit. It's up to the kids and the best their allowances can buy to head into the dark depths, face evil head-on, and uncover the truth about what's happening to their neighborhood. 

Despite what you may be thinking, this isn't about Netflix's flagship series Stranger Things. No, this is The Blackout Club, a four-player co-op immersive sim horror hybrid with atmosphere and level design worth celebrating.

Using unpredictable enemy behavior, an elaborate underground lair, and ever-shifting mission parameters, The Blackout Club stays fresh time after time, whether you're successfully sneaking out with evidence of a supernatural conspiracy or getting swallowed up by the game's central monster.

When the Wifi Goes Down

The Blackout Club takes place in the fictional town of Redacre, which is based loosely on the real-life unfortunate residents of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a small portion of the U.S. that heavily restricts radio waves from various everyday electronics.

In The Blackout Club, that means no internet and no cell service outside of the town's own CHORUS system. For the neighborhood kids of the titular club, that means no one is within range of helping them, and seemingly, all the adults are in on it or brainwashed.

What "it" actually is makes for the grand mystery of The Blackout Club. At night, the bravest kids on the block collect their best gadgets (like lockpicks, drones, and grappling hooks) and set out to unravel the wide web of conspiracy.

They don't quite know what's going on, and for a long time neither will players. However, the story unfolds in piecemeal through documents and video recordings found in the clubhouse between the game's procedurally generated missions. 

While they're ultimately worth the wait, these story elements do feel like they come too slowly. You can play several missions in a row and come away with little more than a cryptic computer message or a newspaper clipping. The Blackout Club savors its mystery, but it's one I so badly want to witness that I find myself wanting to look up the synopsis (for the record, I've held off so far).

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Co-op is often antithetical to horror, but The Blackout Club proves it doesn't have to be. The first several hours of the game may be among the scariest of the year, and even as you eventually settle into a more comfortable relationship with the game's monsters, the fact that the enemies, obstacles, and supplies change location with every mission keeps the sense of unease at the forefront.

Cautious planning and teamwork are key, so naturally, it's a very hard game to play solo, though not an unenjoyable one.

With one to three co-op partners, The Blackout Club shines brightest. The game's developing studio has ties to immersive sims like BioShock 2 and Thief, and the same brilliant level design concepts of those games are in full view here. That's even as the environment  co-op horror  is so unfamiliar for an immersive sim. It ends up working so well because the game wants you to complement each other's skills and tools.

In my time with the game, I found the optional grappling hook to be crucial for navigating the dangerous world in ways that would otherwise be unavailable to me, but that meant when directly faced with a lurking monster, I was relatively powerless to stop it. However, if my teammate was carrying the stun gun, they could get in close for the knockout. Likewise, so could another teammate get a safe-distance knockout if they had the crossbow and found a tranquilizer dart.

Counterbalancing a strong team of kids will make the difference between those who unmask the cryptic subterranean cult and those who fall victim to its siren song. The map is mostly static, but gated by player level and very intricately designed. Above ground, you'll need to navigate backyards and bedrooms. Exploring the town itself is fun because of the quiet breaking and entering element to it all. You'll be thankful when a home you enter has carpeted halls and no lights turned on.

But it's underground where the game really shines.

The labyrinth is actually a musical instrument, which barely makes more sense in practice, but that mystery is a big part of the fun. As you level up, new missions and obstacles are thrown into the procedurally generated mix, but it's the newly opened gates of this maze, along with the drip-fed story, that make leveling so alluring. Each new room is weirder than the last, and piecing together what the facility is used for is worth every investigation.

You may find favorite spots to check for supplies or preferred routes from A to B, but the missions change so much each time that you'll always be thinking on the fly, which maintains a steady sense of good anxiety.

Just Beyond the Shadow

Another thing that makes The Blackout Club so good is its deceptively varied enemies. Though you can count the variants on one hand  sleepers, lucids, The Stalker, and The Shape  the ways they interact with the world and its players are varied. Each presents unique problems, which feeds into the immersive sim design of weighing your actions against alternate routes, constantly contemplating the cost and benefit of everything.

Sleepers are the low-level minions of the cult. They lumber blindly through the dark, arms outstretched while whispering weird stuff. They're the most common adversary and can be found wearing cult's garb. But more often, they are the sleepwalking, brainwashed adults of the neighborhood. It seems unlikely one of the year's scariest games would involve sneaking past sleepwalking Gen X dads in their pajamas, but that's part of what makes The Blackout Club so special.

Lucids will be the bane of many players' time because they not only listen for the kids sneaking, but they can see them, too. The Stalker takes the game from PvE to PvPvE: Anyone who opts in can have their game invaded by a fifth player who is working for the cult.

Lastly, The Shape is the game's most fearsome threat. Commit enough "sins" on a mission and this mostly-invisible enemy shows up and quickly pursues you with its thunderous footsteps for eternity. You can track its movements by closing your eyes and revealing its location, which makes for an exciting horror moment every time. It turns the game from a deliberate and considered stealth adventure into something more like running from Mr. X in Resident Evil 2, having to balance the immediate threats with the ever-encroaching Shape.

With sleepers and lucids, there exist issues with somewhat broken behavior. Unprovoked, they will roam randomly, often feeling like they're vaguely giving chase even as the game is telling you they're none the wiser. This is important as standard stealth enemy patterns would've been a letdown, so their unpredictable routes are instead a highlight.

But when they are alerted, sometimes they'll perform feats that look a little silly, like jumping back and forth over the same piece of fencing several times or doing the same thing in and out of a door. It's a lack of polish that doesn't ruin the game, though, and if it comes at the cost of guaranteeing dynamic enemy AI, it's a price worth paying.

We Speak As One

There's one more element worth speaking of when it comes to The Blackout Club's excellence, but it's one that is hard to explain. Players who opt into the Enhanced Horror feature at the start of the game (or anytime thereafter), open themselves to being spoken to by the gods of the game.

Each of these mysterious beings has their own name, voice, and goals, and they can literally speak to you on an individual level. When they do, other players in your game don't see the messages sent to you; instead, the written messages come to you when your eyes are closed, or they react to things you're doing.

When one of these taunted me for being so sneaky, referring to me by name, I was floored. You can offer tributes to these gods, speak to them in dreams, and even be visited as a result of these actions.

They remember you, can recall things from previous interactions, and they seem to reward players who roleplay as the kids and stay in-universe with their communications. It leaves you with a feeling of paranoia, not knowing when they're listening. I found myself whispering a lot in the in-game chat, as though I may startle a sleeper or awaken a god. When you peek behind the curtain, you'll find it's a unique system across the history of video games, but the way it manifests in-game is too much fun to spoil. 

Pros:
  • Mix of character abilities, level design, and variable parts form an exceptional immersive sim
  • Maybe the first scary co-op game (and it's very scary)
  • Underground maze design is astounding
  • Enhanced Horror is a wholly new and fascinating live-game component
Cons
  • Lacking some polish 
  • Story develops slowly

The Blackout Club blends several genres together that are normally mutually exclusive and that daring approach results in one of 2019's best games.

Its horror can bring your breathing to a halt. Its co-op is balanced and rewarding. Its immersive sim mechanics are smartly designed with benefits and detriments for every character build.

On top of all that, the story, while slow to develop, is still worth the time it takes to unravel, and the world is oozing with atmosphere. Some relatively minor issues aside, The Blackout Club promises the best investigation is always the next one. 

[Note: A copy of The Blackout Club was provided by Question for the purpose of this review.]

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Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review — A Shallow Shooting Gallery That's Lacking Lore https://www.gameskinny.com/6uukn/wolfenstein-cyberpilot-review-a-shallow-shooting-gallery-thats-lacking-lore https://www.gameskinny.com/6uukn/wolfenstein-cyberpilot-review-a-shallow-shooting-gallery-thats-lacking-lore Fri, 26 Jul 2019 11:01:36 -0400 Jonny Foster

Set in 1980's Paris, Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot is a virtual reality spin-off from the main series of Wolfenstein games. You take control of a nameless, mute character referred to only as ‘Cyberpilot’. Obeying instructions from a French ally, you hack your way into various Nazi killing machines to turn them into Nazi-killing machines, a joke at which the game whimsically rolls its proverbial eyes.  

The only explanation for Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot being an entirely seated experience is provided by a female voice, which tells you that "they" have had to strap you into a chair. There's no explanation why.

Of course, this contrivance feels like a missed opportunity at building a worthwhile backstory. For example, you might have been left wheelchair-bound by a tragic accident or an experiment, or maybe you were left mute after a Nazi soldier tried to slit your throat. 

It’s a common and ironic sin in VR games, which are usually so focused on player immersion that they don’t spend any time fleshing out the world itself. It’s particularly vexing and disappointing here because Wolfenstein has such rich and interesting lore — but Cyberpilot only ever briefly references it. 

Utilizing VR, the game does a fantastic job immersing you in its setting, but that presents its own issues, too. You never feel like you're in danger because you aren’t the one directly in the fight. Your character is quite clearly controlling the robots remotely while viewing a live video feed, as opposed to actually piloting mechs and machines, which leaves everything feeling a bit flat and detached.

Add to this that enemies don’t make any sounds when you shoot, burn, or otherwise injure them, and you end up feeling incredibly disconnected from Cyberpilot's gameplay. You end up with an experience that doesn't feel like a Wolfenstein title. There's no blood. There's no real feeling of conflict. And Nazis comically ragdoll when you kill them.

A number of mechanics also detract from any enjoyment you’d get out of making Nazi marshmallows, such as the game's self-healing button. Having a way to heal yourself is fine, but the action of engaging it takes five seconds or so, meaning you're stationary and unable to access your weapons. When this happens every 30 seconds, it starts to become a chore, and I’m not sure why Bethesda wouldn’t just give you regenerating health or provide some other time-saving mechanic.

Death can also mean 5-10 seconds of loading screens, each manifested as lines of hacker code. Of course, you have to sit through these before you regain control of your machine, which, again, becomes exhausting after a fashion.

There are certainly positives to Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot’s gameplay, though, even if they’re somewhat buried under the bloat.

There’s a hacking minigame that functions a lot like Bethesda’s classic lock-picking puzzle, only in three dimensions; by rotating the left move controller in 3D space, you look for “sweetspots," which feels unique and rewarding. 

Combat in the final robot you pilot, the Zitadelle, also packs an enjoyable punch.

Despite its flaws, there’s a good amount of polish and versatility built into Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot as well. There are three difficulties for those that like a challenge, there achievements to collect, and there is a wide variety of comfort and performance options to tweak in the menu.

The game only lasts a couple of hours, and the levels are linear, but there have been far worse VR titles to release for $20.

Pros
  • Good level of polish and options
  • Clever controls make for some interesting mechanics
Cons
  • Gameplay is stale and flat overall
  • Barely utilizes the Wolfenstein brand 
  • Short and forgettable

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot feels more like an elongated tech-demo than a fully-fledged VR title. It only features a handful of levels, which don’t leave much room for exploration. I’m glad Bethesda didn’t decide to build another wave shooter — that’s the last thing VR needs! — but Cyberpilot’s shallow shooting gallery leaves much to be desired. 

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot supports the Dualshock 4 and Move controllers on the PS4, and is also available on Steam. It officially supports the HTC Vive, WMR, and Valve Index headsets, but we had no issue playing it with an Oculus Rift S.

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

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A Place for the Unwilling Review: Pushing Back the Shadows https://www.gameskinny.com/i4riq/a-place-for-the-unwilling-review-pushing-back-the-shadows https://www.gameskinny.com/i4riq/a-place-for-the-unwilling-review-pushing-back-the-shadows Thu, 25 Jul 2019 13:44:57 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Imagine you're going about daily life, minding your own business. Suddenly, you receive a letter from a friend named Henry Allen you knew long ago, back when you lived in an orphanage.

It's a strange letter, full of regret for something Henry is about to do. He's asking you to move to his city, take up his business, and keep watch over his wife, Juliet, and mother, Dana. The city is dangerous, he says, full of things you can't understand, but you must pay attention to the shadows because they're important.

It goes on like this, becoming more fevered and frantic, until it finally stops.

You then learn Henry committed suicide, though there's some doubt over whether he hung himself — or was murdered.

So, what do you do with this information? How do you live, and do you carry out Henry's last requests?

That's exactly what AI Pixel's A Place for the Unwilling tasks you with figuring out on a daily basis in the 21 days you have to live until the city is swallowed by darkness.

Endless Variety

Every choice you make counts in the game, from how you sign your letters to which shops you frequent and whether you take sides in the city's growing class war. You won't see everything there is to see in one playthrough, especially because the game uses a Harvest Moon-style clock, where one real-world second equals one in-game minute. Time flies.

The story starts with you establishing some basics about your character — name, gender, preferred pronouns — and choosing how you want to save the game. This is actually more important than it initially seems, depending on how you want to approach gameplay.

The first is saving at the beginning of each day, and the second is saving when you want to exit the game. If you want to play the game completely blind, the second option is best because it's not as easy to see how one option turns out, then reset to pursue another.

Those who prefer seeing all the various permutations might find it better to save at the beginning of a day, play through one way, then start that day again and do it differently. Prepare for a lot of restarting if you want to do this, though.

The Right Choice

The game's charm likes in making spur of the moment decisions and forging your path as you move, or sometimes blunder, along.

You're presented with a handful of bigger choices early on. The first is whether you want to take up Henry's buying and selling business or focus on uncovering the truth behind his death. Of course, you can do both, but your response when people asks what you're in the city for — business or the truth — affects how they view you.

Admittedly, the business side of things isn't too exciting. The city has a handful of shops, each offering the same items — toys, combustible goods (of course...?), food, drinks, and the like. Prices change daily, and the idea is to buy cheap from one shop, then sell at a profit to another.

Yeah, you probably spotted the logic gap there. Most good merchants don't saunter down the street to sell some books they bought five minutes ago from Ms. A to Mr. B and expect everyone to be happy about it.

You'll still need to do some trading from time to time if you want money, and you will want money. It's used for fast traveling and buying non-tradeable goods, not to mention some quests require a healthy sum of money to complete. It's just more of a necessity than an enjoyable feature.

Whatever you choose to do, you get some suggested tasks on most days to help guide you along. None of them are mandatory, and thanks to the city's size and your snail-like movement pace, it's impossible to do them all. However, the point is to get out and talk to people.

It's only a few people, at first. Those "shadows" Henry mentioned are all around in the city, people you don't know who don't know you. They're too busy to chat with a complete stranger the newspaper says has questionable acquaintances.

Depending on tasks you complete and choices you make, some of these figures shed their dark cloak, gaining faces and names — yet not necessarily becoming friends, again depending on your choices. You do get to learn more about them if you choose to, which can eventually unlock different tasks or story paths.

The Company You Keep

In fact, it's tough to say if you make any real friends during your time in the city.

Dana Allen, Henry's mother, throws a welcome-and-mourning party when you arrive and seems to be on your side, but she has a terrible reputation among people of her class. And that migraine medicine she gave you — why does your head start hurting worse when you take it?

Then there's Juliet, the grieving widow. She won't speak at first, then she tries ascertaining your motives, before getting you to join her side in the "war" against Dana, or you can choose to be neutral. Henry chimes in through dreams from time to time to clarify what's going on, but you always wonder whether you made the right choice.

Not every character forces huge choices on you, but it can't be emphasized enough. Every. Decision. Counts. Whether it's how you sign a letter, what tone you take during certain conversations, who you help out, or whether you interrupt someone or let them continue, everything matters.

Helping the poor improves your friendship with Ms. Peyton the shopkeeper and sets you apart from the callous wealthy citizens, but spending the mayor's surplus on charity doesn't sit well with him — especially if you listen in on his phone conversations before making your presence known.

Telling the posh newspaper hawker you feel sympathy for the poor runs the risk of giving you a bad reputation on the nicer side of the tracks, but repeatedly helping Myles forms a relationship with the city's revolutionary downtrodden. The opposite can be true as well.

All of this affects how the story progresses, which tasks are available, and how you can relate to other people. The endless variety and multiple opportunities keep the game engaging throughout, partly because you end up feeling so invested in this strange world with its kind but dangerous inhabitants.

Coming Alive

It's not all slice-of-life, though. A distinct plot begins to unfold after a few days, involving the supernatural and an odd cult, with Juliet and Dana taking opposing sides.

Because you don't get a whiff of this until you've established your bearings in a world that seems grounded in reality, the supernatural elements initially come off as out of place. However, that soon just becomes part of the city's dark quirkiness.

The attention to detail isn't limited to just character interactions and branching paths. The unnamed city (*cough cough* London *cough cough*) is rendered in a soft, hand-drawn style complementing the historical setting, and the character portraits, though exaggerated, convey tons of personality just with their few static images.

Dialogue isn't voiced, but there's a special touch added that arguably lends more character than even voice would. Dialogue is presented as if written in pen on parchment. The text scroll flow fits perfectly with spoken dialogue, and its cadence changes depending on the context.

Plus, each character has their own style and sound effect. It's a minor touch absolutely brimming with personality. There's the main character's measured, steady pace and the flighty Mrs. Clinton's scribbled-sounding scrawl. Juliet's is looping and complex, while the corrupt policeman August's written speech is clumsy and heavy-handed.

False Stepping

Unfortunately, this close attention doesn't extend to everything.

The bookshop owner, Lucas Weston, says he speaks in singsong, but his speech style doesn't change to match that. The music, rich and always area appropriate when it does play, cuts out seemingly at random.

One night, when you "accidentally" drink too much with the local seadog, you fall flat on your face (after some rather amusing dialogue changes). The sailor remarks about you being out for so long, but then you're on your feet again, with no time having passed.

These are little things to be sure, but they begin to add up and occur more frequently after the first few days.

There are a few other minor quibbles.

Yes, the game is about time management, but making character movement so slow where even casual passerby move faster seems like an artificial way to keep you from accomplishing multiple tasks. For instance, going to the lighthouse takes almost 3/4 of the day until you can fast travel there.

An almost completely blank map doesn't help matters. Naturally, a newcomer isn't going to know where things are, but you are given a map after all. Maps usually have places marked on them, and even strangers in the street can point you in the right direction. Not here.

Then there's the grammar. The worst thing about it isn't syntax or anything like that. It's the fact that the errors are completely avoidable. Missing words, repeated words, words you phrases you meant to delete because you thought of something better — all of these make an appearance, with increasing regularity as the game progresses.

This is something an editing pass would catch, and it's  surprising to find so many problems in a final build, especially in a game built around writing.

There is one specific issue: the F-bomb. A Place for the Unwilling hurls it at you pretty often, and it doesn't fit the context.

Now, your humble writer knows the Victorians weren't prim and proper, whatever the common belief might say to the contrary.  Underneath that polite veneer, the Victorian era was as raunchy as they come. That goes double for the Fin de Siecle (French for "end of the century," roughly the 1880s-1890s). This was a time of glorious debauchery, by 1800s' standards, full of experimentation, loose living — in other words, the Victorian equivalent of the 1960s.

And that's the point. The big F was primarily used in its more literal context, not as the descriptive stand-in so common in modern usage.

That's how it's used by folks in not-London, though. "Stop f***ing staring", says the policeman. Or from a member of the lower classes, you get the always popular "F***, stop f***ing staring ar*eh**e, jesus" (with a lower case "j").

Some well-chosen four-letter words are fine and can add to a given character or create a certain mood. Using them just to use them, especially when they don't even fit, takes you out of the game and lets the rest of the usually well-considered writing down, writing that actually conveys meaning.

---

The Verdict

Pros
  • Intriguing and compelling story and characters
  • Highly engaging branching choice system
  • Gorgeous aesthetic style
Cons
  • Needs a final polish
  • Some design issues and questionable writing
  • Lack of puzzles and other activities might turn some away

A Place for the Unwilling definitely needs some extra tune-ups, and the early days might prove frustrating for some, before a clear idea of the city's layout sets in. F*** being chucked at you left and right gets really old really fast, and the other slip-ups are disappointing in an otherwise carefully conceived game.

However, its stronger points help push past these issues. There's a mystery to solve and a world to save — or not. Here you find a large cast of bizarre and potentially sinister characters with dubious motives. Whether they're trustworthy, you never know, but you push on and make nice to hopefully uncover the truth before it's too late.

Whether you're the poor person's friend or a jerk in a stuffed shirt, A Place for the Unwilling offers a deep and compelling story that's never going to be completely the same, no matter how often you play it.

[Note: A Steam key of A Place for the Unwilling was provided by AIPixel for this review.]

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Fantasy Strike Review: Steamlined Fighting https://www.gameskinny.com/9nhdj/fantasy-strike-review-steamlined-fighting https://www.gameskinny.com/9nhdj/fantasy-strike-review-steamlined-fighting Wed, 24 Jul 2019 10:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

When people think of the fighting game genre, they tend to equate "skill" with "insane combos." Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are the two main culprits, but check out any fighting game tournament on Twitch and you'll probably see massive combo strings featuring insane timing and superhuman dexterity on most games. 

Fantasy Strike looks to do something a bit different with the genre.

Made by a former Street Fighter developer, the game is designed to be totally accessible: there are only a few buttons, no special move inputs, and no 30-second combo strings. At the same time, it is designed to be difficult to master and hopes to support an esports community. 

Eager Students

If you've ever sat down and tried to explain a fighting game to someone who has never played one or doesn't know much about the genre, they probably got lost very quickly. Every fighter has totally different controls, and many systems in the game are essential but impossible to fathom without experience. Fantasy Strike looks to upend that idea by distilling the fighting genre down to its basic elements.

There are three attack buttons: a normal strike and two special moves. By holding forward or backward, you can change the properties of your moves. There is no dashing. There is no ducking. There no dexterity-testing combos. It takes about 10 seconds to learn the basics of Fantasy Strike and jump into a fight.

In no small words is the accessibility of Fantasy Strike crazy; after just a few rounds with a character, you'll start to discover your favorite moves and strategies. You'll start to build upon them and learn the strengths and weaknesses of various characters.

That certainly doesn't mean this is a simple game, however. Fantasy Strike possesses a lot of similarities to games like Divekick (albeit without all the inside jokes). It might seem like there isn't much to it, but there's much more than meets the eye.

Mastermind

As you gain experience, you'll also start to put together just how much complexity exists inside the basic systems of Fantasy Strike. Frame traps, cross-ups, mixups, all the hallmarks of high-level play exist inside this simplified setup. It has the rock, paper, scissors format of zoning, rushdown, and grappling. Even the throw counter is simplified if risky; rather than hitting your own throw button to counter the opponents, you have to stand still and hit nothing on your controller.

Think of the risk there: in order to counter your opponent, you have to do absolutely nothing. If they throw out an attack, you're going to get hit. If you successfully counter the throw, you deal a bit of damage and you fill up your super attack meter. In a game where some characters can only take a few hits before getting knocked out, that's a massive momentum swing.

Yes, super attacks and throws make it sound like Fantasy Strike is getting more complex, but both are activated by pushing two buttons together (or just making a keybind for it). Again, no one will need to pause the game and study a move list just to make a new character work.

Open Palm Technique

Fantasy Strike has some well-designed systems and a nice learning curve, but there are a few major questions about its target audience. The issue with a game like this is that it might be a little too simple for its own good. After putting several hours into it, it's tough to see if it could maintain its momentum once it gets "figured out."

There are only about a dozen fighters, and only a few different ways to play. As fighting games tend to live or die in their online competitive scene, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to imagine Fantasy Strike petering out after a few months, as a dwindling player base and lack of options cause people to walk away to bigger, flashier things.

I'm not convinced that the game can truly support a diverse competitive scene, as the systems are a bit too simple and the options a bit too limited.

Because of the small number of options, some fights are totally lopsided. A few of the characters only have five bars of health (rather than a nebulous "health bar," like most fighting games, Fantasy Strike characters show very clearly how many hits they can survive), and some attacks take away multiple life points. There have been a few fights that end in as little as two moves! That can be disheartening, and you never know if games with a small development team will have the amount of post-launch support they need to thrive.

It doesn't help that the character designs are, for the most part, very bland. Even the more bizarre options (a gambling panda and a man with a ghost who trails behind him) are fairly run of the mill beyond their basic appearance, and many of the characters read like carbon copies of other famous fighters.

To The Death

That said, it seems that Fantasy Strike could have a niche audience for a few specific reasons. For one, its deliberate gameplay makes it ideal for in-person gaming, such as couch competitions or live tournaments. Fighting games are the perfect style for hype, and Fantasy Strike has plenty of room for trash talking and mind games along the way.

Fantasy Strike also has a unique method of ranked play that encourages players to learn several fighters, rather than just specializing in one. In ranked matches, players pick three fighters. The game then randomizes matches, where one player's "A" fighter will square off with another player's "C" fighter. This isn't revolutionary, but the way you win the entire match is as players will continue squaring off until a single player has won with all three of their fighters.

That means you might have to fight multiple times as the same character. You could win the first two matches as your "A" fighter and "B" fighter, then have to battle three times in a row if your "C" fighter is a weak link. It encourages you to learn every fighter's strength and weakness and pick a team that is balanced in order to give you the best chance to win.

Now, I am the Master

Pros:
  • Easy to learn, difficult to master
  • Ranked matches encourage diversification
  • Good online coding provides for lag-free matches
Cons:
  • Perhaps a bit too simple
  • Generic character designs
  • Not enough options

Is Fantasy Strike going to topple the heaviest hitters in the fighting game genre? Probably not. Does it have some niche appeal? Absolutely.

Fantasy Strike is a really well-designed game that could serve well for certain audiences who don't want the combo memorization needed to compete in other fighters.

It would be great to see a game like Fantasy Strike take off. It could be unbelievably hype to see a fighter like this on the stage at EVO.

However, it seems unlikely. There just doesn't seem like there's enough substance to Fantasy Strike to give a competitive scene the room it needs to grow. It's a good way to teach the basics of the fighting game genre, and a good way to introduce some of the more complex systems that underlie most games like it, but it seems to ultimately lack that lasting appeal.

[Note: A copy of Fantasy Strike was provided by Sirlin Games for the purpose of this review.]

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Gorn Review: Heavy Metal Battles https://www.gameskinny.com/ow4zd/gorn-review-heavy-metal-battles https://www.gameskinny.com/ow4zd/gorn-review-heavy-metal-battles Tue, 23 Jul 2019 11:47:49 -0400 Jason Coles

Whether you love or loathe it, violence has been a part of media for a long time. Gorn is one of the first VR titles to lean into hyper-violence as a key selling point. This is noteworthy because while in other forms of media, you can close your eyes or simply look away if things get too much, it's simply not an option in VR.

Hyper-violence can be deeply uncomfortable. It's often used to shock and horrify viewers and is a crucial component of many cult films like Kill Bill and Ichi the Killer (to very different degrees). Its presence in a piece of media is often due to a desire to get across a specific message or even titillate consumers. After all, how else can you see something so needlessly over-the-top?

The cartoony Gorn is about as hyper-violent as a game can get, but it's not wouldn't the uncomfortable sort despite being a VR game.

You compete with other gladiators in melee combat in the hope of coming out victorious. Your aim is to be the last one standing amongst the scattered body parts of your fallen foes, all for the entertainment of some severely bizarre-looking overlords. But hey, at least you get to keep living.

The combat is hard too; if you're too far from being a perfect fighter, then you're going to get your head caved in by a heavy iron mace. Defeat is upsetting, defeat when you know your eye is hanging out of its socket is humiliating and disturbing.

Well, it would be were it not for the cartoonish presentation that underlines every aspect of Gorn. You see, this level of violence would be uncomfortable in VR, but Gorn comes to us from the same minds that created Genital Jousting and Broforce, so it doesn't want to be taken seriously.

In fact, the game doesn't want you to be taken seriously, either.

Let's start with movement; you move around the world by swinging your arms around and holding a button. If you move your arm in front of you, hold the button down, then swing your arm behind you, you'll be dragged forward. Repeating this from side to side in order to charge your enemies results in your character drunkenly swaying around.

If that doesn't diffuse the whole thing, watching your competitors staggering around like a toddler definitely will. Suddenly the violence is incredibly funny because it's being presented in a similar way to something like Tom and Jerry. It's over the top, it's abhorrent, but it's so intensely silly.

The combat is genuinely challenging too, defeat is humiliating, but mostly because the one who vanquishes you probably tripped over their own feet to get to you. You have to be completely aware of your surrounding at all times. If you don't make sure your enemies are dead, they're likely to stand up again when you're distracted.

The battles take place in a fairly small arena with doors on each side. At the start of a match, you only have to worry about what's in front of you. As you progress, everything changes. You need to keep an eye on the doors behind you, new weapons will start appearing, and if you get far enough, you'll even have to face off against huge boss enemies.

A single match might only last thirty seconds, so you can progress through things quickly if you're good enough. That speed makes it perfect for a quick round or two in between other games, but it also has that wonderful 'one more match' quality that could easily consume your entire weekend.

When you add in a wealth of challenges, special arena fights, and the innate replayability of this style of game, you have an experience that could easily give you months of joy. It's also easy enough to play that it makes for a tremendous first VR experience, which is made all the funnier when you're watching a friend flail around for the first time.

Pros
  • Genuinely funny
  • Great variety of weapons
  • Unique movement and easy to learn controls 
Cons
  • If you don't like the combat, then there's nothing for you here

Gorn is challenging, horrifying, hilarious, and a genuine joy to play. It manages to be brilliant in both short bursts and long sessions, and there are so many little challenges to complete and weapons to master that you'll never really be able to put it down for good.

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Vane Review: What a Beautiful Mess This Is https://www.gameskinny.com/07bmj/vane-review-what-a-beautiful-mess-this-is https://www.gameskinny.com/07bmj/vane-review-what-a-beautiful-mess-this-is Tue, 23 Jul 2019 09:00:01 -0400 RobertPIngram

When Vane made its first public appearances it created a strong buzz, as the beautifully haunting open world and graceful flight of a bird throughout it promised a captivating experience. When the game arrived for play on PlayStation 4 earlier this year, however, players found that looks can often be deceiving.

With Vane now ready for its PC release there were hopes that the time between editions could be used to hammer out some of the mistakes which frustrated console players so much.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Come Fly With Me

One area where Vane, for the most part, lived up to lofty expectations was in the visuals it delivered.

While the slightly-washed-out colors aesthetic isn't my personal favorite, even I found plenty to like about what I was seeing when the game put me in position to relax and enjoy the sights. Sadly, those opportunities were simply too few and far between to make for a truly satisfying gameplay experience.

Vane opens with a young boy running along a surface peeling up and generally being destroyed by a storm, which is light on explanation, but high on striking visuals. When you finally reach your destination, however, you are rebuffed by a mysterious figure and booted to a title screen whereupon you begin your time as a bird.

Flying through an open world is one of the more enjoyable ways to roam in video games, but the best thing Vane contributes to the genre is a newfound appreciation for games from your past.

Controlling your bird feels like navigating a frigate, with slow and imprecise response to your every flick of the thumbstick, while the controls for flapping are inconsistent. More than once I found myself fully aware of where I needed my bird to go, only to have my attempt to flap my wings and fly upwards thwarted for no apparent reason. By flying away a bit I could gain the height I needed and maintain it to my target, but trying to rise where I was originally had my bird bumping against an unseen ceiling.

Clunky controls may have been excusable if not for two major problems.

Most egregiously, the game routinely called for precision with your bird form as you attempt to land upon a series of weather vanes. When every flap of your wings sends you careening off with only a mild hope it's where you'd like to go, and efforts to simply halt and drop in place are infinitely more challenging than seems necessary. You'll likely quickly be praying for the end of the bird portions of your adventures, turning what should be the most fun part of the game into a chore.

Your bird also lacks meaningful direction for much of the journey. The introduction to stalling your flight prompts with a simple cue to press the button, but without a clear indication of where. Having not seen the vane in the gulch it sent me to, I landed on the ground, hopped around a bit and then took to the skies again unaware I had not yet done what I was there to do.

This ordeal led to an extended period flying aimlessly without the guide the vane would have provided, culminated in entering a series of caves where I more than once found my camera glitching my screen into total blackness, leaving me completely turned around and lost until I could happen upon a landmark I recognized.

By the time I had finally finished sending enough birds to a large vane to crash it and unlock the material I needed to be a boy again I was very excited to see the back of it. Then I jumped off too high of a ledge and was a bird again.

After backtracking all the way to the transformative material once more, I was at last allowed to move on to the next phase of the game.

Pointless Puzzling

Making the change from wings to walking, unfortunately, fails to fix much of what ailed the first act of the game. Response is still slow and clunky, and it's all too easy to find yourself unsure of where you need to go or how you need to get there.

The weather vane system for your bird form is largely replaced by a series of balls which must be rolled, alone or with some often-unhelpful help, from here to there. If you've ever heard the story of Sisyphus forever rolling a boulder up a hill and thought it sounded like a great time, then you're in luck.

If you make the mistake of dropping off a ledge too high at any point throughout your time as a boy, you'll transform again and have to fly back to the start of the current puzzle.

When absolutely nailed, the puzzles can be fine. Nothing that will have your pulse racing, but not overly egregious, either. Unfortunately, the odds are very high that every player will have multiple times throughout the game where the slightest misstep, your own or the game's, throws the puzzle into infuriating chaos. Even so much as looking away from the screen for a minute to grab a drink or adjust the AC meant risking getting turned around in the meandering cave.

There's No There There

Environmental storytelling can be an excellent device when handled well. I wanted to love this game very badly. Short, story-driven experiences are right up my alley, even when they feature basic gameplay.

I stumbled upon Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as a PS+ game that I entered with no prior knowledge and loved the experience of exploring these beautiful settings. The puzzles were rarely overly complex, but it didn't matter because they worked and simply served as a means to experience the world and story the designers had prepared for you.

With Vane, everything about the execution of the game serves to undercut the story it is trying to tell. When navigating becomes so challenging that even the smallest task has the potential to devolve into disaster, it saps interest in the larger storyline. I didn't have time to marvel at the world being created and the story being told because I was too frustrated to pay attention to it.

I can't say for sure if the story of Vane was not great in the first place, was poorly executed, or was simply undercut entirely by the gameplay around it. All I know is that I was less interested in why I was pushing a ball to a point than I was interested in how doing so would bring me closer to the end of the game.

Final Thoughts

Pros
  • The visuals can be spectacular, particularly the opening scene, flying outside and a period where the world changes and reconstructs itself as you navigate it
  • When the flying phase clicks you get glimpses of the great game it could have been as you soar over hills and dive through canyons
Cons
  • The controls handle as if the game was never play-tested and corrected
  • Minimalist approach to direction lacks the necessary structural cues in some parts of the journey
  • Punishing backtracking system means any mistake can lead to a massive amount of retracing the steps it took to get there
  • Glitchy camera work often results in partial or total obscuring of where you are, which can easily lead to getting turned around trying to rectify it

Vane is not a good game. What positives there are to be gleaned from it are significantly dwarfed by the negatives. Even my early impulse during my first hour with the game, that there was a real gem to be found if more time had been taken to polish out some of the flaws, is one I lost confidence in the more I played.

Had the time between the console and PC releases been used to fix the broken controls, extending the time if needed, I might be sad for what could have been. As it is, I think another two years in development would only have gone on to yield a longer experience, not a better one.

[Note: A copy of Vane was provided by Friend & Foe Games for the purpose of this review.]

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Automachef Review: Pleasant Programming https://www.gameskinny.com/4ndpf/automachef-review-pleasant-programming https://www.gameskinny.com/4ndpf/automachef-review-pleasant-programming Tue, 23 Jul 2019 04:00:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

One of the worries of the modern economy is how quickly automation is rendering certain jobs obsolete. This isn't a new phenomenon, but we are starting to realize that many supposed "safe" careers are in danger or being mostly (or entirely) outsourced to machines. 

Automachef tasks you with working within that narrative - you are tasked with building entirely automated kitchens to get hungry customers what they want. In order to do so, you have to analyze the situation and come up with a solution by managing your resources and creating assembly lines. 

It's a game of problem-solving with programming commands; it gets wickedly complex in a hurry and will definitely scratch that puzzle-solving itch that a select group of gamers need to fulfill.

01000110 01101111 01101111 01100100

Automachef is essentially a programming game, albeit in a bit of a different presentation. In the main campaign mode, you will be given a limited menu of food items, a budget, a maximum amount of ingredients to use, and an electricity limit. You then must build a series of machines to create the dishes your customers order that fulfill the requirements.

This starts simple, but quickly ramps up and demands that you work as efficiently as possible. You'll begin with just a few conveyor belts, grills, and cranes to move things from one place to another. Soon, you'll be building complex machines full of "if/then" triggers and branching pathways.

There isn't a lot of room for experimentation in Automachef; not many puzzles have multiple solutions. This can be frustrating in some regards; it isn't the best at introducing new machinery elements, so you can get completely stuck if you can't wrap your brain around exactly how a certain part works. At the same time, this is really the best teacher of Automachef's many pieces of machinery you generally can't move forward until you've effectively utilized everything available to you in a given level.

Autopilot

In one level, you may be running a burger shop. You'll have to place an assembler, which creates the burgers out of the ingredients that each pop out of their own dispenser. However, they all have to come down different conveyor belts: a burger patty needs to hit the grill before it's ready, whereas cheese will need to go through a slicer. The lettuce is fine as is. 

But wait, there's more.

Dispensers just spit out ingredients at set timing intervals. Since you have a limit to how many ingredients you can use, you'll need to set up other machines that tell your dispensers what to do whenever an order comes in.

Grills use a lot of electricity and don't have triggers to turn on and off on their own, so those same machines that direct your dispensers can also tell your grills when to operate. They can only be connected to four machines at a time, however, and your budget is probably already going to be too high to add another one.

You see how this works?

Everything in Automachef is working automatically  you build the machine, press "Start", and watch to see if it happens. You won't be pressing triggers or helping the machine to run - it has got to do it on its own. It usually won't the first time, forcing you to have to move some stuff around (or, in many cases, restart from the beginning) and try again.

Machine Learning

You have to know what you're getting into with Automachef. Learning efficient programming takes a lot of repetition and a deep understanding of how systems work. Shortcuts and workarounds will only keep you afloat for so long; eventually, you will need to maximize your efficiency to make the most complex systems work.

For some, Automachef will nail that aspect and feel like a nice cozy blanket. Tearing the pieces apart and making them work in the absolute best manner possible can be extremely satisfying. For a large swath of gamers, however, games like Automachef can be too tedious for their own good.

"Oh, I need to build a machine to make ten BLTs," you think.

The first time it doesn't work, you tweak it a bit to try to fix things. The fourth time you build it, you start to grit your teeth. The sixth time you build it, you're completely frustrated.

How many players are going to go back a seventh, tenth, fifteenth time, rearranging conveyor belts just so and optimizing their system to run 2% more efficiently to keep them under their electricity requirement?

As mentioned, for a select few, games like Automachef are exactly what you're looking for. For the vast majority of gamers, it's going to be far too fiddly and specialized. Chances are if this sounds like your type of game, it is.

System Requirements

There are other modes to play besides the campaign mode in Automachef, although it's likely you'll want to start there, since it teaches you the ins and outs and gradually introduces the new parts you can add to your system.

If you love what the game has to offer, there is a lot of content here to sink your teeth into. Different modes, user-created levels, and mod support are all here, meaning there will probably wind up being more content available then you'll have time for.

On a technical level, Automachef very much looks and sounds like an indie game  and we aren't saying that as an insult. Rather, you know what you're getting.

Graphics are somewhat cartoony, but everything is clear and distinct. Once you have put a bit of time into Automachef, you'll have no problem identifying different pieces of machinery on sight. The brightly colored ingredients stand out on the monotone machinery, so there is an assembly line satisfaction that triggers when you watch your machines run.

There's also a bit of a storyline going on here. Your boss is a "human" named Robert Person who just wants other humans to enjoy the food you make together.

You've probably seen the joke play out before - it's actually a robot trying (and failing) to act human, making forced small talk while trying to conquer the world.

It's cute, but the "endless charm and quirky humor" promised by Automachef's description is maybe a bit of a stretch. You might grin a few times, but Robert's pre-level banter can get tedious since you have to read it. He might introduce how a new machine works, or introduce a stipulation to the level.

Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger

Pros:

  • Unique way of approaching programming puzzles
  • Puzzles are well designed and intricate

Cons:

  • Repetitive
  • Only one real solution to most problems
  • Humor gets a bit stale

Automachef is probably not going to convert people into the programming/puzzle genre. If you've tried similar games and haven't found them to your liking, it seems doubtful that this one does enough to win anyone over.

That said, this type of game will definitely press right buttons for a certain subset of people. Everything it does it does well, and there is a lot of content here (with the possibility for plenty more through mods and the Steam Workshop). Just know that it isn't reinventing the wheel of the genre.

[Note: A copy of Automachef was provided by Team17 Digital Limited for the purpose of this review.]

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Night Call Review: Stories That Last Everlong https://www.gameskinny.com/djvjc/night-call-review-stories-that-last-everlong https://www.gameskinny.com/djvjc/night-call-review-stories-that-last-everlong Mon, 22 Jul 2019 13:59:52 -0400 diegoarguello

It's a cold night in Paris, but there's no other option than to get up and start the next work shift. The clock starts ticking. You look for passengers. Lights go by, and you hear a party on the first floor of a nearby building. Quickly, work begins and the time goes by.

Thing is, you still can't shake the fear down running your spine, the fear left from the attack. The killer is lurking out there... Somewhere...

Night Call, developed by Monkey Moon and Black Muffin and published by Raw Fury, tells the story of a cab driver who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After being seriously wounded by a serial killer, he wakes up from a coma two weeks later. Time passes, and he eventually returns to work, even if his boss is still unsure about the whole idea. Flashbacks haunt him, but he's tired of resting and knows he's capable of getting back to work.

However, the police haven't forgotten about the night that easily, and now, they're using his past to try and crack the case. Before he knows it, he's working on a police investigation  and time is running out.

The main objective in Night Call is to gather clues on a number of suspects, either by reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, or visiting locations of interest in Paris, where the game is set. However, clues can also show up during conversations with passengers, something that will crop up often.

A shift in Night Call often goes like this: You get out of bed, recall if you had a bad night on the streets or had a strange dream, and then start your shift driving a cab.

When working, two indicators on the right corner of the screen show the time and the status of your fuel tank as well as your money. The entirety of Paris is displayed on the game's map, and pointers indicate when potential passengers are nearby.

The map is reminiscent of Google Maps, exchanging the blue lines and neutral color palettes with gray, black, and yellow. Whenever you reach a pick-up destination, the game will let you know where the drop-off is and what the estimated fare is. If you accept the job, the ride happens automatically, leaving you to immerse yourself in the moment and let the passengers do the talking.

Conversations are rather straightforward if you've played RPGs and visual novels before. You can either pass through each dialogue section manually or enable an auto mode (which goes a bit faster than I'd prefer).

Every now and then, you'll be able to choose between a couple of possible answers. Some have a small symbol next to them that indicates what the possible outcomes might be, either if it's taking the piss of someone or just showing compassion.

The game shines in these moments. Half of the screen shows the map, but the other gives a general perspective of the cab's interior. Your passengers are on the left, sitting in the backseat, and the main character sits on the right. Some stories unfold with care, and you'll need to choose the right responses to see it through. Others happen naturally. 

During my first trip, two women got in the cab, and they started talking about what they thought of a man they had just met at the bar. After a few minutes, they ask the driver what he thinks. Finally, they reveal the encounter wasn't a regular date, but rather one in which they judged a possible sperm donor.

Following the ride, I stumbled across them a few days later. There had been a couple of other candidates, but they were still unsure who they should choose. Eventually, they come to a conclusion: the driver should be the donor. Although they think he's been kind and honest to them from the get-go, the choice ultimately relies on you. 

There are a lot of these situations in Night Call. Exchanging stories with a priest. Helping a cat to get to a train station. And even dealing with the presence of paranormal beings. Each dialogue option and each conversation immediately hooks you in. Things are made more gripping by both the soothing soundtrack and the atmosphere.

It's easy to get lost in these twisting tales, but the detective aspects of Night Call aren't as memorable. At the end of each day, you return home and look at the gathered evidence, as long as there's enough time. You see all of the clues on a board, along with a few pointers for the ones that carry a link to one or more possible suspects. You are, after all, looking for a killer. 

There are some insights to learn and discover throughout the story, which I won't spoil, but overall, I wasn't as invested in this part of the game as with the passengers themselves. The killer's identity becomes a central focus, but what I enjoyed the most was the off-topic chats with unknown people who stuck with me long after I had stepped away from the game.

Pros:
  • Stories that linger long after the game is over
  • Mature and compelling writing
  • Soothing atmosphere
Cons:
  • At times, the detective aspect feels unnecessary 

Night Call's stories are indelible, lingering in the mind long after you've turned off the computer. With mature storylines, the conversations here are some you won't find in many other games nowadays. 

At times I felt uncomfortable whenever a passenger would ask the driver a very personal question or touch on a subject not often brought up in casual conversation, but that feeling is probably evidence of how taboo interactions can sometimes feel.

Every passenger has their own tale, and I loved hearing each and every one of them. Even with only a couple of dialogue lines and short additional scenes, it's really easy to get lost in the driver's perspective.

Descriptions and small gestures are enough to create a tangible experience, and I'm sure that I'll be returning to the game soon, not to uncover a murderer's identity, but just to sit in the cab and talk to the next passenger that needs a ride. 

[Note: A copy of Night Call for PC was provided by Raw Fury for the purpose of this review.]

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Super Mega Baseball 2 Ultimate Edition Review: The All-Star Game https://www.gameskinny.com/75ikt/super-mega-baseball-2-ultimate-edition-review-the-all-star-game https://www.gameskinny.com/75ikt/super-mega-baseball-2-ultimate-edition-review-the-all-star-game Mon, 22 Jul 2019 10:51:39 -0400 Mark Delaney

While the MLB's popularity has waned in recent years, losing ground to the NFL and NBA among stateside sports fans, there's still an intense desire for baseball video games. It doesn't help that there are so few baseball games coming to the various platforms.

If you're determined to only play with licensed pro teams quickly and easily, you'll have to try PlayStation's annual The Show. However, if you don't mind a game with studio-invented teams and a deep customization suite for more determined creators, you won't find a better mix of arcade and simulation baseball than Super Mega Baseball 2: Ultimate Edition.

There's a chance you've already played Super Mega Baseball 2. It originally launched in May 2018, though after a year of DLC and the welcome landing spot the Switch has become for indies, the game has been repackaged as an Ultimate Edition complete with all the DLC on a new platform. This review was conducted with the Switch version, and it was glorious.

While Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey are the system sellers for many people playing on Switch, for baseball fans, SMB2 is the killer app that is worth a Switch purchase all on its own. From top to bottom, the game is precisely what baseball fans would want, and to have that all on the go or docked is a supremely addictive fit.

In terms of modes and menus, SMB2 has most everything you'd want. You can play solo, in local play, or online. You can do so in pick-up games, season mode, and custom leagues. In these modes, everything from division and conference names and sizes to team names, jerseys, and fully customized logos is up to you. Names, looks, and even the eye-black and tattoos of every single player are customizable. 

It does lack a derby mode, but competitive online play is integrated in several ways, like front and center leaderboards, that help round out the modes on offer. The options to make a league your own whether playing alone or with friends is stunning for an indie game like this. Heck, it would be impressive even as an annual big-budget sim.

Without MLB licensing, you'll not have the chance to drop in and play as the Red Sox, Cubs, or the league's 28 other teams, but for the most patient and dedicated, the customization suite is so absurdly deep that you can certainly make those teams from scratch. Many players already play the game this way. The DLC that comes with this all-inclusive version amounts to new logos and stadiums, taking the game's customization options that much farther.

On the diamond, the game's wide-ranging difficulty options mean virtually anyone will find the right resistance from AI opponents. Dubbed "Ego," this system allows players to tweak the skill level of their opponents from 1-100, offering incredible nuance. If the game is getting too tough or too easy, you can simply adjust the Ego accordingly and try out the new level until you find the right fit.

As you improve, your opponents can come with you, or you can keep them as pushovers and turn a season into a one-sided home run derby. In many of its most important areas, SMB2 is defined by its player agency. 

There's also the dynamic mojo stat which measures a player's mental toughness. Players on hitting streaks will have higher mojo, while those hitting in the low .200s may be ice cold at the plate until a lucky swing turns it around. Pressure is also measured and works in tandem with mojo to deliver heroes and zeroes to every game. Step up in the bottom of the ninth with a high mojo player, and they may as well be David Ortiz.

All this agency wouldn't mean much without strong core mechanics, but again the game dazzles here, too. Pitching and hitting are very active systems, where you have to chase the spot of the ball whether you're at the plate or the diamond. Pitching feels phenomenal: you can really fake out opposing batters with intimidating control of the strike zone, while batters have to weigh contact versus power versus bunting. Complete control is also given to every baserunner individually or collectively, and each player is even given their own walk-up animations and songs. And yes, even these are customizable. 

Nearly every strategy you'd expect to see in the most expensive AAA baseball games are here, too, which rewards smart players with challenging situations meant to bring out the coaches in them. How to play the base paths, adjust your fielders, and creatively use substitutions are key to winning on the highest Ego settings for the most thoughtful baseball minds. 

The one area in which Super Mega Baseball 2 has not gone leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor and, for the matter, genre counterparts, is fielding fly balls. This system is largely automated, leaving you feeling like you've lost control of your vehicle in intermittent moments despite the awesome autonomy everywhere else. Whereas hitting, pitching, baserunning, and fielding with the ball in your glove cal all be as tough as you like them to be, with fly balls even at the highest settings, SMB2 holds your hand for seemingly technical but ultimately unexplained reasons. 

Screenshots of the game cloak all of this deep customization and true to form baseball IQ in a cartoonish and fun aesthetic. Player models got a bit more realistic compared to the original game which featured ridiculous proportions, but they still look something more like Jimmy Neutron characters than real humans, and that's fine. Metalhead Software surely couldn't attain photorealism, so they smartly made this style work for them instead, turning a neutral or negative element of the game into a positive. 

Pros
  • Impressive customization options
  • Great on-the-field play with wide-ranging difficulty options
  • Many modes and ways to play with friends locally, online, or alone
  • Creative mojo and pressure systems interact to alter athlete behaviors in fun ways
  • Fun, lighthearted visuals bring the world to cartoonish life
Cons
  • Fielding fly balls is curiously semi-automated, which stands out as the one area where players lose control

Super Mega Baseball 2: Ultimate Edition is the definitive killer app for sports game fans playing on Switch. More so, if you haven't played it on other platforms, it remains an excellent option there, too, even if you have access to PS4's The Show.

What's lost in MLB licensing is recovered tenfold in deep customization across the board, intuitive play on the field that rewards a high baseball IQ, and a lighthearted aesthetic which belies the game's as-serious-as-you-want-it design. Admitting it's an overused cliche, it also feels unavoidable; Super Mega Baseball 2 is a grand slam.

[Note: A copy of Super Mega Baseball 2 was provided by Metalhead Software for the purpose of this review.]

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Audeze Mobius 3D Headphones Review: Moving Through Sound https://www.gameskinny.com/w371c/audeze-mobius-3d-headphones-review-moving-through-sound https://www.gameskinny.com/w371c/audeze-mobius-3d-headphones-review-moving-through-sound Thu, 18 Jul 2019 17:06:55 -0400 Jonathan Moore

A while back, I reviewed Sennheiser's GSP 500 open-back headset. Its sound was phenomenal. In fact, it emitted some of the clearest, most immersive sound I'd ever heard. I gave it a 9/10, and I still stand by that score. 

But now I've tried Audeze's Mobius 3D headphones, and my life has irrevocably changed for the better. 

At $399, Mobius comes in at the price of a console. Indeed, it's a headset for audiophiles or those with deep pockets willing to shell out for top-tier sound. The good thing is that for those people, the Mobius is worth the price of admission. 

Compatible with PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and mobile in various setups, Mobius is the classy, tuxedoed martini of headphones. With a focus on projecting impeccable sound across a meticulously designed soundstage, Mobius 3D creates an immersive experience that's authentically mind-blowing.

If you've never heard 3D audio before, it's possible your jaw might hit the floor. 

Design

The Mobius screams premium. Everything about the headset feels solid and lovingly made. Whereas some other headsets might have flimsy frames, the Mobius doesn't rattle or creak even though it's made almost entirely of plastic.

As pointed out by a PR representative for the company, and proven true in my testing, you can "twist it to an extreme level" without fear of breaking it or deforming the headband. 

Although the headset is sold on the Audeze website in variants sporting copper and blue accents, the model I tested had a black matte body with grey accents at the bottom, middle, and top of the adjustable headband, as well as on both sides of each earcup.

"Audeze" is emblazoned across the top of the headband in the chosen color, and "Mobius" is emblazoned on the outside of the left earcup in smaller font. Finally, each earcup has a hexagonal honeycomb design on the outside, also in the chosen accent color. In my case, grey. 

Both the headband and the earcups feature extremely comfortable memory foam underneath faux leather. The padding feels great and isn't too thick; there's no discomfort along the jaw or across the top of the head even at 350g. I especially appreciate how the closed earpads encompass the ears and keep the diaphragms from resting directly on them. 

As with many modern headsets, gaming or otherwise, all of Mobius' controls are on the left earcup. Here you'll find the volume for the headset as well as the volume for the detachable boom mic. You'll find the input jack for the mic and the USB-C charging port there as well. Lastly, you'll find the AUX jack and the 3D audio toggle button.

On the outside of the earcup, you'll find the mic mute toggle at the top, the power button at the bottom, and an LED just above that for denoting if the headset is on or charging. 

While there are quite a few buttons and inputs on this set of cans, they're all fairly easy to find once you feel your way around, and the mic mute isn't as awkwardly placed as I originally suspected. Having said that, I do wish the headset volume and the mic volume dials were a bit more prominent for better grip. 

Features

There's quite a bit going on under the hood of the Mobius 3D. It features planar magnetic drivers, head tracking technology, 3D sound emulation compatible with surround sound modes such as 7.1 and 5.1, full-room emulation, and Waves NX technology for incredible sound processing. 

Due to its plug and play ethos, there are also eight pre-programmed sound profiles on the headset:

  • Flat
  • Default
  • Foot Steps
  • Ballistics
  • Music 
  • Racing
  • RPG 
  • Warm

Oddly enough, though the headset has free downloadable software in the Audeze HQ app, there's currently no way to adjust the pre-programmed EQ profiles. It's a bit of a bummer, even if the profiles sound great. There will certainly be those who wish for more control than the headset currently provides. 

However, there are a few things you can tweak in the software, namely HRTF Personalization (head-related transfer function personalization) and head gestures. 

The first allows you to customize the soundstage based on the measurements of your head. The headset already does a good job of producing tones out of the box, but if getting into the minutia of optimal emulated driver placement is your thing, you can set up an audio experience that's unique to your biologically-perfect cranium. Just whip out the tape measure and input the values. 

Specifically, this mostly has to do with positional audio. I'm grossly oversimplifying the process, but it boils down to how sensitive your ears naturally are, and how the software, based on your measurements, accounts for boosting frequencies for your specific head shape and ear anatomy. 

The second feature allows you to set keybindings to head gestures. The Audeze HQ app shows your head position in real-time, including pitch, yaw, and roll. With head gestures activated, it's possible to assign such functions as looking up and looking down, turning right or turning left, to certain head movements.

It's even possible to tweak the degrees at which the in-game action will be performed, with larger values requiring more head movement to activate and smaller numbers less head movement to activate. A Twitch mode binds an action to two head movements, either up or down or side to side for example. 

Outside of those two things, the Audeze HQ app is pretty threadbare; most of it acts as more of a manual than a piece of software. As you can probably guess at this point, there's no RGB to be found here, either.

Audeze eschews modern gaming tendencies with the Mobius, something that may or may not put certain gamers off, but something that very much seems to align with the company's hard sci-fi panache. 

Performance

In almost every way, the Mobius 3D shines when it comes to audio production. With games, music, movies, and podcasts, both 3D audio and stereo audio sound absolutely fantastic.

But let's face it: while it might sound great, you're not here for stereo. Instead, you're doling out $399 for full audio immersion. So what's it like? 

3D audio is like touching sound or being inside whatever you're listening to. Some have even called it VR for sound, and I think that's probably the most effective way to describe it. In no small way does Mobius' 3D audio authentically emulate real-world sounds and sound wave directionality. 

I often listen to relaxation sounds and playlists while working, such as rain in a forest or tides crashing on a beach. With the Mobius, I can pinpoint almost every raindrop and know exactly where every seagull is flying as they caw against the crashing waves. 

In games like Battlefield 1, I'm able to eerily pinpoint exact enemy placement, down to what section of wall they're standing behind, for example. With Logitech's G533 headset, a set of cans which I completely adore, I'm able to get a fairly close approximation of where enemies are hiding based on its directional audio. With 3D audio, I can pick them out with extreme certainty.

Combine that with the headset's Ballistics or Footsteps presets, and you'll hear bullets whizzing by your head in incredible details or boots plodding on concrete with precision. In the campaign mode, you'll feel as if you're inside Chapter 1's tank or in the cockpit of Chapter 2's biplane. Dialog cuts through booming sound effects and sweeping scores like a bullet through silence. 

Music sounds fantastic as well  especially live music. I've been to and played in my share of rock and metal concerts. Mobius is the only headset I've ever used that comes close to accurately recreating how sound works in a live concert environment.

The magic of Mobius is that it emulates your head position. That means if you're facing the screen (or the position you've designated as the center of your viewing area), it feels as if the speakers are directly in front of you.

Turn to the right, the sound shifts mostly into the right diaphragm, with the volume in the left decreasing accordingly. Turn left, the same thing happens. Turn around, and it feels as if the sound is behind you. 

It's eerie. It's awesome. And it's something everyone should hear for themselves at least once. 

Pros: 
  • 3D audio changes the way you hear you experience your favorite games
  • Sturdy, yet flexible design makes the Mobius a joy to wear
  • Crystal clear detachable mic with dedicated volume
  • Can charge and use at the same time via USB-C 
  • In-depth (and surprisingly cheeky) user manual makes set up easy
Cons: 
  • 3D audio doesn't work on mobile devices
  • No Bluetooth for PS4, Xbox One, or Switch
  • No Bluetooth dongle or receiver provided 
  • Short USB-C charging cable makes it hard to use when attached
  • Can't adjust EQ settings or make new profiles in HQ App
  • Battery doesn't last as long as other wireless/Bluetooth cans

Audeze's Mobius 3D headset is certainly a premium product. It's not the highest high-end headset out there, but at $399, it's probably out of reach for many gamers. That being said, this is a headset that will last for years and years to come, all while providing some of the best audio you can possibly get without going to absolute crazy town on price. 

Not everything on the headset is a bag of chips, either. Head Gestures is currently in beta, and while it's a neat feature, it's strange in practice. With some tweaking, and perhaps some more practice by users, I could really see this being used to awesome effect in VR. As it stands, the number of use cases for the technology is pretty slim.  

For certain setups, the included USB-C charging cable might be too short, specifically if you're wanting to use the headset and charge it at the same time. As of this writing, there's also no way to change the on-board EQ profiles, truly a bummer for the price. 

However, if you want one of the best audio experiences around, and a pair of cans able to produce lush, vibrant tones across a bevy of media, the Mobius 3D is well worth checking out. Unless you actually hear 3D audio, it's almost impossible to accurately convey how precise and immersive it truly is. 

Here are the headset's full specs: 

Drivers Planar Magnetic
Emulation 3D w/ support for surround
(7.1, 5.1, 5.0, 2.1, 2.0)
Connections USB-C to USB-C, USB-A to USB-C,
Analog 3.5mm, Bluetooth
Frequency Response 10Hz - 50kHz
THD < 0.1% (1kHz, 1mW)
Earpads Contoured memory foam
artificial leather
Headband Memory foam
Microphone Detachable w/ volume control
Battery Type Lithium-polymer
Battery Life 10+ hours with 3D enabled,
charges via USB-C while in use


[Note: A Mobius 3D review unit was provided by Audeze for the purpose of this review.]
 

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Etherborn Review: Grappling with the Unknown https://www.gameskinny.com/wub4d/etherborn-review-grappling-with-the-unknown https://www.gameskinny.com/wub4d/etherborn-review-grappling-with-the-unknown Thu, 18 Jul 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Barcelona-based developer Altered Matter has been working on its physics puzzler Etherborn for several years now. It's a game built around the concepts of finding truth in the unknown while working through vast, multi-stage puzzles and defying gravity in the process.

If those two mechanics sound rather different from each other, that's because they are, and it's a split that stays with the game throughout. That split isn't necessarily to Etherborn's benefit, though there's still enough for patient puzzle fans and 3D thinkers to enjoy here.

Into the Ether

Normally, you wouldn't expect to read much about a physics puzzler's story, but Etherborn tries to be a bit different in that regard. All the running up walls and piecing stages together is loosely based on an equally loose story about an enigmatic being's search for truth.

What truth? Well, that depends.

The being, a cluster of nerves forming a tree in the chest and brain, apparently has an emptiness that must be filled, though it isn't aware of the emptiness and doesn't know what fills it. So, like you do, it starts listening to a geometrically abstract, pulsing, golden Thing that talks philosophy and promises to reveal all the unknown that needs to be known.

As you progress through each stage, that changes to the Thing telling you about the nature of the universe and how humans came to try and dominate it. Eventually, that turns into how people lost their relationship with — and place in — nature by turning to language, using it to name and dominate creation whilst simultaneously rejecting all other paths in the process.

The existential bits don't get developed fully enough to contain real meaning before Thing switches gears to something akin to an environmental message, which also isn't fully developed.

Moreover, it's all a little confusing. That's not because it's a deep, philosophical message on the nature of humanity. No, there isn't anything here that hasn't been said before, and with more impact.

It's because each message is wrapped up in convoluted writing, writing seemingly designed to suggest the profound by straying into purple prose, when something more direct could convey meaning better.

Or: Humans feared what they didn't understand and tried controlling it through limiting the unknown.

And that's every scene with narration.

Those who want to engage in the message on offer here will find it doesn't work with this style of game anyway. The being's goal is to navigate through each stage by putting things in order. Chaos gets tamed through the player imposing their will on creation, manipulating it to their own desires for a goal they aren't even fully aware of — the exact behavior the game tries telling you led humanity astray in the non-gameplay portions.

Were there some big payoff with insight into the human condition that isn't already commonplace in contemporary media, these narrative issues might be easier to overlook. As it is, conversations with Thing are just where you stop paying attention until the scene changes again.

Fortunately, you don't really miss anything if you do stop paying attention. These segments end each stage, while opening up new segments on the giant tree you travel up and around on your journey towards...whatever it is (or isn't).

In other words, the narrative has little to no bearing on the actual gameplay. Whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective, since it makes dealing with the annoyances and gaps in logic easier. However, it also begs the question of why bother building a puzzle game around this kind of plot when the plot doesn't even matter.

Climbing the Walls

All this probably makes it sound like Etherborn is a mess. Well, it isn't.

The puzzle design is consistently brilliant. When you hear "physics puzzler," you might think something like Human Fall Flat or something similar. Etherborn is more like Super Mario Galaxy, only gravity will kill you as often as it's your friend.

The goal in each stage or stage segment — since some levels are divided into multiple areas — is, obviously, make it to the end. To do that, your character will need to collect shining, faceted, sphere-like objects and place them in specific areas to impact some aspect of the immediate area.

That sounds simple, but Etherborn quickly ramps things up by giving you multiple options of where spheres could go and only a few to work with.

It translates to working out the correct order for progression, which ends up being as much a part of the puzzle as the actual jumping, climbing around, and so on.

At times, it's rather intricate as well. Some parts have multiple steps required to finally reach a sphere you need to activate another area, which has its own puzzles and finally leads you to the stage's end.

Your character doesn't just walk around on the regular floor to get to each area, though. In fact, depending on perspective, there isn't a regular floor at all.

The game's central feature is letting you walk up walls and around stage segments, with the physics changing depending on what surface you're on. For example, jumping might take you "up" when you're walking around normally. Run up a ramp onto the wall, and jumping takes you sideways.

Should you jump without a surface to land on, gravity takes hold. It can be the only way to reach that next area — or it can send you smashing against some barrier.

Keeping your footing and using gravity to your advantage fast becomes the game's chief challenge, especially since the being can't survive long drops. Fortunately, the game lets you start back where you fell, so there's really no harm in failing again and again.

That tiny thing in the vast emptiness of space? That's you.

The whole thing is a creative exercise in 3D thinking, as you try to work out which angle you need to approach a given situation from. There are plenty of moments where you find yourself wandering, having tried countless ways of reaching a certain point, when you make a random jump onto a nearby wall or platform that opens up a completely new segment of the stage. It's a good feeling and indicative of the game's clever design.

It should be a given by now, but Breath of the Wild this is not. Each puzzle has a specific solution you must work out, with no grey areas. (And yes, it's ironic that a game cautioning against black-and white-approaches to existence uses a very strict black-and-white approach to design.)

Etherborn doesn't let you cheat either. Obtaining a sphere by free-falling doesn't count, so you have to plan all your movements with care.

Falling Down Again

The scope of each stage and that strict level design do come with a few flaws, though. Many stages and areas seem a bit bigger than necessary. They look great, and there's a definite atmosphere for each. Yet it's a huge pain — and inconvenience — to navigate these massive areas time and again while you're figuring out how each stage works.

The being's movements don't always help alleviate this particular issue either. The walking pace is glacial, and though running does improve things a bit, it's still not enough to make for quick traversal of each large area.

It might not sound like a huge issue, but so much repeated movement and backtracking to finish a stage means there's little incentive to hurry on to the next one. Etherborn isn't a game meant for marathon play sessions, except for the very patient.

Turning sometimes contributes to this issue. Your movements are rather on the wide side, meaning there's no such thing as a sharp turn in Etherborn. The game's insta-try-again feature keeps it from being too punishing, but it's still annoying to fall off a ledge on accident because changing directions requires a wide swing.

There were a few points where the character clipped through solid objects and fell to its demise. There were also some areas the game had difficulty dealing with movement, mostly around the specific spots where you can transition from one surface to another.

Similarly, some platforms behave a bit oddly from time to time. One major feature of many puzzles is platforms that extend out when you approach them, blocking your way from one angle, but potentially acting as a path from another.

The issue is how the game recognizes when they should extend. For the most part, it works as it should. There are times when a platform that should extend, based on your proximity to it, won't. Whether that's by design because it's not how the maker wants you to solve a puzzle isn't certain, but there's no apparent pattern to which ones won't move unless you approach from the right angle.

Look, But Don't Listen

There's no denying Etherborn's visual style is striking, skillfully employing a minimalist approach that still manages to create mood. A big part of that is the color scheme, with each stage standing out as much for its visual identity as its puzzles.

The game's soundscape is a bit less inspiring. Most of the tracks are very short, so you're going to hear them a lot as you work through each stage. That's fine for some tracks, but others are discordant or have an easily identifiable loop point that means it's time to reach for the volume button.

---

The Verdict

Pros:
  • Excellent puzzle design
  • Clever use of visual elements
Cons:
  • Overly convoluted, and inessential, narrative elements
  • Stage scale and character movement don't complement puzzles

Etherborn is one of those games that defies easy scoring. From the number and the negatives, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is game you should run away from. But if you're a puzzle fan, enjoy thinking in 3D or just want to try something new and have a good bit of patience, it's worth checking out.

[Note: A digital copy of Etherborn was provided by Altered Matter for this review.]

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Super Mario Maker 2 Review: Everything Promised and More https://www.gameskinny.com/ybi32/super-mario-maker-2-review-everything-promised-and-more https://www.gameskinny.com/ybi32/super-mario-maker-2-review-everything-promised-and-more Mon, 15 Jul 2019 14:52:55 -0400 Ashley Shankle

How much do you have to play a game before you say it's one of your favorite games?

Sometime during my past "85 hours or more" of Super Mario Maker 2, it's made its way into my favorite titles of all time. Which isn't a surprise; it just replaced the original Super Mario Maker in my heart.

Super Mario Maker 2 takes almost all of the best features from the original Wii U title and brings them to the Nintendo Switch along with a host of new creator tools and features. If the first game was your cup of tea, the second is going to be a whole pitcher.

Along with the host of new creator tools such as new enemies, Snake Blocks, the Super Mario 3D World style, new themes, and slopes (!!), comes the ability to browse and play fellow player-made courses (levels), and a fancy new story mode to play through. Anyone who even remotely enjoys the Mario games can find something enticing here to sink their teeth into.

Not keen on creating courses? You can simply spend your time with the game playing through its story mode, which features 100 courses showcasing much of what's possible in Super Mario Maker 2 (and a few things that aren't); or stick to the endless player-created courses available.

There's more than enough gameplay to be found in the game even if you don't want to get all creative with it and start making your own courses, but the creator toolset is itself a joy to play with. For some, like myself, the allure of creating courses is more powerful than the pull to play them. It's fluid, it's fun, and best of all it's easy to bring your ideas to life using the game's course maker.

Course Making

In Super Mario Maker 2, you build your courses using a sprawling grid-based layout that allows for hundreds of elements on a single area or sub-area. You can extend the course as long as you like, and you can create a sub-area (which can be the same size as the primary area) that is vertical instead of horizontal.

There are five distinct game styles to choose from, specifically Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and the brand new Super Mario 3D World styles.

With each style comes more than just a change in scenery and music. Some styles have different tools available, and the gameplay mechanics differ between them.

For instance, in the Super Mario Bros. style, the player is unable to slide down slopes and koopa shells can't be picked up. In exchange, it has the Big Mushroom item, which turns Mario gigantic and makes him able to break through certain types of blocks.

Another example lies in the Super Mario Bros. 3 style, which has its signature Super Leaf item and Shoe Goomba enemy, but the player is not able to do spin jumps as they're able to do in the latter three styles.

Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Super Mario 3D World are all more complex gameplay-wise than the previously mentioned styles. Spin jumping is featured throughout all three, but wall-jumping is only available in NSMBU and SM3DW and this is really only scratching the surface.

The hefty differences between each style allow course creators a constantly-surprising level of freedom when working up their next idea, but the Super Mario 3D World style is the least fleshed out of the three.

While SM3DW is technically the fastest of the five available styles, it's missing a number of tools available in others. It has its own unique set of tools to work with, but it's the most restrictive of the set and it is not possible to swap a course between SM3DW and any of the other styles.

The sheer variety of themes available in Super Mario Maker 2 was my biggest source of excitement before it came out (aside from slopes), and I am very happy to say they exceeded my expectations in every regard.

Course themes don't just set the stage here, some of them outright grant different gameplay experiences.

You've got Ground, you've got Underground, you've got Sky and Airship and Castle and Ghost House and Underwater all from the original game but you've also got the new Desert, Forest, and Snow themes. That's 10 themes!

Two of the new themes, Forest and Snow, are most notable because they bring new gimmicks without having to switch the course to nighttime.

The Forest theme has adjustable water akin to the lava in Castle theme courses — and, of course, the water doesn't outright kill you. This makes for some real weird courses, let me tell you.

The Snow theme does what you think: it makes the ground slippery. The bane of all those who call themselves gamers, but some course creators have found some creative ways to make use of this mechanic without it feeling like torture.

Amidst all this is the new ability to switch a course area or sub-area between day and nighttime. Daytime functions as normal, but nighttime brings out a whole new slew of gimmicks to work with.

A Ground night course? No more 1-Ups for you, those suckers are now Rotten Mushrooms that will chase you and deal damage.

A Forest night course? The water's now poison and insta-kills you just like lava.

A Desert night course? Well... it really depends on the course style! It gets real windy on the desert at night, apparently, and the direction and duration of wind gusts varies per style.

The sheer magnitude of uses that these new styles, themes, and related gimmicks have in conjunction with the size of the overall creator toolset cannot be understated.

Some may have claimed that your imagination was the limit in the original Super Mario Maker, but that is something you really feel here with the sequel.

With Yamamura's Dojo present to give players creation tips and tutorials, anyone can get into creating courses with minimal set up and knowledge. Players can also do local co-op and create courses in docked mode, which is both fun and relatively easy to work with as long as both creators are communicating.

Playing Courses

There's more new here than just the shiny new story mode. Story mode is great in its own right, but the bulk of the game consists of trying your hand at player-made courses, which can be done solo, in online multiplayer, or with other players locally on other Nintendo Switches.

Super Mario Maker 2's online multiplayer modes, co-op and versus, are the big new kahunas to its gameplay variety. In co-op, players work together to finish courses; in versus, they go against each other with the first to reach the goal.

In theory, these modes should be great. I know a lot of people like them even now, but to me, these are currently the biggest blemishes on Super Mario Maker 2's otherwise blemish-free existence.

Both online cooperative and versus are plagued with lag, lag so bad I'm curious how anyone can fully enjoy these modes as they stand because that just seems like lunacy.

Every single co-op and versus match I've gotten into, I've chugged around at a uncomfortably variable speeds, sometimes feeling like I'm moving one pixel per second and sometimes a whopping 20 pixels per second. Sometimes I move at totally normal speed for a few seconds straight  amazing! ... Not.

I would love nothing more than to enjoy these modes for what they are, perhaps even with local multiplayer (which isn't available outside of the Course Maker, so you have to download a course to do it), but I hate feeling like I'm moving through molasses, and it's hard to understand the people who do enjoy the game's online multiplayer as it stands.

Outside of these two modes that will hopefully be fixed are Endless Challenge, the game's replacement for the original's 100-Mario Challenge, and, of course, just sifting through trending, popular, or new courses for a good time.

Thanks to the new Boo! option, which functions as a foil to Liking something, Endless Challenge is more bearable than much of what a player would run into in the first game's 100-Mario Challenge.

There are still plenty of sub-par courses you'll run into, but courses that receive enough Boo!s don't get put into the Endless Challenge pool very often. It's curation at its most simple, but it's made playing the mode more enjoyable than its predecessor.

There's not much else to say about playing courses but "It's Mario." Because it is, in fact, Mario, and if you're familiar with the series at all, this is an easy title to jump right into without having to worry about the more in-depth mechanics put on display in Expert and Super Expert difficulties.

There is more than enough content in Easy and Normal for players of any skill level to take on without having to stress about pixel-perfect jumps, kaizo blocks, and all that jazz.

---

Super Mario Maker 2 is exactly the sequel players of the original Wii U title were looking for, at least for this fan.

I put hundreds of hours into the original Super Mario Maker; I bought a Wii U for that game, but after my dog's well-placed paw put my Wii U out of commission a couple of years ago, I'd been high and dry. All I've really wanted was more SMM.

Aside from the janky online multiplayer, Super Mario Maker 2 is basically the perfect sequel, and like its predecessor, the series once again has opened creative doors I never even knew were there.

Pros
  • Easy to understand and use course editor
  • Literally limitless courses to play
  • Co-op course making is surprisingly fun, provided you communicate
  • All the new maker tools aren't just comprehensive, they're perpetually surprising
Cons
  • Online multiplayer, both co-op and versus, is a laggy mess

If online co-op worked worth a heck, Super Mario Maker 2 would be an easy 10 out of 10 GOTY hoedown throwdown; it'll still probably be my game of the year.

I have a serious weakness for this game. However, even with the (totally optional) less-than-optimal online multiplayer, it's still a fantastic time for both casual and hardcore gamers with a soft spot for Nintendo's mascot.

[Note: A copy of Super Mario Maker 2 was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]

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Blazing Chrome Review: An In(contra)vertible Classic https://www.gameskinny.com/9vdtm/blazing-chrome-review-an-incontravertible-classic https://www.gameskinny.com/9vdtm/blazing-chrome-review-an-incontravertible-classic Fri, 12 Jul 2019 12:44:34 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Like any good arcade shooter, Blazing Chrome is a challenge. Some may say it isn't, but let me tell you it ain't a walk in the park. Until you master each level, each enemy attack, and each boss sequence, you'll find yourself pushing daisies more often than not.

I'd wager you'll be well acquainted with the undertaker and his pals even after you've gotten your Ph.D. in sentient robot slaughter. That's simply the exquisite nature of a game like this: a shooter unequivocally married to the halcyon days of the genre.  

In no small way is Blazing Chrome a phenomenal homage to run n' guns like Metal Slug, Gunstar Heroes, and most obvious to literally anyone familiar with the genre, Contra. Specifically, I'm talking the incredible Contra III: The Alien Wars

In almost every sense it's more than a tribute: it is the best Contra title to release in years. Change the name to Contra: Blazing Chrome and you'd never know this wasn't a triumphant return to form by Konami. 

But it's not. Blazing Chrome is developed by JoyMasher, the same team also responsible for the awesome Oniken, and the one that's developing what amounts to a Ninja Gaiden 3 successor in Moon Rider.

Like the Duffer Brothers with Stranger Things, JoyMasher knows how to do nostalgia right — and the team knows how to out-Konami Konami. 

As expected from any game in the genre, Blazing Chrome's story isn't an Academy Award winner. The good thing is that it doesn't have to be. 

The game opens almost exactly like Contra III with an A.D. 21-something date flashing on the screen. In the background, the devastation of a post-apocalyptic Earth slowly comes into focus. Everything is laid waste, but the resistance will prevail and restore order. 

The prologue does give us a bit more background than most anything found in Contra, telling us that the robots have taken over, and it's our job to take them out with a horde of bullets, lasers, and grenades. However, the mini-narrative is mostly inconsequential, and it can be completely skipped without fear of missing out on anything vital.  

Hop into the meat of things, and you'll quickly find the game is as chaotic and frenetic as you might have hoped. Enemies and bullets fly every which way. Supply drops fall from the sky, giving you upgrades, new weapons, and support drones for offense and defense. Huge, multi-phase bosses take over the screen, lobbing all sorts of impending doom in your general direction. 

You won't have access to as many weapons as some other games in the genre. Here a machine gun, beam cannon, grenade launcher, and a ropey laser-whip weapon are all you've got. What you lose in arms you gain in support from attack drones, shield drones, and speed drones.

It's a good thing, too, since a single hit will merc one of your lives and remove any weapon you were currently using sans the basic machine gun. 

The game's Arcade Mode consists of six total stages, which will take about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to completely finish. Four are immediately available, and you can play them in any order by choosing them from the stage select map. After beating all of them, two secret stages become available.

These, of course, are some of the hardest stages in the game. More so than the first four levels, they showcase some truly creative level design which forces you to strategize your movements or rethink how to engage each merciless boss. 

Things are made more tumultuous when you add another player via local co-op. There's absolutely nothing like teaming up with your best friend to viciously dismantle robotic alien scum a la' Probotector or The Alien Wars. I can only hope for the addition of online co-op sometime in the future, which is a strange omission here.  

But whether you're traversing this metered madness solo or with a friend, Blazing Chrome controls beautifully. Aiming, shooting, and switching weapons is decidedly old-school cool while moving and jumping is buttery smooth. 

While I'm not a fan of the game's default input layout, JoyMasher smartly allows for complete button remapping. Indeed, the game's options menu is surprisingly beefy. Aside from adjusting volume and input, JoyMasher provides two filtering options that mimic CRT TVs and one (5XBR) that reshades the game's already beautiful and era-accurate 16-bit pixel graphics. 

The game is even localized in 10 languages at launch, any of which can be chosen with the flick of a button.

Pros: 
  • Tight, remappable controls
  • Classic run n' gun flair
  • Beautiful pixel graphics
  • Fantastic synthwave soundtrack
Cons: 
  • Lack of online co-op
  • Very short arcade mode

Blazing Chrome is an instant classic. In no small way has JoyMasher lovingly captured the sound and fury of classic Contra in a way that feels truly authentic. 

Despite the lack of online co-op, my biggest gripe with Blazing Chrome is that the sequel isn't already out. I'm already yearning for more, whether in future DLC or sequels, which says nothing but good things about how JoyMasher handled this masterful throwback.

[Note: A copy of Blazing Chrome was provided by JoyMasher for the purpose of this review.]

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Stranger Things 3: The Game Review: A Great Companion for Fans https://www.gameskinny.com/dl7us/stranger-things-3-the-game-review-a-great-companion-for-fans https://www.gameskinny.com/dl7us/stranger-things-3-the-game-review-a-great-companion-for-fans Thu, 11 Jul 2019 09:38:14 -0400 Mark Delaney

Chances are good that you're watching Stranger Things 3 this week. If not, chances are pretty good that you aren't because you've already finished the eight-episode season.

For the biggest fans, the fleeting binge may not feel like enough, but luckily it doesn't have to be this season. Stranger Things 3: The Game, developed by BonusXP and published by Netflix's burgeoning gaming division, is a fun retro take on the popular show's third season.

By including the expansive main cast as playable characters, giving players all of Hawkins to explore, and combining old-school charm with modern accessibility, Stranger Things 3: The Game makes for a great companion to the TV series. 

If you haven't watched the show's third season yet, you should do that first, as the game adaptation mostly tells the same story. It does make some very gaming-specific alterations, however, like offering many side missions and a lot more combat than the show makes time for. It's designed for co-op too, so while you can switch to any character you want, you'll always have a buddy handy as either AI or someone next to you on the couch.

Outside of those sorts of changes, it adheres very closely to the show, including even precise dialogue segments taken right from episodes. It's clear BonusXP didn't just have the plot outlines but had seen the whole season, and that sort of approach feels as nostalgic as the series. Tie-in games like this are disappointingly few and far between nowadays, but Stranger Things 3 makes a case for their resurgence. 

The artwork isn't exactly period-accurate. The show takes place in 1985 while the game, though retro-styled, looks more like a project from 1993 or so. For fans who don't like retro games and lack the nostalgia no matter how far into the annals of console history a game goes, ST3 thankfully modernizes the 16-bit open-world hubs with conveniences like fast travel, improved waypointing, and much more forgiving checkpoints. Controls are smartly set up too. With several characters offering unique abilities, the game wisely swaps to them automatically when you need them, and at any point, you can swap to whichever character you'd like, or even move back and forth between your last two like a favorites menu.

What remains intact from the era of games which ST3 mimics are very difficult boss battles. Usually how to defeat them is spelled out well enough to not frustrate, but there's a difference between knowing how to beat an enemy and executing that plan. In BonusXP's tie-in, the latter can be a real obstacle some times, just like the old days.

Even then, a few late-game bosses don't as clearly spell out the tactics needed, which is a harsh reminder of how games used to be and how far we've come from such annoyances. Every major battle from the season appears here as a boss, and they get harder as you go.

When you're not fighting bosses, combat can still be more than mindless button-mashing, even if it's not as trying as the bosses. Controlling crowds of flayed rats, armed Russians, and spillovers from the Upside Down involves some smart thinking and pairing of the right heroes while using their moves in effective ways. You recharge energy for devastating special moves by drinking New Coke, because even the game couldn't escape the influence of product placement.

For the biggest fans, it's not going to be just playing as favorite characters that is so exciting: it's getting to live in Hawkins as those characters. The overworld plays host to several good-sized hubs, like the suburbs, the Starport Mall, Hopper's woods, and more, and many of those have hidden areas which act as puzzle and combat dungeons, thus expanding the size of each area even more.

It's a thrill to go sightseeing to Joyce's general store, or Billy's pool, or especially the Hawkins Lab which has hosted so many classic moments. The game brilliantly takes you on a tour of every corner of every street and into every home and store by the end.

Getting familiar with the map really rewards you with a sense of place in the once quaint, always fictional town. You'll feel like a resident, or more accurately, 12 residents.

All the kids, younger and older, as well as Joyce and Hopper, are playable, and most of them are faithful avatars to their TV counterparts. With a few of them, it seems like BonusXP didn't quite know how to make them fighters, so their move sets end up feeling foreign, like they don't quite capture who they are. Nancy uses scissors, apparently because she's an office clerk. Why Max's normal attack is a high kick is another confusing example, though others, like Steve's ice cream cone lobbing or Eleven's Jedi powers, are welcome and powerful.

All of this comes while the series' unforgettable music plays in the background to perfectly set the stage, even as the game purposely withholds some flair that would be possible with a more modern approach.

Pros:
  • Features 12 playable characters and every sight you'd want to see in Hawkins
  • Combat is fun against goons and a proper challenge against bosses
  • Music and the open-world go a long way to make you feel like you're a part of Hawkins
Cons:
  • A few boss battles are needlessly obtuse
  • Some characters' abilities seem out of left-field

If you like neither retro games nor Stranger Things, you're probably safe skipping this one, but for anyone who likes either and everyone who likes both likely a great number of people  Stranger Things 3: The Game is a fun homage to the old school and a proper tie-in game that will hopefully bring about more similar projects.

The TV series appeals to a wide age range and the game surely will too. Bring someone skilled for the boss battles and this will be a frustration-free extension of your season three binge.

[Note: A copy of Stranger Things 3: The Game was provided by BonusXP for the purpose of this review.]

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Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review: A Textbook Example Of A Sequel Done Right https://www.gameskinny.com/n4un8/dragon-quest-builders-2-review-a-textbook-example-of-a-sequel-done-right https://www.gameskinny.com/n4un8/dragon-quest-builders-2-review-a-textbook-example-of-a-sequel-done-right Thu, 11 Jul 2019 09:15:02 -0400 David Jagneaux

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the perfect sequel. To be clear: that doesn't mean it's a perfect game by any means, but if you enjoyed the first one or had some specific, common issues with it, then you're very likely going to love this follow-up. 

More so than most any sequel I've seen in recent memory, it takes everything about the first game, improves it, expands it, and makes it better from top to bottom all without feeling redundant. It's actually pretty impressive.

Dialogue Boxes Galore

I never put a whole lot of time into the original, but I played enough to approach this review with some ground-level expectations. Despite being familiar with the previous game, an avid consumer of JRPGs, and fan of the core Dragon Quest franchise, I was not prepared for the sheer volume of text in this game. I'm not exaggerating. If you told me Dragon Quest Builders 2 has more lines of dialogue than The Witcher 3, I'd probably believe you. 

The premise here is that you're a rare and talented "builder" that possesses the unique gift of being able to, you guessed it, build stuff. That means busting out your book to jot down crafting recipes and blueprint ideas precisely when the narrative demands it. 

Truth be told, the story is all but meaningless after the first couple of hours, at which point you finally get to leave the starting island.

The game's broken up into several large themed islands with self-contained quest progressions that gradually teach you the game's various layers such as planting, mining, and so on. Each island has its own set of resources and eventually, you'll unlock access to anything and everything back on the main starting island, which is a bit like your home base as you recruit villagers to come back with you.

Building With Purpose

What originally attracted me to the Dragon Quest Builders franchise as a whole is the fact that it puts the addictive "collect, craft, build" gameplay loop from popular sandbox games such as Minecraft into a package with a clearer, more structured design. Instead of being a pure sandbox, you've got NPCs to chat with, a story to progress through, dedicated chunks of content to do, and a driving sense of purpose. Eventually, you can ignore it all and treat it like a pure sandbox, too, so it's kind of the best of both worlds in a way.

The downside to this is that even after a dozen or so hours, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is obsessed with teaching you. Even if it's something you figured out on your own, sifting through countless dialogue boxes over and over is tedious. I usually am very much against not reading the dialogue in games like this; I'm a writer so, of course, I appreciate good prose, but it eventually gets monotonous and patronizing in this case.

All of the writing is cute and charming, but sometimes I just wanted to get on with things already.

From a gameplay perspective, Dragon Quest Builders 2 feels really good. It uses a sort of middle ground between being top-down and isometric with a camera that can pan and zoom a bit to get the right angle. Thankfully, it helps establish a good sense of scale for how large the settings often are.

You'll spend most of your time completing simple checklist-style quests, but once you get a bit into the first non-starter island, things open up more. You'll start building up villages and recruiting NPC villagers that can go with you on adventures, along with your combat buddy, Malroth. 

As a first for the series, you can even assign tasks to villagers, too, like collecting certain items or even working on completing structures by following blueprints. Being able to offload a lot of the busy work to your helpers is a huge quality of life improvement.

Learning New Tricks

Speaking of changes and new features, the biggest addition here is multiplayer. Just like Dragon Quest 2 itself added a party to the game instead of the original's single protagonist, Dragon Quest Builders 2 adds NPC companions and player companions as well.

Combat received an overhaul as well by letting you attack much more quickly, removing the damage you'd take from touching enemies previously (it was super annoying,) and increasing the intensity a bit across the board. It's still just mashing attack and moving away from enemy swipes, but it's less tedious at least, even if not remarkable.

In terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, though, the biggest improvement to me is the enormous inventory expansion. No longer do you need to constantly drop things off in storage or sift through chests to find items. You've basically just got bottomless pockets this time around. Add in a Breath of the Wild-style glider, teleporters spread across islands, and a flute to help find rare items and it really rounds out the sequel package here in a great way.

And you can swim now, too!

Pros:
  • Great improvement on the original in basically every way,
  • Lots of wonderful quality of life improvements,
  • Tons of stuff to do with dozens of hours of content,
  • Normally tedious stuff is handled very well.
Cons:
  • Combat is still a bit boring,
  • At its core, it's still more of the same,
  • Story is extremely forgettable, albeit well-written.

At the end of the day, you probably already decided whether Dragon Quest Builders 2 was for you from reading the features list summary on Wikipedia or the storefront page of your choice. This doesn't reinvent the blocky cube wheel, and it doesn't do a whole lot to stand out other than refining its existing formula, but for fans of the original, that should be more than enough.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 releases on July 12, 2019, for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

[Note: A copy of Dragon Quest Builders 2 was provided by Square Enix for the purpose of this review.]

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Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble Plays Like A Big Expansion Rather Than A Major Sequel https://www.gameskinny.com/3ef47/tiny-metal-full-metal-rumble-plays-like-a-big-expansion-rather-than-a-major-sequel https://www.gameskinny.com/3ef47/tiny-metal-full-metal-rumble-plays-like-a-big-expansion-rather-than-a-major-sequel Wed, 10 Jul 2019 18:14:55 -0400 Ty Arthur

Ready for another tactical Japanese arcade-style rumble as adorable armies clash on the battle grid? There's plenty more of that in-store with Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble, which manages to keep nearly all the same pros and cons of the previous 2017 title.

It isn't often that a game's biggest strength is also its main weakness, but that's the case here, as this is more of a big expansion than a true sequel in any sense of the word.

That being said, obviously if you liked Tiny Metal then it will be welcome addition anyway, but be aware you are getting a lot more of the same here, with a few added bugs inherent to any new release.

What's New And What's The Same With Full Metal Rumble 

 World map exploration (kinda)!

First things first: the graphics are essentially identical with Full Metal Rumble. The map terrain is the same, the unit models are the same, and even most of the unit voice work and sound effects are the same (the metal tank units still proclaim "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!" when firing).

We've also got mostly the same cast of protagonists this time, with a few new additions as the stories for Wolfram and Nathan continue.

In terms of overall gameplay, this is essentially just 39 extra campaign missions that play out the same way as in the previous Tiny Metal entry.

There are some upgrades, however, which straddle the line between "beefy DLC" and "actual full sequel."

You get to manually move across the world map on different land or air vehicles to start new levels this time around, although this is really a cosmetic enhancement and not a game-changer by any means, as there's nothing else to do on that map but choose your level.

Full Metal Rumble also adds in some differing superpowers and abilities between heroes that nerf or buff various unit types, so you can change up your play style a bit on each level depending on what type of unit you prefer to use.

 Fuel and ammo resources to manage!

Easily the biggest change is the addition of ammo and fuel to manage for all of the units, and the lack of that element was a frequent complaint from Steam players for the previous game.

This is where the strategy changes from base Tiny Metal, although to be honest in the single-player campaign it rarely comes up in the first half of the game because units won't last long enough (and the maps aren't big enough) for those two new resources to matter much.

In skirmish mode where you can choose the map size however, resource management comes into play far more often. I would have to assume it will play a key role in multiplayer as well but wasn't able to confirm with my pre-release copy.

Unlike the first game, multiplayer is apparently going to be available immediately (it appears on the main menu anyway), but we'll have to wait and see if its fully up and running at launch; returning players will sadly recall it took nearly a year for multiplayer to actually become available in the original Tiny Metal. Things appear to be different here.

Finally, some of the AI has been tweaked. Units (thankfully) aren't nearly as suicidal as they used to be, but anyone who breezed through the first game will still find the campaign to be too easy in many places. 

There's only one major area where that difficulty spikes out of nowhere. Mission 33 is simply insane, even on easy mode, but the developers have already stated a patch will arrive shortly after launch to fix that issue. 

For the Tiny Metal veterans, the real difficulty will be in completing the secondary challenges in missions, like never losing a unit to retaliation or completing each mission under a certain number of turns.

Working Out Some Bugs

 Nope, that's not the key to use at all :)

As with the first game, there have been some bugs in the pre-launch version that need to be worked out shortly after launch.

For instance, commander super abilities currently stay active forever instead of lasting one round, which is supposed to be fixed on Day 1.

I also came across a handful of small annoyances, like stuttering when opening up the build menu or constantly getting throwback into the menu when you try to exit on one early level.

Those aren't too bad, but there's one that is particularly annoying: the game shows the Delete key as the way to move back in menus, but it's actually bound to the Backspace key.

Since there's currently no ability to change key bindings, that is extremely annoying until you figure out the key is just listed wrong. Until I figured that out I was having to ALT+F4 out of the game in some menus to start all over.

The Bottom Line 

 For Artemesia!!

Pros:
  • Tactical battle that's easy to get into but hard to master
  • Unique and adorable art style
  • If you loved the first one, this is more of the same
Cons:
  • The new resources and world map aren't as big of changes as you'd expect
  • Bugs, bugs, bugs to be squashed after launch
  • If you hated the first one, this is more of the same

Right now there aren't a ton of games in this genre to choose from, which makes Tiny Metal worth your time even despite the problems.

If Wargroove didn't scratch the tactical itch for you and you've played your GBA ROM of Advance Wars into the ground, Full Metal Rumble is really the only way to go right now.

There's also one big plus here: it's coming to the Switch as well as Steam. If you want an all-ages friendly strategy game for your console, do yourself a favor and pick this one up, while keeping your fingers crossed that big patches arrive shortly and multiplayer is actually available on day 1.

[Note: A copy of Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble was provided by Area 35 for the purpose of this review.]

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Corsair M55 RGB Pro Review: Budget in Price Only https://www.gameskinny.com/cu8w7/corsair-m55-rgb-pro-review-budget-in-price-only https://www.gameskinny.com/cu8w7/corsair-m55-rgb-pro-review-budget-in-price-only Wed, 10 Jul 2019 17:09:03 -0400 Jonathan Moore

As most modern mice go, Corsair's M55 RGB Pro gets the job done. In many respects, it's a fairly average and inauspicious mouse when you consider the oversaturated field, and admittedly, the bar for average is pretty high these days. 

When you consider it's a $40 budget model that provides ambidextrous functionality without sacrificing form or function, the mouse broadens its shoulders. 

While there are other competitors in the ambidextrous space, such as GameSir's surprisingly nice GM300 and SteelSeries' egalitarian Sensei 310, there aren't that many to get your hands on, much less clamor about. Consequently, I think the M55 RGB Pro deserves a good deal of attention from righties and lefties alike if for nothing more than its dependability and ease of use. 

I won't say the M55 is the best mouse out there, but I like it a lot for what it is. 

Design

From front to back, the M55 is a minimalist mouse. Remove the RGB lighting and one would have trouble proving this is nothing more than your typical office mouse. 

The hard-plastic shell is covered in a customary matte black finish, while a strip in the middle of the mouse sports a glossy black finish. The contoured sides of the mouse are covered in the expected rubber padding, which has dozens of small triangles grouped together for increased grip. 

There are eight buttons on the mouse: LMB and RMB, mouse wheel, DPI, and two lateral buttons on each side. The LMB and RMB are Omron's rated at 50-million clicks and respond until about halfway down the back of the mouse. 

The two lateral buttons are nicely placed and easy to get to; I appreciate that they jut out from the top of the shell a wee bit, making them recognizable along the shell. While the rupee-shaped DPI switch is rather large, it's placed a bit too far back for palm-grippers and is awkward still in a claw-grip style. 

There are two backlighting regions on the mouse, between the DPI switch and the mouse wheel, and at the lower end of the shell. These are fully customizable, but can't be easily seen while in use, if at all, essentially negating their inclusion.    

Flip the M55 over, and you'll find three feet: two at the front of the mouse on the right and left, and one larger across the back of the mouse. In the center, you'll find the 12,400 DPI PMW3327 optical sensor. 

Lastly, the mouse is crazy light, weighing in at a minuscule 86g. 

Features

Rather unexpectedly, there are quite a few features on the M55 RGB Pro, all of which are accessible through Corsair's iCUE software. 

You can set macros, change pointer speed, and set DPI in one-step increments, something certain players will find a big selling point. You can also easily switch between right-handed and left-handed modes. 

The one thing I did not like is that the software allows you to set the DPI for a sniper button, which is meant to drastically lower your DPI for precise shooting or other precise actions. However, there is no dedicated sniper button; instead, one must be set by the user in the "Actions" section of the software.

Sure, it's a small gripe, but I spent two or three minutes looking for a dedicated button that didn't exist — and nothing in the software tells you where to set it when you finally figure it out. 

As expected, you can also change the M55's RGB lighting, with the entire 16 million color spectrum at your disposal. You can alter the color of the logo and the effects profiles in the lighting effects section. Here you can choose from speed, starting and ending positions (such as with a profile or on click), and three different effects categories: predefined, custom, and lighting link. Within these, you have even more choices such as static, color pulse, rainbow, rain, and temperature. 

Performance

In every game tested, the M55 worked swimmingly and as expected. Killing Floor 2 stood out with the mouse as I was able to consistently increase my headshot record over three separate games.

In Battlefield 1, Blood: Fresh Supply, Skyrim, Stardew Valley, and Cities: Skylines, the mouse was responsive and accurate, and I didn't notice any float on my two cloth mousepads: a Bloody MP-60R and a Logitech Powerplay

My biggest complaint outside of the hard-to-reach DPI switch is the mouse's lift-off distance. A good 3/4 of an inch, the LoD here can make aiming and movement a bit jumpy if you have a proclivity for picking your mouse off the mat when playing. 

Some players won't mind it, but I often found it distracting, and I consciously accounted for it as I played the above games during testing. 

Pros: 
  • Stupid affordable for what you get
  • Responsive and precise
  • Ambidextrous
Cons: 
  • DPI switch is hard to reach
  • Only one on-board memory profile
  • High lift-off distance

There might not be much to write home about when it comes to the M55 RGB Pro, but there's also very little to complain about. This is a super solid mouse and a definite consideration for lefties. 

Corsair has done a lot to round out its catalog of gaming mice. The M55 is another great addition. It's a $40 mouse that feels like a $60 mouse. 

Here are the mouse's full specs: 

Programmable Buttons 8
DPI 12,400 (in single steps)
Sensor PMW3327
Sensor Type Optical
Mouse Backlighting 2 Zone RGB
On-board Memory Profile 1
Button Type Omron (50M)
Mic Frequency Response 100Hz to 10kHz
Connectivity Wired
Cable Length 5.9ft
Grip Type Palm, Claw, Fingertip
Weight Tuning No
Weight 86g
Report Rate 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1,000Hz


[Note: An M55 RGB Pro review unit was provided by Corsair for the purpose of this review.]
 

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Terraria Switch Review: Building a Promising Path https://www.gameskinny.com/ardjb/terraria-switch-review-building-a-promising-path https://www.gameskinny.com/ardjb/terraria-switch-review-building-a-promising-path Tue, 09 Jul 2019 12:27:44 -0400 diegoarguello

It's getting late. I think of going back to the mines in search for some more cooper and maybe some chests with items that might come handy, but Demon Eyes start slamming the walls of my house. My sword can only get me so far, and my current armor made of dirt barely adds any protection to my body. I make a run for it, digging and breaking any obstacles in the way.

I had forgotten how daunting Terraria can be at times after years since I played it on PC, but the Nintendo Switch port is making me fall in love with it again. Even if it's demanding some patience from me when it comes to the way it controls.

Let's start with the basics: Terraria isn't Minecraft. That discussion has been long-had and finished.

From the ground up, it's much more arcadey experience. It seemed limited at first with its 2D perspective, but it couldn't be farther from reality. Digging below the ground with a handful of tools and discovering the map bit by bit is still exciting, and you never know what to expect just around the corner.

The key difference with Mojang's sandbox is that the game encourages you to build all sorts of weapons, from a wooden sword or a shotgun to different types of grenades, even getting magic into the mix. There are companions, probably too many materials to find, forge, and build upon, and so on. It's huge. And the developers haven't stopped supporting it throughout the years.

I've always enjoyed this particular focus, which is surprising to see in a sandbox, and it has always worked well. But if you're like me and you've probably already played Terraria before, you must be wondering if it's worth it to start from scratch on a new console.

Everyone wants everything to be on Nintendo Switch, but I was skeptical about this port at first. The narrow 3D perspective of Minecraft translates well to consoles since aiming at blocks only takes a gentle movement from the camera. But when it comes to Terraria, it's not as easy as on PC.

The left analog stick controls the player, as expected, but there's also a pointer that follows you everywhere that can be controlled with the right stick.

This can be used on the go with only your left stick movement (if you're mining sideways, for example) or you can also help yourself with the right stick, with moves said pointer to the direction you want to. Thing is, the sensitivity is way too high at least with the Joy-Cons, and it doesn't feel as intuitive as it should.

In addition with this control scheme, the game has the tendency to fill up all empty spaces around what you're aiming at, and it does it in a fast manner. Say you're placing background blocks to form walls. If you move the pointer in a spiral while holding the right trigger, it will probably use around 20 blocks in a couple of seconds. This isn't a huge problem when you actually want to cover up space, build yourself a bridge or block an enemy's path fast. But if it's a matter of precision required, it can become tedious.

Luckily there are two elements you can use to ease this. One is the possibility to zoom, something that is only available on the console versions of Terraria and is especially helpful when you're playing on handheld mode. The other is a particular perspective that makes a grid visible around your character. This allows for a much slower building instance, which made so much easier to cover specific parts of the environment.

Since this is Nintendo's hybrid console we're talking about. you can also use touch controls to navigate through the game. This is naturally far easier to pick up and play with. It also showcases a zoomed-in box of the particular area you're setting blocks in building mode, which makes it even easier to read.

For the most part, I haven't encountered any problems with Terraria's performance on the console.

It runs at 720p in handheld and jumps onto 1080p in docked mode. Even there the screen got crowded with enemies and projectiles, it always maintained itself at 60 fps. One would like to take this for granted, but a bad port can ruin any game regardless of how demanding it is, so it's a nice change of pace to just jump in and get the best experience possible.

Pros:
  • An exuberant amount of content
  • Intuitive touch controls
  • The same Terraria experience
  • Solid performance
Cons:
  • Building isn't as easy as on PC
  • No exclusive content

Terraria is an entertainment experience that seems rather simple from screenshots alone but hides a lot of charm underneath with literally dozens (or hundreds!) of hours well worth your time. The Nintendo Switch version has the potential to grant it new life, both in singleplayer and multiplayer, even if the actual building isn't as natural as one would expect.

It's a fair trade-off from the PC version thanks to its pretty much outstanding performance, and the possibility to zoom into the action in different ways erases any kind of troubles that might come with visibility, especially when you're holding your Switch.

Whether or not veterans would want to return to Terraria in 2019 is up for discussion, but if this could be your first time and you have a couple of friends willing to get on board for some online spelunking, then there are literally hundreds of adventures waiting for you.

[Note: A copy of Terraria for Switch was provided by 505 Games for the purpose of this review.]

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SolSeraph Review: ActRaiser By Any Other Name https://www.gameskinny.com/boc0d/solseraph-review-actraiser-by-any-other-name https://www.gameskinny.com/boc0d/solseraph-review-actraiser-by-any-other-name Tue, 09 Jul 2019 09:45:02 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

It's no secret what SolSeraph is: even the capitalization of the title is a thinly-veiled reference to the Super Nintendo classic ActRaiser. The gameplay and plot featured here will be familiar to anyone who has played that 1990 game, as well. 

SolSeraph is a hybrid platformer-town building game, although it swaps out the original's real-time strategy elements for tower defense.

Unfortunately, neither element of SolSeraph feels like it's fully realized, making for a game that is much better in idea than execution. There's nothing really bad about it, but there's not much good either. SolSeraph just kind of... is.

Pray to the Gods

SolSeraph puts you in the role of Helios, a divine being who protects mankind from all sorts of nasty creatures. You do this by helping different tribes of humans in battles against other divine beings, who continually send monsters out to cause harm. 

After selecting an area from the overworld map, you enter a platforming stage. Helios is a fairly straightforward character who starts the game with a fairly standard repertoire of moves at his disposal: a basic sword combo, a ranged attack, a double jump, a guard, and a back dash.

Sidescrolling stages have a few different objectives: sometimes you must reach the end of the stage, sometimes you have to defeat a large creature, and sometimes you're in a small arena and must defeat waves of respawning enemies.

After finishing the sidescrolling stage, you are brought to another overworld map, smaller than the first. You must protect the tribe and flush out the boss of the region. Enemies will march out of the darkness, looking to extinguish the tribe's campfire, always walking down a clearly delineated path.

You must manage your resources and construct the tribe's buildings, placing defenses along the way to stop the ever-increasing waves. Eventually, you will find new lairs in the darkness, which you will enter and defeat until you have safeguarded the tribe and defeated the boss of the region.

Upon return to the main overworld map, you'll have a new ability and several new areas to choose from.

Raising Acts

If you ever played ActRaiser, this set up will sound extremely familiar: it's the exact progression that the SNES classic used.

Unfortunately, not everything in SolSeraph runs quite as smoothly as its spiritual predecessor. Everything feels kind of slow. In the sidescrolling stages, Helios runs slowly. He attacks slowly. He back dashes slowly. God forbid there's an extended section where he's underwater, which slows him down even more.

When you zoom out to the tower defense portions, enemies move slowly. They chug along towards you as you wait to kill enough of them so you can move on to the next area. You can zap them with lightning bolts, which hustles it along, but those lack the impact that your godlike powers should feel like they have.

This sluggishness in both sections causes two different problems.

In the sidescrolling sections of the game, it makes your character feel unresponsive. Coupled with a knockback effect when you are hit and some floaty jumping, it leads to some seriously frustrating "instant death" jumping sections that are completely infuriating.

In the tower defense sections, there is a lack of urgency. I never found myself panicking, and the only reason I ever had to restart one of these sections was because I simply lost track of where enemies were coming from as I waited to open the next sidescrolling lair.

Fury of the Gods

Of the two portions, the tower defense sections are more enjoyable. There is a wide variety of enemies and buildings for you to place, keeping you on your toes when you encounter something new. The lack of urgency does give you a chance to experiment a bit with different buildings and find the strategy you like. With a few tweaks, it could be a solid bit of puzzlework.

The sidescrolling sections are filled to the brim with odd design choices, however. Though they are 2D areas, enemies frequently enter the screen from the foreground or the background. I took far too many hits as I started swinging before they were on the same plane as me; it's impossible to tell when they can be hit, and they move so deliberately that it looked to be much sooner than it was.

Enemies spawn in the path of your jumps, knocking you off cliffs to your doom. You often have to jump blindly, and the screen is so zoomed in that Helios will suffer a lot of cheap hits from fireballs appearing where you can't see them. Your health bar becomes absolutely massive by the late game, making each hit feel insignificant as you tank through enemies rather than figure out effective strategies to avoid hits.

When you think of classic platformers, you usually think of pinpoint controls helping you overcome enemies, powerful abilities that help you defeat overwhelming odds, and repetition serving as a learning tool, not an exercise in frustration. 

SolSeraph fails to deliver on those ideas.

Divine Intervention

That said, SolSeraph looks and sounds pretty. There's a fun soundtrack, and it is obvious which enemies are tough and which will go down in just a hit or two. It's also kind of fun to see the same tiny enemies on the tower defense portion tower over your character when you hit the sidescrolling portions.

Even the look of the game has some strange design choices. Powerups barely register when you pick them up. Even defeating each region's boss, which unlocks a new power for Helios, barely makes a mark. Remember when you'd defeat a boss in the Mega Man games, and it was a big deal? Flashing lights, a massive upgrade screen, and a demonstration of the badass new power you've obtained?

In SolSeraph, it will say something like "You unlocked a new power: Flame." Then you will have to wait until you enter the next area, tap through some text boxes, and select the new power to even see how it works. For a game where you play as a literal god, you certainly never feel like it.

Sunset

Pros:
  • A callback to a classic
  • Lots of strong ideas
  • Good soundtrack and look
Cons:
  • Slow and repetitive
  • Never delivers on ideas
  • Frustrating platforming

SolSeraph seems like a solid throwback to a much-beloved classic. On paper, it all looks right. Unfortunately, it never quite moves on the aspects it needs to. It ultimately winds up seeming more like a pale imitation than a hand-crafted tribute to ActRaiser.

SolSeraph never quite overcomes its sluggish, deliberate pacing and odd design choices to become what you'll want it to become. With a few small tweaks, it could be a fantastic diversion and admirable tribute to the 16-bit days. As is, it feels like a tragic case of "almost got it."

You'd be much better served grabbing a solid platformer and a solid tower defense game from the huge number available. SolSeraph just never quite soars as high as you'll want it to.

[Note: A copy of SolSeraph was provided by Sega for the purpose of this review.]

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Sea of Solitude Review: A Life Vest for Those Drowning https://www.gameskinny.com/gkvwz/sea-of-solitude-review-a-life-vest-for-those-drowning https://www.gameskinny.com/gkvwz/sea-of-solitude-review-a-life-vest-for-those-drowning Mon, 08 Jul 2019 12:55:47 -0400 Mark Delaney

As video games have grown up over the last several years, we're now able to experience stories of real-world politics, social change, mental health, and so much more, many things that were once the realm of the unexplored.

Trailblazing creators don't have to choose between telling personal, unorthodox stories and making money. Today's industry allows for such goals to coexist, thankfully.

Jo-Mei Games set out to tell such a story with Sea of Solitude, a fantastical adventure game which, at its core, grapples with mental health. Unfortunately, the game's script feels so wary to ever let players miss the underlying message that it instead spells it all out to a degree that leaves much of it unsatisfying.

In Darkness, Search for the Light

Sea of Solitude tells the story of Kay, a young woman who morphs into a shadow-like monster sometime before we meet her. Left to explore a flooded fantasy world inspired by Jo-Mei's home of Berlin, Kay meets many other monsters on her three- to four-hour journey. Some will be sympathetic and help her inspect her feelings. Others will be violent and antagonistic, even vulgarly mocking her as one such hermit crab-like enemy does in the early moments.

The game pivots between gorgeous vibrant oranges and blues to smoky dark gray doldrums. This oscillation between light and dark, hopeful and depressing, keeps the whole game visually interesting as the game plays very differently depending on what the world around Kay looks like.

In the lighter moments, Kay is free to explore by boat, by swimming, or on foot as she solves simple platforming puzzles. These will slow virtually no one down and clearly aren't meant to. In the dark periods, Kay is often chased by a sea monster which lurks like the shark in Jaws. The accompanying music when this "whale" gives chase is even similarly anxiety-inducing.

Other villainous monsters appear too, like shadowy children who will impede or chase and assault Kay and her brother. Every time a new monster is introduced, their design alone tells their story in artful and meaningful ways, such as a massive arctic wolf whose gorgeous fur is just a veneer for a dark and isolated true form. In fact, the game's whole world is strong enough to stand alone in presenting a compelling dialogue about mental health, and particularly Kay's loneliness.  

Lots of Tell, Little Show

The oft-cited golden rule of writing is "show, don't tell." It means creators should poignantly depict a character's motivations and a story's themes without just laying them out via spoonfed dialogue. However, virtually every instance of chatter in Sea of Solitude commits this cardinal sin.

The world Jo-Mei created is a fascinating one, and it stands on its own needing no such hand-holding, but unfortunately, it's difficult to think back and recall one moment where the writing expresses the idea that less is more. 

This on-the-nose dialogue is Sea of Solitude's biggest fault because it leaves every interaction hyper-focused on forwarding the game's themes. However, the game's world and character design already do that so exceptionally well it feels like Sea of Solitude would've been better off staying totally silent.

It doesn't help that the voice acting is often lacking, meaning the lines aren't just unrealistic, but unnatural in their delivery. Like the way the fascinating world pivots between binary explorations of darkness and light, it can often feel like everything good about the game is in its visual presentation, and everything bad about it comes from the audio. 

For Those Lost at Sea

Despite the issues with dialogue and voiceovers, Sea of Solitude still feels like it succeeds as a game grappling with some really tough subjects.

For those unexposed to these sort of themes in games before, it could be the experience they are hoping for, and in that way, Sea of Solitude's merits as a public good outweigh its detriments. While it follows a decade or more of games that have "grown up" and handled similar themes, sometimes better than this one, few have painted them in such interesting colors, including literally, and perhaps never all in the same experience. 

Sea of Solitude bills itself as a game about loneliness, and by the end that loneliness takes on many forms, like bullying at school, unhappy marriages, and, in a rare feat of eloquence, manic-depressive disorder. All of this manifests on Kay's backpack as literal baggage, which she even comments on told you it was heavy-handed.

Still, it's undeniably a good thing for more games to exist in this space and have the potential to be there for someone who needs it. Despite some really dark stuff, it's rated for teens here in the United States, and thus could be some young person's first video game that demands introspection of them and helps them navigate their own feelings. Its more challenging, better written third and final act also seems like the one most likely to relate to many players.

Pros:
  • A gorgeous and interesting world in both darkness and light
  • A memorable, more eloquent third act
  • A good, though not great, meditation on mental health

Cons:

  • Heavy-handed dialogue and metaphors sour the artfulness of it all
  • Lackluster voice acting

Ultimately, Sea of Solitude is a worthwhile though inelegant conversation piece on the dark recesses of our often self-deprecating minds. Visually, its vibrant and unique world would be enough on its own to serve the game's laundry list of metaphors.

The voiceover and dialogue then only get in the way by spelling it all out in unsatisfying ways. Still, if this is your first stop at the intersection of games and mental health, or if you know someone who needs to hear what Sea of Solitude has to say, it's certainly worth leaving the shore.

[Note: A copy of Sea of Solitude was provided by Jo-Mei Games for the purpose of this review.]

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Mini-Mech Mayhem Review: Watching Carefully Laid Plans Implode In Glorious VR https://www.gameskinny.com/hm9td/mini-mech-mayhem-review-watching-carefully-laid-plans-implode-in-glorious-vr https://www.gameskinny.com/hm9td/mini-mech-mayhem-review-watching-carefully-laid-plans-implode-in-glorious-vr Wed, 03 Jul 2019 09:33:55 -0400 Ty Arthur

Need something completely different to get you back into playing PSVR regularly?

Although there's been a fairly wide variety of games hitting Playstation's VR platform in recent months, Mini-Mech Mayhem offers up a style you didn't even know you were missing a thoughtful and hilariously randomized strategy title with both single player or online multiplayer that's fit for audiences of all ages.

The basic idea here is that four adorable mechs with a huge combination of cosmetic body parts and gun types are trying to duke it out for supremacy by taking control of the victory point, pushing each other into harm's way, or directly blowing up the competition.

How you reach those goals is where Mini-Mech Mayhem sets itself apart, and this homage/deconstruction of the board game genre is both fun and clever.

Before we dive in, I just want to leave a quick note about the images below: taking screenshots while playing PSVR can sometimes give off a false sense of how the game looks since a 3D experience is rendered into a flat image. In the pics we're using here, the board looks much farther away and the mechs seem smaller than they actually are while playing Mini-Mech Mayhem.

Not-So-Controlled Chaos

 A re-arrange interrupt swaps everyone's positions just as they start moving

Despite the name, this is actually a slow-moving game strategy game and not a fast-paced action shooter. That's not a negative by any means.

While the tutorial is quite in-depth, the game itself is simple to grasp once you have the basics down. Essentially you assign three actions (two for moving and one for shooting in whatever order you want) simultaneously with the other players before each round starts.

Mechs who move fewer tiles across the game board go earlier in the turn order, as do mechs who aim at the chest or limbs instead of the head when shooting, so which player will move first and how your best-laid plans will inevitably unravel is a mystery until the round kicks off.

The "mayhem" here isn't from speed or wild explosions, but rather in the utter insanity of how each round will play out since you don't know how the other players will move, and you can all mess with each other's plans through interrupt actions. 

Another mech might collide with you and push you out of your intended path (or even through a red hole tile where you plummet to your robotic death). A stray shot could hit your legs and redirect your movement another direction, or hit your arm and send your next shooting action towards a different part of the board.

Interrupt actions accrued randomly at the start of each round can wildly change the battlefield, entirely re-arranging everyone's positions, adding or subtracting a step from a move plan, bumping a mech onto another tile line while they move, or even stealing energy from an opponent so you can use more interrupts.

Bets laid plans will often go hilariously awry

To put it mildly, this isn't a strategy game in the vein of Into The Breach where you will have a pretty good idea of where your mechs are going to end up at the round's conclusion.

Wherever you think you are going and whatever mech you thought you were going to shoot is almost certainly not how the round will actually end. The main strategy here is in trying to guess what the other player will do so you can reach a more advantageous position. That gets easier with practice in single player AI mode, but in online multiplayer, all bets are pretty well off.

For the most part, this random chaos is a lot of fun, although there are at least two instances I found where that element of the gameplay needs an update.

First up, one tutorial challenge level seems to be bugged, as it randomly re-assigns your action at the start of the turn even though none of the other players are using interrupts.

Second, I sadly found an exploit the AI takes advantage of in normal mode that can also be used by unscrupulous players in multiplayer. Each board is randomly generated, and sometimes a red hole tile is placed on the outer edge near where players re-deploy after dying in a round.

In these cases, occasionally you get into a situation where the player who moves before the one who re-deploys can just constantly push the unlucky player into the hole at the start of each new turn.

When this particular scenario occurs, it effectively prevents that player from getting a turn and you get a victory point for free every round. That certainly needs a fix.

The Bottom Line

 Sporting my cool new duds unlocked by leveling up

Pros: 
  • Adorable graphics
  • Tons of customization options
  • Plenty of strategy tempered by a wildly chaotic turn system
Cons:
  • This would be more fun with local multiplayer or as a real board game
  • There are a few ways to exploit the respawn system
  • The way that your plans always fall apart won't sit well with some die-hard strategy players 

Once you've mastered the mechanics, the replay here arrives from the utter unpredictability of each match, as well as in leveling up to unlock new body parts and emotes for your avatar and your mech.

Both online and offline matches can be a great time, but much like Dick Wilde 2, this is a game that is screaming for local VR co-op or some sort of way for people on the couch to interact with the game (like in The Playroom VR).

Everything about this experience feels like it would be more of a blast with people you know, watching their plans unravel as everything goes sideways. On a Friday night with your gaming group and a few beers, a local version of Mini-Mech Mayhem could be the ultimate icebreaker game that keeps everyone coming back for more.

To be perfectly honest, this game might actually work better as a tabletop experience with an app that keeps track of positions and lets you know the turn order. Each player could set down three cards in order in front of them, then the app would let you know how to re-position the mechs if interrupts are played. With mix-and-match mini parts, you wouldn't even lose out on the mech customization aspect.

That style of lo-fi board game meets high tech mobile title has been done well in the past, from the simplicity of the app timer with 5 Minute Dungeon to the complexity of tabletop war game Golem Arcana where the app calculates all the math and lets you know if your move is valid under the rules.

Wishing for local co-op aside, Mini-Mech Mayhem is a welcome addition to the PSVR lineup, especially if you've been craving something beyond the normal stable of action shooters or walking simulators.

If this were a freemium mobile game without the virtual element, I'd probably give it a 7, but as a PSVR exclusive that gives you a reason to pull out your headset again, this is a solid 8 that's great fun even if there are some elements I'd like to see changed up.

[Note: A copy of Mini-Mech Mayhem was provided by FuturLab for the purpose of this review.]

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Corsair HS35 Headset Review: A Lateral Step https://www.gameskinny.com/ewaw3/corsair-hs35-headset-review-a-lateral-step https://www.gameskinny.com/ewaw3/corsair-hs35-headset-review-a-lateral-step Tue, 02 Jul 2019 17:12:16 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Corsair's new HS35 gaming headset is a budget model of the HS50, which we reviewed last year. I liked the HS50, especially at $50. It was, and still is, a serviceable, good-sounding headset that I recommend. 

It's somewhat strange, then, that the HS35 exists at all. In many ways, it gets rid of the more premium aspects of the HS50 and drops the retail price $10. Problem is, what it removes were some of the things I liked about the HS50, and what it kept, I didn't like so much. 

Despite all of that, it's hard not to recommend the headset in general, specifically to anyone looking for a fantastic budget option or a lateral choice to the HS50. Gamers aren't made of money, and one could do far, far worse than the HS35. 

Design

The HS35 comes in several different colors: 

  • All black
  • Black with green earcups and headband cushion
  • Black with red earcups and headband cushion
  • Black with blue earcups and headband cushion

The frame of every submodel is lightweight plastic, except for the adjustable section of the headband, which is your standard silver aluminum. As is custom, "Corsair" is emblazoned across the top of the headband. 

Each earcup tilts inward to provide more comfort for different shaped heads, an expected but nice tough. On the outside of each, the Corsair ship logo is placed nicely in the center. There is a glossy black channel that runs around the earcups, providing a stark contrast to the matte black around the rest of the headset. 

One thing I do not like about the HS35 — which I also did not like about the HS50 — is that the earcups do not swivel. It's a crime in modern headset design, but that's just whining from an entitled writer that likes to rest his headsets flat when not in use.

On the back of the left earcup, you'll find the volume wheel and the mic mute button. On the front, you'll find the port for the unidirectional, detachable mic. 

Comfort

For the HS35, Corsair opted to drop the leatherette earcup and headband padding found on the HS50 for fiber mesh. The mesh is a tad hotter than the leatherette over long periods, and although the earcups are supposed to manage moisture better, my ears did feel a tad sweaty after prolonged use. 

What bothered me more, however, was the depth of the earcups. Unlike the roomy earcups found on the HS50, those on the HS35 feel very shallow, as if my ears were directly on the drivers and the mesh that covered them. 

However, a plus is that during my time with the headset, the headband never bothered me; it felt just as comfortable as the one found on the HS50. Perhaps the headset's newer lightweight design contributed to that as the HS35 is 60g lighter than the HS50.

Performance

The HS35 sounds pretty great for a $40 budget set. It's hard to complain on most levels. While I did moan a bit about the HS50's bassier leanings, I found I missed that punchier sound in the HS35s. Here, bass isn't as pronounced, with highs and mids garnering the most attention. 

In games like DOOM, that means glory kills aren't as meaty and visceral, and the thrum and thunk of a shotgun takes a backseat to clankier tones of individual parts — or even the slug itself. 

There's nothing wrong with that, and I never felt I was "missing out" on tones or cues, but it's worth noting. 

For dialog in games and podcasts, for example, the HS35 shines. Voices are clear as a bell, and the stereo power of the headset's 50mm drivers really shines through. 

The microphone is Discord certified, and it performs swimmingly on the app. A colleague of mine said I sounded decidedly better than when using Logitech's G432. She said my voice was crisp and clear. 

Pros: 
  • Great sounding Discord-certified mic
  • Good sound on a budget for gaming, movies, and music
  • Plug and play for PS4, Switch, and mobile
    • See below
Cons:
  • Earcups are shallow
  • Detachable mic is easy to lose
  • Overall construction is flimsier than HS50
  • Not all versions come with Y-splitter 
    • May need XB1 3.5mm adapter (sold separately)

All in all, the HS35s aren't necessarily worse than the HS50s; instead, they're simply different. Gamers love options, and Corsair has provided them an option to the HS50. Seeing as gamers can buy an HS50 from third-party retailers for about the same price as an HS35 these days, price shouldn't be the deciding factor. 

For a low-tier headset, the HS35s sound great. Music, movies, and games are all enjoyable. Since it's plug-and-play, you won't find any fancy software here; what you hear is what you get. 

One thing to keep in mind if you decide to pick up a pair of HS35s is color scheme — it actually seems to mean something. Although every color works with every platform, only the all-black Carbon version comes with a Y-splitter for PCs.   

Here are the headset's full specs: 

 Frequency Response 20Hz to 20kHz
Sensitivity 113dB (+/- 3dB)
Impedance 32 Ohms @ 1kHz
Type Wired
Cable Length 5.9ft
Audio Stereo
Mic Type Unidirectional noise canceling
Mic Frequency Response 100Hz to 10kHz
Mic Sensitivity -40dB (+/- 3dB)

 

[Note: An HS35 review unit was provided by Corsair for the purpose of this review.]

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Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled Review: A Nostalgic Joy Ride Needing Just One Repair https://www.gameskinny.com/5vvhz/crash-team-racing-nitro-fueled-review-a-nostalgic-joy-ride-needing-just-one-repair https://www.gameskinny.com/5vvhz/crash-team-racing-nitro-fueled-review-a-nostalgic-joy-ride-needing-just-one-repair Thu, 27 Jun 2019 13:27:21 -0400 Mark Delaney

When Crash Bandicoot wasn't jumping on crates of wumpa fruit and spin-attacking turtles and wizards, he was racing aliens around the track in a stylish buggy. Crash Team Racing (CTR) has long been regarded as one of the best kart racers of its time, if not of all-time.

With the world welcoming 90s' mascots back with open arms as of late, it's the perfect time for the racer to reemerge as Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled and try to dazzle audiences just as the N. Sane Trilogy did in recent years.

Just like that collection of Crash's platforming feats, CTR mostly holds up as a great example of its genre, albeit with one nagging issue that comes along for the ride.

Racing Into 4K

If you played the N. Sane Trilogy, it helps to understand that Beenox has used for CTR the same impressive process which Vicarious Visions used for that collection. More than a simple touch-up remaster  the likes of which we're used to hearing about  but not a complete remake either, 2019's CTR was rebuilt on top of the original game and its sequel, Crash Nitro Kart.

Both games are brought into the modern day in this collection with updated colors and textures that look stunning every time you hit a new track for the first time. This process guarantees all the track dimensions, kart hitboxes, and every inch of every level is as you may remember it, only now so much prettier.

Some late-game tracks especially are on par with the masterful work seen from Pixar and it's consistently glorious to see these early-aughts visions brought into the 4K world. Of course, even if your screen isn't 4K-enabled, Nitro-Fueled looks better than perhaps all other kart racers out today. The original music has been restored, too, which functions as an auditory time machine for anyone who played back during the series' original run. 

What's a Kart Without Customization?

Beenox also did more than just touch up the visuals. The developer completely overhauled the game's reward system for contemporary players. Though you can still play the game in Classic mode, I imagine you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wants to. Originally, the game's campaign, called Adventure, demanded you stick with one racer from start to finish and could do nothing but race and complete challenges. That's no longer the case, as players can now change characters whenever they'd like.

On top of that pillar, Beenox has built an entire customization suite that lets you alter your kart's body style and paint job, apply stickers, and even change the cosmetics of your racer. Want Crash to look like a skunk? Want Coco's kart to be an alien hovercraft? These changes and many more are now available and bring a previously missing carrot-and-stick feature that feels at home with today's gaming landscape.

You can unlock many of these by performing the sort of challenges Crash has always been known for, such as time trials or CTR challenges where you need to find letters hidden on each race. This keeps the relatively short campaign worth revisiting for more than just achievement and trophy hunters. 

There's a store to spend your in-game coins for more cosmetics, too, sometimes very rare ones, and as of now, these can't be obtained with real money. As Nitro-Fueled is being treated as a live service game, the upcoming Grand Prix online mode will bring many more cosmetics to the game, including even the ability to play as Spyro, but currently, Activision has not revealed if in-game coins will ever be for sale.

A Game Mode for Every Competitor

The best feature of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is certainly its long list of game modes. The brief Adventure mode is elongated by challenges that feel worthwhile after the final boss is beaten, but it goes far beyond those. Local co-op or competitive play extends to four players in various types of races and arena battle modes, while you can also take the game online and compete against others in any of the same modes.

In my experience, online play was impeccably lag-free, leaving no discernible difference between this mode and local play, which is crucial for any competitive game. Grand Prix mode, while not live yet, promises to give players a reason to come back every week, if not every day, to compete for seasonal rewards.

With over 30 tracks, each of which can be played in mirror mode, thus doubling the number of routes, there are a lot of sights to see and roads on which to prevail. Along with Capture the Flag multi-stage Cup races, and a dozen battle mode maps, there's plenty here to justify a timesink for fans.

Precisely the Kart Racer You'd Want In All Ways But One

Kart racers tend not to reinvent the wheel, and while Beenox added a lot of features to the structure of the game, the actual racing is exactly as you may remember it, and largely indistinguishable from genre counterparts. You pick up crates to earn power-ups and find shortcuts on the map to cut corners and get ahead while drifting around corners to earn speed boosts.

It's nothing you haven't seen before, and really how could it be? It's all just a resurgence of a years-old game. That's all fine except the controls themselves are unintuitively designed and sadly can't be remapped.

These bad controls give CTR a learning curve steeper than it should have. Other racers such as this have resorted to copying and pasting the Mario Kart button layout, and for good reason. It's the top of its class. With CTR, the controller demands a bit too much for simple actions and it's confusing to see Beenox doesn't offer any alternatives.

Drifting to earn boosts is a more active system, demanding several timed button presses rather than just holding the left shoulder button so many others have used. While an active system sounds like it could be interesting, in turn, it makes the game feel unwieldy whenever you're hitting a corner or trying to turn around after a mistake. Often my kart would not drift when I wanted it to, like only the most pronounced turns were conducive to such drifting, and it always felt like this was due to the controls giving me fits.

On difficulties higher than easy it feels too involved for younger audiences to perform well enough to beat the AI or online players, leaving the game mostly suitable for nostalgia seekers or modern genre fans. 

Pros
  • Tons of tracks, game modes, and new customization options
  • Glorious visuals put CTR in pole position among genre counterparts
Cons
  • Outdated, often unwieldy control scheme with no alternatives available

At the finish line, CTR is mostly the enjoyable game you may remember and love  or maybe even love for the first time. But time has not been kind to the outdated controller layout and Beenox either couldn't or wouldn't include alternatives, leaving the game a bit more annoying than something so much fun should be. It's a bit paradoxical, perhaps, to be both awesomely recreated and frustratingly stuck in 1999 in this one glaring way.

Like the N. Sane Trilogy before it, by building on top of the original games, players can preserve all that was good in the first place, but that approach also means some legacy issues ride shotgun. Still, it only means the game has a steeper learning curve than it should, not that it's irredeemably broken. Crash Team Racing is still well worth the ride for most genre fans.

[Note: A copy of Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled was provided by Beenox for the purpose of this review.]

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Logitech G502 Lightspeed Review: Reinvigorating a Classic https://www.gameskinny.com/5kv5h/logitech-g502-lightspeed-review-reinvigorating-a-classic https://www.gameskinny.com/5kv5h/logitech-g502-lightspeed-review-reinvigorating-a-classic Thu, 27 Jun 2019 13:24:33 -0400 Jonathan Moore

There's currently a (growing) trend in the world of gaming peripherals: take an old product people love and update it. Logitech previously did so to great effect with the G935 gaming headset, and now it's done the same with the G502 Wireless Lightspeed gaming mouse.

For those familiar with the G502 line, not much has changed over the years. The upgrades here focus on wireless functionality (both signal transference and charging through Lightspeed), as well as a few changes to the modular weight system and the mouse's sensor. 

Coming in at $149.99, the G502 Lightspeed is pricey, that's true. For some players, other similarly-priced options from Logitech might present more agreeable overall designs. The G903 ($150) and G703 ($100) both implement the G502's Lightspeed and Powerplay technologies; both are also smaller.

It's worth noting that the $149.99 price point is not counting the extra $99 you'll have to spend on the Powerplay mat, which provides the compelling Lightspeed and Powerplay features but does not come with the mouse.

However, there's no reason to sleep on the G502 Wireless. It's one of the best mice you can buy right now. 

Design

The G502 Wireless looks more or less like the two previous models in the Proteus line: the Core and the Spectrum. 

The mouse features an all-black plastic shell and a futuristic design replete with angular angles and curvy curves.

The main body of the mouse, its LMB and RMB, and the thumb rest all feature a matte black finish. Other body accents and buttons feature a glossy black finish. The sides of the mouse are textured black rubber for increased grip. 

Unlike some other mice I've reviewed, the G502's body doesn't seem to scratch or mark easily, which is a good thing. What's more, it's relatively resistant to grease stains from potato-flaked fingers. 

There are 11 total buttons on the G502 Wireless: the LMB and RMB, a clickable mousewheel, and underneath that, a button that changes the wheel's scroll resistance.

Beneath the scroll wheel, there's a button that indicates the mouse's current battery level, and to the right of the LMB, you'll find the DPI up and DPI down buttons. Finally, there are three buttons on the left side of the mouse: two side buttons and a "sniper" button that drastically lowers DPI for more precise movements on the fly.  

On the front of the mouse, between the LMB and RMB, there is a port in case you want to use the mouse in wired mode. Flip the mouse over, and you'll find three rubber feet, the HERO sensor, and the wireless on/off switch.

This is where you'll also find a large detachable plate for inserting four of six removable weights, as well as an area for an insertable core. Logitech provides two of these, which can be easily swapped out. One holds the two larger, 4g weights that come with the mouse, while the other acts as a Powerplay channel.

As for size, the G502 measures in at 132mm long, 75mm wide, and 40 mm deep, making it the same size as the Spectrum. Both, however, are a tad narrower than some other offerings from companies like Corsair.

However, it weighs 7g less than the Spectrum, weighing in at 114g without the six removable weights and 130g with them installed. 

Features

Using the G Hub software, you can change just about everything on the G502 Wireless. 

Starting with lighting, you have all 16 million colors at your disposal, and the mouse features LightSync, which allows you to sync the lighting features and effects of all of your Logitech products. Here, there are individual settings for the primary lighting effects along the side of the mouse, and the logo lighting effects. You can choose from five effects: fixed, cycle, breathing, screen sampler, and audio visualizer. 

As you would expect, you can remap every button on the G502. In the "Assignments" section of G Hub, you can assign everything from commands to keystrokes to macros with the click of a button. The G502 might not have as many buttons as, say, the Scimitar Pro, but it gives players complete control of the mouse with G-Shift, which allows for a plethora of combinations across five saveable profiles.  

Finally, G Hub lets you tweak polling rate and DPI as well. Polling rate has four settings: 125, 250, 500, and 1,000. As for DPI, the G502 is capable of reaching 16,000 DPI, as with most modern mice, it seems. However, the DPI can only be changed in increments of 50.  

Performance

The extremely accurate HERO sensor in the G502 means that it's predictable and relatively consistent. There were times that acceleration and accuracy seemed a tad different between my office mousepad and my pad at home, but the deviations weren't terribly inconsistent. Differences in surface consistency are found in all mice, and HERO does a great job at keeping things stable. 

As with most Logitech mice, sniping heads and precisely targeting fuel tanks on Sniper Elite V2's harder difficulties was a cinch, even with bullet drop. Wasting zombies in Killing Floor 2 was as simple as aim and fire, but being able to pinpoint specific zeds in a horde, and then specific body parts on those zeds, was an added benefit. 

I found the mouse worked equally as effective in games like Age of Empires II HD and Civilization V. Acceleration across the screen was as expected given the specs. The G502 didn't always stop on a dime depending on the surface on which I was playing; however, those moments were few and far between. 

While it's not entirely innovative, I do have to say that I very much enjoy the ease at which you can switch between hyper scrolling and step scrolling on the mouse wheel. Simply pressing the button beneath the scroll wheel switches between the features on the fly. It's something I found myself using more than I thought I would. 

Finally, battery life on the G502 is an estimated 60 hours with the RGB lighting turned off, and an estimated 40 hours with the RGB lighting turned on. I'm not able to completely confirm the efficacy of that reported lifespan.

I predominantly used the G502 with a Powerplay mat provided by Logitech, which continuously charges the mouse while in use. However, in the office and without Powerplay, a full 8-hour work day only used about 10-12% of the battery with the RGB turned on.  

 
Pros: 
  • Comfortable design with well-implemented thumb rest
  • Tunable weight system and wireless dongle holder
  • Accurate and precise in wireless and wired modes
  • Easily switch between hyper scrolling and step scrolling
Cons:
  • Can't use all of the weights if using with Powerplay map
  • RGB is difficult, if not impossible, to see when in use
  • DPI tuning is locked to increments of 50

Anything I can find "wrong" with the G502 is nothing more than a nitpick. Having a Powerplay map for near infinite wireless charging and having seamless wireless signal transference with Lightspeed makes the mouse more compelling than without it.

From stem to stern, the G502 is one of Logitech's finest products. It's a mouse that you should have on your desk if you can afford it. 

Here are the mouse's full specs: 

Height 132mm
Width 75mm
Depth 40mm
Weight
w/o extra weights
114g
Weight
w/ extra weights
130g
Sensor HERO
DPI 100-16,000
Max Acc. >40g
Max Speed >400IPS
Polling Rate(s)
Wired/Wireless
100, 250, 500, 1,000
Battery Life
w/RGB
Up to 48hrs
Battery Life
w/o RGB
Up to 60hrs
Battery Life
w/ Powerplay
~Infinite
On-board Profiles 5

 

[Note: A G502 Wireless review unit was provided by Logitech for the purpose of this review.]

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Steel Division 2 Review: A Bigger and Better War https://www.gameskinny.com/p1wzg/steel-division-2-review-a-bigger-and-better-war https://www.gameskinny.com/p1wzg/steel-division-2-review-a-bigger-and-better-war Wed, 26 Jun 2019 11:11:46 -0400 Sergey_3847

Eugen Systems is a veteran developer with many years of experience in one special game niche: realistic military strategy. Its Wargame series successfully introduced the winning formula almost 10 years ago. And it has been greatly refined in the sequel to Steel Division: Normandy 44, titled Steel Division 2.

Steel Division 2 is not your typical strategy game; it doesn't require players that players build bases and produce troops and vehicles. Here, everything is focused entirely on realistic combat mechanics. As such, the in-game economy is merely based on activation points that allow players to deploy certain types of troops during one of the three main battle phases.

If you don't care about the lack of a typical economy, and the idea of concentrating entirely on creating the best set of troops for battle excites you, then keep reading our review of Steel Division 2.

It's All About Proper Deck Building

Set in 1944 on World War II's Eastern Front during Operation Bagration, there are three countries in Steel Division 2: Germany, Soviet Union, and Hungary.

The entire game is divided into two main components: deck building and actual battles. Decks consist of eight different groups, which can be recruited according to your division and the number of activation points available to your units. 

Both limit your possibilities in the early game, but the more points you get for winning battles, the better decks and battlegroups you can create. In any case, players need to sacrifice certain units for others in order to increase the power level of the entire division.

For example, you can have better infantry and tanks, but you will have much weaker artillery or no such group at all. The challenge lies in finding the right balance between units and focusing on the strong sides of your battlegroups.

After creating the best deck possible, there is an option to test your battlegroup against A.I., which can really help in understanding which parts of your deck are too weak and need to be reworked. Obviously, it's best to do this before entering online multiplayer, where a weak or poorly built deck can get quickly obliterated. 

Since Steel Division 2 revolves around deck building, the game continuously ups the ante. After struggling through several battles, you'll quickly notice the difficulty ratchets up. Here, it's possible to feel like the grind is endless; every battle exposes new weakness in your deck and keeps you pushing toward perfection with each new match-up. 

However, this system is a natural progression for the series.

Many players who had the chance to try out Normandy 44 were not too happy that one could play a single, universal deck, which made the gameplay boring rather quickly. As a result, Eugen Systems really took the deck building forward this time around and provided players with a massive number of possible outcomes.

New Mode and Gameplay Mechanics

Some of the mechanics from Normandy 44 game have also been reinvented, while some of the features are completely new, such as the new Army General mode.

This new mode replaces the classic linear campaign from Normandy 44, and it takes place during one of the four key military operations in Belarus during the summer of 1944. Players can choose to play either as the German or Soviet armies, where Germany seems to be a tad overpowered. 

The Army General mode allows players to control a large number of units on the tactical map. Each of the stages involves an achievement for a specific objective, such as capturing and holding a certain position. This new mode really feels like you're playing a grand strategy game, where tanks can shoot as far as 2km and artillery shells can reach up to 3km.

Regardless of the modes you choose to play, the game will require you to learn everything on your own. This means that Steel Division 2 is not a casual game in the slightest, but instead one marketed to a specific hardcore crowd.

Pros:

  • Updated graphics
  • Realistic real-time warfare
  • New Army General mode
  • A huge number of units

Cons:

  • Lack of tutorial
  • Deck building needs more balance

Eugen Systems created a great follow-up to Normandy 44 by updating many gameplay elements, including graphics. However, it's not a perfect game and still needs some balancing in the deck building department. Other than that, this is definitely one of the best military strategy games based on World War II you will ever play.

Unfortunately, new players will find it really hard to get into the game because of a complete absence of instructions. Veteran Steel Division players will have a blast playing this game, but they won't be able to share it with newer players on the same level unless they teach those players themselves.

Currently, the game features 28 divisions, and if you buy the Season Pass, you will get even more divisions, maps, campaigns, and historically accurate scenarios. 

[Note: A copy of Steel Division 2 was provided by Eugen Systems for the purpose of this review.]

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The Sinking City Review — Solve Crimes And Go Mad In This New Gold Standard For Lovecraft Games https://www.gameskinny.com/nn9zr/the-sinking-city-review-solve-crimes-and-go-mad-in-this-new-gold-standard-for-lovecraft-games https://www.gameskinny.com/nn9zr/the-sinking-city-review-solve-crimes-and-go-mad-in-this-new-gold-standard-for-lovecraft-games Tue, 25 Jun 2019 12:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

The battle of the mythos titles is officially heating up, with open world Frogwares title The Sinking City following last year's official Call Of Cthulhu and arriving ahead of next year's 2D RPG Stygian: Reign Of The Old Ones.

While all three offer their own pros and cons, for this style Frogwares was absolutely the right developer for a Lovecraftian game, having already cranked out a sizable catalog of investigative-focused detective titles, and that's where a Cthulhu entry needs to be rooted. 

Long story short? There's officially been a new bar set for future developers who want to tackle Lovecraftian content.

While not a perfect game -- there are some undeniable rough edges -- The Sinking City is still easily the definitive cosmic horror game of our time, and it solidly edges out of the competition so far. 

A New Take On Old Themes

 Somebody was having one hell of a party in here...

So what's in store for those who have already delved deep into the mythos?

One of the big appeals here is that the various mythologies of Dagon, Shub-Niggurath, Cthulhu, and Hastur are all combined into a cohesive whole that's tantalizing familiar but has plenty of twists.

Those familiar with the creatures and cults of course will have an edge over newcomers coming into the game -- you'll know immediately for instance that the charity group with a fish eye symbol named EOD most definitely does NOT stand for Everyone's Obvious Duty as they claim.

The collision of different great old ones and mind-bending truths into one location results in an experience that's essentially like playing a bunch of one shot tabletop sessions all rolled into a single campaign, and it works phenomenally well in the open world format.

While exploring the city of Oakmont players will of course recognize a number of similarities to the 2018 Call Of Cthulhu on the surface.

You play a private detective in both games, and uncover secrets in a seaside town where rotting whale carcasses are frequent decorating themes. Different gangster and law enforcement factions are vying for control like in CoC, and the two games feature similar options in what you can choose for your final decision at the end... but The Sinking City strongly distinguishes itself beyond those superficial surface comparisons with drastically different gameplay.

Cosmic Horror Isn't Meant To Be Easy Or Accessible

 Hitting the library, newspaper, or city hall archives are crucial to success

To put it simply, The Sinking City doesn't hold your hand -- there are no big blinking markers on the map telling you where to go. There are no house numbers or waypoints to follow, and the city is massive. Like any newcomer to an unfamiliar place, you'll have to pull up your map and find locations based on street signs and landmarks.

This shift is a fantastic change in the style and a reversal of the typical overly-easy quest following formula in open world games, although it does come with a slight downside if you aren't willing to put in a bit more effort.

You have to pay attention to the clues you gather and very carefully read your notes to resolve cases and move the story forward, and in one case early on my dumb ass stalled out for hours because I misread a line of text.

I thought had the key to Throgmorton Manor, when I actually had the key to the Expedition Headquarters, so I spent hours wandering around the city trying to figure out where the hell I was supposed to go to utilize that key as a piece of evidence (since I could already get into the Manor on my own). 

My first few hours with the game were increasingly frustrating as entered building after building and saw all these things that seemed like they should be clues to examine, but which I couldn't actually use in any way.

After re-reading all the clues for the umpteenth time I figured out I needed to go open the Expedition Headquarters, at which point the next segment of the game unlocked. Here's the funny thing though... I actually recommend doing something like this on your first playthrough, because it led to a better overall experience by becoming familiar with the city's layout while unlocking all the fast travel locations.

Those little exploration details and the lack of hand holding also lead to some amazing discoveries. At one point while searching for a specific house I stumbled upon a family all shot to death during a murder / suicide.

The kicker? That wasn't even the right location for my quest -- this particular building just happened to have witnessed something awful with an entire side story across the street from where I was actually supposed to go.

Open Mind, Open World

 Tackle quests your way, and come to your own conclusions about ending them

The Sinking City is heavily focused on exploration, whether that's finding all the nooks and crannies of the above ground streets of Oakmont, traversing flooded sections of city by boat, and even visiting underwater locations with a diving suit.

No matter where you go, the investigation mechanics on display are significantly more in-depth than what we got with Call Of Cthulhu last year, which tried to directly translate the tabletop rules to the PC realm.

While solving cases in The Sinking City you'll end up taking photos, handling objects, researching newspaper articles or arrest records or birth certificates, dispelling illusions to find hidden rooms, reliving events through a supernatural ability, and more. There's more player agency here as well, as you can come to different conclusions and decide how to handle the information you discover.

Another way in which this mythos entry shines with its open world format is by balancing your time hitting the books to find clues -- a staple of the tabletop cosmic horror RPG experience -- and adding in gameplay elements that keep things more interesting.

Yes, that means combat, and yes, I recognize that fighting unspeakable monstrosities with a gun is traditionally thought of as anathema to cosmic horror. Wizards Of The Coast took relentless criticism for going that route when they made a d20 version of Call Of Cthulhu back in 2001, for instance.

Frogwares splits the difference here though, with scarce ammo and enemies dealing large amounts of damage quickly. There are also instances of bigger mythos creatures that just simply can't be killed.

This isn't Supernatural or Buffy or anything -- its still bleak cosmic horror -- but there's an undeniable appeal in getting to blow up a centuries old witch or a giant loping monstrosity with a hand grenade that makes Sinking City legitimately fun to play.

Your detective starts out with a puny revolver, eventually upgrading to a shotgun, then a single bullet combat rifle, and at the very end even an SMG, although that thing chews through ammo so fast you'll never use it on a regular basis.

That's the big way the game remains grounded and doesn't go into full on mythos commando warrior mode -- you can ONLY recover health or get ammo by scrounging or crafting. There's no store to buy first aid kits or sleeping spot to fill up your health bar.

The open streets filled with nothing but run of the mill insane citizens all contain minimal supplies and threadbare scavenging options. If you want the real goods, you've got to head into the infected quarantined streets, where everything very desperately wants to dismember or eat you. Simple supply runs are deadly, and you may end up using more resources than you gained, which makes survival a satisfying struggle.

Prejudice In The 20s

 Yikes.

Wondering what exactly is going on in the story and themes between all those deadly scavenger hunts and crime scene investigations?

While the trailers made it look like this would be another retelling of The Shadow Over Innsmouth using slightly different names, the game actually takes place after that story has already occurred. The events of The Sinking City follow the infamous federal raid on Innsmouth, with the surviving refugees immigrating to Oakmont and the locals are not happy about the new arrivals.

Oakmont evokes the tone and feel of the original 1920s mythos stories by focusing heavily on racism, xenophobia, disgust at co-mingling of the races, and fear of the dreaded other. In this case, it happens to be simians versus fish people and a variety of opposed cults, but the parallels to white versus black and straight versus gay are clear throughout the game.

Of course, the developers are keenly aware of how that sort of behavior will go over with a modern audience, so there are plenty of opportunities to fight back against the racist scum.

If you were a big fan of discovering you didn't lose honor in Red Dead Redemption 2 when opening fire on white-robed shitheads at their burning cross gatherings, then there's a similar cathartic element here in quests involving the KKK.

 Dunno what you're talking about officer, he was like that when I found him.

Certain other modern elements make their way into the game, which may or may not go over well with American audiences depending on their political proclivities. 

While it isn't a gigantic plot point that dominates the game, it should go without saying that a certain someone has managed to insert himself even into this corner of the horror world.

Yes, you will come across a politician who styles himself a king above the law, has promised to build a wall to keep filthy foreigners out of the city and wants to "make Oakmont great again." 

If you couldn't guess -- and does this even need to be a spoiler alert? -- said politician is not a good person, and he has significantly less money than he claims.

Those modern nods are pretty few and far between, however, with most of the story firmly focused on the inner workings of a city cut off from the rest of the world that's dealing with the appearance of monstrous beasts and insane cults.

Rough Bumps Along The Road To Perfection

 What in Kay's name is going on with the clothes here?

From the difficult-but-rewarding investigative mechanics to the thrilling open world exploration and unique Oakmont lingo to draw you into the setting, The Sinking City does a lot right.

Unfortunately, I do have to mention there are ways you can tell its not quite a giant budget AAA game, even though it makes a herculean effort to hide that fact.

In particular, the way clothing moves can sometimes be a problem. Although not as horrifying as Assassin's Creed Unity at launch, I've seen some really odd behavior with shirts and dresses flapping in the wind like long cloaks, or getting stuck in bizarre configurations.

Here's where Frogware can potentially get away with it, though the main character is going insane, and totally nutso stuff is already happening all the time, so in most cases, you can shrug off odd NPC behavior and glitching models as part of the atmosphere.

 Oakmont is huge, but many of the interior locations end up looking the same.

Other issues have less leeway and need to be addressed, though. The game consists of a big, open sandbox to solve Lovecraftian cases, but there are sadly only a handful of interior location types. It becomes pretty noticeable when every mansion has the same layout, every church is built with the same stair positioning, and so on. 

On the investigation side, there are also a couple of instances where a critical clue can be easily missed with the lack of hand holding map icons. A scrap of paper that's too similar to the color of the floor for instance might have you pulling your hair out for hours.

In one particularly memorable instance, I'd searched a location top to bottom, room by room, square inch by square inch, with no clue what the hell I was missing. I didn't realize until about an hour later that one object that could be picked up had two clues on different sides -- and that had never occurred with similar objects before, so I assumed I'd already found that clue.

Finally, the endings are also worth discussing, as some will love them but others may be a bit disappointed in the options. I found three endings in my playthrough, and they all reflected many of the themes throughout the game, but what really struck me was the one particular ending that wasn't available.

The imagery, recurring motifs in a number of quests, and wording in some of the mythos lore seemed to strongly indicate there would be a Shutter Island style conclusion. I was expecting a fourth ending where all the insane things Charles Reed has been seeing are reflections of some past real-world trauma and he'd wake up in an asylum realizing he was living in self-delusion, but sadly that wasn't the case.

The Bottom Line

 Love me some plague doctor outfit!

Pros: 
  • You've never experienced they Cthulhu mythos in this style before
  • Oakmont is huge, and there are an unbelievable number of stories and cases to experience
  • The combat and game length are much, much, much more satisfying than what we got from Call Of Cthulhu
Cons:
  • Recycled interior assets between building types
  • Some odd glitches in NPC behavior and clothing flaps around wildly while just standing still during a conversation
  • The lack of hand-holding is a breath of fresh air... but it also means you'll suffer from investigative frustration from time to time

While there are big issues that will hopefully be addressed with patches or DLC, I have to say The Sinking City is still one of the best games I've played this year.

It's significantly longer than Call Of Cthulhu, especially if you go around trying to find all the hidden brain cylinders or completing side cases around Oakmont.

From unlocking outfits to finding random side stories of terrible things that have happened to people since the town started going mad, you can easily sink dozens of hours into the game and won't ever run out of things to do.

With an excellent re-interpretation of the Lovecraft mythos and solid open-world gameplay, The Sinking City is just about everything you could ever want from a Cthulhu game.

[Note: A copy of The Sinking City was provided by Bigben Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Masterful Symphony https://www.gameskinny.com/sjmqz/bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night-review-a-masterful-symphony https://www.gameskinny.com/sjmqz/bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night-review-a-masterful-symphony Tue, 25 Jun 2019 10:03:26 -0400 John Schutt

Four years ago, Koji Igarashi (Iga) set out to create a new vision for what fans call the “Igavania” genre. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night would be Iga’s answer to a community's burning desire for a classic side-scrolling action game with RPG elements. The only difference? It wouldn’t be Castlevania.

It would be better.

Kickstarted with more than $5.5 million and hyped with frequent updates direct from Iga himself, we’ve now had a chance to see what four years of development time created.

I have good news: Bloodstained is the -Vania game everyone was waiting for and then some.

It offers mechanically-rich systems, plenty of build variety, creative enemy and boss design, a labyrinthine castle, and the engaging gameplay Iga’s classics are known for. And even though it adds some flavorful retooling of established mechanics, players will find a number of callbacks to games from years past, and not without a small amount of fun inside jokes for those familiar with the history of Castlevania.

A Castle Wide, a Castle Deep

No spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night would be complete without a vast, maze-like castle filled with impossible architecture. Iga claims this is the biggest world he’s ever created, and I’m liable to believe him.

In the 15 or so hours it took me to complete the main story (plus some grinding for gear), I managed to explore about 95% of the map and encounter probably 70% of the demons on offer.

The nature of a -Vania-style castle — it comes from Hell and therefore isn’t constrained by human limitations on construction or size — is that it can be as large and as varied as its designers want it to be. The developers at ArtPlay spared no expense in making the Hellhold of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night a massive, multilayered and environmentally diverse locale.

It starts simply enough: a farm village hub leading quickly to an entrance hall built with classic gothic architecture and plenty of Kickstarter backer portraits. Both tutorial and early grinding zone, the entrance level is sometimes breathtaking but rarely mindblowing.

As you progress through the game, however, oddities abound and wonder begins to set in. Environments that astound with their garishness, their unique style, or just by being strange become commonplace.

Traversal is standard at the start as well. Platforming takes few risks, but even in the opening areas, it’s clear players will acquire abilities to let them explore further. In almost every case, you’ll need to defeat a boss and learn their unique shard, which will imbue you with the power to open new paths and discover new secrets.

In many cases, the level where you fight a specific boss has rooms that require their shard to pass, posing both as an obstacle to remember and a handy tutorial once you have your next new tool.

Handy, too, are the various save points and fast-travel points scattered about the map. While neither is so frequent to be overbearing, both make navigating Bloodstained a much less daunting task than something like Symphony of the Night.

Probably the most convenient feature designers provided was a save point directly opposite every boss room, ensuring that even if you need multiple attempts to take down a powerful foe, you won’t have to cross whole sections of the map to do it. Also is the fact that boss doors stand out against every environment. You really can’t miss them.

Fighting Through Hell

Moving about the Bloodstained map is a reasonably linear affair for the first third of the game or so. There are four or five abilities you must have — and an equal number of items you must collect — if you want to open up the later areas of the castle. Exploration is, of course, rewarded, and it is required because there are a few points where the answer to where you need to go and who you need to talk to isn’t exactly clear.

That said, the game pushes you in the right direction through dialogue hints and with the auto-filling minimap. Doors you’ve not gone through are marked, and if you want to know how much you haven’t yet explored, there’s a percentage meter on the map screen with an exact figure for you to reference.

As you explore, you’ll encounter one or more of the hundreds of demons inhabiting the world of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The vast majority of them are unique, with clever, interesting, and sometimes humorous designs. There are some palette swaps to fill out the roster in various areas, particularly in the late game, but even those enemies have new attacks or movement patterns to compensate for the repeated model usage.

You would do well to learn how to fight each one of them, too, because each enemy has a shard — some magical spell or other upgrade ability — that you’ll be able to pick up and farm for if you so desire.

It might be bosses that have plot powers you’ll need to collect, but it’s the shards dropped by more common enemies that sell the combat in Bloodstained. As I said in my early-game build guide, magic, and the various buffs you can acquire from shards quickly trivialize almost every fight. Paired with the proper gear sets and even the final few bosses take less than a minute to burn down to nothing.

The best part about builds in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is how the game makes no apologies or excuses for how overpowered your character can become. It’s a major plot point I won’t go into here.

The trouble with some end-game builds, though, is how much farming it takes to make them viable. The highest level gear in the game requires players to farm for incredibly rare drops, and unless you’re in it for the long haul, that kind of redundancy can be frustrating.

Later game bosses necessitate some grinding as well, especially when it comes to the damage they inflict. Just getting to said bosses can be a slog if you aren’t adequately equipped, and if you’ve cleared every other area of the game up to that point but still find yourself up against a wall, frustration won’t be far behind.

Still, the combat loop I built for myself was satisfying enough that the two hours of total grinding I did wasn’t at all a dealbreaker. It helped build muscle memory for abilities I’d be happy to have in a pinch.

The combat itself is pretty simple, of course. Cast spell, swing weapon, dodge attack, that sort of thing. There are no combat stances, only a few alternate attack types per weapon, and a lack of super-advanced dodging tech to learn here.

Seek Perfection but Never Attain It

I have a few complaints to lodge with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, primarily around how players are supposed to navigate its world. Like classic -Vania games, you aren’t told where you need to go and what to do. Instead, players are expected to explore every inch of the map, talk to every NPC until they start repeating themselves, then form a plan in their head.

The problem there is that some of the leaps of logic Bloodstained asks its players to make are tiresome at times. The one that sticks out most to me comes near the end of the game when you have to find your way past two spike corridors. You need a specific piece of gear not to take damage, and that gear piece is hidden away on the other end of the castle, on a secret platform, which you’ll only find using an ability gained in a third area. I made it through without the gear, but I used every healing item I had and barely made it to the fast-travel point.

I was also a little annoyed by how linear the first part of the game is. There isn’t much room to move about without following the critical path. I know too much freedom isn’t any better than too little, but in many cases, I felt like I was almost being railroaded in a particular direction. The helpful clues the game threw at me only heightened my frustration, as I couldn’t figure out where the clue was trying to lead me. It seemed, at the time, to show me a new place in an area I thought I’d already fully explored.

Lastly, and these are minor issues, were the quests and occasional typographical errors present throughout the game’s text. The latter two points I chalk up to this being a crowdfunded game, though with the number of people on staff, I’d have hoped typos would be less frequent than they were.

The quest system is essentially a set of bounty boards like you might find in a traditional MMO or open-world game. Kill these monsters, collect these items, turn in for a reward. The repeated dialog didn’t help these quest systems either, and I sometimes wondered why they were included at all.

Again, these are minor things and neither substantially detracts from the overall experience, but they do get in the way just enough to be worth mentioning.

Final Verdict

Pros
  • An immense castle filled with secrets, demons, and no small number of throwbacks
  • Satisfying, varied combat with room for many different playstyles
  • Plenty of reason to play for hours and hours using the abilities you gained through conquest
Cons
  • Occasional obscure answers to simple questions
  • A story you won’t be writing home about
  • Console load times are a bit much

If you were hoping Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night would be the game that brought back the Castlevania feel for the first time in years, your hopes are answered. This game is everything fans of the genre look for in a title: tight controls, a vast, sprawling map, unique enemies, and powerful abilities to destroy said enemies with.

Bloodstained has a good bit of replayability as well, with a New Game+ mode, boss rush mode, and secret endgame bosses to defeat. Plus, with 13 free DLC packs on the way, Iga has more to deliver if you didn’t get enough from the base game.

If you want to take on Hell itself with sword and spell, there are few better places to do it than in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

[Note: A copy of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was provided by ArtPlay for the purpose of this review.]

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Samurai Shodown Review: Unapologetically Old School https://www.gameskinny.com/tuwj2/samurai-shodown-review-unapologetically-old-school https://www.gameskinny.com/tuwj2/samurai-shodown-review-unapologetically-old-school Mon, 24 Jun 2019 09:02:50 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

The first Samurai Shodown game first hit arcades in 1993, hot on the heels of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. Made by veteran fighting game developers SNK, Samurai Shodown's central draw was big, anime-inspired fighters wielding swords and other weapons.

Despite this hook, the Samurai Shodown series never quite took hold like the other titans of the genre. The series has been on hiatus since 2008 and, like the newest entries in the Mortal Kombat series, this latest edition of the brawler serves as a bit of soft reboot and reintroduction to the story.

It is an unapologetic throwback to fighting games of old; it seeks to stand on its unique presentation and fighting mechanics alone. Those elements need to be razor-sharp to make Samurai Shodown worthwhile, so let's dive in and see how it holds up.

En Garde!

The first thing that will immediately strike you in Samurai Shodown is the unique style and presentation. Minimalist koto music plays over the background of menus and fights, splashes of color blast across the screen, and an announcer straight from schlocky kung fu films introduces everything. It does a great job of setting itself apart from other fighting games on the market through its presentation.

As you start to dive into fights, more of the game's style shines through. Fighters feature gravity defying hair at almost every turn, while super moves and "lightning blades" fill the screen with over the top spectacle. The game's style most resembles 2008's Street Fighter IV, with elements of Dragon Ball FighterZ  characters are 3D but carry elements of pixel art and stylized cell shading.

Background stages are what you typically see in fighting games: a sailing ship, several outdoor scenes, and a few dojos and arenas. Generally, everything looks good, but a few elements lack polish.

Characters frequently have bits that clip through other bits with the giant swords and huge hair, you'll often see things sticking through things that should not be. One stage full of little animals is so jarringly bizarre looking clearly the same effort was not put into the bear standing in the background as the game's characters that I'm honestly surprised it made it into the final game.

Crossed Swords

All the presentation in the world doesn't mean a thing if Samurai Shodown plays terribly, and it certainly takes a different approach than other major fighting game franchises. 

Samurai Shodown is slow and deliberate in its approach to deadly battles; it has four buttons (light attack, medium attack, heavy attack, and kick), and each fighter has a variety of special moves. Cooldown times on whiffed attacks, especially heavy attacks, are massive. They do a ton of damage about three will finish a fight but missing or having them blocked will lead you wide open to a counterattack.

On top of that, each fighter has two extremely powerful, once-per-match attacks that will take off between 50% to 75% of your opponent's life. Samurai Showdown does not feature massive, screen stretching combos full of cancels and meter-management shenanigans; it rewards you for proper spacing and understanding matchups. Play defense, watch your opponent's tendencies, and strike when they are vulnerable.

It makes sense, considering this is a game where every fighter hits with a deadly weapon. Fights should feel like they can be over with one careless, sloppy mistake. Because of that, fights feel very deliberate and methodical as the fighters try to feel each other out and look for openings.

That said, Samurai Shodown is not a game that is friendly to beginners. Button mashing will get you whipped into submission by anyone who is passingly familiar with the game. There are a lot of defensive options available to fighters as well disarming your opponent, dodging attacks, flipping sides and stances that are buried within the game's tutorial. 

Samurai Shodown is not going to work for those of you who want a casual, couch beat-em-up to play with your friends. This is a game that rewards you for being a student; learn each character, matchup, and ability, then go online and exploit those who haven't done their homework.

Famine in Japan

Samurai Shodown is loosely based in 18th century Japan, and each character has a story mode wherein they try to discover the cause of the supernatural sickness that plagues the country. Characters come from a wide variety of fairly stereotypical fighting game backgrounds: pirates, ninjas, noble warriors. There are a few oddballs, as you'd expect a Kabuki actor who hops around on a single foot, a feng shui expert who conjures the elements to fight for her, a massive fighter who literally takes up twice as much space as any other character.

The characters look good, and certain aspects of their presentation work, but most of the voicework is... questionable.

Galford, a blonde American ninja pirate with a pet husky named Poppy, delivers a stuttering performance of Shatner-esque skill. Nearly every character sounds like they are shouting all their lines in surprise. They certainly aren't sleepwalking through their delivery, but it seems a bit out of place in a world full of famine and death battles for everyone to be so excited.

Besides story mode, it's got what you'd expect as far as ways to play the game. Online and offline versus mode, training mode, and a gallery to listen to music and look at concept art. The only out of the ordinary mode involves fighting "CPU Ghosts." 

Samurai Shodown includes a feature that analyzes how you play specific characters, creating an AI for each character based off your play style. You can then upload these ghosts to a special mode and let other players take them on.

In theory, this is a great idea. If a certain character gives you trouble or, even better, a certain player's piloting of that character, you could go online and practice against that style. It will only be as good as the game's audience, however; one of the ghosts I fought while reviewing spent our entire fight backdashing into the corner. There's room for improvement, basically.

And, while this is a nice idea, it is still just a slightly different "You vs. CPU" mode. If Samurai Shodown takes off, this mode could lead to some exciting and heartbreaking moments on live streams. Otherwise, if players want to practice against good competition, it seems like taking to ranked battles will be the best way to go.

Kabuki Theater

Pros:
  • Unique, polished style
  • Fighting mechanics are different than competitors
  • Interesting ideas
Cons:
  • Execution is a bit lackluster
  • Not many options or modes
  • Loading times are very long
  • Not very beginner-friendly

Samurai Shodown is a solid re-entry into the arena for the long-dormant series. It takes some getting used to if you're into the rushdown, combo-heavy style of many other fighters, but it is very rewarding for those who put the time in to learn the systems.

It lacks the polish or variety of the big hitters on the market like Street FighterMortal Kombat, or Smash Bros., however, but it has the niche appeal that could carve out a small space for itself in the fighting game landscape.

[Note: A copy of Samurai Shodown was provided by SNK for the purpose of this review.]

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My Friend Pedro Switch Review — Action-packed, Bananas, but Cumbersome https://www.gameskinny.com/qmou4/my-friend-pedro-switch-review-action-packed-bananas-but-cumbersome https://www.gameskinny.com/qmou4/my-friend-pedro-switch-review-action-packed-bananas-but-cumbersome Fri, 21 Jun 2019 09:27:33 -0400 Jonny Foster

Dropped into a dangerous world of crime with no name, no explanation, and a sentient floating banana to keep you company, My Friend Pedro opens with far more questions than answers. It won’t get much more logical from there, though, with you flipping and rotating through the air while gunning down baddies at an alarming rate.

My Friend Pedro is less about the story and all about the high-octane action. It combines Max Payne bullet time with John Woo gun fu and flips straight out of a gymnast’s locker.

The game is split into a handful of chapters, each with eight or so levels. Each chapter begins to feel a little repetitive by the end, but they do evolve to include some clever puzzle elements later on. Still, it was hard to shake the feeling that I was repeating the same thing level after level for much of the game.

There’s also a scoring system that ranks you on your time, overall score, difficulty, and number of deaths. Combined with the 2.5D perspective, this gives My Friend Pedro a vibe reminiscent of the Trials motocross series, only without the same dynamic variation in level design.

As a direct result, the levels never really capture the same addictive "one more go" quality that the Trials series achieves, but there are leaderboards to track your times against the rest of the world for the hardcore scorechasers.

The controls are clearly designed for keyboard and mouse, too; to call the default layout "cumbersome" on the Nintendo Switch would be an understatement. Although these can be remapped in the settings menu — which alleviates some degree of burden — it never really felt natural in any layout I could find.

On the one hand, some degree of difficulty should be expected when you're making a protagonist perform a gold medal-winning gymnastics routine while dispatching enemies with a John Wick-level of accuracy and flair. My Friend Pedro never really makes this difficulty feel rewarding, however.

The gunplay is solid, albeit a little repetitive thanks to the lack of available options, though you can also kick objects at enemies. Whether it's a knife or a skateboard, propelling something into a bad guy to kick-start a fight in slow motion never gets old. 

The gameplay doesn't feel as fluid as you'd hope, though, with a score multiplier that encourages rushing through the levels and controls that would suit an octopus. It struggles to find a balance between rewarding showmanship and encouraging score-chasing, with the most effective method devolving into a Contra-style run-and-gun affair that strips the heart from this title.

My Friend Pedro is honestly best played with a total disregard for the score, taking time to plan and execute extravagant ballets of death with each new encounter. The meter for your bullet time effect is constantly refilling, which helps to facilitate this, and it's in those moments that the game really comes alive.

Aside from feeling fantastic, it also looks incredible when the slow-motion effect kicks in and bullets are flying in all directions; a glorious spectacle of flips, spins, and carnage. My Friend Pedro generally looks impressive on the Switch, maintaining high-quality textures and performance from the PC version.

The only real caveat to this is the explosions, which look almost comically low-grade on the Switch's hardware. My Friend Pedro has released simultaneously on both systems for the same price, however, so the portable aspect of the Switch version can’t be underestimated.

Pros 
  • Glorious slow-motion action that looks and feels amazing
  • Provides a good challenge, with scores to beat and multiple difficulties
  • Levels are short, perfect for short interval gameplay
Cons
  • Clunky controls get in the way more than anything
  • Lacks significant variety in levels and weapons

My Friend Pedro ultimately disappointed me. It's fantastic to look at, and I love all things acrobatics, but it fails to condense the flips and twists into an intuitive control scheme — at least on Nintendo Switch. The platforming didn't feel as engaging as I'd hoped, but the gameplay is saved by the spectacular slow-motion effects. 

It's a fairly short title that can be completed in around four hours, but its overall value will depend on whether you're enticed to chase better scores. For me, this adventure was absolutely bananas, but it lacked significant long-term a-peel

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

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Judgment Review: Ace Attorney https://www.gameskinny.com/o1qz6/judgment-review-ace-attorney https://www.gameskinny.com/o1qz6/judgment-review-ace-attorney Thu, 20 Jun 2019 09:45:01 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

For years, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has been dancing around an issue that most folks working in fiction face: their most notable protagonist is aging. The studio's flagship series, Yakuza, has already come full circle, from the stunning prequel Yakuza 0 to the end of Kazuma Kiryu's story in Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life. 

Though they've softened the blow somewhat by re-releasing older games in the Yakuza series, the question remained: what is the studio's next step? After all, fans weren't ready to leave the world of Kamurocho behind.

The answer, apparently, was to throw Phoenix Wright, Law & Order, and Yakuza in a blender to create something new, fresh, and insanely ambitious.

Raising The Bar

True to the developers' words, Judgment features a storyline that is completely distinct from the Yakuza series. You play as the incredibly dreamy lawyer-slash-detective-slash-face-puncher-slash-parkour-master Takayuki Yagami as he takes on odd jobs, unravels mysteries, tails criminals, and uncovers gigantic conspiracies. 

For veterans of the Yakuza series, a lot of this will be at least somewhat familiar. The gameplay loop is relatively unchanged from previous games set in Kamurocho. You still run around to convenience stores to get health recovery items, get drunk to charge your EX meter in order to pull off hilariously violent super moves, and waste time playing minigames in between missions.

That's not to say that everything is the same, however. There are a bunch of quality of life upgrades this time around that make the game run a whole lot smoother.

First of all, Takayuki is more in-shape than Kiryu, and doesn't require any upgrades to sprint indefinitely, a huge help when you're trying to get to the next mission without being ambushed by enemies.

Second, load times are down even from Yakuza 6. Loading screens only appear during scene transitions into or out of cutscenes. Stepping into a store or an elevator is seamless, which really adds to the immersion of the game.

Third, and most importantly, this game comes equipped with dual audio, and features major English voice talent like Mr. High Noon himself, Matthew Mercer. This is the first time a game set in the Yakuza universe has featured English audio, and the actors do admirably in their roles.

With the exception of a few typos I came across in the subtitles, this is by far the most polished game to ever come from Ryu Ga Gotoku, which is appropriate since Judgment makes no attempt to hide its police-procedural-TV-show influences, from flashy credit sequences to "Previously on Judgment" story recaps that serve as transitions between chapters.

Where the Yakuza series was always an attempt to make a video game version of a gangster movie, Judgment attempts to do the same thing with legal and police procedurals.

Beat Cop

Bad news first: Takayuki only has two combat styles, and they don't really feel as distinct as combat styles in previous games by the studio. The good news is that combat feels decidedly different in Judgment thanks to its focus on movement. Unlike the powerhouse Kiryu, Takayuki is more of a speedster, relying on flashy acrobatics to take down opponents. Stringing together wall jump attacks, then leapfrogging over an enemy to suplex them never gets old.

The unfortunate thing is that a lot of these skills are locked behind weird requirements, whether it's befriending somebody around town, finding a secret QR code, or (yes, really) funding someone's Kickstarter campaign. It takes a little bit of time for the combat system to open up.

This is actually an issue that extends past combat. If you take your time playing the game, doing friend missions, taking on side cases, and traversing the game's completely unnecessary crafting mechanics, it can take between 20 and 30 hours before all of the game's content is made available to you. In particular, the casinos, Paradise VR, and the Quickstarter app don't show up until you're well on your way through the story. It's a shame, because there doesn't seem to be any real reasoning behind locking certain parts of the game's world away like that.

The flip side of that is the side content that is on display here is pretty great. The batting center makes another appearance, as do darts, but the clear standouts here are the drone races and the Paradise VR board game that is best described as "cyberpunk Mario Party except it's also Yakuza." 

Karaoke is a glaring omission here, but since the drone races are so fun, I'm willing to let it slide. 

Laying Down The Law

Pros

  • The tone of the game is just right; it really feels like a legal procedural TV show
  • Drone racing is the best minigame I've ever played in Kamurocho
  • The story is sweeping, full of all of the twists and turns you'd expect from a great detective story

Cons

  • No karaoke :(
  • Crafting mechanics feel tacked on and unnecessary

Judgment adds a few twists to standard Yakuza games by incorporating tailing missions, chase sequences, investigations, and dialogue trees in ways that previous games haven't. These sequences are very well-choreographed (especially the chases) and, with a few exceptions, are welcome.

Tailing a target isn't nearly as frustrating as it can be in certain other games, and though there are certain times at which you'll be tearing your hair out hunting for a specific piece of evidence, the game does a good job of dressing up investigation locations in ways that naturally draw your eyes to relevant information.

Though this game was compared to Phoenix Wright prior to its release, I don't find it an apt comparison since the player doesn't actually solve the logic puzzles behind the crimes on their own; the truth behind cases is usually revealed to the player through cutscenes. That said, the game does a great job of rewarding the player for remembering pertinent information, or putting two and two together through dialogue puzzles.

You still feel like you're unraveling the case yourself, but since the story is so deep and intertwined with itself, you miss a few of those "I knew the killer all along!" moments.

Having said that, as a video game adaptation of a crime procedural, I can find very little on which to fault Judgment. It's packed with content, adding 50 "Friend Events" to the requisite 50 side missions, insanely stylish, and a promising start to Ryu Ga Gotoku's future without Kazuma Kiryu.

[Note: A copy of Judgment was provided by SEGA for the purpose of this review.]

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Dragon Star Varnir Review: Dark Magic https://www.gameskinny.com/rwd2e/dragon-star-varnir-review-dark-magic https://www.gameskinny.com/rwd2e/dragon-star-varnir-review-dark-magic Tue, 18 Jun 2019 11:13:56 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

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

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

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

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

You're a Witch, Zephy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magical Personalities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take to the Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Special Brew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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Cadence of Hyrule Review — Rhythm and Roguelike Combine in a Title That Hy-Rules https://www.gameskinny.com/dp10a/cadence-of-hyrule-review-rhythm-and-roguelike-combine-in-a-title-that-hy-rules https://www.gameskinny.com/dp10a/cadence-of-hyrule-review-rhythm-and-roguelike-combine-in-a-title-that-hy-rules Fri, 14 Jun 2019 14:10:17 -0400 Jonny Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HyperX Cloud Stinger Wireless Review: A Solid Wireless Offering https://www.gameskinny.com/7wvil/hyperx-cloud-stinger-wireless-review-a-solid-wireless-offering https://www.gameskinny.com/7wvil/hyperx-cloud-stinger-wireless-review-a-solid-wireless-offering Fri, 07 Jun 2019 15:34:27 -0400 Jonathan Moore

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

That's ostensibly high praise. 

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

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

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

 

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GameSir GM300 Mouse Review: Surprisingly Good & Customizable https://www.gameskinny.com/z8rzf/gamesir-gm300-mouse-review-surprisingly-good-customizable https://www.gameskinny.com/z8rzf/gamesir-gm300-mouse-review-surprisingly-good-customizable Fri, 07 Jun 2019 12:11:51 -0400 Jonathan Moore

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

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Functionality 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the mouse's specs: 

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


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

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Cooking Simulator Review: Good Eats https://www.gameskinny.com/yem57/cooking-simulator-review-good-eats https://www.gameskinny.com/yem57/cooking-simulator-review-good-eats Thu, 06 Jun 2019 10:42:52 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

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

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

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

Mise En Place

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

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

Taste, Creativity, and Presentation

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

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

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

Top Chef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trover Saves the Universe PC Review: A Veritable Riot in VR https://www.gameskinny.com/ibeue/trover-saves-the-universe-pc-review-a-veritable-riot-in-vr https://www.gameskinny.com/ibeue/trover-saves-the-universe-pc-review-a-veritable-riot-in-vr Thu, 06 Jun 2019 09:55:14 -0400 Jonny Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Review — Play It Again, Sam https://www.gameskinny.com/n1a78/persona-q2-new-cinema-labyrinth-review-play-it-again-sam https://www.gameskinny.com/n1a78/persona-q2-new-cinema-labyrinth-review-play-it-again-sam Mon, 03 Jun 2019 06:45:06 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

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

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

Storyboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stealing the Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rough Editing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Effects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

The Final Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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GameSir GK300 Keyboard Review: Solid Choice That's Missing a Few Parts https://www.gameskinny.com/l6m7e/gamesir-gk300-keyboard-review-solid-choice-thats-missing-a-few-parts https://www.gameskinny.com/l6m7e/gamesir-gk300-keyboard-review-solid-choice-thats-missing-a-few-parts Fri, 31 May 2019 12:52:38 -0400 Jonathan Moore

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

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Functionality and Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the board's specs: 

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

 

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

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SpellForce 3: Soul Harvest Review — Galaxy Brain https://www.gameskinny.com/5x8qj/spellforce-3-soul-harvest-review-galaxy-brain https://www.gameskinny.com/5x8qj/spellforce-3-soul-harvest-review-galaxy-brain Fri, 31 May 2019 09:51:04 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

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

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

 

 

A Cold Open

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

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

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

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

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

A Jam-Packed Expansion

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

There's a lot here to dig into.

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

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

Nightmare Mode

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warhammer Chaosbane Review - Slaughtering Chaos Cults For Fun And Profit https://www.gameskinny.com/b2zfb/warhammer-chaosbane-review-slaughtering-chaos-cults-for-fun-and-profit https://www.gameskinny.com/b2zfb/warhammer-chaosbane-review-slaughtering-chaos-cults-for-fun-and-profit Fri, 31 May 2019 03:15:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

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

Yeah... But WHICH Warhammer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected Limitations, And Some Nifty Additions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Skill Difference

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

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

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

 Flee before me vile daemon! 

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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Void Bastards Review: Rewarding Wit and Experimentation https://www.gameskinny.com/mtw4b/void-bastards-review-rewarding-wit-and-experimentation https://www.gameskinny.com/mtw4b/void-bastards-review-rewarding-wit-and-experimentation Thu, 30 May 2019 11:41:50 -0400 diegoarguello

Void Bastards is all about experimentation.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

But how does it play, exactly?

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five Nights at Freddy's VR: Help Wanted — FNAF Meets Playroom VR https://www.gameskinny.com/46g77/five-nights-at-freddys-vr-help-wanted-fnaf-meets-playroom-vr https://www.gameskinny.com/46g77/five-nights-at-freddys-vr-help-wanted-fnaf-meets-playroom-vr Thu, 30 May 2019 11:30:20 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

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

DualShock Players Need Not Apply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits Of Employment At Freddy Fazbears

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

So what exactly do you get with Help Wanted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line Is This Game Worth Your Money?

 Hey cool, prizes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PixARK Review: What if Minecraft and ARK Had a Baby https://www.gameskinny.com/jcbvr/pixark-review-what-if-minecraft-and-ark-had-a-baby https://www.gameskinny.com/jcbvr/pixark-review-what-if-minecraft-and-ark-had-a-baby Thu, 30 May 2019 10:01:58 -0400 Sergey_3847

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

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

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

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

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

World Full of Dinos

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay Mechanics

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

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

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

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Offers nothing new
  • Requires some optimization

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

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

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

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

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

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Team Sonic Racing Review: Really, You Gotta Go Fast https://www.gameskinny.com/m3d0e/team-sonic-racing-review-really-you-gotta-go-fast https://www.gameskinny.com/m3d0e/team-sonic-racing-review-really-you-gotta-go-fast Tue, 28 May 2019 14:38:53 -0400 Ashley Shankle

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

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

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

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

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

That's exactly what Team Racing Sonic feels like.

I appreciate you, too, game.

Everybody Super Sonic Racing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign and Unlocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lapis X Labyrinth Review: Fevered Tedium https://www.gameskinny.com/9ituc/lapis-x-labyrinth-review-fevered-tedium https://www.gameskinny.com/9ituc/lapis-x-labyrinth-review-fevered-tedium Tue, 28 May 2019 14:29:28 -0400 Ashley Shankle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That said, combat is mostly harmless, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Draugen Review: Draggin' Through a Beautiful World https://www.gameskinny.com/8cjoy/draugen-review-draggin-through-a-beautiful-world https://www.gameskinny.com/8cjoy/draugen-review-draggin-through-a-beautiful-world Tue, 28 May 2019 11:25:36 -0400 Jason Coles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blood & Truth Review — Live An Action Crime Drama In VR https://www.gameskinny.com/f6z6r/blood-truth-review-live-an-action-crime-drama-in-vr https://www.gameskinny.com/f6z6r/blood-truth-review-live-an-action-crime-drama-in-vr Tue, 28 May 2019 00:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

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

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

The VR Shooter Gets A Dose Of Flair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working Within The PSVR's Limitations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

 Whoops... did I do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Fugitive Review: Life on the Lam https://www.gameskinny.com/nem5l/american-fugitive-review-life-on-the-lam https://www.gameskinny.com/nem5l/american-fugitive-review-life-on-the-lam Mon, 27 May 2019 10:39:01 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

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

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

Criminals Gonna Criminal

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

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

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

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

Except you totally are.

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

Buckle Up

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

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

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

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

Keep an Eye on the Timer

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

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

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

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

Building A Better Speed Trap

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

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

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

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

Eat Your Vitamins

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

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

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

On the Lam

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

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

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

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

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Vambrace Cold Soul Review: What If Darkest Dungeon Was Harder And A JRPG? https://www.gameskinny.com/ntzp1/vambrace-cold-soul-review-what-if-darkest-dungeon-was-harder-and-a-jrpg https://www.gameskinny.com/ntzp1/vambrace-cold-soul-review-what-if-darkest-dungeon-was-harder-and-a-jrpg Mon, 27 May 2019 03:15:02 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

The Harder The Task, The Sweeter The Reward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darkest Dungeon Gets A JRPG Makeover

 Chibi world map movement!

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

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

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

In some ways, Vambrace is actually harder, however.

 The combat routine will be familiar to DD veterans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was It Worth It?

  I'm partial to the Wraith Veil outfit myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland Review — Cozy Crafting https://www.gameskinny.com/a7tgl/atelier-lulua-the-scion-of-arland-review-cozy-crafting https://www.gameskinny.com/a7tgl/atelier-lulua-the-scion-of-arland-review-cozy-crafting Sat, 25 May 2019 08:30:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

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

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

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

The Quest to Be the Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar Faces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Your Time — Or Not

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

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

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

Synthesize Me, Cap'n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fight! Well, If You Want...

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

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

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

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

A World Worth Exploring

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

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Logitech G432 Review: Average Just Doesn't Cut It https://www.gameskinny.com/c1d7r/logitech-g432-review-average-just-doesnt-cut-it https://www.gameskinny.com/c1d7r/logitech-g432-review-average-just-doesnt-cut-it Fri, 24 May 2019 10:38:10 -0400 Jonathan Moore

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

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

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

Logitech G432 Gaming Headset front view earcups flat

Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features

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

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

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

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

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

Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Layers of Fear 2 Review: Stunning Scenery But Seldomly Scary https://www.gameskinny.com/m37sh/layers-of-fear-2-review-stunning-scenery-but-seldomly-scary https://www.gameskinny.com/m37sh/layers-of-fear-2-review-stunning-scenery-but-seldomly-scary Fri, 24 May 2019 09:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

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

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

Find Yourself



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

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

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

All Flair, No Fear

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

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

A World Like No Other



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

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

Still Worth Its Admission Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pathologic 2 Review — A Bleak Game For Bleak Times https://www.gameskinny.com/ek7ks/pathologic-2-review-a-bleak-game-for-bleak-times https://www.gameskinny.com/ek7ks/pathologic-2-review-a-bleak-game-for-bleak-times Thu, 23 May 2019 03:15:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

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

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

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

Relentlessly Bleak And Actively Unpleasant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upgrades From The Original

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observation Review: A Good Space Walk Spoiled https://www.gameskinny.com/8gbt7/observation-review-a-good-space-walk-spoiled https://www.gameskinny.com/8gbt7/observation-review-a-good-space-walk-spoiled Wed, 22 May 2019 15:27:14 -0400 RobertPIngram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's a Great Story Waiting to Be Told

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

The Station Is Everything You Want in a Space Thriller

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

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

The Story Telling is On Point

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

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

But... 

Progression Feels Like a Chore

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

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

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

The Controls Are the Real Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confusion Abounds if You Go Off the Rails

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes More Isn't Better

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

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

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

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

Too Many Bugs Spoil the Fun

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

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

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

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

The Final Frontier

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

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

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

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

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

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Rage 2 Review: A Splattering of Neon in a Bland World https://www.gameskinny.com/hcwuc/rage-2-review-a-splattering-of-neon-in-a-bland-world https://www.gameskinny.com/hcwuc/rage-2-review-a-splattering-of-neon-in-a-bland-world Tue, 21 May 2019 13:05:01 -0400 John Schutt

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

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

And it will never be DOOM

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

Rage 2 is a Shooter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, it only goes downhill from here.

Rage 2 Has a Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rage 2 Has a World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Everybody's Golf VR Review: Clap Hanz Hits A Big Fat Chunk Shot https://www.gameskinny.com/440wk/everybodys-golf-vr-review-clap-hanz-hits-a-big-fat-chunk-shot https://www.gameskinny.com/440wk/everybodys-golf-vr-review-clap-hanz-hits-a-big-fat-chunk-shot Mon, 20 May 2019 19:00:01 -0400 Ty Arthur

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

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

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

Re-Learning Golf With a Severe Handicap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immersion, or Lack Thereof

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

I've got to give props to the developers for one neat mechanic, however. The ability to swap the camera viewpoint for an overhead look at the course is actually pretty nifty if you want to figure out the best angle to hit the ball and stay out of the rough. 

The Bottom Line

Pros: 
  • I could listen to Riko cheering me on while being adorably cute all day long
  • You don't actually have to go outside and deal with slow-moving old, rich yuppies to play golf!
  • There aren't that many golf VR games right now, so at least there's another option for the PSVR crowd?
Cons:
  • There is a wild lack of immersion here that kills the experience
  • The mechanics are wonky and don't feel anything like real golf
  • For the price, there should be way, way more to do here

Immersion aside, the biggest issue with Everybody's Golf VR is that there's honestly just not much to do here. There are only a handful of clubs, caddies, and courses to unlock. Once that's done, you've pretty much seen the game. A

couple of random events from the different caddies can be found that offer something a little different every now and again, but that's pretty much it. 

Rather than an immersive golf simulator, this is more of a stripped down golf mini-game with a VR overlay. You will most definitely want to download the free trial to check out the practice range before you drop $29.99 on this game. 

[Note: A copy of Everybody's Golf VR was provided by Clap Hanz for the purpose of this review.]

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Sniper Elite V2 Remastered Review: A War Dog Losing Its Bite https://www.gameskinny.com/neg4r/sniper-elite-v2-remastered-review-a-war-dog-losing-its-bite https://www.gameskinny.com/neg4r/sniper-elite-v2-remastered-review-a-war-dog-losing-its-bite Thu, 16 May 2019 10:18:50 -0400 Jonathan Moore

In review, a lot has changed since Sniper Elite V2 originally released in 2012. Back then, the quasi-remake of the original Sniper Elite presented a tactical World War 2 experience from the lens of stealth. While other shooters set in the Second World War had stealth elements and infiltration missions, most had become more focused on the terrifying, yet more marketable, front-line violence. 

Sniper Elite V2 slowed things down. Through the lens of the lone wolf, players gained a new perspective into the war's waning days. For some, it was the perfect marriage of games like Metal Gear Solid and Medal of Honor, Syphon Filter and Call of Duty. A more surgical experience, Sniper Elite V2 might have been niche, but it had a firm place in the shooter genre. 

Enter Sniper Elite V2 Remastered. Boasting enhanced graphics and all of the original's DLC, Remastered seeks to rechamber the bullet that started it all. However, it does so with varying effect. This is, after all, a remaster and not a remake

Similar to the Onimusha remaster earlier this year, it's certain that V2 Remastered will be criticized for its "outdatedness." Missions are linear and the save system byzantine. Sniper Elite V2 Remastered is, in fact, an old game with a new skin. 

But in our review of the game, that didn't make it any less fun. 

Karl runs through dark, ruined streets in Sniper Elite V2 Remastered

Players take the role of master sniper Lieutenant Karl Fairburne in his quest to stop the Nazi V2 rocket program from swinging the tide of the war. In propagandistic fashion, the story is trite and cliched, and you'll experience few if any surprises along the way. We've seen this sort of tale before in countless films and video game franchises. 

All you need to know is that Nazis (and some Russian combatants) need killin'. Of course, you're the one to do it. 

Gameplay mostly centers around you and your rifle. As you progress through the game's 10 story missions, you come across several rifles, including a Mosin Nagant and a Gewehr 43. Neither truly seem to provide any appreciable benefits over the other, and you only change between them because the story dictates it.

In addition to sniper rifles, you have access to a Thompson submachine gun and a silenced pistol called a Welrod. The Thompson comes in handy in a pinch, although burst fire is the only "accurate" way of hitting anything, and the Welrod comes in handy during stealth situations but is woefully inaccurate if fired from more than a few feet away from your target. 

As with other stealth games, you can also distract guards by throwing rocks, blow up groups of soldiers with grenades, and set traps with dynamite, trip wires, and mines. 

You have some choice in how you dispatch the enemies in your path, but you won't find the options/loadouts/skill trees provided by most modern games. Even those in Sniper Elite 3 and Sniper Elite 4 are (unsurprisingly) more robust.  

The X-ray killshot cam is still awesome in this version of the game.

Despite such a small armory, shooting a rifle in V2 Remastered still feels fantastic seven years later. On Cadet difficulty, simply lining up a shot and pulling the trigger often does the trick. That's especially true if you kneel and empty your lungs beforehand. 

However, Sniper truly shines on its higher difficulties. Here, shots are more strategic and tactical. Most require patience and restraint, with all taking windage and drop into account. In these moments, you feel most like the methodical, skilled sniper you're portrayed to be. 

That feeling intensifies when Remastered's X-ray killcam comes in to play. Sure it's old and now a staple of the series, but that doesn't mean it feels any less invigorating. There's nothing quite like the cornucopia of blood and bone that explodes from the backend of a well-placed shot. 

Watching your bullet spiral through the air looks better this time around, too. Gone is the weird-looking airwave spiraling behind the bullet from the original. A small tweak, but one that makes the world just a tad more visceral. 

The biggest "upgrade" in V2 Remastered is, unsurprisingly, the game's graphics. The comparison trailer above does a good job of showcasing what Rebellion's done, but I can't sit here and say the graphics are a huge improvement over the original. 

For the most part, the game looks fantastic. Character models are smoother, although they show their age. Karl's fatigues aren't as muddy as they once were, and thankfully, his hair doesn't remind me of Bela Lugosi's in White Zombie anymore. But these improvements aren't game-changers. 

Guns now have more accurate color palettes, with the game's rifles switching from the original's muddier tones to brighter ones here. Vehicles now look a touch more detailed, with better-defined edges and angles. But these improvements aren't game changers. 

Where the graphics are seemingly most refined, though, are in its environments and lighting. Now, stages have more rubble in the streets or piled against buildings; individual pieces are more easily recognizable, looking less like muddy globs and more like defined shapes. In this version, cobblestone looks more like cobblestone, wood more like wood, and foliage more like foliage. 

Since light and shadow play such integral roles in stealth games, it's good to see those have been improved as well. Street lights cast more uniform glows and lightning illuminates environments in more realistic tones. The most noticeable differences aren't in the game's many fires, but in the night and evening levels, where light creeps over the horizon or through slatted windows. 

Playing an intense game of team deathmatch in game's church level

I never played multiplayer in the original Sniper Elite V2, so I can't make comparisons to Remastered. However, I can say that MP in Remastered is smooth. Servers aren't bustling a day after launch, but finding matches in both competitive and cooperative play is easy. 

Overall, connections are good, load times are adequate, and lag is nearly non-existent. Maps aren't teeming with players, but in a game predicated on stealth and patience, that's a welcome change from the frenetic online battles found in other games. 

Moment to moment, competitive play is some of the most stressful and nerve-wracking I've ever experienced. Playing with a group of like-minded snipers is long and laborious but extremely rewarding, especially considering the game's old-school mechanics. Along with the campaign's higher difficulties, this is where SEV2 Remastered feels the most like a sniper simulator. 

However, I enjoy co-op in SEV2 Remastered the most. I'm a sucker for taking on the A.I. with another human player, so I'm biased here. Playing the campaign and the game's various challenge modes with another player opens up new strategic avenues, and I can only wish local co-op was an option. 

Karl hides from a tank in the ruined streets of Berlin

Pros:
  • Lighting and shadows upgrades really make the world pop
  • X-ray killcam is still as cool as ever
  • Shooting a rifle feels fantastic
  • Comes with all SE2 DLC
Cons:
  • While nice, the graphics aren't a monumental improvement
  • Run-and-gun controls still suck
  • No manual save feature
  • Can't skip cutscenes

For those that already have Sniper Elite V2 and its DLC, it's hard to recommend Remastered, especially at the $9.99 upgrade price. There's just not much new here. Running the original V2 at 4K 60fps provides a similar graphical experience; Remastered looks great, but its graphics aren't leagues better. And the gameplay is essentially the same. 

If you already have the game in your Steam library, you're essentially paying $9.99 for a skin upgrade. That changes if you don't have the game's DLC or want to play multiplayer on servers that are bound to live longer than those of the original. 

But for those that have never played Sniper Elite V2, this is the perfect way to experience a classic, blemishes and all. Remastered is a throwback. Having read forums and conjecture on social media, I cannot stress enough this is a remaster not a remake. 

What was "wrong" with the original Sniper V2 is still "wrong" here. It doesn't have the quality of life improvements we've come to expect of third-person shooters — or even the Sniper series after games like SE3 and SE4

That fact alone doesn't make it any less fun, but it does mean it's wise to temper expectations before deploying to World War II Berlin once again.

[Note: A copy of Sniper Elite V2 Remastered was provided by Rebellion for the purpose of this review.]

Looking for more on Sniper Elite V2 Remastered? Be sure to head over to our collectibles guides for wine bottles and gold bars

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Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest Review — Fluid Combat but Stilted Story https://www.gameskinny.com/sor9a/druidstone-the-secret-of-the-menhir-forest-review-fluid-combat-but-stilted-story https://www.gameskinny.com/sor9a/druidstone-the-secret-of-the-menhir-forest-review-fluid-combat-but-stilted-story Wed, 15 May 2019 10:00:01 -0400 Jonny Foster

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest, the fledgling release from developers Ctrl Alt Ninja Ltd., has a surprisingly robust yet malleable take on the turn-based strategy genre. Unfortunately, its story is largely forgettable, revolving around an Acolyte, a Warden, and a Scout as they seek to end a strange corruption that’s spreading across the forest.

You can name the protagonists, which adds a spark of meaning to their plight, but the tiny embers are quickly snuffed out. Not only is the game packed with backstory and references that it doesn't immediately explain, but it's also guilty of droning on.

Some cutscenes feel almost as long as the missions that proceed them, totally killing any momentum that the fast-paced, fluid combat generates. Within a few hours, I was resigned to holding space to skip the pages of text and get back into the action. The option to do so is a welcome addition that makes the game far more enjoyable.

Even so, Druidstone is lovely to look at, and the cutscenes can present some gorgeous landscapes. The scenery and models during combat are visually impressive for an Indie title, too, though the audio is a little generic and may get on your nerves.

Thankfully, the combat more than makes up for the game’s shortcomings. Each mission starts with a cutscene before jumping into your first turn. You aren't limited to moving before you attack or vice versa, and you can use mobility tools with skills in any order you like.

You can also undo movements, which is exceptionally handy if you accidentally trigger an enemy's reaction attack. Unfortunately, you lose the option to rewind if you change characters, and you aren't able to undo attacks.

This would have been the epitome of user-friendly interaction, but it would also remove some of the finality in the decision-making process, something that makes turn-based strategies so enticing. A large number of spells or abilities will have limited use per mission, and it’s the conservative use of these that will make or break your quest.

Every character can also equip up to two weapons that don't have limited uses, so you have to plan around these. If you’re sloppy and waste the spells where regular weapon attacks would suffice, you’ll most likely hit a brick wall near the end of the level. Be frugal with your single-use tools, however, and you just might scrape through. 

The consequences of your actions are especially punishing in Druidstone, with the game's normal difficulty besting me on multiple occasions until I learned the optimal strategies. There's no shame in dropping the difficulty, which can be done on a mission-by-mission basis, with even easy difficulty providing its fair share of tricky encounters.

The game's higher difficulties generally just threw more enemies at me, rather than making resources scarce or limiting the use of game-changing spells, which was a shame. It felt like it was funneling me to play a certain way, prioritizing the ability to attack multiple targets per turn above anything else.

Once you've leveled up your party and kitted them out with the best gear and weapons, though, you really start to feel like a strategic god, capable of solving any issue that's thrown your way using just your small band of fighters.

There’s a surprisingly versatile set of tools available for your party members, and finding the perfect time to use each one is vital to success. Each mission will have primary and secondary objectives, which reward you with experience, gold, or power gems.  

Between missions, you use these to improve and adjust your party as you see fit. The power gems can be used to boost the effectiveness of weapons and armor, or increase the number of times you can use spells.

The ability to swap these out freely is incredibly useful, especially if a specific mission calls for a certain playstyle; you can easily tailor your builds to that level and try again. On top of this, the missions don’t have to be completed in a set order, allowing you to abandon a tough level and return later once you’ve bolstered your party.

Though there are 35 levels, they aren't all available immediately and some are only short puzzles, so you can't put things off forever. However, there's still plenty of ways to tackle your 10- to 20-hour playthrough. Druidstone did crash a few times during my playthrough, artificially inflating this timer, but the frame rate and performance were smooth throughout.

While the crashes were frustrating in the moment, the game writes to a handy log file that can be sent to the developers. They swiftly patched out a few problems I forwarded their way, and have expressed their strong resolution to keep updating the game.

Pros 

  • User-friendly take on turn-based combat
  • The intricate modular upgrade system is a joy to tinker with and micromanage
  • Freedom to complete missions in any order

Cons

  • Forgettable, lengthy story weighs down the momentum
  • Difficulty can be oppressive, pushing you towards a specific playstyle
  • Audio is derivative and repetitive

Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest failed to entice me with its extensive expositions, but the brilliant combat system thoroughly hooked me. There are some stellar tools available to the player, and I really liked how modular everything felt.

You're given a lot of options in Druidstone and what you do with them will shape your success or feed your failure. 

The developer's passion and plans to release modding tools to the community makes this an enticing future prospect.

[Note: A copy of Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest was provided by Ctrl Alt Ninja Ltd. for the purpose of this review.]

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Shakedown Hawaii Review: A Repetitive Biz Trip https://www.gameskinny.com/la807/shakedown-hawaii-review-a-repetitive-biz-trip https://www.gameskinny.com/la807/shakedown-hawaii-review-a-repetitive-biz-trip Wed, 15 May 2019 09:36:27 -0400 diegoarguello

How does it feel to run a company on the brink of bankruptcy? In Shakedown Hawaii, you'll find out. Getting your hands dirty to keep cash rolling in and scaring shopkeepers in exchange for protection is all part of the plan.

Developed by Vblank Entertainment, the studio behind Retro City Rampage, Shakedown Hawaii is a new project that follows a similar foundation. The game puts you in the starring role of a messy situation surrounded by dubious characters.

Wrapped in a 16-bit aesthetic with an all-around arcade feel, Shakedown Hawaii is a story about "business" and current trends such as virtual reality, energy drinks, and video games.

Shakedown Hawaii starts on an interesting foot, showcasing a CEO tangled in far too many financial problems. In the midst of the chaos engulfing his businesses, he starts to look for new ways to earn money fast. All of them are, of course, shady at best.

During the game's first few hours, following the main path unlocks more and more things to do. You gain access to new shops that let you customize your pixelated avatar (with great results, by the way!), and you acquire new properties that generate more cash. This includes businesses and smaller shops that you attack in various ways until the owners give up and accept your “protection." The more you obtain and takeover, the bigger your daily paycheck. 

Shakedown Hawaii's story is really fast-paced, and it can sometimes be a bit annoying. I suppose it tries to resemble the stories found in games from the arcade era, for better or worse. However, this micro open-world offers side activities that are fun to find and complete, such as the game's scored challenges.

Missions are often short and easy to complete as well. Whenever you finish one, you’ll usually get a phone call with a new hint or business opportunity. A few seconds later, a new marker will appear on your map, and off you go again.

It’s easy to get stuck in this loop, and the game doesn't stop you either. In a few missions, you'll be introduced to a new type of shop or property to acquire. Even when I didn't have enough money to do so, it let me progress either way. Although I ended up taking a few moments away from the main story to explore and get more shops on my own, it got repetitive fast.

Running around shooting is as fun as ever. Weapons that can be either bought or looted from the ground, and there's a significant variety, from scissors and baseball bats to machine guns or a flamethrower.

As in its predecessor, you can also stomp on folks’ heads for a critical hit in Shakedown Hawaii. Cars can be hijacked immediately, and there’s even a Grand-Theft-Auto-style use of garages to change vehicle paint and lose your current heat from the police.

Killing pedestrians, making things go boom and causing general havoc increases your score. As far as I could tell, however, doing so provides zero in-game incentive; there are no bonuses associated with doing any of these things.

It would have been interesting to see this intertwining with unlockables, for example. But there isn’t much to it, sadly.

If you fancy a short session, you can opt to play the arcade challenges right from the main menu, and there’s a free-roaming mode as well. In Retro City Rampage fashion, there is a number of options to customize the visual style of the game. I don’t tend to mess around with them too much, but using the TV filter when playing on my Nintendo Switch docked was a nice touch.

Pros:
  • Promising premise
  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Challenges maintain that retro feel intact
Cons:
  • Pacing feels rushed at times
  • It gets repetitive fast
  • There's not much to do or see

Shakedown Hawaii lives under the shadow of Retro City Rampage, and while it tries to do its own thing, the dozens of references and thematic missions are missed more often than not. The main story leads to some repetitive places, and overall, it's an experience that's fine for short sessions every now and then, but I wouldn't recommend spending more than a few consecutive hours in its world.

You can still find retro pop culture references every now and then, but the humor surrounding missions is more grounded here. Everything in the game is set around businesses, even if it's packed with absurdity. And when missions are pretty much the core of the game, it shows. At times, I missed that Retro City Rampage premise dearly, and I didn't find enough motive to get fully invested in this 16-bit world.

[Note: A copy of Shakedown Hawaii was provided by Vblank Entertainment for the purpose of this review.]

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Figment Review: Pure Imagination https://www.gameskinny.com/g4882/figment-review-pure-imagination https://www.gameskinny.com/g4882/figment-review-pure-imagination Tue, 14 May 2019 12:15:01 -0400 Joshua Broadwell

Bedtime Digital Games, the minds behind the quirky puzzler Back to Bed, recently announced their latest endeavor Figment was coming to the PlayStation 4. Well, it's here now, but the question is whether it's worth your time or not.

Spoiler alert: It is.

Figment is a charming adventure built around a surprisingly deep and touching story. It might falter at times, but on the whole, this is a short, snappy puzzler that's sure to keep you thinking in more ways than one.

Broken Mind

Figment begins with a simple, yet haunting narrative scene. The screen is grey with short lines passing by here and there like you'd see if you looked out of a car window as you drive down the highway.

The car contains a child and parents, and the child begins talking about how amazing parachutes are, asking whether the father uses them in his work. After some more dialogue that suggests all may not be well with Daddy, there's a horrible crashing sound, and the screen eventually goes dark.

When you can see again, you find the scene has completely shifted. You're in a strange place. Ultimately, you learn this is the mind, and Rusty becomes the main focus.

Rusty is Courage personified, the defender of the mind and all that is good. At least, he used to be. Apparently, Dusty's grown, well, rusty (surprise). Over time, the once brave hero grew distant from everyone else and focused only on himself, his problems, and his wants.

That's why he lives far away from the rest of the mind in a little bungalow by himself. He's accompanied by a good drink and his scrapbook. He intends to remain that way until the day a Nightmare invades the sanctity of his solitude and steals his drink and his scrapbook.

Rusty naturally wants his things back. However, as he chases the Nightmare through the game's initial screens — and convenient, brief tutorial — he soon realizes he doesn't have any choice but to help the rest of the mind in the process.

That's because the Nightmares have invaded the entire mind, spreading fear and despair wherever they tread, with a helping of disease and plenty of other nasty things as well.

Rusty isn't alone on his journey, though. The mind is full of quirky denizens, even if you don't get to see most of them. They tend to hide in their homes, which range from normal-looking apartment buildings to snail shells and tea kettles.

The real star, other than Dusty, is Piper, his loyal and initially-unwanted bird-friend. Piper comes to request Rusty's help as the game opens, referring to their former glory days of keeping the mind safe from harm.

Dusty and Piper's relationship re-develops over the course of the game, and it's both amusing and heartwarming.

Early on, he's truly unpleasant to poor Piper — nowhere near the level of Cid and assistant from Final Fantasy VII, but still a bit nasty. As the game progresses, Dusty begins warming back up to her, and it's an excellent complement to the game's overall themes of restoration, moving on, and emotional growth.

Heading into Dark Territory

Dusty's journey to rid the mind of the three main Nightmares is essentially a journey of reconciliation and transformation. It's something a lot of people will probably relate to as well, with the universal topic of tackling one's own inner demons (or Nightmares) and understanding how the mind operates when under that kind of attack.

Even Dusty's crustiness is relatable. He's depressed and thinks there's no real use for him in the world anymore, which ultimately makes him not care about interacting with the world. It's hard not to hear Dusty's reactions to a given situation and recognize an echo of oneself in his tone, his words, or his general attitude. 

For one reason or another, it's something we've all experienced at one point in some form.

You gradually piece together why the Nightmares came back and what troubles haunt the mind as you work your way through each area, too. Dusty can come across glowing orbs called Remembranes, and each carries a specific memory — typically unpleasant, always formative.

They range from memories of feeling left out to feeling completely misunderstood and unappreciated by the rememberer's parents. The latter, in particular, make for poignant tie-ins with the game's opening scene, dripping as it is with the problem of handling feelings of isolation within an intimate group.

The World Inside

The game's visuals work impeccably well with the story. There's the obvious fact that the surreal, almost Lewis Carol-like setting is perfect for the brain (which is, itself, quirky and unpredictable).

If you're familiar with Bedtime Digital's other offering, Back to Bed, you know the surreal is what the studio does best. Here, though, it serves a greater purpose than creating a unique identity.

The initial areas, corresponding with Dusty's gradual re-awakening to his purpose, are bright, quirky, and cheerful. That changes quite a bit as Rusty delves further into the mind's problems, though, and as he confronts the worst Nightmares while simultaneously recovering his own identity.

On the whole, Figment is a subtle and nuanced commentary on depression and human relationships of the kind we, unfortunately, don't see often enough in games.

Hodgepodge of Styles

Figment's gameplay combines several different genre mechanics. Essentially, it's point-and-click style puzzles that wouldn't be out of place in a 3D adventure game. These are mixed with simple combat for a unique result that almost always works well.

For instance, the bulk of the puzzles Dusty tackles revolve around finding specific items that go in specific places for specific purposes. Items used vary depending on the area and Dusty's needs, but in general, you'll be finding lots of batteries, gears, and elevator parts, among other things.

But it hardly ever becomes stale, thanks to how the items are used.

Puzzling Encounters

The batteries are a good illustration. Early on, Dusty will need to just locate a battery (sometimes appropriating it from an unsuspecting denizen of the mind) and pop it in the right slot. Easy enough.

Later, Dusty has to juggle batteries around different spots to try and advance beyond a specific obstacle, weighing the pros and cons of seeing what might be in that extra side area that would require even more item juggling to get to it (Hint: yes, it usually is).

Sometimes, these sequences involve multiple item types and the classic "open a path, backtrack, grab the item from a different angle, and use it in that other spot you couldn't reach before the path was open" — and so on.

There are a few standout puzzles that break this pattern, too. Early on, in the mind's creative side, Dusty needs to get a tree with a giant ear to loosen its tendrils so he can obtain a rattle. Luckily for him, there happen to be three instruments right in front of the tree that can be adjusted to different levels.

Each has a "right" level where the music produced actually sounds nice, and the challenge is toying with each to find out where that sweet spot is, then putting it all together.

From a puzzle perspective, then, it isn't anything we haven't seen before. However, it's done so well and is so closely intertwined in Figment's unique signature style innovation isn't a big deal here. The puzzles are part of Dusty's adventure.

Taking Time

That's a good thing for another reason. Some of the puzzles are a bit tedious, especially if you screw up the timing and have to repeat a sequence all over again. Those that require Dusty move around the location are worse offenders in this regard because Dusty moves so...very...slowly.

However, these issues are easy to overlook. Trudging along as Dusty and dealing with some slow or repetitive puzzles is worth it because it means learning more about what is going on in the mind. You're moving one step closer to dealing with those Nightmares — however pokey a pace that step might be.

The combat is very basic. Dusty rolls and slashes, and then repeats until he's safe and his enemies aren't. It works, and it gets fairly challenging at times when Rusty's surrounded by spewing Nightmare spawn, but it isn't necessarily a highlight.

Singing Nightmares

It's impossible to mention the Nightmares without mentioning the soundtrack as well. As we mentioned in our original announcement about the PS4 release, the game's score is composed by Danish screamer-songwriter Stöj Snak. The soundtrack itself is always appealing, utilizing understatement and simple tunes for each area that complement the environments and journey perfectly.

It's the Nightmare's songs that steal the show, though. Each Nightmare sings at Dusty during their conflicts. Some are meaningful, like the first Nightmare's brief-but-telling song about despair; others will probably bring a smile to your face with their silliness, like half of what the Plague Nightmare sings.

Even those seemingly silly lyrics have a point, though. The Plague focuses on fear and disease, spewing horrors throughout the mind and blocking progress with clouds of illness. His song might come ever-so-close to using sh*t as a rhyme and go over-the-top with puke and gas references, but it's ultimately the truth. His success depends on spreading filth and fear everywhere, holding the mind back.

There's nothing like having a person's greatest fears and mental blocks turned into a cartoony rhyming song to offer a new perspective.

Of course, they aren't all silly. However, being confronted by these issues means you, as Dusty, need to confront them too, and it's impossible to escape from dealing with them during the course of the game. It's an interesting, indirect way of addressing these serious themes without being heavy-handed about it.

The Verdict

Pros
  • Setting design brimming with creativity
  • Difficult, but meaningful narrative
  • Excellent use of soundtrack
Cons
  • Some tedium with puzzles
  • Achingly slow character movement at times

Figment is the poster child for what indie games can do that other's can't. Exploring heavy themes like depression and trauma is tricky territory, but Figment manages to navigate these troubled waters expertly. Combined with tight, if sometimes slow, gameplay, it makes for an engaging and meaningful romp through the mind's darker corners.

Even better, Bedtime Digital just announced there's more Figment to come this fall, with the DLC expansion Creed Valley. Dusty and Piper will travel to Creed Valley, where the mind forms its worldviews, to face even more dangerous, singing foes, with puzzles built around the mind's two states: open and closed.

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

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A Plague Tale: Innocence Review — A Unique but Uneven Throwback to an Earlier Era of Video Games https://www.gameskinny.com/ssqy9/a-plague-tale-innocence-review-a-unique-but-uneven-throwback-to-an-earlier-era-of-video-games https://www.gameskinny.com/ssqy9/a-plague-tale-innocence-review-a-unique-but-uneven-throwback-to-an-earlier-era-of-video-games Mon, 13 May 2019 18:00:02 -0400 Thomas Wilde

A Plague Tale: Innocence is meant to be, above all else, a story of the fraught relationship between two siblings, against the backdrop of war-torn, disease-ridden 14th-century France. The older, Amicia, feels like she had to grow up largely on her own, due to her father’s travels and her mother doting on her unwell little brother; the younger, Hugo, is a sheltered, sickly five-year-old with zero attention span and no concept of personal danger.

It’s a perfect recipe for friction, as they barely know each other and are suddenly thrust into a situation where they’re forced to depend on each other to survive.

The gamble that the developers have taken is that you’ll be invested enough in Amicia and Hugo’s personal dynamic that you’re willing to play through an hours-long escort mission. Roughly two-thirds of A Plague Tale is dedicated to you as Amicia keeping Hugo safe, as you make a desperate run through dead cities, hot zones, and active battlefields.

As these things go, it should be said that this isn’t the worst take on the concept. (That, in my experience, is still 2011’s Knight’s Contract.) Hugo usually stays fastened to your hip whenever you’re actually in the field, he does what you tell him, and most of the time, he's a typical tagalong NPC. He does lose his damn mind and get guards' attention if you get more than about 20 meters away from him, so you can’t just dunk Hugo into a barrel like he's RE4's Ashley Graham, but that’s not much of an imposition.

That said, he’s also the sort of support character who’s not only the center of the game’s plot but is also the source of most of that plot’s major complications. A Plague Tale would be about four hours shorter if Hugo had the basic self-preservation instincts of the average cocker spaniel. His habit of throwing a tantrum and running away on his own at the worst possible time, for the most specious possible reasons, is the focus of not only a couple of different chapters of the story, but forms the lead-up to the game’s denouement.

It’s actually a neat bit of narrative design. Hugo is a sheltered little kid and acts like one, which I have to assume is meant to make the player as frustrated with him as Amicia often is. I can admire the intention and even the implementation, even as it and Hugo annoy me.

That central dynamic is one of a handful of things that are holding A Plague Tale back. There isn’t much else like it on the shelves right now, and a few of its levels are legitimate must-sees, but it’s rough around the edges. It’s worth checking out, if only for the absolute insanity of its final stages, but its first real barrier to entry is your ability to tolerate Hugo.

A Plague Tale is set in southern France, in the early 14th-century, at the start of the Hundred Years’ War. The English army is steadily gnawing on the nation’s borders to back up Edward III’s claim to the French throne, the Inquisition is in full swing, and entire villages are being torn apart by the Black Death.

You play as Amicia de Rune, the oldest child of a retired French knight. One day, following a hunting trip with her father, Amicia’s home is attacked by the forces of the Inquisition. Amicia’s forced to flee into the countryside with her little brother in tow, pursued by religious zealots and bounty hunters, and surrounded on all sides by sickness, insanity, and hostile soldiers.

That’d be enough to hang a game off of as it stands, but shortly after their escape from their father’s castle, Amicia and Hugo run into a larger threat: invading hordes of ravenous black rats. Anyone caught by them is reduced to bones in a few bloody seconds, and the "lucky" ones who manage to get away are likely infected with the Black Plague. The only protection from the rats is to stay in well-lit areas, using torches, lanterns, campfires, and even burning sticks to keep the horde at bay.

Notably, Amicia is a teenage girl, armed with a sling, up against armored soldiers. If anyone gets close enough to draw a bead on or take a swing at Amicia, she’s dead. As such, particularly in its opening levels, A Plague Tale is a stealth game with a fragile protagonist. Most of the time, being detected at all will end badly for you.

You can throw rocks or clay pots to create distractions and slip by guards, hide in tall grasses, and use your slingshot to destroy distant targets. Eventually, you start getting upgrades, such as alchemically-enhanced ammunition, and Amicia can enhance her sling to the point where landing a headshot to an un-helmeted human is a one-hit kill. Stealth never stops being important, however, as it takes Amicia a couple of crucial seconds to spin the sling up to lethal velocity, and it’s a lot harder to hit a target who’s coming straight at you.

More often, when you need to take a human out rather than just slip by him unnoticed, you’ll use the rats. Being a six-foot-tall bastard in plate armor is no defense whatsoever against being pulled down and devoured, and the rats are almost everywhere.

Most of the challenges in A Plague Tale are thus about stealth, finding a way past the rats, or both at once. You can distract the rats with an easy meal, by throwing joints of meat or fresh corpses to them, or get them out of your way with sources of light.

Early on, you get special sling stones that burst into flames on impact, which only annoys a human target, but which can be used to ignite distant torches, embers, or haystacks. Your plain old sling stones can also be used to destroy a human target’s lantern, so if you pick your window carefully, you can get a dead enemy and a rat distraction all at once.

The rats actually impress me quite a bit. Whenever they’re not on center stage, the world of A Plague Tale feels like a sort of interactive documentary, with little of the artificial romanticism of medieval life that you often see in fantasy or historical fiction. The developers, Asobo Studio in Bordeaux, France, set A Plague Tale in its own historical backyard and built its environments without any real sentimental attachment.

The game’s setting is muddy, dark, crudely built, and falling apart at the seams; it’s full of muted colors, untamed wilderness, and people half-mad from grief. The music is mostly acoustic pieces from period instruments, expertly pitched to match the mood of a scene. Even the collectibles are little snapshots of French history, both good and bad, like alchemical trivia and artifacts of the Inquisition.

That makes it twice as surreal when the rats do show up, as they represent the sudden intrusion of a malevolent force into a relatively normal scene. It’s made obvious from the moment they first appear that they’re supernatural; even if they didn’t have a habit of bursting into flames if they’re exposed to too much light, the swarms behave less like a living thing and more like some kind of hostile carnivorous liquid.

In areas where they’ve been able to build nests, it looks like something out of an H.R. Giger painting, full of stripped skeletons and old blood. No one in A Plague Tale is equipped to understand the rats, and no one’s trying. They’re treated like a divine plague, one more bad thing in a bad time, and that’s one of the creepiest things about them.

(I had a conversation with the game’s creative director about it at E3 2018, although it was slightly complicated by a language barrier. He insisted that his studio doesn’t consider A Plague Tale to be a horror game at all, but it’s hard not to think of it as one. It is, at least, highly horror-adjacent.)

It’s all leading up to a conclusion that is worth the cost of entry by itself. The last level of A Plague Tale requires a lot of trial-and-error gameplay, as a nearly-new mechanic suddenly comes to the forefront, but it’s one of the weirdest and most memorable final stages of a game in quite a while. It’s on the same level of achievement as the chapter in Condemned 2 where you’re suddenly being pursued by an angry bear; people ought to be talking about this for a while.

That makes me inclined to be charitable towards A Plague Tale in the final analysis, as it’s nicely strange, with a unique setting and some interesting design choices. It’s still a decidedly flawed product, however.

I’m not even really that down on it for saddling you with Hugo, although that’s likely going to be the most controversial thing about it. If you’re not interested in playing full-contact babysitter to a little French kid who screams at you while you’re saving his life, in the rare event that he’s not actively doing something stupid at the time, then A Plague Tale just isn’t your game. Asobo made a deliberate creative choice and stuck with it despite it being potential market suicide, which is hard to truly fault it for.

The whole game does feel a little under-budgeted for what it is, however. The combat is awkward and clumsy, which makes it feel much worse on the occasions when the game forces you into an open confrontation. It’d make more sense if Amicia had more specialized alchemical tricks that let her avoid a fight altogether, like smoke bombs, or if the Ignifer flame ammo could stun or knock over human targets.

Instead, you have to pop headshots on advancing soldiers like it's a medieval-themed version of Space Invaders, and the game’s systems are not equipped for the challenge. If you made the mistake of not investing in the theoretically optional upgrade path for the sling, a couple of those sequences are damn near impossible.

A Plague Tale’s engine is also not quite up to the task of its design, particularly in levels that involve both giant hordes of rats and player-controlled light sources. I played the game on a fairly beefy PC and still got some dangerous framerate drops in certain levels, as the constant churn of the rat hordes and the dynamic lighting fought each other for a chunk of my CPU. The rest of the game looks good enough, with nicely varied environments and expressive character models, but the rats often come off like a couple of them are somehow gnawing on your graphics card.

It’s also worth noting that A Plague Tale is about 12 hours long, and when it’s over, it’s over. You could maybe justify one or two additional runs for the sake of completing its achievements, but it doesn’t have any real branch points, extra challenges, a new game plus mode (which it really needs, both for finishing off the upgrade-related achievements and so I can mow down the bastard soldiers in the opening chapters), or additional difficulty levels.

In fact, A Plague Tale is one of those games that’s so excited for you to progress through it that, if you take a few seconds too long to consider the challenge in front of you, Amicia or a nearby member of her supporting cast will just blurt out the answer. It’s made for you to get into and out of it in a long weekend, which isn’t much value for a starting price of US$50. You'll remember the trip, though.

Pros:
  • It's a bloody, picturesque run through a dramatically underrepresented, realistically-depicted period of history.
  • The harsh thwack of your sling stone against an Inquisition soldier's skull is always satisfying, and a testament to good sound design.
  • The wetly organic structures of the rat nests are creepy and compelling.
  • The final stages are something you really do have to see to believe.
  • Melie is a great character who enlivens every scene she's in.
Cons:
  • The combat is awkward as hell, which makes it awful in the handful of instances when it becomes mandatory.
  • If you're spotted by enemies in a stealth sequence, you have almost no ability to escape.
  • Lots of dynamic lighting and angry rats simultaneously is going to be murder on your system's frame rate.
  • Little replay value.
  • Linear. All stages have one real path and all obstacles have exactly one intended solution. A couple may have additional brute-force options late in the game, but they're not what the developers planned for.
  • Binding the context command for climbing ledges and the dodge move to the same button is pretty obnoxious.
  • Okay, yeah, I spent a lot of the game wanting to throttle Hugo.

There’s a lot about A Plague Tale that I find weirdly refreshing. There used to be a lot of games like this a couple of software generations ago. It’s just a simple, memorable single-player experience, made precisely as its designers wanted it, intended to be enjoyed and definitively completed. It doesn't even end on a sequel hook. A Plague Tale: Innocence feels like the highest-budget B-list PlayStation 2 game ever made, and I assure you, I mean that as a compliment.

[Note: A copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

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Mordhau Review: Prepare for Battle https://www.gameskinny.com/vy89z/mordhau-review-prepare-for-battle https://www.gameskinny.com/vy89z/mordhau-review-prepare-for-battle Tue, 07 May 2019 15:28:10 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Mordhau came out of nowhere, and it has been blowing up Steam and Twitch since its release.

This medieval hack 'n slasher takes elements of your favorite battle royale games and sends them in a new direction with an intricate melee combat system.

As with many games, there are elements of it that don't quite work. However, it's a nice change of pace if you love the thrill of big battles but want something a little bit different than the what's already out there.

Knights in Shining Armor

The central draw of Mordhau lies in its robust medieval combat physics. You can wield a variety of bladed or blunt objects in your quest for supremacy, from lowly rocks and rakes all the way up to two-handed bastard swords. Depending on which of the game's three modes you choose, how you obtain these weapons and how you'll use them will differ.

What will be immediately familiar is the sense of controlled chaos that large-scale deathmatch games bring to the table. Whether you jump into Horde, Frontline, or Battle Royale mode, anyone who has touched Apex LegendsFortnite, or PUBG will feel right at home in Mordhau.

When you first begin, you're most likely going to die quite a bit. Unless you've played something like Chivalry, reprogramming your brain to deal with the intricate combat systems in Mordhau takes a little bit of time. The training mode is essential, but even it doesn't quite prepare you for the full scope of what's to come.

Fancy Sword Tricks

At its heart, the combat system in Mordhau focuses on a system of timing, blocks, parries, and strategic strikes. At first, you'll be focused on reading your opponent, responding in turn, and looking for openings where you can do some damage. As you master the basics, a whole realm of new possibilities opens up.

Throw a smoke bomb and sneak up on your opponent. Change the grip on your sword and bash the helmet off your enemy's head. Fake an overhead slash and rapidly swap into a sneaky forward stab. The system in Mordhau opens up a ton of different possibilities, and assessing the situation to see what would be most effective is a huge part of success.

Already, players are finding even more interesting ways to work within Mordhau's systems. You can unscrew part of the handle of some swords and bean other players with your best fastball. You can parry arrows and other ranged attacks out of the air. You can give up your weapon by throwing it end over end across the battlefield.

The Name of the Game

So, the combat system is impressive, but how does it all fit into the grand scheme of Mordhau? Here's where things go a bit south for the game.

Currently, there are three modes available in Mordhau, and they all play on the same ideas of frantic and massive melee battles.

Frontline

The signature mode of Mordhau, Frontline pits two teams of dozens of players against one another. Each side controls a fortress, and the goal is to push the other team back and overtake their base without losing their own.

It's a massive game of tug of war that allows for all manner of strategies and techniques. This is where you'll get most of your worth out of Mordhau it's the most balanced and fleshed out mode in the game, and offers tons of opportunities for bombastic, highlight-reel plays.

It's also a way to contribute if you're still learning a lot of Mordhau's systems: you don't have to be a frontline melee specialist to help your team to victory.

Horde

Horde mode is the player vs. A.I. mode. In it, a team of players takes on increasingly large and well-equipped groups of A.I. enemies, earning money as more difficult enemies are defeated.

Strewn about the map are supplies: better weapons, armor, and utility items. Between waves of enemies, you will need to communicate with your squad to determine what roles are needed and where the best items are located. It's a lot harder to hide in horde mode if you don't know what you're doing. Teams are small and need everyone to be able to contribute to get far at all.

Battle Royale

Of course, there's a battle royale mode in Mordhau, but it seems like it's (at least right now) a relative afterthought. Due to the game's medieval setting, no one is paradropping or gliding out of a flying bus. The game just starts you on the map in a random location.

More than once, I glanced around to try and find equipment as the map was starting, and instead, I found myself in a relatively enclosed space with three or four other players. A few lurching fistfights later, and it would be back to the queue, hoping to get a better chance in the next go.

The ever-shrinking circle is hard to see, and it kills you really quickly. Orienting yourself is difficult as well, without the usual HUD you'll find in similar games. Essentially, battle royale mode is an afterthought and, if that's all you're looking for, Mordhau is not going to be the game for you.

Military Tactics

Frontline mode is easily the star of the show it allows you to pick different classes, which you can customize from the main menu. Like all class-based objective games, these classes let you take on a variety of different roles: frontline fighters, support characters, ranged combatants, and the like.

Some of the most fun moments I had while tackling Frontline mode came from playing as the Engineer, who can hardly contribute in a fight but can build all sorts of structures to aid your allies and frustrate your foes.

It will be interesting to see what direction developer Triternion takes Mordhau.

Headshot

There are a lot of positives in Mordhau, but it is definitely a niche game that has quite a bit going against it as well. There's no single player mode, there's no cohesion or "bigger picture" to what is happening onscreen, and a lot of the elements come off as relatively sloppy.

For as impressive as the physics and combat engines are, there is a lot of silliness happening as well. The meanings of "Early Access" and "Open Beta" have been stretched well beyond the breaking point by now, but I was absolutely amazed to discover that Mordhau is NOT listed as Early Access.

Essentially, it feels like some really good ideas in a not quite finished package. The developers reported that it sold just under 500,000 copies in its first week. Hopefully, they're able to continue building on the great foundation and add some more meat onto Mordhau's bones.

Plus, can we get a mode where everyone is on horses at all times? The horses are one of the silly elements in this game, but man are they a blast when you charge an enemy and perfectly take their head off.

The Murder Blow

Pros:
  • Excellent, unique combat systems
  • Rewards technique and strategy
  • Offers ways to contribute outside of just fighting
  • Pretty horsies
Cons:
  • Feels sloppy and unfinished
  • Some wonky, silly elements
  • Lack of story and cohesion between modes

Mordhau is a German word that means "Murder Blow," and it is a term for a specific sword grip instead of slashing with the blade, an armored fighter would grasp the blade with both hands and bash their enemy with the pommel. Yes, you can use this grip in the game, but it is also a good summation for what you should want out of your experience with Mordhau.

This is a game about big moments and personal storytelling. If you can find a group of like-minded friends, you could have an absolute blast with Mordhau, especially if Triternion continues to add features and tweak things for a bit better user experience. There's a lot to like here, and the game rewards skill to the point that it's no wonder Mordhau has become a Twitch darling.

For a casual gamer, someone looking for a single-player experience, or someone who needs a reason why their bashing in nameless soldiers' heads, Mordhau probably isn't what you're looking for.

[Note: A copy of Mordhau was provided by Triternion for the purpose of this review.]

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Logitech G935 Headset Review: Artemis Spectrum 2.0 https://www.gameskinny.com/w2opa/logitech-g935-headset-review-artemis-spectrum-20 https://www.gameskinny.com/w2opa/logitech-g935-headset-review-artemis-spectrum-20 Tue, 07 May 2019 13:46:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Logitech's newest wireless gaming headset, the G935, is essentially a remaster of the G933 Artemis Spectrum. Dubbed one of the best wireless gaming headsets on the market by reviewers and users alike, the Artemis Spectrum was first released. 

I say first released because the Logitech G935 looks, acts, and feels just like the G933 in all but a few ways. From the design to the size to the headset's high-quality sound, you'd be forgiven for thinking these two headsets were one in the same. 

What's important to note, though, is that the G935s are primarily differentiated from the G933s by way of their 50mm drivers. These larger drivers allow for an improved low-frequency response. This means the G935s are bassier out of the box, something that can be both good and bad for a set of headphones depending on your ear. Additionally, these headphones employ DTS Headphone: X 2.0 technology, which allows for Hi-Res audio recognition as well as, on paper, greater clarity. 

At $169.99, the G935s aren't cheap. However, they are cheaper than the still-available G933s. That's good for consumers wanting to upgrade or for those that want to essentially get a new set of G933s. 

Logitech G935 left-side view with mic

Design

From stem to stern, the G935s look identical to the G933s. Coming in all black, the headset features a plastic frame with metal yoke, rhombus-shaped earcups, removable earcup plates, and leatherette padding. 

Starting at the core of the headset, the overall build of the G935s is fairly sturdy. While the earcups feel a tad rickety, they also tilt inward off the yoke and rotate to sit flat on your shoulders or desk. Both of these are factors contributing to their "wobbliness" when the headset is held by the headband.  

Each earcup is designed to be worn over the ears, and each has leatherette padding around them. The earcups themselves are deep and able to accommodate a variety of ear sizes. However, the earcups did feel a bit tight across my upper jaw, a feeling that persisted after a month of wear. 

The left ear cup is where you'll find all of the G935's buttons, inputs and outputs, and noise-canceling mic.

The back of the earcup has the power switch at the top. Below that are three programmable "G" keys and a mic mute button. Below those is the volume wheel. The charging port and the 3.5mm audio port are on the bottom of the earcup. Finally, the noise-canceling mic is vertically nestled into the front of the left earcup. 

Each earcup also features a detachable outer plate. Removing the left plate reveals a place to house the headset's wireless USB dongle. Removing the right plate reveals the headset's battery. I absolutely love this feature of the headset, specifically the housing for the USB dongle. It's also nice to know that it's super easy to replace the headset's battery if need be. 

Features

As is standard on most modern headsets, the G935s feature RGB lighting. Here, the design is replicated from the G933s; one lightband crawls up the back of each earcup to the top center of each earcup. The new, blockier Logitech logo is featured on the lower back corner of each outside, removable plate. 

The RGB lighting can be finetuned through the refined G Hub software. As expected, you'll have access to a vast palette of colors and a wide array of effects. You can assign one color to the lightbands and one to the Logitech logo, and you can also cycle colors while dialing in cycle rates and brightness. 

The more interesting aspect here is the use of LightSync and Screen Sampler. The former allows you to sync your lighting profiles across all of your Logitech devices, including keyboards and mice. The latter allows you to set capture zones on your monitor. These zones then dynamically change the RGB scheme to whatever is on screen in a particular zone. 

G Hub also allows you to assign actions and macros to the headset's "G" keys. Here, you have options such as increasing bass and increasing treble. However, you can also assign the keys actions such as opening programs or performing keystrokes. 

Lastly, G Hub is where you'll tweak the headset's audio profiles and access its equalizer. You can activate noise removal and enable surround sound. You can disable the headset's sidetone and control mic volume. And you can choose audio presets or more finely adjust frequencies through the equalizer. 

If you've used G Hub or any recent Logitech software, you'll be right at home as not much has changed. 

Performance

Before I get into the way this headset sounds, I do want to talk about a few hiccups that impact user performance, specifically the design of the "G" keys and the build of the volume wheel. 

While I was able to get used to the placement of the "G" keys, I wish they were more defined. As it stands, it's very difficult to quickly differentiate between them, even when not playing games. One tends to bleed into the other. 

What's more, I don't (at all) see the use in the mic mute button because simply physically flipping the microphone up mutes it, and it's located between the third "G" key and the volume. The mute button maybe should have been removed and the "G" keys made either larger or more defined in its absence. 

Moving to the volume wheel, it too could have benefited from being larger. It's just too small as it stands. Finding it can sometimes be a pain, especially with the mic mute button placed in such proximity. That's not to mention the wheel feels loose and audibly "thunks" when touched/released. Thankfully, it doesn't make a sound when actually increasing or decreasing the volume. 

Aside from being bassy on its default, out-of-the-box setting, the G935s sound great. Where the Artemis Spectrum is still heralded as one of the best sounding wireless headsets available, the G935 inherits that lineage.  

For gaming, DTS Headphone: X 2.0 seems to improve upon the previous version of the surround sound software. I was able to hear gunshots in Battlefield 1 and Sniper Elite V2 Remastered with great clarity. I was able to pinpoint the exact location of enemies in games like Apex Legends, too. Comparing them to the Logitech G533s, the G935s did seem to provide better clarity in these situations, allowing me to better discern exactly where sounds were coming from. 

For movies, surround sound is fantastic. Movie and television dialog is clear and precise, while action sequences, such as those in John Wick and Mission Impossible: Fallout, are explosive. Interstellar is still, well, stellar in surround sound. 

Although the headset's bass-heavy proclivity means that music can easily become muddy, I do appreciate that the G935s render sound without distortion. Additionally, I very much enjoy how the headset forms the music around the vocals, where vocals always seem to be in the center channel and instruments in the surrounding channels. 

Pros: 
  • Works on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
  • Fantastic directional audio with improved DTS Headphone: X 2.0
  • Clear mic with flip-to-mute features
Cons:
  • Only works wirelessly on PC and PS4; Xbox One and Switch require the included 3.5mm cable
  • Cramped button layout on the back of the left earcup
  • Bass heavy on default profile; can only change profiles/access EQ on PC

In a vacuum, the G935s are a fairly easy recommendation. That's especially true for those looking to get the Artemis Spectrum 2.0. Many of the pros and cons of that headset apply here. The 50mm drivers and DTS Headphone: X 2.0 technology found in the G935s do make this a slightly more attractive purchase than the G933s at this point. 

While the sound quality of the headset is hard to beat, I can't help but feel the headset's design is just a bit too antiquated. I also still think that the "G" buttons are a bit too cramped, the headset is a tad bulky, and that not having some sort of EQ DAC for console completely removes one of the headset's biggest selling points, and that is hard to ignore.

[Note: A G935 review unit was provided by Logitech for the purpose of this review.]

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Close To The Sun Review: Horror, Mad Science, and Exploration On The Sea https://www.gameskinny.com/vj1oc/close-to-the-sun-review-horror-mad-science-and-exploration-on-the-sea https://www.gameskinny.com/vj1oc/close-to-the-sun-review-horror-mad-science-and-exploration-on-the-sea Mon, 06 May 2019 16:09:10 -0400 Ty Arthur

We're still more than a month away from Stranger Things Season 3, so if you need a good tale of science run amok while things from other dimensions wreak a little havoc, you're in luck with the release of Close To The Sun.

Set on an isolated ship-city under quarantine, Close To The Sun puts you in the role of Rose Archer, who will have to unravel layers of mystery while searching for her sister.

If you don't mind a lack of guns or magic powers and just want to experience a sci-fi horror tale, you should make a point of picking up Close To The Sun... so long as you can overlook one (perhaps not so) little detail. 

Bioshock Goes Epic

Here's the thing we need to get out of the way immediately: yes, this is currently an Epic Store exclusive. I won't bother rehashing that whole debate. You already know how you feel about that, and I don't suspect I'll be changing your mind. Obviously, for some gamers that means they'll never play Close To The Sun (at least until it hits other storefronts).

With that out of the way, everything from the location to the level aesthetic will immediately make you think of Bioshock. As someone who desperately loved Bioshock Infinite and hopes we'll get more someday, I'm perfectly fine with that very obvious inspiration.

Overall, Bioshock isn't a bad place to start with comparisons if you want to know what kind of game you are in for. However, it's important to note this is more of a walking sim horror game than anything involving gunplay. There is no combat at all, so your only option when the dimension-hopping, time-traveling beastie shows up is to run and avoid evisceration.

With the alternate history revolving around technological marvels, there's a tinge of the Prey reboot in here as well, although this game takes place on a massive ship at sea rather than out in space.

Mad Science, Alternate History, and Unrelenting Horror

For this take on the alternate history mad science horror genre, we focus on Tesla vs. Edison, a scientific rivalry that has fascinated history buffs and conspiracy theorists for most of America's history.

In this version, Tesla comes out (more) on top, and takes to the sea on a stunningly massive ship (that's basically its own state). He does to freely invent and develop new tech without government interference.

Of course, those researchers delve into things they didn't quite comprehend, resulting in odd, quasi-supernatural and mythological things going on, but with a weird science backing at all times. From unsettling jump scares to mutilated bodies to a straight up monster, there's plenty of horror to be found.

The most effective part of the scares is easily how the sound and music work to establish the mood, so make sure to play this one with your headphones rather than speakers.

Aside from sound, the visuals during both the investigative puzzle segments and the running horror segments are worth mentioning. For a game from a new-ish (and smaller) development team, this is a shockingly beautiful title.

While it's missing things like the run and gunning that you'd typically see in a big budget game, you could easily mistake Close To The Sun for a AAA title that just happens to be focused more on story and exploration than any sort of combat.

Keeping Players Engaged

 Someone is very serious about their toiler paper supply!

Between free-roam exploration and escaping unkillable enemies, Close To The Sun keeps you engaged without combat through a cast of fabulous characters, like Aubrey, a disembodied voice on the radio who is clearly unhinged but managing to keep his cool.

There's some humor in there to break it all up as well, from jokes about a young Einstein being on board to notes left between employees to remind you all those torn apart bodies were real people.

On the exploration side, the puzzles aren't particularly hard, and are fairly standard concepts: flipping switches, finding access codes and keycards, turning electric on and off, twisting locks to the right combo, and so on.

The only real frustration will come from the chase sequences that are sadly marred by that one recurring issue of defenseless horror games... having to replay the sequence over and over because you missed where they wanted you to go during the frenzy of running and hiding.

The Bottom Line

Pros: 
  • Great visuals and excellent sound/voice work
  • Fun mashup of sci-fi exploration and defenseless horror
  • Interesting characters
Cons: 
  • Very little in terms of replay, especially if you fully explore the first time
  • Fairly short overall experience
  • No combat or gameplay outside of puzzles and exploration

Depending on how often you need to repeat chases or how long it takes you to figure out the puzzles, the full experience here is somewhere between 3 1/2-5 hours.

Replayability essentially comes through picking up any collectibles you missed, as well as finding one hidden area with a secret backstory segment. If you found all that on the first playthrough, then you're pretty well done with Close To The Sun.

The lack of replayability is the one major downside here that might keep the game off your must-play list. It's a well-crafted title, but short and lacking in anything beyond exploration, light puzzle solving, and fleeing enemies.

That being said, if you want to play more games like SOMA or Layers Of Fear but prefer more of a sci-fi Bioshock style aesthetic and story, nothing right now is going to top Close To The Sun.

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VA-11 HALL-A Review: A Stylish Visual Novel That Feels at Home on Nintendo Switch https://www.gameskinny.com/jy42s/va-11-hall-a-review-a-stylish-visual-novel-that-feels-at-home-on-nintendo-switch https://www.gameskinny.com/jy42s/va-11-hall-a-review-a-stylish-visual-novel-that-feels-at-home-on-nintendo-switch Thu, 02 May 2019 15:05:39 -0400 diegoarguello

“Time to mix drinks and change lives,” says Jill every time a new shift begins. She’s a bartender in an obscure joint found in an alleyway of Glitch City, the main city in Sukeban Games' VA-11 HALL-A. 

Set in the distant future, the city is run by mega-corporations, and androids are more than an established part of society. However, both the androids and humans have their fair share of problems, and they all prefer to tell more about their lives with a drink in hand.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual initially released for PC back in 2016, followed by a PlayStation Vita port in 2017. Now, the cyberpunk tale has made the jump to the Nintendo Switch (it also just came out on the PS4). The Switch version, though, includes HD Rumble, touch controls, and the perfect portability that I’ve grown so attached to during my time with it.

The first message you see when you start a new game tells you to get yourself comfortable and grab a drink and some snacks. In my experience, playing in bed wrapped in a blanket made for a perfect match. 

VA-11 HALL-A starts with the basics. Each day in the bar is divided into two stages; there's a break in between for Jill to grab a smoke or get some air, which the player uses to save their game before continuing with the routine.

Almost everything in VA-11 HALL-A happens on the same screen, too. On the left side, you’ll see the characters that show up in the bar, along with your co-workers, and read the dialogue box. On the right side, you have your own bartending mini-game.

There are different ingredients to use, options to make a drink either aged or on the rocks, and a mix button that can lead to two different results depending on how long you shake the drink. Clients come and talk about their lives, and often ask for several different drinks during their visits. Once you get their order, you only need to look for it in a receipt book and follow it through.

Sometimes it gets a bit more complex. People will make general requests that have more than one correct answer, and as long as the drink matches it in some way, you’re good to go. This includes something bitter, or maybe a non-alcoholic drink, while others are even more abstract.

While mixing drinks might just seem like a mini-game that adds some variety to the visual-novel elements of the game, the mechanic is perfectly integrated with the overall experience. Conversations feel natural and all of the characters are equally interesting yet distinct in their own way. And since there’s no heavy penalty for messing up a drink, it feels like a very welcoming experience.

That doesn’t mean that Jill does voluntary work at the bar, though. She always gets a check at the end of the day, which often has bonuses for not messing up any orders. Before and after each workday, you can spend some time in Jill’s apartment reading the news or listening to music on her phone. But you can also buy things in an online shop.

Sometimes she will have something on her mind that wants to purchase, and if you happen to ignore such requests, Jill will have a harder time remembering what the orders were, making it easier to fail them and lose your bonus.

Again, it’s the little touches in VA-11 HALL-A that make for a greater experience. Manually drinking cans of beer while having a conversation with your boss on a balcony, or being able to create your own playlist out of a jukebox before every shift add a lot to your regular visual novel. And that’s what makes this one so special.

Playing VA-11 HALL-A as the developers intended you to, being as cozy as possible, couldn’t be more perfect on Nintendo Switch. I only wish the touch controls were fully integral since you’re likely to use the "L" and "R" buttons to open some menus from time to time. Other than that, it translates perfectly. And you need only to wear your best headphones to enjoy the music and get immersed in the story.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about it, since there is a main plot that starts to develop during the first days, along with different endings to discover. But the focus on characters is clear from the beginning, being a core aspect that works perfectly. Oh, and there’s a shiba inu with glasses. Really, what else can you ask for?

Pros:
  • Interesting characters with equally intriguing stories to tell.
  • The bartending minigame adds a lot to the story.
  • Great sense of humor and compelling story overall.
  • Unbeatable soundtrack
  • Dogs wearing glasses.
Cons:
  • Some parts of the UI don't translate entirely well while using touch controls.

VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel at heart, but all of the elements surrounding it make for a unique experience on its own. The Nintendo Switch version stands on its own as an excellent way of experiencing this cyberpunk tale, even if it's not completely flawless in terms of controls.

[Note: A copy of VA-11 HALLA was provided by Stride PR for the purpose of this review.]

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Days Gone Review: Gone Killin' https://www.gameskinny.com/ljgvn/days-gone-review-gone-killin https://www.gameskinny.com/ljgvn/days-gone-review-gone-killin Thu, 02 May 2019 14:18:10 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

From Dying Light and The Last of Us to World War Z and Resident Evil, zombies have been a fixture in gaming for years. That's mainly because there are always those that fear the undead monsters and find the end of the world a fascinating place.

But given the number of zombie-centric games that have been released in the past 20 years, it can be challenging to stand out amongst the crowd.

Days Gone tries its best to stand out from that over-saturated catalog with its open-world approach to the zombie apocalypse. While it struggles to find new ways to differentiate itself from those that came before and has quite a few noticeable blemishes, it still manages to be a fun, if somewhat derivative, title that has its heart in the right place.

If you have seen, read, or have played anything zombie related in the past ever, you know exactly what to expect from the story of Days Gone.

Deacon St. John (played by Star War's Sam Witwer) is a biker who's lost a lot from his previous life and finds himself forced to take odd jobs from various post-apocalyptic rival camps to survive. Along the way, he brushes arms with a research group that was responsible for the disappearance of his wife.

From there, tropes from the genre abound. From showcasing themes on what it means to be human to examine the definition of the word "monster," you've seen all of this done before and much better. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does take away from the tension of what's going to happen next, as you can guess what's next.

While Day's Gone won't win any awards for originality, it still manages to tell a compelling story thanks to solid writing (save for a few instances) and great acting from its cast. Deacon and the gang might be stereotypes of other characters, but the game manages to flesh everyone out enough to give them likability and intrigue. Though it can get overly melodramatic, Day's Gone manages to engross you in its world for the nearly 20-30 hours it'll take to finish it.

Gameplay in Days Gone is a mixture of hand-to-hand melee combat, gunplay, and driving around.

Main missions have the right amount of variety to keep things interesting. Some have you sneaking around, while others have you driving to catch up to someone. Others are just good ol' fashioned kill-everything-in-sight missions. 

Combat encounters give you a wide variety of methods to take down your foes. You can take a stealthy approach and silently take enemies out, or go in guns blazing. Melee combat is satisfying thanks to a large armory of weapons. From simple wooden bars and metal pipes to hatchets and knives, you'll be happy with the tools on display. Later on, you'll also be able to craft weapons like Spike Bats; however, weapons easily break down, so you'll have to approach combat strategically and make sure there's something for you to use nearby.

Gunplay is mostly serviceable, thanks to positive feedback from your weapons and smooth aiming. The big issue with the game's gun combat is that the aiming reticle can be imprecise, making you lose a few of your shots. Ammo isn't too scarce, but you'll have to manage your ammunition.

Resource management plays a big part in Days Gone, too, as you'll often need to collect things to craft items like bandages to regain health and create weapons like Molotov's to burn enemies alive. Luckily, you won't have to craft too much, and there are plenty of times where dozens of collectible resources are in abundance in a single area.

Along with combat and resource management, a big part of the game is spent taking care of your bike. Seeing as it's your only form of transportation, you'll want to take care of it. You'll need to fix it up when it takes a beating, and you'll need to fill it up with gas. It might sound annoying, but you're given enough resources to keep things from getting too tedious.

The bike has a nice arcade-like feel to it, as well, though realistic physics are still bounded to it. Don't expect to jump high in the air and crash unscathed like other games in the genre. The bike can be a little sensitive here and there, but it mostly controls well. 

As you progress, you'll upgrade your bike from the various camp factions you come across and customize its appearance however you like. You can also purchase new weapons from these places and do different odd jobs.

Doing these tasks will build your trust with the settlers and grant you access to better weapons and upgrades. Some will give you better bike parts while others will provide you with better weapons. You can also send random survivors you meet on the road to specific camps you visit.

While the gameplay is mostly solid, side missions could have been much better. Most revolve around clearing out enemy strongholds, like in Far Cry, burning down zombie hives, or reactivating checkpoint stations. While the rewards, like new craftable weapons and increases to health or stamina, are great incentives, it can't mask the repetition that unfolds while carrying them out.

Graphically, Days Gone is a looker, though it's not without its hang-ups.

The world is meticulously detailed, giving the environments some personality. Each place you visit tells its own story, and even hints of what life was like before this version of the zombie outbreak took place. If you have a 4K TV, the game supports HDR, and it's put to good use, adding some liveliness to this dark and dreary world. 

The biggest issue with the game's presentation is its technical troubles. While none are game-breaking, most will take you out of the experience.  From characters glitching into the environment to spotty lipsyncing and textures not loading properly, it can get annoying.

Another issue has to do with the constant fade to black that happens before and after missions and cutscenes. It's a nitpick, but it does take you out of the experience. 

Pros: 
  • Refined gameplay
  • Solid visuals
  • Entertaining story and characters
Cons: 
  • Technical issues
  • Frame-rate hiccups
  • Overly-familiar

On a base PS4, the game runs well enough. Combat encounters and walking around generally runs at 30 FPS. However, there were some noticeable framerate drops whenever driving around. It's better on PS4 Pro, but it's disappointing. Seeing how well other PS4 exclusives like Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn on both machines, it's sad that playing on Days Gone on base PS4 is a slightly lesser experience.

Familiarity is something to keep in mind when deciding to purchase Days Gone. Almost everything you've seen here has been done in other open-world games and, in some cases, much better.

That said, Days Gone might not do things new, but it manages to do them very well. It presents a well-told story with characters that you slowly start to get attached to and mostly polished gameplay.

It might not break the mold, but it does an efficient job in replicating other titles. If you're not sick of the zombie genre, you'll want to give this one a shot.

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Turtle Beach Recon 70 Headset Review: A Thrifty Option for PS4 Owners https://www.gameskinny.com/cof58/turtle-beach-recon-70-headset-review-a-thrifty-option-for-ps4-owners https://www.gameskinny.com/cof58/turtle-beach-recon-70-headset-review-a-thrifty-option-for-ps4-owners Mon, 29 Apr 2019 16:32:30 -0400 Thomas Wilde

It's kind of funny how Turtle Beach packages its products. I have a wired Elite Atlas headset, which seems to have been designed for the sake of an unboxing video; you unwrap that thing and you feel like humming the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The cheaper the headsets go, however, the less spectacular the presentation. If Turtle Beach made cheap convenience-store headphones, they'd come in a brown paper bag.

The Recon 70, conversely, is designed as a mid-range, affordable option for your headset needs, priced at US$39.99, with no frills or particular gimmicks. It's the product of a designer who knows the audience; this is a headset for somebody who wants a bargain and has nothing to prove.

You can spend a lot of money on PS4 peripherals without really trying  because Sony  and headsets are no particular exception. After a few days of marathon sessions with the Recon 70, I can say that at this price point, it'd be hard to do much better