Reviews Category RSS Feed | Reviews RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Corsair Harpoon RGB Wireless Gaming Mouse Review Mon, 21 Jan 2019 16:47:24 -0500 ElConquistadork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta Learn To Walk Before You Can Fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Combat Gameplay Redefined

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Non VR-Experience

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

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

Re-Playability Through Unlockables

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

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

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

Single-Player Focus

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Removing the Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloud Mix side view with boom mic


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

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

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

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

Despite that, I will say that this is one of the more comfortable headsets I've worn. While some have derided the headband as disagreeable over long periods, I never felt any discomfort across the top of my head. The plush single-band headband provides plenty of cushion and the pleatherette around the earcups keeps them from exerting too much pressure across the top of the jaw. 

Wearing cloud mic

Moving along to the headset's controls and ports, you'll find a 3.5mm jack, microphone port, built-in Bluetooth mic, and a Bluetooth multifunction button on the left earcup. On the right earcup, you'll find the Bluetooth power button, a micro-USB charge port, the Bluetooth volume buttons, and a battery status LED. 

Keeping in line with its lifestyle aesthetic, none of the buttons or ports are prominent; if you were to wear this on the subway or while listening to tunes around the house, no one would know this was a gaming-first set of cans. 

However, that design choice also means that some of the buttons can be difficult to find when in use. While the Bluetooth volume buttons on the right earcup are defined enough for easy recall, both the Bluetooth power button and the Bluetooth multifunction button are a bit too recessed and smooth for my liking. Eventually, you'll memorize their placement and it won't matter, but I can't help but feel it's a small oversight that could have been better designed. 

Thankfully, the in-line volume wheel and mic-mute button found on the headset's 3.5mm braided cable are easy to reach when using the headset in wired mode. Both function as you'd expect, and unlike other in-line controls I've used in the past, I didn't experience any crackling or sound loss when rotating the volume wheel — even after about two months of heavy use. 

Cloud Mix bottom view showing buttons and I/O ports


The Cloud Mix comes with a 4.2-foot detachable headset cable that's used for console gaming, and a 6.5-foot PC extension cable that connects everything to your desktop. With such cable lengths, it's possible that you might not even use the Mix's Bluetooth capabilities if you don't mind being wired to your phone or device. 

Of course, you'll get the best quality from the headset's 40mm drivers in wired mode. On PC, the headset was the loudest, providing the richest tones, as would be expected. Since console sound is still transmitted wirelessly from the console to the controller, then to the headphones via the attached cable, I had to crank the volume a bit higher than I would've liked on console, leading to just a tad bit of distortion in games like Doom

But when playing games like Battlefield 1 and 2016's Hitman on PC, I didn't notice a bit of distortion. Explosions thrummed and bullets cracked through the air; eurobeats thumped across dance floors and coins bounced off concrete with piercing metallic pings.  

For the most part, I didn't notice much loss of fidelity when gaming; most sounds remained separate across the low-high spectrum. However, music is where you'll discover the Cloud Mix is a bit bass heavy and highs sometimes bleed into each other depending on what you're listening to.

Cloud Mix earcups showing drivers and padding

Bluetooth works equally well. Although some fidelity is naturally lost across Bluetooth, there isn't a decided tonal difference between the two modes: bass tones are just as punchy and high tones still fall on the weaker side of things, much like the rest the Mix's Bluetooth has to offer.

While 32-feet of wireless range isn't shabby — I could walk around most of my 2,400-square-foot house without losing signal — it's head-scratching that the Cloud Flight provides more than twice that distance at 65 feet. 

On top of that, you'll have to have a Bluetooth-ready device to even use the functionality. On the surface, this is a rather "duh" statement, but chances are only your phone or laptop is Bluetooth ready. Seeing as the Mix doesn't come with a Bluetooth dongle, hooking it up to your computer or console right out of the box — without a secondary purchase — is a very real possibility. 

For a $200 headset, that's a pretty big disappointment. For the life of me, I can't feasibly understand why Hi-Res audio is a feature on this headset and a plug-n-play wireless dongle isn't. The latter is far more useful to HyperX's demographic and much more in line with the "lifestyle" ethos of the headset itself. 

Cloud Mix headset with cables and carry bag

  • Comfortable headband and earcups
  • Fantastic portability and overall design
  • Good audio quality in both wired and Bluetooth modes
  • Smaller design won't suit everyone
  • Bluetooth range is shorter than Cloud Flight
  • Hi-Res audio capability is nice, but not practical
  • No wireless dongle hampers Bluetooth use out of the box

 Driver Custom dynamic, 40mm w/ neodymium magnets
Type Circumaural, closed back
Frequency Response 10Hz—40,000Hz
Impedance 40 ohms
Sound Pressure Level 100dbBSPL/mW at 1kHz
Weight w/o mic 260g
Weight w/ mic 275g
Cable Length Detachable headset cable: 4.2 feet
PC extension cable: 6.5 feet
Micro USB charging cable: 1.6 feet
Connection Type Detachable headset cable: 3.5mm (4-pole)
PC extension cable: 3.5mm stereo/mic plugs
Battery Life 20 hours
Wireless Range ~32 feet

Info via HyperX's Cloud Mix product page.

Ultimately, the Cloud Mix is a great headset held back by its price: the sound is solid, the design is everything you've come to expect from HyperX, and the quality is top-notch. You could do much worse than the Cloud Mix, that's for sure.

But unless you must have Bluetooth and the ability to listen to Hi-Res audio, the Cloud Alpha is just as capable as the Mix and comes in at half the price. 

You can pick up the Cloud Mix at BestBuy at its normal price of $199.99.

[Note: HyperX provided the Cloud Mix used for this review.]

Toki Remaster Review: Frustratingly Great Wed, 02 Jan 2019 14:51:11 -0500 Joey Marrazzo

Some of our favorite video game franchises come from the arcade cabinets of yore: Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, and Michael Jackson's MoonWalk (look it up). Toki, while frustrating, is one of better platformers from that era and, luckily, a game that plays great on the Nintendo Switch.

Toki has all the platformer/shooter things that you love: six different levels, a hard-to-defeat boss at the end, enemies that can kill you in an instant, and a limited amount of credits. It's a game that tasks you with expertly going through each level with cat-like reflexes and focus. 

Danger and instant-death lurk around every corner. 

Toki starts as a human but is transformed into a slow-moving ape who must save the damsel in distress so he can return to his human form. To fend off the enemies keeping him from reaching his goal, Toki has one attack: spitting energy balls. Luckily, you can upgrade your attack for a short time with several power-ups scattered throughout the levels. You'll be able to spit two balls at once, three balls at once, shoot fire, and more. 

Just like the original arcade game Toki will die if he comes into contact with anything. If you lose all your lives, you have to restart the level and you get a credit taken away from you -- classic, but frustrating all the same. If you lose all your credits, you have to restart the entire game.

Since basically anything can kill you, you're going to die a lot. Dying over and over really isn't fun, per se, but after you die a couple dozen times (like I did), you start to pick up on where the enemies are and how you can complete each level rather quickly.

One way to not die is to get the helmet power-up (kind of like the armor power-up in Super Ghouls n' Ghosts). This allows you to take an extra hit from an enemy without you instantly dying. 

Throughout the game's six levels, you will find the usual water and fire levels found in platformers like these (which are always my favorite levels). Whether it’s swinging on a vine or jumping on a see-saw, each level has you face to face with the boss at the end. 

Each boss will have different things to throw at you while you try and shoot them. I tried just aiming for the boss and avoiding the obstacles but due to Toki's slowness, I often died while going side to side. Your best bet is to take out the obstacles, whether they are giant balls bouncing towards you or the B.U.R.P letters in the fire level, and then go on a full-blown attack of the boss. 

One of the downsides to having an arcade remaster on the Switch is that there is no save function in the game. Yeah, that's right. No matter how far you get, you can't exit the game and play a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Just like the old days, you have to play the whole game through in one sitting. You won't lose everything if you put your Switch to sleep after a level, but you'll lose everything if you close out of the game. 



  • Beautiful Remastered Graphics and Soundtrack
  • Lots of fun
  • Challenging
  • Not many levels
  • Challenging
  • No save support.

Toki is available now on the e-shop and a physical Retrocollectors Edition is available only at GameStop, which features a mini arcade cabinet that you can put your Switch into so you can play the game as if you are in an arcade.

The combination of a fail-and-try-again arcade game, hand-drawn characters, remastered graphics along with a re-orchestrated soundtrack makes Toki a true remaster. While the arcade die-and-lose-all-your-progress style isn't that popular in games nowadays, this game remains true to the original arcade cabinet, and I respect that choice.

Toki is a great way to introduce the new generation of gamers to the pain that many faced in those arcades with just a handful of quarters and a few hours until their parents came to pick them up. 

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

Spider-Man: Silver Lining DLC Review -- A Fantastic Finish Wed, 02 Jan 2019 10:22:58 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

As the final chapter of The City that Never Sleeps storyline, Silver Lining makes for a compelling and engrossing coda to one of 2018's best games.

It manages to refine everything that made Spider-Man's main plot so great, bringing with it excellent combat and storytelling, while also managing to push out most of anything negative.

After Hammerhead's getaway in the previous chapter, Turf Wars, he's back at it -- and he's out to make New York his own. It's now up to Spider-Man to put a stop to nefarious plans before he causes any more trouble.

However, as it goes in the superhero world, things get complicated when Silver Sable decides to take things into her own hands. 

While the DLC's story is straightforward, it's the dialog and interactions between Spider-Man and Silver Sable that steal the show. Spider-Man's quippy banter is made even funnier when coupled with the no-nonsense Silver Sable. It's constantly entertaining and will have you laughing out loud more than once.

Silver Lining's plot also manages to rectify Hammerhead's lack of screen time in Turf Wars by showcasing him in a truly over-the-top way, something that's pulled off so well that you won't even mind how silly it actually is. 

Along with the great storytelling, this last bit of The City that Never Sleeps DLC keeps building on the combat encounters from the main game. While some of the later fights can be overwhelming, most fights do a good job of making you use everything that you've learned from the base game. 

The lone new enemy is a jetpack foe that can use shock grenades to keep you on the ground. Luckily, they never become too much of a problem and the DLC doesn't add too many of these types of guys to become an issue. 

Screwball makes one last appearance, bringing some new challenge missions to the table, but none of these are that memorable, falling to overly familiar mission design. However, they're worth doing to finally get that meme-spewing foe behind bars once and for all.

Gang Base missions also start to become a chore later in Silver Lining. They aren't boring, but the encounters do little to change things up.

  • Great dialog
  • Compelling narrative
  • Improved combat mechanics
  • Unremarkable screwball missions
  • Repetitive base challenges

Silver Lining isn't perfect, with some samey base combat challenges and unremarkable screwball missions, but it's a fitting end to Spider-Man's DLC storyline. Though the epilogue series has had its ups and downs, it's still a worthwhile investment. 

LOCALHOST Mini Review Sat, 29 Dec 2018 11:34:04 -0500 NeonStarchild

Yet another game that explores the concept of "humans ending the life of the machines they give life to". Available for all platforms, and in Spanish.

LOCALHOST is a short cyberpunk visual novel, in which you start your job as a computer technician and have to wipe four drives that don’t want to be wiped. They will talk to you as if they were human; but are they?

As every visual novel, the gameplay is as simple as it gets. Click to get through the text, pick what to say and pick which drive to talk to. The game opens up as a small window, which isn’t all that bad; there’s not much detail to see. But, this doesn’t mean the graphics are bad! The entire screen is composed of teals and purples, creating a rather sinister, yet harmonized, ambient. The robot’s eyes, however, change to the color of the drive you select, which makes it easier to determine who’s in the body.

The music of this game is definitely one to remember. It’s got six unique synth loops, each setting the perfect atmosphere for the situation. In the repair shop it plays a creepy basey loop. When you select a drive, it plays their own “theme song”, which can also tell you how the conversation will go.

This game costs only $4.99. In my personal opinion, it's totally worth that price. Even if it may not seem like much, being pretty short and simple, you can tell that a lot of effort went into making it. From the artwork, to the music and the dialogue, all together they form a unique experience that's worth exploring.

Bloody B975 Keyboard Review: On the Knife's Edge of Killer Wed, 26 Dec 2018 10:01:37 -0500 Jonathan Moore

When I first started reviewing Bloody's B975 mechanical keyboard, I absolutely hated it. Within minutes of taking it out of the finely made rigid book box it came in, I found every reason under the sun to banish it to the scrap heap. 

Its keys were too clacky. Its screw-in wrist rest design made zero logical sense. Its keycaps were etched in a smudgy, retro-futuristic font that best resembled a hastily-drawn alien dialect.  

My hangups seemed endless, so I sat down and wrote an 800-word review slamming the keyboard as inept and utterly flawed. Almost a month later, the B975 is still on my desk, having taken over as my primary board for both work and play. 

Why? Because it's reliable and speedy. That doesn't mean I've completely gotten over its perplexing foibles, but it does mean that I'm willing to recognize when performance outweighs other unfortunate factors. 


The B975 is made of tough anodized aluminum. While it's true the chassis can take a beating and it won't show a single fingerprint or smudge, Bloody's claim that the aluminum design makes the board more "lightweight" isn't exactly 100% accurate.

Weighing in at 3.1 pounds, the B975 is about the same weight as many of the keyboards we've ever reviewed at GameSkinny. What's more, it's about 10 ounces heavier than the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum and almost a full pound heavier than the aluminum-composite Logitech G513

Since this is a relatively average-sized board (it doesn't have extra "G" keys, dedicated keys, or volume wheels) that measures in at 444mm x 132mm x 37mm, that weight is also interesting when positioned in that framework, even if the whole chassis, including the back, is made of aluminum.  

Aside from droning on about the board's weight-to-size ratio and how it's presented in Bloody's marketing materials, the B975 sports the same matte black chassis you've seen in most other gaming keyboards made in the past year or so. It's accented by shiny silver lines that break up the major sections of the board (numpad and nav keys from typing keys, and typing keys from function keys). 

Above the arrow keys you'll find the Bloody logo, and above the "insert", "home", and "page up" keys you'll find the indicator lights for num lock, caps lock, screen lock, and the board's Game function underneath an elegant clear plastic coating. 

Flip the board over, and you'll find the B975's feet, which flip out to the right and left of the board instead of toward the top. Their wide, angled design keeps the board propped at a nice angle, while keeping it stable on every slick surface I was able to test it on. 

Finally, the x-foot long braided cable comes with a nice Velcro strap that lets you easily bundle it when traveling. While this is increasingly common for most wired keyboards, it's a nice quality of life feature that's worth mentioning.  


The B975 comes equipped with Light Strike optical switches, where you can either opt for the Orange tactile variety or the Brown linear variety. My review unit was equipped with Oranges, which are loud and clacky, something I don't typically prefer. 

However, once I sat down to write my original 800-word review, and then after I played a few rounds of Killing Floor 2 and Paladins, I found the clack didn't really matter anymore. 

While the overall efficacy of Light Strike switches has been debated, the Orange Light Strike tactiles of the B975 felt less bumpy than other tactile switches, such as those found in the Logitech G513. And while I didn't find the G513's keys to be considerably bumpy, the way Light Strikes are constructed has a lot to do with why they feel extremely smooth. 

Since Light Strike switches don't have metal contacts and instead use light to process commands, they intrinsically remove a friction point from the equation. When testing the Romer-G tacticles in the G513 alongside the LK Light Strike tactiles in the B975 side by side, the LK Light Strikes didn't feel as sticky as the Romer-Gs. 

Would you notice the difference without physically testing each switch side by side? That's debatable. However, coupled with a low 1.5mm actuation point, this specific construction means that the B975's keys are effortless and, in theory, cut down on fatigue. Not once during my time with the board did my fingers get tired; neither did I feel as if the keys resisted my presses, causing me to have an overall lighter keystroke style. 

With full N-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting (both things we've come to expect out of mechanicals as of late), the B975 effortlessly registered all of my keystrokes in game. I was easily able to strafe while also moving forward, and I was also able to easily switch between weapons on the move. 

While rollover and anti-ghosting can be problematic on some keyboards because of how the keycaps are spaced on the board, I didn't find that to be the case here. Except for some inaccurate typing on my part, I didn't find myself accidentally hitting unintended keys. 

Lastly, the B975 is water resistant. Like the Corsair K68, it repels water well, but instead of using channels like the K68, it uses a "water resistant noncoating" to keep water from infiltrating key areas. I tested if this was the case by dumping a whole 8 oz. glass of water on the board, and it worked perfectly even after letting the water sit for 10 minutes. 


Whereas the B975 performs well, it does present a few functionality concerns. The most glaring of these is the Netscape-era Key Dominator software. 

Here, you can change RGB lighting and presets along the full color spectrum, re-program keys, and set macros. While it has everything you'd expect in a fully-functional software companion, it's all presented in an outdated and unappealing way. 

For starters, you can't expand the window after opening it. This is especially frustrating when using the software on higher resolution monitors because it makes the already needlessly stylized fonts that much harder to read.

The baffling aesthetic choices continue with grey font on black, strangely watermarked backgrounds; about half a dozen different (and illogically placed) font types ranging from weirdly embossed gothic to laughably off-brand comic sans; icons that don't have any discernible function; and a scroll bar that don't function because there's not enough text for it actually to need to scroll. 

Aside from the copious issues I have the Key Dominator's presentation, it's equally as difficult to recommend the software from a functional perspective as well. If you have another Bloody product, such as the MP-60R mousepad or the SP80 mouse, you'll have to manually sync RGB schemes and illumination patterns as there is separate software for the keyboard and the mouse and mousepad.  

While you can change the function of any key, as well as assign macros such as emulate mouse button or open program "X", navigating and working within each of the program's sub-windows is overly complicated even if you've used software like this before. I feel for anyone whose first experience with keyboard software is this convoluted quagmire. 

Another qualm is that the software opens leaves a small, moveable overlay on the screen even when the main window is closed out. Logically, you would be able to click this overlay to bring the primary window back up, but from what I can tell, the overlay serves zero purpose. On top of that, you can't remove the overlay without fully closing out of the software entirely; it icon even stays visible while playing games in the Steam client (you can see what I'm talking about in the screenshot below). 

Despite it's problems, I will admit that the options available for both lighting and macros are rather extensive. In essence, you can do whatever you want with the B975, all the way down to programming your own macros from complete scratch. While it may be overwhelming for some, others will find that the Key Dominator provides a breadth of customization well worth the overall hassle of using the software. 

  • Durable chassis construction and waterproof
  • Switches are responsive and rated for 100 million clicks
  • Fully progammable with N-key rollover and 100% anti-ghosting
  • Wrist rest is uncomfortable, and screwing it into the chassis to attach it makes little sense. 
  • Lack of dedicated game and media keys
  • Obtuse and poorly designed Key Dominator software

Throughout writing this review, I went back and forth on the score. Finally, I settled on a 7 because although I think there are keyboards with much better presentation and software on the market, the B975's performance puts it on the knife's edge of killer. If you're looking for a high-performance board with low latency and comfortable switches, you'll want to consider the B975.

However, at $150, you should consider wisely as there are equally as good, if not better, keyboards available that have more polished presentation and better accompanying software. At the end of the day, it's just hard to overlook the quality of the competition in the price bracket. 

You can pick up Bloody's B975 mechanical keyboard for $149.99 on Amazon

[Note: Bloody provided the B975 used for this review.]

Review: BenQ EL2870U 28 Inch 4K Monitor Mon, 24 Dec 2018 09:00:01 -0500 ElConquistadork

When it comes to the 28 inch BenQ EL2870U 4K gaming monitor, an expression I kept hearing over and over was a variation on "gamers on a budget." When you have a look at the price tag, the EL2870U certainly seems to fit the bill (it's currently just under $400 on Amazon).

This monitor's got power, a decent display, and a good size, but there are a few issues that keep it from being a must-have for budget gamers.

Straight out of the box, the BenQ EL2870U is an impressive piece of hardware. The flat gunmetal grey shell is a handsome addition to any gaming rig. That impression continues when you plug it in. The display has a softness that is very welcome to eyes that spend a lot of time in front of a monitor, which seems to be a benefit of BenQ's advertised Free-Sync Eye Care.

When the games get started, however, it gets hard to ignore several little issues.

That softness that I previously mentioned makes for a sometimes cloudy look, particularly in more colorful games. Perhaps it's a trade? Fewer late-night headaches in exchange for a little sharpness? Your age (and access to Gunnar shades) might make a difference in whether this matters or not.

It's true that the monitor's display can be adjusted easily enough, but I found it to consistently hold true to this gentle level of brightness. 

The UHD resolution on this sucker provides a colossal native resolution of 3840 by 2160, but all that resolution comes at a cost that gamers who are on a budget might not be quite ready to pay.

There's an irony of a monitor with a price-point for those unable to shell out grand for their display: The fact that the money you save might need to be spent on a new video card to full appreciate your monitor! You're going to need a good GPU to handle this resolution, especially if you play a lot of graphically intensive AAA titles.

With some fun extras like built in speakers, the BenQ EL2870U is indeed a terrific monitor for the money, but be ready to adjust your settings to make sure that you're getting the most out of this model.

The BenQ EL2870U is available on Amazon for $398.00.

Below Review: Stare into the Abyss Thu, 20 Dec 2018 14:48:11 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

You can tell almost immediately that Below is a different kind of game than what you are used to. The intro is dark and deliberately slow, zooming in on your tiny ship as it sails across a massive, black ocean. Multiple times, I found myself wondering if I was supposed to take up the controls yet.

Nope. Not yet.

Everything about Below is designed to make you feel uncomfortable - in a good way - the sound design is dark and foreboding, your character is tiny on the screen, and everything is dark and obscured. It doesn’t all work, but developer Capybara swung for the fences with this one, and it will definitely be the game for that audience. Let’s dig a little deeper and see what makes Below tick.

It Stares Back Into You

Below is sort of the “Doom Metal” of video games. It’s daunting, unapologetic, and dark as all hell. In an interview with Newsweek, developer Kris Piotrowski even recommended his ideal way to sit down to play: “It's certainly a game I would recommend playing in the middle of the night between 12 and 4 a.m., when you're feeling at your worst. That's what the game is for. Alone, lights off, headphones on, hit a huge bong rip and start the game.”

That’s the mindset the developers encourage you to have when tackling Below.

Below is a top-down survival roguelike, apparently drawing inspiration from titles like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. It deliberately keeps you in the dark about what is happening and what you can do, encouraging a level of experimentation and exploration. Sometimes, you will find new strategies, successes, and shortcuts through this experimentation.

Other times, it will start a downhill slide that gets you killed.

It doesn’t seem like it early on, but Below is going to kill you in some unfair ways. That’s the nature of the types of games that it emulates. Luckily, it does a pretty good job of feeling like something you can generally fix in a later run.

We Have to Go Deeper

Almost immediately, you will be able to pick up the mood and style that Below is shooting for. It looks and sounds great. Your character is dwarfed by the environment that surrounds them. Shadows loom and dance due to dancing firelight. An ominous soundtrack sits underneath everything. It’s a game that makes you feel like you’re all on your own against a massive enemy - without any hint that there is any such massive enemy.

I hate to continue comparing it to Dark Souls, but it does instill the same sense of both panic and accomplishment that From Software’s legendary series does. That last, desperate push when you’re out of resources, out of health, and out of light on a given floor. That moment when a seemingly unstoppable horde of enemies is perfectly dispatched. That absolute rush of relief when you find one of the checkpoint campfires for you to sit down at and take stock of things. Below makes you feel proud of your in game accomplishments, and encourages risks - even though sometimes those big risks will get you killed.

Designing a Better Mousetrap

Another side effect of Below choosing not to hold your hand comes will change your approaches to survival. Combat in Below is simplistic, but it works. You have a few different weapons you can choose from, as well as a dodge, shield, and a few traps at your disposal. You never know which method of combat will be most effective, but there are situations for them all. This means you need to learn all the tricks at your disposal in order to ensure your chances of survival.

There is also a crafting system in place, because of course there is. This is a 2018 game release, after all. It pretty much goes as you would expect, but this was one area of the game that I could have done without.

I appreciate the game encouraging you to try out combinations to see what they create, but I do wish there was an in game way to keep track of “this combination makes this item.” I don’t want to have to keep a journal on my desk to remember how to make bandages in a video game - or consult a wiki every time. In other news, check out our beginner’s guide to Below, which includes several crafting recipes!

Also, your inventory is too darn small. Knowing what you should carry with you and what you should leave in the Pocket - Below’s home base/storage shed - caused undue stress and a few more deaths than I would have liked.

Velvet Thorns

There’s a certain, intangible… something with Below that is tough to put into words. This is where, clearly, all the delays (of which there were a lot) were used effectively. There is a level of design at work here where it feels like nearly everything in the game serves some greater purpose. This is a gamer’s game - it is certainly not going to be for everyone.

For those who do want a hardcore challenge, Below is a great pick up. If you’re tired of tacked on tutorials or games that will beat the level for you if you fail too many times, Below is going to be right up your alley. It’s a strong realization of the developer’s intent, and it’s also a game that can entrance you and suck you in for hours on end. Ideally, the hours of midnight through 4 a.m. Headphones and bong not included.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Below for the purpose of this review]

Last Year: The Nightmare Review Thu, 20 Dec 2018 12:44:15 -0500 Ty Arthur

Halloween may be behind us, but that doesn't mean there's no room for more quality horror gaming! We've had our eye on Last Year: The Nightmare (formerly known simply as Last Year) for years and just finally got the chance to jump in now that the Discord-exclusive release has arrived.

This 5 vs 1 horror outing sits in a very interesting position among its competitors, as Last Year was actually one of the earliest asymmetric horror games to be announced -- with a crowd funding campaign way back in 2014 -- but its also the dead last to see official release.

What you get here is a very different take on the style than either Friday The 13th or Dead By Daylight, but you can see pretty clear influence from both of those titles.

'90s Slashers Re-Imagined

Last Year: The Nightmare tries very hard to evoke the feel of slasher movies from a bygone era, taking its cues from the films somewhere between Freddy's Dead and Scream.

The setting is overall more bright and colorful than the relentlessly dark Dead By Daylight, but it avoids the neon kaleidoscope of colors you'd expect from anything '80s themed.

The game sits in a place of nostalgia where nerds use 3.5 floppy disks to hack computers, and there are definitely no cell phones to call for help or tablets to live stream your demise.

There's a fun variety of teenage slasher fodder, like the jock, the nerd, the ditsy girl, the cool kid, and so on, but at the moment there's no customization between them such as different outfits.

The only thing that sets one Quarterback Chad apart from another is in the four classes available to choose: medic, assault, technician, and scout. Those are pretty self-explanatory, with assault getting a melee weapon to start, medic healing other players, technician crafting turrets, and scout using tech devices to locate the killer and specific objects.

To properly create the slasher movie feel, the killer gets to pop in and out of Predator mode to turn invisible and move at greater speed. In this mode the killer can't attack, but can lay traps or hide in vents or skylights and then pop out to grab unsuspecting teenagers.

Predator mode is almost a sort of "dungeon master" view, which lets you zip around the map to terrorize the survivors, but you can't pop out of Predator mode while in line of sight or in close proximity to a player, so there's limitations to your god-like killer powers.

While the strangler, slasher, and giant killers all play differently, I do have one big gripe here with all three: I'd honestly like to see some improvements on the execution animations, which are alright but nothing special. There were way crazier kills in Friday The 13th, and right now Last Year is definitely lagging in that area.

Last Year's Gameplay VS. DBD or Friday The 13th

This entry in the asymmetric horror arena is unquestionably more newbie friendly than Dead By Daylight, which can be a little incomprehensible to players just jumping in.

There's no tutorial, but within a few matches you should have all the elements down (or you can get a leg up over the competition with our beginner guide here).

The developers have clearly seen what worked and what didn't with the competition, and they have mostly (but not entirely) done away with annoying stuff like the window juking from Dead By Daylight, where savvy players could keep the killer in an obnoxious endless loop.

One key difference between Last Year and other games of the same style is that the survivors can all fight back in one way or another, whether that's directly with a lead pipe as the assault class or with distracting turrets as the technician.

Players can also craft items and weapons by finding scrap, and its not uncommon for a group working together to turn the tables and kill the killer, who then re-spawns in a minute as one of the other two classes.

There is a clear emphasis here on working together, rather than running off and trying to survive alone. If you can avoid the overwhelming urge to do the stupid horror movie thing and scatter when the axe-wielding maniac appears, your team will get much better results.

The slasher motif Elastic Games is going for here is the high school, so there are only three maps at the moment covering different areas of the campus: specifically the library, gym, and bell tower.

While that's a very limited number of maps for an online game with only one mode, the maps all have really polished layouts, with plenty of secret passages, gated areas, windows and grates to be barricaded, shelves to hide behind, and so on.

As with the other games in this genre, your goal as a survivor is to open the escape hatch, but the method varies between each of the three levels, so you aren't interacting with the exact same objects every time.

Beta Or Full Launch?

As might be expected from a new online-only game, I experienced a fair share of bugs and disconnects in the first few days of the servers going online.

Most notably, the crafting wheel overlay can get stuck on the screen, which is very bad news. Several players in my first few matches dropped out because all they saw was a black screen while the rest of us were playing.

In a way, the Discord-only 90 day exclusive release feels a bit like the Early Access version where we are all the beta testers, while the Steam buyers down the line will get the full launch.

There are also some key features noticeably missing here that are present in Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th. Critically, there's a complete lack of any sort of progression to keep players coming back after they've mastered all the maps. 

Sadly, there are no skills and abilities to earn, no new characters to unlock, no skins or outfits to buy, and so on. For the moment what you see is what you get, although there are planned free additions slated to arrive later on.

The Bottom Line

Last Year is a game that's kind of hard to give a final rating right now, because so much depends on future changes and additions that may or may not come.

There's plenty of room for the game to expand. With the high school setting you could really do anything from aliens a la The Faculty to any number of supernatural killers who want the teeny boppers dead (hopefully not It Follows though, as that might be awkward to implement).

Ultimately, I've got to review what is available today and not what might be available three or six months from now, however. While this is a solid base of a game, I can't imagine continuing to play this version of it for months to come. With no progression and nothing to unlock, after you've played 50 or so matches this just becomes repetitive.

With some polish and additions Last Year: The Nightmare could easily be a 7 or 8 out of 10 game with an addicted base of players to rival Dead By Daylight. Right now though, I'd say it's an adequate game that won't last long without some fairly hefty additions.

X4 Foundations Review: Great for Fans, Bland for Newcomers Wed, 19 Dec 2018 13:03:01 -0500 Sergey_3847

X4 Foundations, the new single-player space sim from Egosoft, is a game so grand and complex that it would take many hours to explain every single detail of its intricate gameplay mechanics. But let's try at least to cover some of its most distinctive features that set it apart from the rest of the games in the X series.

As before, the universe in X4 Foundations is divided between the main factions represented by various alien species. These can become very helpful when it comes to such activities like trading and mining, but of course, one can also go against these institutions. The choice is all yours and that is the beauty of the X series of video games.

Although factions do play an important role in the game, there is a lot more to discuss, so jump in if you want to know more about the fascinating universe of X4 Foundations.

X Universe Through the Looking Glass

German video game developer Egosoft is a well-established name in the world of space simulators. For the last 20 years it has been developing only one series of games -- the X series.

It has become a worldwide phenomenon due to its incredible attention to detail not only when it comes to piloting a spaceship, but also taking part in the galactic economy and building your own space stations.

X4 Foundations follows suit and incorporates the best elements of the last few games, especially X3. But if you never played the previous games, then it may take some time before you really get the grip of all its mechanics.

The story of the game also doesn't exist in a vacuum but continues after the events that took place in X-Rebirth and is affected by the events from the previous parts of the series as well. So it's really hard to put the story into a more or less clear perspective unless you want to read the extensive lore of the game in the official wiki.

The AI in X4 has also been improved and the factions act in a non-linear fashion, meaning that every time you start a new game, it will develop in its own unique way. This means that the replayabaility of X4 is really high.

Gameplay Mechanics

There are numerous gameplay mechanics in X4 Foundations, and it would be impossible to cover them all in one review. But here are a few of the main points that have been implemented in X4.


Of course, the main tool of any X player is their spaceship. Egosoft offers four types of ships in the game: small, medium, large, and extra large. The latter two serve as carriers and destroyers. But you can be efficient in combat using small or medium vessel just as well, if it's properly upgraded.

You can pilot a ship on your own or set it to one of the automatic travel modes. In any case, the best way is to hire a pilot and just do something else instead. This is really a neat feature, which makes you feel like a real boss giving orders left and right.

Ships can be upgraded with weapons of various types starting from simple lasers and finishing with heavy turrets. The upgrades and repairs are available at any Wharf or Shipyard. All you're left to do is get some money to be able to afford the payments.

In X4 it is now also possible to apply unique paint jobs to your ships, which is a brand new feature available to all Egosoft forum users.

Building Mechanics

One of the biggest differences players will see in X4 is the ability to build space stations using separate modules. Players can also choose which modules they want to use, and thus create completely unique stations in terms of design and infrastructure.

However, a few things must be done before the station comes into being. One must first buy a plot in space, acquire necessary blueprints, and even pay taxes to the faction-owner of that area of space. So it can get rather hectic out there, if you don't follow the rules of the galactic empire.


Trading is unsurprisingly one of the most important aspects of X4. Here you can trade wares at stations that produce and sell them. You can see the changes in pricing and other trading movements through the map menu, which can be viewed in both 2D and 3D perspectives.

It is also possible to influence the prices of certain wares by intercepting signals coming from trading ships and destroying them. The changes in pricing will be affected immediately, and by creating scarcity on the market your own trading missions will prosper.

Auto-trading is another option in the game, which allows players to send special trading ships to do the job for you. But usually, this kind of activity can go wrong in many different ways, so it is better to control everything manually, unless you don't care much about this aspect of the game.

You can also create a mining conglomerate, which is a new mechanic that allows players to diversify the economy of their empire. There is a special mining type of ships, which can be acquired, upgraded and repaired if needed be.

Expectations vs. Reality

X4 Foundations does look great on the surface, but right now it is still in a rather raw state. This is actually completely understandable, as the game of this scale is hard to complete in just a few years.

Look at the games like Star Citizen or any other ambitious space sim that is basically in a state of eternal development that never stops. X4 devs definitely created a good foundation for their new game, but it still needs a lot of work.


One of the biggest issues for any PC player is the ability to feel comfortable with the controls using just a keyboard and a mouse. But the game offers you to use gamepad from the very beginning, which is a bit suspicious.

It is just really uncomfortable to use the default tools to play X4 and you really need to purchase a gamepad, if you want to play without constantly looking at what keys you need to press.


X4 is more of a space sandbox at this point, which can appeal to a number of players and completely retract players who want a solid single-player campaign. There is main story in the game, but it's really short and just plain underwhelming.

In the end everything boils down to simple grinding and farming resources. Obviously, people who are used to this type of gameplay will find it engaging, but new players will see it as just plain boring.


Combat needs some serious re-balancing, as right now you can intercept and board the biggest ships in the game using the S-class combat ships, which are the smallest.

Of course, your vessel needs to be upgraded to be able to do this, but giant ships can't hit you with their turrets anyway, which makes them an easy target.

These are just a few issues that need to be addressed. Economics and NPCs also need to be improved. But the biggest obstacle for new players will be the game's menu, which is almost intimidating when you look at it for the first time.

Final Verdict: 6/10

If you treat it as a trading simulator, then it has a great potential, but the current system is unbalanced, especially when it comes to auto-trading. It needs better configuration, which should serve players' needs and not surprise them with a market crash in the middle of the game.

If you treat it as a combat simulator, then you're in a slightly better position. Combat can look really good, but there isn't much action happening in this single-player game. Lots of other online space sims offer a much better combat experience these days.

Lastly, X4 simply needs to be better, and fortunately there are plenty of mods already that fix a ton of issues. But we all know what the great number of mods means for any game -- that it is raw and unfinished.

X4 Foundations is undoubtedly a very interesting game. But it's 2018 and the competition is so huge that the long-running X series is not at the forefront of things anymore, but is barely catching up.


  • Huge new map
  • Hireable NPCs
  • Ability to build stations


  • Complicated menus and mechanics
  • Inconvenient controls and navigation
  • Empty world

[Note: A copy of X4 Foundations was provided by Egosoft for the purpose of this review.]

Spider-Man: Turf Wars DLC Review -- It's A Turf Life. Tue, 18 Dec 2018 15:49:14 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

In the second installment of The City Never Sleeps DLC, Turf Wars, Spider-Man sets his sights on another member of his colorful rogues' gallery: Hammerhead. After a strong first act in The Heist, you'd hope that the next chapter of Insomniac's web-slinging adventure would maintain the same stellar momentum we found there.

Sadly, the latest bit of Spider-Man DLC comes off feeling like nothing but set up, with little in the way of pay off. 

Without getting into too many spoilers, Turf Wars revolves around Detective Yuri Watanabi, Spider-Man's Commissioner Gordon from the base game. As is often the case with bad guys and the world of superheroes, something goes horribly wrong, Watanabi blames Hammerhead, and we're off swinging through the streets of New York to stop more bad stuff from happening. 

On paper, it's a solid superhero plot that ought to work out. However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Hammerhead is a decent villain, but he pales in comparison to the other super-powered foes Spider-Man faced in the main game. It also doesn't help that he's only in the two- to three-hour DLC at the beginning and end, never giving him enough screen time to feel like a threat.

This won't be the last time we see Hammerhead, but one can't help but wish for more of him in Turf Wars.

However, the biggest problem stems from Watanabi herself. Unfortunately never fully realized, her internal conflict comes off as generic, and her no-nonsense-cop caricature uninspiring. 

Watanabi worked as a supporting character in the main game, but trying to make her the main focus just doesn't work; she's just not that interesting of a character.

With the story being a letdown, you'd hope the gameplay would keep things going, but again, you'd be sadly disappointed.

Very little has changed in the way of combat from the base game, except for a new shield enemy that can be a nuisance. While the new foe is a better addition than the one found in the DLC, the combat encounters quickly grow repetitious. 

Rather than hiking up the difficulty in a meaningful way, Turf Wars just throws waves of enemies at you at a nauseating pace. There will be so much going on at any given time that you'll have a hard time telling what's happening. Add to that that off-screen enemies are more aggravating than ever, and the combat also leaves something to be desired. 

Outside of Turf Wars' story missions, Screwball makes another return, but the only new thing she offers are two stealth challenges that have you taking out enemies while dodging a new motion detector and taking a few photos.

They play exactly like the old stealth challenge missions and the motion detectors are more annoying than interesting.

The only other thing the DLC has are new gang hideouts, but they function exactly as they did in the main game.


  • Hammerhead is a decent villain
  • Polished combat mechanics


  • Repetitive encounters
  • Dull Screwball Missions
  • Disappointing narrative 

Turf Wars is a disappointing chapter that does little in progressing the main narrative of The City That Never Sleeps storyline.

While the DLC is fully polished and Hammerhead makes for a competent villain, his lack of screen time, mixed with Watanabi's uninteresting story arc and lack of new gameplay, makes for a bit of a miss.

Here's to hoping the last DLC makes up for this lackluster installment. 

Dusk Review: A Fantastic Classic Horror FPS Mon, 17 Dec 2018 14:14:42 -0500 Synzer

Dusk is a retro First Person Shooter that plays and looks similarly to classic Doom. This isn't merely a knock off, it captures the spirit of Doom and creates a unique and exciting new adventure. The game pulls you in from the start and is such a fast-paced thrill ride from start to finish.

What I Liked

There are multiple reasons I really enjoyed playing Dusk, but one of the biggest is the atmosphere.

The Horror

I am the kind of person that gets scared pretty easily, and there's plenty of scares to go around in Dusk. There are creepy moments and enemies appearing out of nowhere that made me yell on more than one occasion. I typically don't play horror games for long because I just can't handle them.

Dusk kept me playing though because of the fast-paced nature, and the lower difficulty setting I could pick. Even though I was scared, I could appreciate how expertly the game's horror was crafted in certain situations.

The beginning has you start off with nothing but sickles and surrounded by cultists chanting, "Kill the non-believer." That was a very creepy and wonderful way to start the game.

There are also messages written in blood on the walls throughout the game, with some of them being helpful tips. One in particular told me not to trust my eyes. I won't spoil what happened, but it was fairly terrifying reading that message.

It is not a slow, suspenseful horror. It is fast and in your face, which is how I prefer my horror if I'm going to play it.

The Action

I know I've said it a lot, but I can't stress enough how fast-paced you are in this game. The movement, shooting, enemies, everything is at break-neck speed. There are plenty of secrets and card keys you'll have to find to open doors, but it doesn't slow down the action in a bad way.

Dusk Card Key Doors

It is very exciting finding all these secret paths and hidden rooms, especially when you need to do certain things to reach them. The levels can go by very fast as well when you know here to go. Many of the times can be 2 minutes or less if you speed through them.

The Multiplayer

If you are looking for a balanced, modern FPS experience, you won't find it here. I think what you get instead is actually better. Just like the rest of the game, multiplayer is high-octane chaos that was way more fun that I thought it would be.

People are everywhere if you join a mostly full room and nothing but death and hilarity happens the entire time. You're lucky if you survive even 10 seconds after spawning, but you can kill others just as fast.

At first I thought it would frustrate me, but after embracing the nature of the game and seeing what they were trying to do, I didn't want to stop.

What I Didn't Like

There isn't much I didn't like about Dusk. There are only a couple things that were slightly frustrating.


You can collect various currencies to increase your "Morale." I just never noticed what it actually did. I'm thinking maybe it's partially a shield, though you still take damage when you have it. It could also increase my damage though it was hard to tell.

Either way, it would have been nice to know what Morale did, but it doesn't affect my overall enjoyment of the game.

No Map

This is a small one, but I would have liked to see a map. Some of the levels aren't fairly large and I got lost more than once trying to figure out where to go. The fast nature of the game probably doesn't lend itself well to using maps, but it still would have saved me some time.

The Verdict

Dusk dual shotguns

Dusk is an amazing game that fans of the genre are sure to love. Sure it doesn't have fancy new graphics, but it shows just how great games can be without them.

It captures what made classic Doom so good, perfectly. It is always nice to see retro styled games in the modern era because it makes you feel like you're playing a the sequel or spiritual successor of one of your favorite games that never came out until now.

  • Great horror atmosphere
  • Fast, classic gameplay
  • Slightly confusing at times

I highly recommend picking up Dusk if you're a fan of Horror or FPS games, which is available on Steam. 

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

Insurgency Sandstorm Review: A Niche Worth Scratching Mon, 17 Dec 2018 11:24:04 -0500 John Schutt

There are almost too many shooters to choose from these days, but most of them share more than they'd like to admit. The big names have a fast time to kill ratio, low weapon recoil, regenerative health, fast, if not instant, respawning, and if you're lucky, some wrinkle dropped in to make the experience feel new.

Insurgency Sandstorm is none of that (except the fast TTK). Instead, it favors a design philosophy that sits somewhere between military simulation and games like Red Orchestra. It's unforgiving enough to cater to more dedicated players but those without the time or willpower to sink their teeth in can still get their money's worth.

For this review, I'll be focusing on three primary pillars of any multiplayer-only title: map design, gunplay, and long-term fun factor.

The Playspace

Without good maps, a multiplayer game fails regardless of its other mechanics. Games that have stood the test of time, and some that haven't, live and die based on the quality of the playspaces they offer. Insurgency Sandstorm is no different.

My general impression of the maps is as follows: they will win no awards for ingenuity, nuance, or innovation, but they do the job. 

Maps follow a three-lane structure, usually with two lanes relatively open for snipers and DMR users to control, and a middle lane best suited for ARs and SMGs. 

Objectives are almost purely the purview of close-quarters weapons, usually located in a building with tight corridors and more than a few corners for planters. Certain maps spice things up with points sitting in open-air spaces, but usually, offer plenty of low cover so you can crouch or go prone.

Initial spawns are somewhat inconsistent, with some maps having respawn points with short, direct paths to an objective for one team and a challenging, longer route for the other. Because guns kill so quickly in this game, it's harder to flank than more mainstream titles. Miss one enemy and you'll find your sneaky maneuver fail in less time than it takes to blink. If you pull it off, though, that's a lot of points on the board.

Probably the biggest problem with the maps is also a spawn area issue. There are one too many sightlines that look almost directly into an enemy uncap, leading to many frustrating deaths from someone (especially snipers) holding the sightline you have to take to get to the objective.

However, I am impressed by the level of complexity on show.

Most maps offer at least three alternate routes to an objective, though there are a few exceptions. Verticality is hard to pull off when player movement is as sluggish as it is in SandstormHere, though, there are plenty of power positions, rooftops, awnings, and other geometry to climb on that don't completely break map flow.

The maps are sizeable, too, and depending on the game mode, they create a real sense of progress and sometimes story as you take objectives and advance. 

Sure, there are consistency problems, but no map ever made is perfect on every pixel.

The Gunplay

Insurgency Sandstorm will not please everyone with how the guns feel. Most weapons lack easy recoil control, even with a grip equipped, and they will send your aim into the sky at the earliest opportunity.

You are, as with actual guns, best-suited tap firing from anything except point blank range, and thankfully, you can switch the fire mode on every weapon save the single-shot rifles and snipers (for obvious reasons).

Assault Rifles

Ever the workhorse of the FPS, the AR class is the best overall weapon system to use for new players or players who want fast but consistent gameplay. Each of them is functional at medium range, and while they don't drop enemies quite as quickly as SMGs do up close, their utility sets them apart.

Submachine Guns

Guns in Sandstorm kill in one or two bullets, three or maybe four if your opponent is wearing heavy body armor. SMGs take a little more to get through kevlar, but they fire quickly enough and reliably enough from the hip that you're almost uncontested up close.

The problem? Because they kick so hard and shoot so fast, anything outside of close range is almost impossible to connect, especially when you factor in damage drop off.

Designated Marksman Rifles

Bundled with the ARs in the class creation screen, the DMR serves as a middle ground between a sniper and assault rifle. Semi-automatic and high damage, they falter a little bit up close but will outclass an M16 or AK at distance every time.

Their recoil is easier to control because of the need for a new trigger pull every shot, and if you're quick, you'll be taking down bad guys with one shot to the stomach and up.


The shotguns are usable at a surprising range, and if you manage to get up in someone's face, they're going down nine times out of 10. The pump action is also quick enough that, if you have the drop on a group of enemies, you'll likely be able to take out several of them at once. 

Sniper Rifles

As one-shot-kills to almost every area of the body, snipers are some of the most powerful weapons in all of Insurgency Sandstorm, but they're hamstrung by slow rates of fire, low magazine sizes, and a general need to be at a significant distance to play their role correctly.

The aggressive sniper playstyle is still possible, and incredibly effective, but you don't have nearly as much room for error as in other titles. One miss and you aren't just dead. You no longer exist.

Fun Factor

Is Insurgency Sandstorm fun? Yes, but not always for the reasons you might expect.

The gameplay is perfectly serviceable and offers plenty of opportunities for crazy moments, clutch plays, and close calls. If you stripped it of most of the communication and spectator options, leaving it as a rote shooter, it wouldn't stand out, but it wouldn't be the bottom of the barrel, either.

What sets Sandstorm apart for me is its dedication to a more old-school style of player connection: 

  • A comma rose of functional but fun and silly voice commands (insert Need Smoke spam here)
  • Open mics across the whole team, and that includes the enemy at the end of a round
  • Glitchy, sometimes unpolished character animations that are more charming than they are off-putting

The community helps too.

Sure, you'll get your share of trolls, racists, and other unmentionable people, but odds are, with a player base as small and dedicated as Insurgency's, you'll be laughing at someone's antics more often than you will be yelling at their anger.

People I ran into were willing to help, apologized when they made mistakes, and were ready, willing, and able to play the less desirable roles for the good of the team. Maybe I got lucky, but I spent much of my time playing Insurgency Sandstorm in stitches.

  • Unforgiving, satisfying combatSandstorm's combat loop is up there as one of the most enjoyable I've played. It's fast, the weapons are enjoyable to use and master, and demand concentration and skill to use effectively
  • Communication options that facilitate fun: Offering a commo rose in the vein of Team Fortress 2 and a wide variety of amusing voice commands, Sandstorm allows it's player to create enjoyment on top of its high quality gameplay.
  • Average maps: There's nothing special or revolutionary about Insurgency Sandstorm's maps, and when the core gameplay is solid, their mundanity really stands out.
  • Graphical Inferiority: Like the maps, the graphics in Sandstorm are at par or maybe just above it. They won't win any awards, and despite the glitchy animations adding character to the game, nothing about this game's aesthetic puts it heads or tails above any other shooter out there.

Overall, I had a pretty good time with Insurgency Sandstorm. There were a few hiccups that soured my experience from time to time, and I know for a fact that the game is not for everyone.

It is unapologetic in holding onto its niche, and much of its design will turn off players used to a more casual experience. But if you're into a more hardcore experience that's still got some quality of life mechanics, you're likely to find hours of fun in this gem in the desert.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Insurgency Sandstorm for the purpose of this review.]

Book of Demons Review: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Fri, 14 Dec 2018 10:25:08 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

This is a game where you choose from three hero classes - a warrior, a rogue, and a mage - and move beneath a desecrated church in an overhead, isometric view. Core gameplay consists of slaying demons in randomly generated dungeons, collecting loot, and working your way towards a demonic final boss, who is invading from Hell. Sound familiar?

Book of Demons draws a lot of its inspiration from classic ARPG Diablo but manages to have a unique presentation and poke enough fun at itself to carve its own spot into a crowded genre.

Stay Awhile and Listen

The first thing you’ll notice when you load up Book of Demons is the unique presentation and art style. The game is presented as a storybook, telling the tale of the adventurers who are clashing with a monstrous foe and its demonic army. The game embraces this presentation - everything looks like a paper cutout, hopping along through the dungeon and falling apart into piles of paper bones.

These little flourishes are what set Book of Demons apart from its ilk: the first time I used a Town Portal scroll, I watched the concentric circles fold open like a popup book and fold closed behind me. There are tons of fun little details that breathe life into the regularly drab and predictable “dungeon cave” backgrounds that the genre is known for.

Ante Up

Book of Demons’ other main selling point is its unique take on combat and inventory. Rather than collecting items like armor and weapons, all of your character’s abilities, spells, and items are represented by cards. As you progress in the game, you can upgrade your cards and open up more slots, granting new item synergies and increasing your toolkit to battle ever-strengthening enemies.

Each character can collect up to forty different cards, which can be upgraded three times each and also have randomized magical and legendary versions. Being able to identify combos in your available cards and adapt to new enemy types quickly is key to reaching the deeper levels of each run.

There are three types of cards available, and each work in different ways: item cards, like healing potions, have a certain number of charges that can either be replenished in town (for a price) or found in dungeons from defeating monsters. Spells consume mana, which can also be replenished in town or through various other methods when exploring.

Finally, equipment adds passive abilities to your character by “blocking off” chunks of your available mana. Finding the right combination of cards is a fun puzzle, which is compounded on the hardest difficulty, which randomizes the drop order of cards that your character receives.

Dungeon Hopping

To say Book of Demons draws inspiration from Diablo is to do it a disservice: Book of Demons revels in nostalgia for the classic Blizzard title. The old man in town who identifies items tells you to, “Stay and listen for a while.” Upon finishing the first stage of a run, your character will comment that “The sanctity of this place has definitely been fouled.” Even the three classes mirror Diablo’s character options, with abilities that should be familiar to savvy veterans.

Book of Demons treads a thin line between imitation and self-aware parody. Some of the jokes are pretty solid - the first time you see the Archdemon (the game’s final boss, a version of the Devil), he is sitting in waist-deep fire, squeezing a rubber ducky that is wearing a spiked collar. There are plenty of little winks back at the player, but their infrequency is a bit jarring considering that, outside of the graphics style, Book of Demons plays it pretty straight.

Luckily, it nails the sense of progression that a game like this needs. Like many procedurally generated titles, Book of Demons will teach you lessons in brutal ways. You’ll have to learn quickly what new foes are capable of - your health bar can melt away pretty quickly if you are surrounded and affected by status ailments. Especially on the highest difficulty, this can erase plenty of progress but, hopefully, will help you find success in future runs.

One More Level

One of the best additions Book of Demons adds to the genre is the “Flexiscope,” which allows you to customize the length of each dive back into the dungeon. The game puts together an estimate of how quickly you play through levels and will begin to estimate how long a “short,” “medium,” or “long” dungeon run will take you. This makes it pretty easy to customize your adventure and get a good idea of how much time that “last run before bed” will take you.

Granted, progress is saved every time you exit and enter a floor, so these time estimations are a bit superfluous. But it is nice to have an idea of how long a trip through the next few floors will take you - right up until that trip is cut short because you are killed halfway through without enough gold to purchase a resurrection.

  • Unique graphical style offers plenty of charm and surprises
  • Difficulty and length customization has something for everyone
  • Good nostalgia elements
  • A bit too similar to its inspirations
  • Self-aware humor doesn't always land

Book of Demons is a pretty fun time: it does bring back plenty of fond, sleepless nights combing the dungeons beneath Tristram. Its unique aesthetic adds a lot to the game as well. It can be a bit derivative, and if the roguelike formula of dying and starting over does not appeal to you, you may want to sit this one out.

Clearing out bosses, collecting gold, and upgrading your character are timeless fun, however, and Book of Demons has that progression down pat.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Book of Demons for the purpose of this review]

Kenshi Review: A Divisive, Demanding Adventure Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:29:25 -0500 Tim White

Let's make one thing clear right away: Kenshi, the newly completed free-roaming survival-ish RPG-type-thing from Lo-Fi Games, is not for everyone. If you're looking for something casual and accessible to spend no more than 45 minutes on after work, move along. Kenshi doesn't care how grueling your day was.

However, if you've got some time and energy to devote to it, and if you can handle rejection, this game needs to find a home in your library. It'll make you work for its love, but oh, what a deep and sweet love it is.


I seem to be reviewing a lot of story-less games lately, but Kenshi is a little different. It's not a simulator or an "experience." It's more like a blank canvas and a ton of paintbrushes with which to create your own story, if you're into roleplaying in your own head. Even if you're not, its engaging and intricate mechanics might fascinate you anyway.

There's no linear narrative to speak of, but I really think you should give Kenshi a try whether that bothers you or not. It does contain a ton of intricately crafted lore; after spending about 10 hours with the game, I suspect I've only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of learning about its world and the factions that inhabit it.


Imagine Diablo without eighty thousand billion "new" weapons dropping every ten seconds; now you know how movement and menus work.

Now imagine Mount & Blade's squad building system sandwiched by Fallout's wasteland vibe and simplified versions of the construction found in ARK: Survival Evolved, with just a dash of E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy's future-primitive techno-religion vibe.

Got all that? Me neither, at first. Just roll with it for now.

Upon creating a character, you'll be dropped alone into the middle of nowhere with nothing but half a pair of pants and a rusty iron bar that will do absolutely nothing to fend off aggressors. Where you go and what you try (and fail) to do is up to you.

The possibilities are myriad, but all paths are fraught with danger. You can start a farm, buy a fixer-upper house in town, rob the general store, or set out to explore ludicrously perilous ancient ruins brimming with valuable artifacts. You can go it alone or hire up to 29 other companions.

Whatever you do, you'll regularly find yourself beset by thieves, cannibals, vicious wildlife, and killer robots. You can run, fight (and lose), or try to pay them off—or join them. No matter what you decide, there are no simple paths and no easy answers. Every meaningful choice you might make has serious pros and cons associated with it. Each time the in-game clock rolls over, you'll simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief at living to see another sunrise and wonder how the hell you're going to make it to the next one.

If you can survive for about an in-game month, life does get easier, but it never gets easy. Once your settlement grows large enough to reliably sustain itself, you may think the worst of your troubles are over, but in fact you're now also a more tempting target for bigger gangs of deadlier criminals.

Life in Kenshi is a constant process of adaptation, exploration, being terrified of the unknown, and gradually overcoming it with the tiniest of baby steps. If you can embrace the fear and uncertainty, it's a wild and enjoyable ride.


Kenshi isn't ugly, at least not when you consider that about five people made the whole thing. It's blocky, and most of it is really, really brown. The bulk of the team's energy was spent developing the game's mechanics and setting, not its graphics, and that's okay by me.

There are some different biomes to explore throughout Kenshi's huge map, but a solid 70% of the map seems to be barren deserts and arid plains. Even though living off the land becomes even more difficult in snowy areas, it's almost worth it just to have something different to look at.

Character models move rather choppily, although a lot of the weapons and armor sets do look pretty cool. There's definitely a neat design aesthetic throughout much of the world, it's just not rendered in photo-realistic 4K.

Sound & Music

Kenshi is a relatively quiet game—perhaps deliberately so, in order to make sure you feel as isolated as possible. Your one constant companion is the low howl of the wind moaning through the canyons around you, but for the most part, there's not much to hear.

Pitched battles are another story. At some point—probably much, much later in the game—you might find your squad of 24 up against an equally numerous foe. The cacophony of clashing metal and angry shouting is jarring in contrast to the usual silence of your daily routine, but if nothing else, it makes it pretty hard not to notice when a huge battle is raging just off-screen.


Kenshi runs well on a GTX 1080 and an i-7700 quad-core 4.5GHz processor, at least in certain respects. There are some minor performance hiccups, but I doubt they'd disappear no matter how beefy your hardware is.

Loading times and pop-in are small but persistent headaches. Because Kenshi's map is so huge, and because you can send individual squad members all over it at any time, it might very well be technologically impossible to keep enough data in memory to eliminate this problem entirely. Nonetheless, it's mildly annoying to switch between a dozen squad members and have to wait several seconds for their current locations to load each time.

However, the game is pretty stable where it counts most. I encountered no instances of what I call "unacceptable" bugs—things which severely hamper your enjoyment of the game and that the developers could have been reasonably expected to find and fix ahead of time. The game has yet to crash or freeze on me, and all of its intricate subsystems appear to work exactly as intended.



+ Huge world crammed full of deep lore and lots of activities
+ Squad A.I. is simple but powerful and efficient
+ Unforgiving learning curve is satisfying to (eventually) conquer


– Brutal difficulty and lack of hand-holding will turn many players off
– Frequent, stuttery load times are an ever-present low-grade annoyance
– Ugly, boring environments

Kenshi will ultimately appeal strongly to some while instantly repelling others. Whether or not you like what Lo-Fi Games has done, it's hard to deny that they've done it superbly well. If you're willing to play by an unfamiliar and harsh set of rules, Kenshi will keep you entertained for many hours.

If you're having trouble with this game, be sure to check out our growing collection of Kenshi guides to help you gain some traction.

Note: The developer provided a complimentary review copy of this game.

GRIS Review: A Watercolor Platformer Full of Hope Thu, 13 Dec 2018 14:53:38 -0500 ESpalding

This week sees the release of an indie narrative platformer called GRIS. It is Barcelona-based Nomada Studio's first game and is being published by indie giant Devolver Digital. It is available on PC and Mac and will also be released on Nintendo Switch at a later date.

GRIS follows the story of a young girl who is beginning to explore her own emotions following on from a drastic event which has changed her world completely. The game boasts no combat, no deaths just plenty of platforming goodness and puzzles.

Story and Setting

As I've already said, GRIS follows the story of a young girl as she tries to come to terms with her emotions following a sad experience in her life. The titular character starts off with no special abilities and is just her exploring the world around her.

It has an unspoken story but as you progress through the game, you start to get an idea of what might have happened. There is no dialogue and no text to read. Through changes in the artwork and gradual introduction of abilities, the more you play the more you develop the story and begin to understand what is going on.


I don't know about you, but there are certain things I look for when looking at new indie games. The first thing is always going to be its look. One of the first things you will notice about GRIS is that the developers have gone for a very fine hand-drawn kind of look and, in my opinion, this has got to be the best thing about this game.

The watercolor effect the game has is simply superb and adds a beauty to it that is rarely seen in games these days. It has also been used to influence the story and the more you progress, the more color is introduced in the game. It starts out pretty monochromatic but, as you will find out, it becomes more colorful as you progress.


I'm not going to lie. The controls themselves are pretty basic and straightforward for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing platformers. Given that there is no combat in GRIS, the controls simply move you around and activate the abilities you gain as you progress.

These abilities come in the form of her dress. The dress can move independently and change shape depending on what you want it to do. Do you want Gris to become heavier? The dress turns into a block and gives you extra weight. You want to do a double jump to get over an obstacle? The dress wafts up to give you extra lift. This gives the character a good bit of development as the game progresses.

Aside from completing puzzles, the one other thing that you need to do in GRIS is to collect stars. Stars can be used to form walkways or bridge gaps when they are joined together. It is also through collecting these stars that Gris' dress gains its abilities. Once you have enough stars, they can be made into constellations to form special symbols and creatures which will grant you these special abilities.

Verdict: 8/10

All in all, GRIS is an absolute charm of an indie game. The story developing as you go along is engaging, the artwork is stunning and the puzzles are just hard enough to keep your mind working without being too hard and make you frustrated. For the first game from a small indie studio, this game is very impressive. If they continue this trend of blending aesthetics and gameplay in such a way, I can see them gaining a lot of recognition.

  • Mechanics change and develop as the story develops
  • Beautiful artistic design and emotive storytelling
  • Consequence-free world
  • Could be considered simplistic

[Disclosure: A copy of GRIS was provided for review purposes.]

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review: An Undeniable Triumph Wed, 12 Dec 2018 16:42:02 -0500 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Something that a lot of reviewers struggle with, myself included, is defining what a perfect game looks like. What specific criteria must a game live up to in order to achieve a score of 100%, A+, or 10/10?

Of course, I can't speak for any writer but myself, but for me, the criteria center on a simple question: "Would I change anything about the game?"

There are precious few games that fit this description: We Love Katamari, Pokemon Sun/Moon, Dance Dance Revolution, Bayonetta 2, and Super Mario Odyssey are a few that tick all of the boxes for me. 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate not only joins that group but in terms of its sheer scope, becomes bar-none, the most impressive game I've ever played. 

Everything You Could Ask For Is Here

The first thing to know about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that it is probably the most ambitious crossover project in the history of media. Right now, the game features 74 characters representing dozens upon dozens of games and companies, and that roster will expand to 80 with the addition of DLC.

Infinity War, eat your heart out. 

Add to that a staggering list of stages, over 800 music tracks, hundreds of items, and Easter eggs in the form of Poke balls and assist trophies, and the scale of this game starts to (barely) come into focus.

There's just so much ... 

For those of us who are longtime fans of the series, it can sometimes be easy to take a lot of this for granted, especially since director Masahiro Sakurai has had the unenviable job of topping his own announcements ever since they revealed that Sonic would be appearing in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

If the new announcement that Joker from Persona 5 will be joining the battle is any indication, though, the team still has the uncanny knack for topping itself and subverting expectations. 

Another way of putting it is this: the simple fact that this game was even made is a freaking triumph.

Taking Stock

From the minute you hop into battle, you'll notice how refined Super Smash Bros. Ultimate actually is. Every design choice feels painfully intentional, from the stunning new final hit animation to the revamped perfect shield mechanic and the way in which rolling has been changed.

Each modification comes together beautifully, like ingredients in the most delicate, delicious dessert you've ever had, and it's all meant to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate an incredibly fun game not just to play, but to watch as well.

Aside from the Home-Run contest, the basic modes players have become accustomed to are all here. From a revamped Classic mode that sees each character in the roster follow a different path to victory and a much-improved training mode that is tailor-made for drilling combos, to series mainstays like Cruel Smash and 100-man Smash (now called Century Smash), Ultimate has something for everyone.  

Under the hood, there's now an almost-endless array of ways for you to customize matches beyond choosing time or stock and turning items off. There are tons of modes -- tournament, smashdown, squad battle -- that are designed for large groups or party scenarios, and even if you're not using them, there are lobby rules for local Smash that allow you to set up rotating battles where the winner stays (or drops out), leaving no pauses in the action.

We've Got Spirit

After Ultimate's Spirit mode was announced, I was skeptical. The way that Nintendo presented it, the mode seemed like some weird cross between Tamagotchi, Pokemon, and Super Smash Bros., without the charm of any. It looked confusing, inaccessible, and tacked on.

Of course, it became my favorite part of the game.

In practice, fighting a spirit battle is more like fighting an event battle in a previous entry in the series, with the caveat that there are literally thousands of spirits. The majority of the time, these battles take the form of incredibly clever battles that use and subvert the rules of the game to simulate battles between characters that aren't in the game. 

For example, the Venusaur battle sees players facing off a gigantic Ivysaur on a stage where the floor is poisoned, while the Squitter battle simulates fighting on a spiderweb by making the ground sticky. To win these battles, you need to equip spirits to overcome these deficiencies, to either get more powerful or to render yourself immune to hazards. 

I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that everything in the spirit section of the menu is brilliant, from the rotating bounties on the spirit board to leveling up spirits to enhance them and change their forms to the amazing story mode, World of Light. 

In World of Light, you'll find a relatively deep experience, but not one as deep as Subspace Emissary. The mode will take you anywhere between 30-40 hours to complete, and it is sprawling, packed full of intense boss battles, spirit fights, and climaxes that will tug at your heartstrings.

It's a triumph.

Online Matches

I can only speak from my own experience, but the new online system, one where players set their preferred game rules (whether they want to play 1-on-1 matches or not, whether they want items on, etc...) has worked very well for me, though it seems like I'm the only one.

I very rarely (maybe one or two matches out of every 10) get placed in a match that isn't being played by the rules I have selected as my preferred rule set.

In addition, though reports have been coming in of players experiencing terrible lag during online matches, in my week of testing, I haven't run into that yet, even playing without a USB LAN adapter. 

Given the discourse on Twitter right now, I'm part of a huge minority of people who haven't run into these issues, and make no mistake, they are issues. That said, even if the lag and rule set issues don't get resolved, the addition of public arenas where players can actually set defined rules for matches (as opposed to quickplay, where there's always a chance your rule set won't be picked) makes any quickplay headaches people might encounter into a non-issue.

There are public arenas for every rule set you can think of, and you can set up private arenas for you and your friends as well if lag is becoming an issue and you want to make sure you're only playing with folks who are using wired connections. It's inelegant, but there is a way around every online issue you're likely to find.

I hesitate to say this but... maybe this time Nintendo got online right? At least kind of?

We eSports Now

The most surprising thing about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that finally, for the first time since the series debuted, the game seems to be catering to the competitive crowd as well as the casual crowd without making any concessions. 

There's no forced time mode here, no hand-holding -- the game gives you a toybox of rules, stages, and characters to play with and lets you loose.

Hazard toggle means that more stages than ever before will be tournament legal, and Stage Morph offers some pretty amazing variety for casual players, allowing them to essentially play on two stages at once.

The Smash Radar, a feature that allows players to see exactly where they are even as they're off-screen is incredibly helpful for competitive play and can lead to a whole bunch of amazing off-stage exchanges.

  • The Spirit Mode means the game has almost-unlimited replayability, even for single-player fans
  • The roster is absolutely insane
  • The new rules, stage lists, items, and ways to play make the game feel like a sandbox where you can play the way you want to
  • Online modes make sense, and generally work exactly the way they should
  • It's not looking like Waluigi is gonna make it in this time around, folks

The reason Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is such a triumph is that it says yes to the player at every turn.

It feels almost like a sandbox game at times, which is absolutely ridiculous when you remember that this is a fighting game. The level of freedom you have to smash how you want, in addition to the fact that the game itself has a ton of replayability for single-player fans, the party crowd, and the competitive scene means that this game is an instant classic already, and they're going to expand the game more through DLC.

It's the best entry in the series, despite what folks who have spent years perfecting Melee wavedashing will tell you. Once again, don't @ me.

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate used in this review.] 

Desert Child Review: Sweet Ride Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:00:02 -0500 Jeffrey Rousseau

Whenever I review a game, I don't just look at the obvious points of interest, such as mechanics and graphics. I tend to also look for deeper meaning, even if the game isn't narratively rich in a traditional sense. 

Since I started reviewing games, I've found that indies typically have more freedom to answer more philosophical and esoteric questions.

Desert Child, developed by Oscar Brittain and published by Akupara Games is a game that does that, even if it doesn't look like it on the surface. 

A racing RPG about a young man, his trusty hoverbike, and the goal of winning a Grand Prix so he can move from a dying Earth to a vibrant Mars, Desert Child xyz

Vroom Vroom

Although it might be philosophical in nature, Desert Child is a racing game at heart. Races last about two minutes; you can gain speed by destroying targets along the way or damage opposing racers to slow them down. Of course, your NPC opponents can do the same to you, so you'll need to race with care and employ strategy to get through them in one piece. 

Of course, you can't win races unless your hoverbike is in shape. Upkeep and customization will determine how difficult the road to victory will be.

When you sustain damage, you'll start to notice performance issues, such as your bike getting slower. Needless to say, keeping your bike in shape is a priority, which you can do at various shops... for a cost. 

Customization and Powering Up

You can customize your bike with various parts that yield special effects. Some parts give you more firepower, while others can help you obtain more cash. Some parts can even help you determine when the finish line is coming, helping you cut off your opponents at the right times.

You can also increase these effects with battery packs, which you can earn for every race you win. So the more you race, the more you'll have available. 

For example, you can significantly increase your firepower via battery packs, which will let you really wallop your opponents. However, the tradeoff is that it now takes longer to reload your weapon. 

The beauty here is that this system increases the depth of a game that on the surface, seems relatively simple. The opportunities are broad, and testing out combinations is half the fun. 

Life In The Big City

With nothing but a bike to your name, there's a certain feeling that you're on the fringe of society. The game drives this point home further by letting you know you're flat broke -- repeatedly.

You can't fix your bike, you can't eat, and you most definitely can't enter the Grand Prix if you're penniless. This is where your city life comes into play. It's a big city, after all, and there's a number of ways you can get paid.

Sure, you have your share of odd jobs like pizza delivery or race tutoring, but you can find more exciting gigs like bounty hunting or herd-farming as well. You'll also find the occasional dollar testing weapons and doing odd jobs, as well as investment opportunities. You can, of course, also score payouts from winning races.  

However, not everything is above board. Head to the red-light district and you'll find some not-so-legal options. You can throw races, damage other vehicles, and even hack bank accounts. Of course, these all net more funds than legitimate jobs, and, of course, these shady jobs do come with consequences: completing any job will raise your wanted level. If it gets high enough cops will come after you. 

Being Cool For Yourself

Desert Child, much like it's influences and aesthetics, prides itself on being unconventionally cool. Visually, you can see that this pixelated adventure isn't very detailed. But the entire game maintains that distinct look.

Desert Child's music also fits into that "cool loner" vibe; with tunes ranging from hip-hop, chill-hop (laidback jazz fusion), lofi-hip-hop, and even vaporwave, the album's worth of songs don't skip a beat. 

  • Races are fast
  • Relaxing music
  • Customizing your bike is fun
  • Visuals aren't the best
  • Difficulty spikes up randomly 
  • Controls could be better

Desert Child is a fun game to decompress with. The entire journey will take you a few hours to play through, all at your own leisure and pace.

Every time you get ready to race you can race or chill. If you select chill, you'll see our hero taking a smoke break while the game's soundtrack plays. This is a nice little quality of life option for players; what better way to enjoy your favorite tracks?

That sense of operating at your own speed is what makes this game unique to play. Even though you have this looming goal and serious work to do, why stress it? No saving the planet, stopping evil, and all that jazz. It's just you and that cool hoverbike taking things one race at a time.

Fans of indie games, RPGs, and racing games can find Desert Child available on Nintendo Switch eShop, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam today.

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

Gungrave VR Review: Iggymob Should Be Ashamed To Have Released This Tue, 11 Dec 2018 03:15:01 -0500 Ty Arthur

The PS2 shoot 'em up Gungrave has been resurrected yet again, but this time the unholy necromancy that brought it into the realm of the living clearly went horribly wrong somewhere along the way.

There's no way to sugar coat it -- this is hands down the very worst VR game I've ever had the displeasure of playing. From the baffling camera angles to the extremely half baked gameplay to the boring, by-the-numbers music, there is almost no redeeming value of any kind to be found here.

Without question, this will be remembered as the bottom of the barrel for PSVR games.

So why did Gungrave VR score a 2/10 instead of a 1/10? According to Gameskinny review standards, a 1 is a game that doesn't work and can't be finished. Sadly (very, very sadly) Gungrave VR is a stable, functioning game that can be played beginning to end, so a 2 it is.

A Case Study In Truly Bad Game Design

Nominally an action game, Gungrave VR's levels shift between extremely limited third-person arena-style levels and on-rails first-person shooting. In either type of level, your undead gunslinger will take on waves of drug dealers, with the occasional giant robot for good measure.

The only praise I can muster for this game is to say that some of the bosses have interesting anime-based character designs, and the comic book aesthetic is sorta fun from time to time -- but that's where anything good officially ends.

Developer Iggymob made every possible mistake you could when developing a virtual reality game, starting with the lack of Move controller support.

Since a large portion of the game is in third-person, there is absolutely no sensation of being in the action, which is the whole point of VR. You are looking down on the main character in third-person but you aim his gun with your head instead of the stick, which is unbelievably awkward.

You'd think since this is a DualShock controller-only game that you'd have full range of movement and camera rotation like in any worthwhile action game, right? Wrong.

You can't smoothly swivel the camera with the stick as expected. Instead, you flick through four different angles one at a time.

This is just straight up godawful game design for a fully 3D environment where there are enemies surrounding you in waves. Can you imagine trying to take on a group of opponents in God Of War or Darksiders if you couldn't ever see behind yourself? 

The camera essentially uses the single panel flip movement from The Inpatient, which was acceptable there because it was such a slow-moving first-person game. Here, in a third-person action title, its the kiss of death. 

Why On Earth Did They Do ANY Of This?

Virtual reality games don't have to always be first-person. Moss and Astro Bot Rescue Mission both clearly showed that third-person can work in VR -- it just stunningly fails in every possible way here.

Despite the limited camera angle rotation, I still constantly felt like I was going to fall down, throw up, or possibly both at the same time. Even when standing totally still, you will lose your balance due to the awful point of view flips.

Worst of all, the actual action isn't that fun. The core gameplay is bare-bones, by-the-numbers shooting in extremely tiny levels.

The experience doesn't improve in the first-person segments either, where the game becomes even more limited and boring. None of this is helped by the incredibly dated, bland visuals and laughably bad explosion effects. It seriously feels like playing House Of The Dead or Area 51... on the Sega Saturn.

Every single element of this drek feels like the developers totally missed the whole point of giving a game VR support. Frankly, Gungrave is a worse experience in VR than if it had remained a standard action/on-rails arcade hybrid with no virtual reality support to begin with.

The very sad part is that none of this needed to happen because we've seen all these elements presented in PSVR games with much more grace before.

Blasters Of The Universe, for instance, has you remain mostly stationary like with Gungrave VR, but you dodge bullets flying at your head while getting the heft of a gun and shield in both hands due to the Move controllers.

Gungrave is the opposite of that dynamic, picking the worst possible VR design decisions at every step.

I Cannot Overstate How Awful This Game Is 

  • The game is mercifully short
  • The anime-based character designs for the bosses are occasionally interesting to look at
  • The worst possible combination of camera and controller choices for a VR game in the entire history of VR games
  • Boring, bare-bones enemies and levels
  • Laughably bad visuals
  • Do you like feeling like you're going to throw up due to spinning too fast while you are standing perfectly still? Because you're going to feel like throwing up due to spinning too fast while standing perfectly still

Remember Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad on the Xbox 360? It was a terrible game with wonky controls and awful level design, but it had jiggly bikini samurai girls to oggle, so there was some small amount of reason to keep playing. 

Picture that, but with worse controls, no eye candy of any kind, and you'll be on the verge of throwing up for the entire (blessedly short) duration of the game.

That's Gungrave VR -- a game that flat out should not have been released. Shame on you Iggymob.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Gungrave VR used in this review.]

Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows Review - A Casual, Easy-to-Play TBS Tue, 11 Dec 2018 01:00:01 -0500 Sergey_3847

Steel Shadows is a stand-alone expansion for Ancient Frontier, which doesn't require players to have the original game or any experience and knowledge of the first game. Steel Shadows has its own tutorial, separate campaign and procedurally-generated missions.

However, if you've played the original Ancient Frontier, then it will be a lot easier for you to get all the intricacies of this turn-based sci-fi strategy with RPG elements. Here, you will play for the Pirate faction that brings chaos to the normal layout of things at the Frontier.

If you want to know more about the story, campaign missions and the gameplay mechanics of Steel Shadows, then read our review below.

Story and Setting

The story of Steel Shadows focuses on a few Pirate leaders, Rogan and Rickshaw, that struggle their way through the Frontier. They attack convoys and raid mining stations for valuable resources that could keep their network of ships survive in the long run.

There is an extensive black market of ships and items available for purchase with the help of several types of in-game currency. Also, ships can be upgraded through a skill tree of various technologies that focus mainly on combat and tactics, which can be bought using Data, one of the main currencies.

But there are two more resources that are of even higher value: Hydrium and Proto Energy. Hydrium is used specifically for buying new ships and repairing old ones, while Proto Energy makes those ships run well. All three are needed and they can be obtained in the course of the missions.

The combat in Steel Shadows is very much the same as in the original Ancient Frontier game. You control a fleet of various types of ships that carry different types of weapons, some of which can deal more damage from a long range, while others can do well only in close combat.

That is why it is important to acknowledge yourself with each and every type of combat ship in your fleet during the Tutorial stage. Later this will help you to choose the best ships for your fleet between the campaign missions.

A strong fleet supported by well-planned tactical and strategic game can lead to many victories.

The AI in the game is quite smart, especially in the harder difficulties. If it senses your weak spots, it will attack there and destroy your main ships. In this regard the gameplay becomes really exciting and makes you think about your next moves.

Gameplay Mechanics

As usual, when it comes to TBS genre, you have a series of steps for each of your ships, and then you pass the turn to an AI. The ships move really fast in this game, which is a good thing, because you don't want to spend your whole day just getting from point A to point B.

That's why you really need to keep your ships in good condition, as your fleet will only keep growing. This means that each campaign mission will take more time than the previous one. In this regard, the technology tree is your best friend, as this is where you get to improve your fleet's capabilities.

But there is also a possibility to deploy a part of your fleet on the Bounty missions through the Mission select menu, and the rest to continue the campaign. Either way, the big fleet needs to move as fast as possible, and thankfully, the tech tree will allow you to increase your Move and Ability Points.

Each type of ship has its own tech tree, and everything here depends on your budget. Of course, if you have enough Data to purchase the right skills early, then it is possible to make every ship grow in an equal manner. But this kind of scenario would work in a perfect world, while in this game it's a bit more complicated.

The lack of resources makes you put money in the most necessary things only, such as Shield improvement for your own ships and Shield damage for your weapons. This is one truly neat technology, since the AI ships often flee and hide when you destroy their shields. From then on finishing them off is really easy, but that's the trick you need to discover in the course of the gameplay.

Fortunately, the fleet management menu is really user-friendly, so making out the proper gameplan turns into a fun adventure and not a boring chore. Usually, it would take you hours to figure out what to do in any other TBS game, but Steel Shadows is very clear in its intentions from the very beginning.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Fans of the original Ancient Frontier game will be happy to try out another brand new campaign with all the familiar features. New players will have no hard time figuring out what to do either, as it's really easy to jump into the gameplay.

On the other hand, the veteran TBS players that are looking for a re-imagining of the genre or look out to be struck by the depth of the gameplay mechanics will be disappointed, as Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows is a rather casual game, although pretty well done taking into account that it was made by only two indie developers.

The good thing is that it's really light on hardware and will run even on the older PCs and office laptops that are not intended for playing games. After everything's said and done, it's a fair experience for the price given.


  • Intuitive and simple fleet management system
  • Extensive Tech tree and market
  • Fun and engaging gameplay


  • Not much depth for a TBS game
  • Low-quality graphics

[Note: A copy of Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows was provided by Fair Weather Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Stellaris: MegaCorp DLC Review: Free Enterprising Ferengi Mon, 10 Dec 2018 10:34:08 -0500 Fox Doucette

Paradox Interactive has taken an interesting tack with their DLC packages for Stellaris, specifically when compared to their earthbound grand strategy titles.

For one thing, there haven't been quite as many of them; while there are 15 expansions for 2012's Crusader Kings 2, 12 for 2013's Europa Universalis 4, and four for 2016's Hearts of Iron 4 (including the announced “Man the Guns”), Stellaris has only gotten three major expansions, as MegaCorp joins Utopia and Apocalypse in the spaceport.

As for MegaCorp, a DLC that expands trade and profit opportunities for a spacefaring race? Yeah, it's Stellaris: Ferengi Edition.

For the capitalist-minded empire, MegaCorp has a new empire type, the Corporate Authority. This replaces the old Corporate Dominion, which has always been viable for societies built strongly on the Materialist side of the Spiritual vs. Materialist slider. Those without the DLC still use the older Dominion.

There's a new civic in play for the corporate factions called "Criminal Heritage". Think Orion Syndicate from Star Trek. Taking the trait identifies your civilization as basically "the Mafia developed a warp drive", and your government is more like a crime family than a republic. It's a way to play an "evil" faction while still making use of the DLC's new features.

Criminal Heritage cannot be removed once selected, but it removes the more civilized requirements for expanding your commercial footprint. Instead of asking nicely for mutually beneficial trade agreements, you expand your empire like the mafia, not like a consortium of space traders.

The Megacorporation empire type has a higher administrative cap, so in theory, it would be ideal for wide players, but instead, harsh penalties are put in for anyone foolish enough to try that style.

Instead, there's a new Branch Office mechanic and Commercial Pact diplomatic option.

In other words, instead of an Emperor bringing warships, you instead have the Grand Nagus using his lobes to create lucrative business opportunities, all while the Megacorp's homeworld reaps the benefits from pursuing a strategy traditionally known as “going tall”, where a smaller core empire uses non-expansive ways to push for victory conditions.

Of course, what's a Paradox grand strategy game without a massive array of vassals? That's where Subsidiaries come in, and they involve the target empire paying 25% of their energy credit production in tribute and joining the master's wars.

There are also new options available so even the spiritual rather than material societies can get in on the fun, and they come in the form of “Gospel of the Masses”, a civic that is basically what would happen if Joel Osteen got his hands on a warp drive.

Long story short, instead of the consumerism coming through material avarice like a Ferengi, it instead comes through a sort of Prosperity Gospel on steroids, where religion is used to encourage consumerism and tithing in order to fund operations.

And at last, there's the Slave Market, because why go to the trouble of conquering and subjugating sovereign people for use as labor or livestock when you can just buy the product of someone else's soldiers dying to do it for you?

It's the same mechanic, but if you're freedom loving, you could even buy slaves for the sole purpose of immediately setting them free.

And if all of the above sounds a little bit like putting a fresh coat of paint on completely bog-standard mechanics from the basegame, you begin to see the problem with putting a $20 ask on Ferengi cosplay.

There just isn't enough here, even in the endgame, that has the gee-whiz factor that Utopia or Apocalypse does.

MegaCorp is just... the same, except for one huge difference that's worth talking about. 

In the 2.2 “LeGuin” patch that released alongside the DLC, the way planets are built and developed has completely changed.

The tile system? It's gone. No more. Forget everything you knew.

Instead, a planet's size is now more important as it determines how many of the new “districts” can be built on the planet. This is straight out of Civilization 6, to the point where you want to see Paradox's crib notes on the subject.

Districts are divided into City, Generator, Mining, and Agriculture, and they govern population size, energy credits, minerals, and food production respectively.

Instead of working tiles directly, your pops now have jobs that are created not only by the districts themselves but by the buildings that you can build with every 5-pop increase in overall population.

This allows for a much more adaptive form of planet-building, which is also massively more flexible and leads to a lot more interesting decisions. For example, you can selectively develop a planet to produce a specific resource.

Also in the free patch is the addition of the Unity system, previously locked behind the Utopia DLC. Unity becomes far more important not just to the Ascension Perk system (which is otherwise unchanged and still plays exactly the way it does when Paradox lifted it from Civilization 5) but to the empire's overall ability to govern itself.

And finally, the free patch brings Trade Value, a new resource that's gathered by upgraded space stations and produced on planets. This can be used via different policies to generate different types of resources. Most players, however, will find that trade value provides first and foremost the energy credits required to power mining stations and acquire resources on the Galactic Market.

Now, all of the above sounds like a meaty, worth-20-bucks expansion, right?

Well... not exactly. For one thing, all of the really big improvements to gameplay are available right there with the free patch.

There are two big takeaways here.

One, the new Planetary system with its jobs and its revamped ways to manage your pops, is right there in the free patch; you don't need to spend 20 bucks to get it.

And two, thanks to Unity/Ascension perks being brought out from behind the paywall that previously required you to own Utopia, that's another big thing you get for free that you don't even have to pay 20 bucks for (but you should still buy Utopia because it's a wonderful endgame DLC for "tall" playstyles.)

The actual Megacorp stuff? It is strictly depends-on-your-playstyle and might be too niche for all but the most determined role player.

In a game like Stellaris, which has been out for over two years now, there are a lot of well-developed and tremendously fun strategies to play around with, and even though Megacorp empires and the features in Utopia go together like hands and gloves, the same is simply not true of Apocalypse.

And since so much of what MegaCorp has to offer on the paid side of the equation doesn't really bear fruit until the late-game, you'll play it for hours on end and never feel like you're playing anything but the same old Stellaris you know and love.


  • The new Corporate Authority and its associated ways to expand your empire can be great fun for a less militaristic player
  • Synergizes amazingly well with the Utopia DLC
  • The free patch alongside the DLC is a great reason to start playing Stellaris again if you've put it down for a while


  • There's not $20 worth of paid content here; most of it, you'll never even see unless you invest a ton of time into it
  • All the best new features are in the free patch; you don't have to buy the DLC to enjoy most of the changes
  • New features are useless for militarist/conqueror playstyles.

This is a great time to get back into the game. It's going to feel fresh in a way that games this well-established rarely do so far out from release.

But there is simply not enough meat on the bones of this expansion to merit paying 20 bucks for it. The game's mechanical changes in the DLC are way too niche to be practical, and that's going to severely limit the value you get out of it past the first couple of experiments and full playthrough.

Everything here is well-made and lovingly crafted like it always is. The objection is that it's just not broad enough for lasting appeal.

Earth Defense Force 5 Review: One of the Best Co-op Games on PS4 Fri, 07 Dec 2018 13:25:00 -0500 Ashley Shankle

Awful movies are a sort of shared hobby between my husband and I, so it's only natural that we are an EDF household. Shooting down massive waves of bugs and a host of more menacing creatures is hard to say no to when the overall package is so welcoming and easy to hop in and out of.

Since Earth Defense Force 2025 on the PlayStation 3, the EDF series has become one of our go-to titles when we sit down for our nightly gaming sessions. Before I got my hands on Earth Defense Force 5, we'd just rotate between Risk of Rain and EDF 4.1 on the PlayStation 4. Until we make it and push through some of Inferno mode, it's all EDF 5 for now.

This newest addition to the franchise is an arcade-style shooter with both hands in the crazy jar. It takes you back to the first alien invasion and pits you against forces the EDF was never trained to fight. You've got the signature giant insects with giant frogs with guns, UFOs, huge robots and mechanical war machines, and a ton of surprises in store that I just don't feel right spoiling.

Enemies from previous titles make their way into this entry, but there are plenty of unique aliens and monsters here to shock and confuse newcomers and keep veteran EDF soldiers interested.

Player customization

Have I mentioned this game has 1,000 weapons yet? Yes, one thousand weapons that you can use these across four classes.

The versatile Ranger, a ground troop with a huge variety of weapon capabilities. The Wing Diver, an elite female soldier specializing in aerial combat and plasma weapons. The Air Raider, a support troop with a wealth of multiplayer-oriented weaponry and gadgets. Last but not least is the Fencer, which trades easy mobility for its own brand of alien destruction, requiring practice and a steel will.

Each class can equip a set number of weapons and support items at a time. Rangers get two weapons and one support equip, Wing Divers get the same number. Air Raiders get three weapons and have a dedicated vehicle slot. Fencers can equip four weapons simultaneously and have two slots for support equipment.

The support equipment slots are new to the series and add a great deal of variety to your loadout. Though each class is locked to its own weapons, that's still 1,000 weapons spread across just four classes.

The caveat here is that some weapons are prototypes, or lesser versions of the more powerful ones you get later in the game or at higher difficulties. Logically, this makes the variety only a little less impressive than it seems.

Nonetheless, there are a huge number of customization combinations for each class. It's very easy for a player to find a class that suits their playstyle and then spend a great deal of time trying out different weapon loadouts to find what works best for certain types of stages.

If you're not new to the series, it's worth noting that the classes have seen some changes from 4.1.

Rangers now have innate access to some vehicles, which used to be Air Raider-exclusive. Air Raiders now have fewer vehicles to choose from, but more versatility overall.

The Wing Diver weapon array has changed quite a bit, with the new style focusing on charging weapons before firing. Though there are some Wing Diver weapons that do not require charging, such as the classic Rapier and a handful of others, most of the best do.

Getting used to charging takes time, but once you get the hang of it and get some better support gear that allows for faster energy replenishment, you'll be running out of energy much less often than in previous games. It does take a while to get used to, however.

I'm not sure how the Fencer has changed since I pretty much just stick to Wing Diver with a side of Air Raider.


So, it's a shooter where you shoot a whole bunch of aliens, right? Right.

Between its 110 offline stages, Earth Defense Force 5 challenges players to learn to survive and kill kill kill the alien menace. Decidedly more difficult than Earth Defense Force 4.1, the new enemies, A.I., and class changes are all balanced around giving you a hard time.

Swarms of those rambling giant frogs (I hate them so much) will pincer you and make you rethink your strategy; those red UFOs will make you exit a mission and change up your entire weapon loadout out of frustration; and the kaiju (giant monster) fights later in the game might make you poop yourself. It's a struggle, I tell ya.

While you may get frustrated, your fellow A.I. EDF soldiers will continue to put on a brave face and crack jokes. Throughout the entire game, you're being fed cheesy lines from both your superiors over radio and the soldiers nearby.

Story dialogue is stilted and perfectly suited to the overall C-grade movie feel, which sets the tone perfectly for this sort of game. You're not really meant to take it seriously and the game is perfectly happy to remind you of that with every piece of story dialogue. I also really enjoy the news broadcast jingle, it's an unexpectedly cheerful highlight that gives me a little chuckle.

Your comrades on the ground are also pretty talkative, more so than ever before. Listening to them bring up their regular problems or crack jokes about the situation keeps things lighter in tone and makes you feel like you're in a unit. They'll also sing with you if you start belting out the EDF theme via the emote menu -- which is great, but I'm tired of my husband spamming it.

Keep that in mind if you want to piss off your co-op partner.

Speaking of co-op, Earth Defense Force 5 can be played entirely in local splitscreen or online if you so choose. You can choose to play alone, but the game is more fun and easier to handle if you play with someone else.

Grinding to victory

You're not only grinding up aliens and giant insects in EDF 5, you're also grinding for weapons and armor.

Enemies drop weapons, armor, or health upon death. Accumulating armor (HP) and bulking up your weapons array is the game's primary progression outside of clearing missions. You really want to pick up those green and red boxes.

One change from the previous games is how loot works in multiplayer. Previously, if a player picked up a weapon, it would always be a weapon their class could use. However, the weapons you pick up now will be split between each class, with a much heavier emphasis on weapons for the classes used in a mission.

So if you're playing co-op with Ranger and Wing Diver and your Ranger picks up all the weapons, you'll still get weapons for both classes and probably two or three for Fencer and Air Raider as well.

The new loot system does take away the one competitive aspect of multiplayer, which I'm not going to complain about. Now there's no more arguing over who's picked up more weapon boxes -- that's saved me an argument or five already, believe me.

Unlike 4.1, you do have to clear a mission in a particular difficulty before the next one unlocks. You can skip Easy mode, but you must do a mission in Normal before Hard unlocks, and you must complete a mission on Hard to play it on Inferno.

Inferno mode is where things get cranked up to 12, rather than the game's usual 11. As the default endgame, Inferno mode grants powerful weapons you wouldn't be able to get on lower difficulties while throwing challenges at you far beyond what Hard mode provides.

Getting to this mode and being able to do it for more than a mission or two requires a significant grind for armor and weapons in Hard mode. As with other EDF games, this means choosing missions ideal for farming limitless enemies for drops.

You don't actually have to do any of this, though. As there are 110 missions to play through offline, Earth Defense Force 5 is long enough as it is; it will take a few dozen hours to clear all of the missions on Normal mode. Most players will tackle Hard mode on some missions for drops, but Inferno is probably beyond what most people are willing or able to put up with. It takes a long time, and it's not an easy journey to get there.

Visuals & Slowdown

This is an EDF game, okay. There's going to be slowdown.

Since the game likes to throw dozens upon dozens of enemies at you at a time -- not to mention the absolute giant enemies that come to be regulars later in the game -- there is plenty of slowdown in many segments of the game. There's a ton of stuff going on, far more than you see at a time in most other titles.

Graphically, it looks a bit better than its predecessors. Aliens and monsters spew multicolored blood all over the environment, and they show signs of wear after being shot at but not killed. I really like how rain looks in some stages as well.

The game is not all that special graphically, but the improved performance over 4.1 is a huge boon. There is significantly less slowdown than 4.1 even in times of great chaos, though there's no stopping the chugging once you've got a dozen explosions going off in your immediate vicinity.

Enemy limbs can be blown off as well, which is a first for the Earth Defense Force series. You don't notice it much with the giant insects, but you definitely do with larger enemies like the frog aliens. It is satisfying.

  • 110 missions to shoot your way through
  • Humorous C-grade movie dialogue and story
  • More weapons and sub-equipment than you can shake a stick at
  • Easy to understand and jump into co-op
  • The enemy A.I. is sometimes really stupid (UFOs just bumping into buildings like they've got nothing better to do, for example)
  • Online progress is separate from local progress
  • Some missions are tedious or flat out boring

Earth Defense Force 5 is easily one of the best co-op games on the PlayStation 4, without a doubt. The sheer amount of customization, playtime, and fun to be had in EDF 5 is undeniable.

If you want a co-op game on the PlayStation 4 you can just sit down and play for a mission or two or 15 at a time, you could do a lot worse than Earth Defense Force 5. Heck, if you just want a hectic straightforward shooter with a ton of customization to play on your own, this is still a good bet.

Though some gamers may prefer a more serious shooter or narrative-centric title, that's not what this series strives for or should be. Here you are an EDF recruit rising to a hero, doing whatever it takes to stomp out the alien menace before it eradicates mankind. It just so happens, "whatever it takes" translates to 110 missions of "pew pew pew"ing, and that's totally fine.

Once you've played Earth Defense Force 5, there is no going back. Make sure to turn off Camera Effects in the Options menu, though.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Earth Defense Force 5 used in this review.]

Mutant: Year Zero Review: A Grittier, More Accessible X-COM Fri, 07 Dec 2018 11:23:37 -0500 Tim White

X-COM has garnered a fiercely loyal fan base and cemented a reputation for itself as an intricate and challenging turn-based strategy title. It's just too bad that its RNG system is absolute horseshit.

Mutant: Year Zero clearly draws strong inspiration from X-COM, but it definitely has its own identity. It's dark and gritty, yet punctuated with well-timed laughs. It's easy to learn, hard to master. Developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting clearly put lots of TLC into it, and the result is a polished, balanced turn-based strategy game that would make a great holiday gift for fans of the genre, even if it's not the holidays.


Note: As of this writing, the reviewer has not fully completed the main story.

For me, post-apocalypse tales are extremely hit or miss. They tend to spring from some variation on the premise that humans are a disease infecting the planet and/or that we're all scumbags that will inevitably destroy everything, and frankly, I'm way beyond tired of that outlook.

Mutant: Year Zero takes place in a world ravaged by a number of calamities, at least some of which are implied to be humanity's fault. Regular humans are fairly uncommon; most people have been subjected to varying degrees and forms of mutations, some of which are more useful than others.

I haven't yet progressed far enough into the story to know for sure what caused the initial armageddon—or if that's even relevant—but at the very least, Mutant: Year Zero doesn't seem to exude the same brand of childish nihilism often found in other post-apocalypse stories.

Not far into the game, it's revealed that an important person has gone missing from one of the last human(ish) cities. He's a smart guy and generally well-liked, so Bormin and Dux, your first playable Stalkers, volunteer to go find him. They pick up other mutants with common goals along the way, battling through thieves, thugs, and wildlife as they go.

I've made decent progress into the game, but not far enough to know exactly where the story is going, so for now, I'll describe my impression of the narrative's tone and content as "cautiously optimistic."


Mutant's real claim to fame is its unique blend of real-time and turn-based combat. Every enemy encounter throughout the game is heavily influenced by how well you understand and balance these two systems.

As we mention in our strategy guide for the game, stealth is mandatory in this game. Outside of combat, the action unfolds in real time. One button orders your currently-selected squad member into cover, while another splits the party and allows each member to move around independently. Picking great positions for each character based on their strengths and weaknesses is key to a successful ambush, which is in turn essential to victory.

X-COM is punishing but in a kind of unfair, frequently douchey way. Mutant is much more consistent and transparent. If you find yourself staring at a "Game Over" screen, it's almost always your fault.

The game lets you know right from the outset that you won't last long without sneakiness and planning, but it also rewards you when you play along and do things the right way. 50% shots actually do connect roughly half the time, and the sting of an embarrassing defeat is soothed by the knowledge that, as long as you take your time, you can inflict equally brutal punishment on your enemies.

My only real complaint about the gameplay is that it's just a tad simplistic. Each character has their own unique skill tree, which is great, but there are only a handful of skills to choose from. More variety in tactical options would have been nice, but don't misunderstand—what's here is done very well. I'd much rather have a simpler experience that works great than muddle through a complex series of mechanics that aren't fully fleshed out.


Much like its gameplay elements, Mutant's visuals are a bit lacking in variety, but they are nonetheless well done. Environments, in particular, are rather samey. You can only wander through so many collapsed tunnels and overgrown forests before you begin to yearn for something else to look at.

Character models are a little bit low-res and polygonal, but this strikes me as more of an aesthetic choice than a lack of competence. Giving the character models a rougher, boxier appearance jives nicely with the game's general vibe of a wild, desperate landscape outside the city walls.

Weapon models also deserve special praise for their inventiveness. Most ranged weapons are slapped together with duct tape, and one rifle looks to be sporting half of a pair of binoculars as a scope. The prospect of firing them is utterly terrifying, further enunciating just how primitive life has become.

Sound & Music

While Mutant is certainly not a boring game, its sound design is less than thrilling. Voice acting is competent, but not stellar, and on occasion, certain lines of dialogue sound flat or stilted. Dux is especially hard to listen to at times. His voice actor comes across as though he's only kind of trying to sound like a duck; he should either fully commit to Donald Duck mode or just talk normally.

Weirdly enough, random enemy chatter is usually conveyed by better voice actors than the main protagonists. Human and mutant enemies bicker, scream, and grumble in a wide range of voices ranging from silly to deeply threatening.

Music is even more uninspiring. I enjoy and pay close attention to soundtracks, but for the life of me, I mostly can't recall any of the music in Mutant once I'm not actively listening to it. I eventually decided to just turn the in-game music off and listen to some somber battle tunes in the background.

Sound effects are not much better, either. Gunshots are kind of empty and boring, as are many other ambient sounds.

Fortunately, Mutant's lackluster sound design is not reflective of the overall experience.


The game's hardware specifications are relatively modest by modern standards, recommending at least a GTX 970 and 8GB of RAM for best performance. On a GTX 1080 and a Skylake i-7700 CPU, Mutant runs flawlessly and has no trouble maintaining frame rates above 80 on max settings.

I'm approximately 15 hours into the game and I've experienced no crashes or obvious bugs. It's not especially resource hungry as far as I can tell, and I wouldn't expect any but the most bare-bones budget rigs to struggle.

  • Well-balanced gameplay is challenging but fair
  • General aesthetic is engaging and has flair
  • It just works—no major technical problems
  • Boring music and sound effects
  • Tiresome, depressing "humans suck" narrative premise
  • Skills and tactics are somewhat lacking in variety

It's nice to see carefully crafted turn-based strategy games years after their last major heyday. Mutant: Year Zero isn't groundbreaking in most respects, but it's much more good than bad, and it's refreshing when developers clearly loved making the game they're now asking you to buy. Its launch price of $34.99 is more than fair for what you get.

Mutant: Year Zero is available now for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Mutant Year Zero used in this review.]

Fallout 76 Review: An Exciting Experiment Thu, 06 Dec 2018 13:45:34 -0500 Synzer

Fallout 76 is different from previous Fallout games in a big way -- multiplayer. It seems very clear to me that this is the main focus and selling point of the game, so everyone should keep that in mind when reviewing and reading reviews.

I, and many other fans of the series, have wanted to be able to play co-op/multiplayer in a Fallout game. For people like me this was a dream come true when it was announced. Although multiplayer is a huge part of this game, you can still play solo.

There is more to this game and some changes that don't only apply to only multiplayer, so I've taken all of that into account when I came up with my thoughts, and score, of Fallout 76

What I Liked


It should be no surprise this is first on my list and easily my favorite thing about this game. I'm the kind of person that enjoys single player games, but think about how I'd have even more fun if I could play it cooperatively with another player.

Fallout is no exception.

The ability to play through the whole game with one or more friends is so fun and adds much more depth when deciding how to build your character. In previous games I might make multiple characters to see different things.

For example, if I want to hack terminals, I need to have a high Intelligence stat. If I do this, I'm missing out on other things I could do. If I play with friends though, somebody can choose to have a high Intelligence stat to hack the terminals, and the other players can do other things to cover what's missing.

It's fun to plan out things and compliment each other to survive the world of Fallout. I realize that this only applies to those that play with a dedicated group of friends, but it is still a cool concept.

It also makes exploration easier and more enjoyable. If I go up against a tough enemy alone, I might have some trouble. If I do it with a friend or two, it will be much easier. We can also search areas more thoroughly and take less time doing so.

Perk and Building System

fallout 76 perk cards

I like that perks are in cards now. This allows you to get many different perks, but also lets you swap them out. If you decide you don't want a perk anymore, or don't see anything you want at the time, that's fine! You can just put a different perk on, so you have much more flexibility.

Building is very similar to how it was in Fallout 4, but now you can put your base nearly anywhere you want, and even move it at will.

You can also save a layout to a blueprint so that you can easily build again if you move, though this feature doesn't always work the way I'd like it. Depending on how you set it up, it can be hard to find another location with the same terrain so that you can actually fit the blueprint in the area.  

Getting Power Armor and other useful items

I love how you can get power armor early in the game, even if you can;t use the armor pieces until later. Power Armor is definitely one of the coolest items you can acquire in Fallout, so it's nice to have them in abundance.

Since this is an online game, things respawn, so that makes getting power armor and other great items even easier.

Events and other Randomness

Events are fantastic because they give you a constant stream of things to do when you aren't doing the main or side quests. They will just popup in an area and you have a limited time to complete them.

Letting players fast travel to these events, and giving rewards to everyone in the area, is a great way to put players in contact with each other. I do see instances where some players could just leech off of others, but it is still a good system.

There are also so many cool moments that can happen since it is an online game. You might meet someone having trouble on a quest or a certain enemy, then jump in to help them. You might be minding your own business in your C.A.M.P. then get attacked out of nowhere by a group of players trying to take your stuff.

The amount of spontaneity this game allows gives the game the potential to last a long time for multiplayer-oriented players who want to play the game in less of a rush.

What I Didn't Like

Carrying Weight and Stash

I think things weigh too much in this game. This causes me to go back to C.A.M.P. or find random stations more than I'd like and makes the game feel more like an inventory simulator at times.

Bethesda has already announced plans to increase player stash, which helps, but my real problem is the player carrying weight. This causes some players to feel like they need to invest in Strength, certain power armors, or perks just to make the game less tedious.

fallout 76 power armor chassis

Lonely Atmosphere

It's almost funny how even though this is a multiplayer Fallout, it feels more empty and alone than previous games. The lack of living NPCs really makes the game feel more empty than anything.

All your interactions are through notes or recordings, and anyone you  do end up finding probably already died a while ago. Now, I haven't seen every single thing in the game -- but it doesn't look like I'll be running into another human that isn't a player anytime soon.

Solo play and Lag/Freezing

I must admit that even though I love the multiplayer aspect of the game, I do not enjoy playing the game solo. Sure you can do it, there's perks for being solo, but it just isn't much fun like it was in previous games.

The fact that it is online, even when playing solo, makes it a struggle to play at times. I need to logout of the game anytime I 'm going to be away for even a few minutes because my hunger and thirst bar will deplete. Then, I'm going to use more items than I need, just to keep my character functional.

I've also run into lag and freezing multiple times while trying to play through. One time I saw an enemy and went to engage, but the game stuttered for about ten seconds.

When it smoothed out, I found myself being attacked by three enemies. If this was a dangerous area, that could have meant I was dead without anyway to defend myself.

The game completely froze multiple times as well and I was forced to shut the game down and restart it. The good thing is that the game auto saves and you won't lose progress, but it is still frustrating, especially if I'm in the middle of an event with a  group of strangers.

Final Verdict

I think this is an enjoyable Fallout experience, but one very tailored to playing with others. It is a decent enough game to play solo, but I don't think many people will enjoy it if they never play multiplayer.

fallout 76 photo mode

My honest opinion is that if you don't want to play multiplayer, you probably won't like Fallout 76.

However, if you really enjoy playing co-op and have always wanted to play Fallout with others, this is the game for you.

Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse Review Thu, 06 Dec 2018 10:41:34 -0500 ElConquistadork

With a name that reads like a Brit complaining about his gaming hardware (just read it out loud in an accent if you don't believe me), and a logo that seems to whisper malevolently "we know," the Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse gets lots of bonus points for marketing itself to the youthful gamers out there who are most interested in showing off the flashing lights and hard edges of their computer setup.

Sadly, for the gamer who's looking for more under the hood, Bloody responds with an overwhelming "meh."

I will say right off the bat that the SP80 feels good to play with. The textures on the mouse are varied, which sounds like it would be annoying, but it seems pretty well thought-out. The top of the mouse has a nice soft-touch feel to it, while the left and right wall panels are more textured, allowing for a nice grip. The bottom of the mouse is laid out with four metal feet (as opposed to rubber or plastic ones you'll see on less gaming-focused mice) that make movements feel smooth. The roller functionality is smooth. It's all smooth.

Beyond that, I'm afraid, there's not much to recommend about the Blood SP80. The macro functions and thumb click buttons are perfectly adequate. Bloody themselves promise 1:1 response times, but it felt absolutely no different from most gaming-centric mice I've used in the past. This would be all there was to say about that, if it weren't for my left mouse button suddenly double-clicking automatically. This is particularly amusing considering the fact that Bloody's marketing material for this mouse in particularly proudly proclaims that it has "anti double click" technology. At this rate, the 10 million click performance I've also been promised has been effectively cut in half.

Even with this bug in the hardware, it's not like I have a ton to complain about when it comes to the Blood SP80. But I don't have anything that gets me excited, either. After playing several games with this mouse, its proclamations of tech-marketing words like "Light Strike Optical Switches" feel like just more terminology for the same old stuff. 

I think when you look into Bloody's other mice (there are literally dozens of them, and outside of their shells they seem fairly identical), you start to understand the hook: a sense of quantity over quality. There are so many different Bloody mice to choose from, and they're black and red and have skulls and say "Headshot!" and stuff like that. 

Call me a cynic, but the Bloody SP80 Bleeding Edge Gaming Mouse feels like another example of form over function.

[Note: Bloody provided the SP80 Bleeding Edge used in this review]

Available on Amazon for $59.99.

Just Cause 4 Review: A Little Under the Weather Tue, 04 Dec 2018 13:01:13 -0500 Jonathan Moore

Editor's note 12/5/18: We originally rated Just Cause 4 a 7/10. However, after a few more hours of play, sleeping on it, and deciding that "fun" just couldn't salvage the game from some of the more glaring issues put forth in this review, we have decided to push the overall score to a 6/10. The original review follows.

Since its announcement, Square Enix has put a lot of effort into making us believe that Just Cause 4 sits at the pinnacle of open-world, sandbox action games. Words like “groundbreaking” and phrases like “best in class” have been used to describe its gameplay and redesigned engine in ads and dev diaries from the start.

It's true that it’s a step forward in a series predicated on schticky storylines, explosive combat, and glorious B-movie action. But on the other side of the coin, it’s a sideways step that keeps the franchise from realizing the mammoth potential in Avalanche's new Apex engine.

Regrettably, it appears someone didn’t look up the definition of groundbreaking before slapping it on the game’s marketing materials; and while “best in class” isn’t a complete misnomer, it does belie the true nature of what the game's new engine can achieve.

That's all to say that this game could be more.

However, that’s not to say Just Cause 4 is a bad game. It’s also not to say Just Cause 4 is a boring game. In fact, it’s quite a good game, and it’s quite a fun game, especially by the standards already set by the series itself. It's simply not what one would call "groundbreaking."

If you’re familiar with the overall franchise, JC4’s conceit is a recognizable one. Once again, revolutionary-for-hire Rico Rodriguez is out to dispose of a dastardly dictator who is, once again, subjugating a remote island nation under an iron fist and a couple of billion soldiers. Of course, said dictator also has aspirations of world domination (don't they all?) and one nasty WMD to prove it.

In this case, the appropriately over-the-top agent of destruction is Project Illapa, a weapon that controls Solis' weather. Illapa generates destructive storms at will, ranging from tornadoes to sandstorms to blizzards. It reeks of Bond film McGuffin, but it’s a plot device true to the hyperbolic nature of the series, and one that moves the overarching story forward if you’ve been following along from the start of the series.

Although mostly well-written in an action-movie sort of way and at times, somewhat stimulating, the story in Just Cause 4 will (unsurprisingly) win few awards for originality or narrative resonance -- even though it tries harder to do so than previous installments.

In what might be one of its glaring faults, Just Cause 4 doesn’t embrace its own quirky nature, instead opting for a more serious tone that bullies Rico’s quips and fourth-wall camera winks into the dark corner on the other side of the room.

Whereas Just Cause 3 had Mario Frigo and Just Cause 2 had Baby Panay, Just Cause 4 has no one to lighten the mood and bridge the gap between the tone found in the story and the one found in its gameplay. 

Fortunately, we’re not here for the story. Instead, we’re here to blow shit up, something Just Cause 4 does very well. 

From the game’s opening moments, it’s clear the island nation of Solis has been irreparably shaped by The Black Hand, its leader, and Project Illapa. As a career despot-deposer, it’s Rico’s job to aid the island’s insurrectionists in their quest for freedom. 

Wresting control of the game’s regions is a little different this time around, though. Whereas Chaos still plays a large role in subduing areas of the map, Just Cause 4 introduces a new Frontline system that adds a bit of strategy and complexity to the mix, even if the enemy never pushes back or retakes territory once you've attained it.

When you first start out, you immediately have access to the entire map. However, venturing outside of the small area initially controlled by the rebellion will be difficult since The Black Hand has an overwhelming presence in outlying regions.

As you blow up structures and Black Hand vehicles, you get Chaos points, which vary in value based on the size and power of the structure or vehicle destroyed. The bigger the structure or more powerful the vehicle, the more Chaos points you get.

After you’ve collected enough points and leveled up your Chaos meter, you’re rewarded with squads, groups of freshly recruited rebels. You don’t control these squads outright, but instead use them to annex territory via the Frontline system, which is akin to the hex-based annexation system found in strategy games like Civilization and Endless Legend just with less strategy and no one fighting back. 

To acquire a new region, you need to have a Frontline touching the region and enough squads to take it over. But that’s after you’ve completed the Region Strike within the area you want to take over.

Region Strikes are essentially mandatory side missions -- completing them is a requirement to take over regions and progress in the game, but they aren’t story missions in and of themselves. They are always centered around a large, well-defended Black Hand facility, and most objectives involve freeing rebels, sabotaging Black Hand equipment, stealing some type of intel, or defending some important object.

These missions could simply be labeled "Find Terminals and Defend" since most of the gameplay falls into the rote repetition of "find, enable, defend, find ..." over and over again. 

After you’ve completed one Region Strike in an area, established a Frontline in an adjacent area, and caused enough Chaos to get the squads you need, you can annex it and push back the Black Hand to make exploration easier and stunts less hectic.

Bringing more regions under the influence of the rebellion not only extends the friendly play area, but it also gives you goodies like new weapons and vehicles. Some areas even provide stackable buffs that decrease your supply drop cooldown, meaning one or all of the game’s seven unlockable pilots can continually send guns and ammunition your way, ramping up the mayhem and chaos.

On a very basic level, primary guns like assault rifles, submachine guns, and rifles are mostly interchangeable in many situations. I never found myself actively seeking out a specific weapon in my 19 hours with the game because traversing from one point to another with the grappling hook is so fluid. Switching from an assault rifle to a sniper rifle just isn’t as economical as quickly grappling to the top of a tower and pulling the trigger on a camping sniper.

Rocket launchers and grenade launchers are still powerful and useful in their own right, even if they're still unreliable against moving targets or targets you want to kill right away (I’m looking at you, grenade launcher). New weapons like the lightning gun and wind gun might be niche, but they're a hell of a lot of fun to play with and add memorable variety that the other guns don’t necessarily provide.

The biggest change to the game’s weapons, however, comes in the form of secondary fire, which makes up for the dip in the number of weapons available in the game (down to 19 in JC4 from 30 in JC3). While every weapon doesn’t have a unique auxiliary fire, there are enough options to go around that help you remember to switch things up. 

For example, the SMG fires small tactical missiles while one assault rifle can launch grenades and another can spawn free-roaming drones that attack enemies on site. The lightning gun’s secondary might be the most dynamic, though, in that it ionizes the air and creates a lightning storm in the nearby area. 

Gone from Just Cause 3 are pistols and revolvers, throwables like grenades, and dual-wielding. None of these are terribly missed, though, as the game’s other weapons and items more than make up for their absence.

The star of the show is the grappling hook. Just Cause wouldn’t be Just Cause without it, and with all of the changes made to JC4, it’s good to see that the grappling hook we all know and love remains mostly the same.

You can use it to catapult yourself into the air, climb towers (or mountains) in a single bound, and Scorpion yourself over to an enemy for a swift kick in the chest. Getting from one side of a base to another is often fastest using the grappling hook. Why drive or fly when you can zip?

But the most interesting part about the grappling hook is that the (very) light upgrade system found in Just Cause 3 has gotten a relatively detailed makeover for the sequel. Now, instead of going to a single character for upgrades based on story missions, you’re able to upgrade your grappling hook by completing stunts, challenges, and side quests from three unlockable NPCs, each of which provides a specific upgrade tree with unique mods.

For example, one tree allows you to tether balloons to any object or person, sending them floating off into the stratosphere; another mod tree allows you to attach booster rockets to anything, sending person or object zipping off in a swoosh or spinning uncontrollably like a death-dealing dervish; and another mod tree allows you to pull two objects together with explosive force or open doors that weigh several tons.

Smartly, Just Cause 4 doesn’t wait too long to give you access to the base mods for all three tether types as all three NPCs have available missions almost at the start.

As you complete missions for these NPCs, you’ll get points specific to each of them. Finish enough missions, complete enough challenges, or perform enough stunts, and you’ll unlock further modifications that allow further customization, such as increased launch force, situational tether strength, and directional rocketing.

The customization options are vast and granular, opening up new and creative ways for patient and inventive players to come up with some truly zany combinations. Even if you’ll probably never use more than the base mods in most situations, it's nice to have customizable options that allow for hours of tangential, creative rabbit-holing. 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Just Cause 4 is the vaunted weather system. Built up to be the game’s golden calf, it's simply a letdown. 

I admit that I went into the game thinking the new Apex engine would allow dynamic storms to influence locales and combat on a fluid, any-second-now basis. Based on the hype around the game -- and what’s been shown off before release by Avalanche and Square Enix -- I’d bet I’m not the only one with those not-so-lofty hopes and expectations.

Unfortunately, weather is mostly relegated to set pieces. And while those set pieces can be awesome examples of what Apex can do, they don’t much impact the world of Just Cause 4 on a moment-to-moment basis.

As you progress through the story and gain control of a few Black Hand weather facilities, you can summon storms at any moment -- but only in that immediate region and only if you trek up to the lone terminal in the middle of the far-away facility and activate it.

When storms do show up in-game (which I only ran into two storms I could call "organic" in 19 hours), they're more aggravating than they are cool. Dodging hundreds of bullets and lightning at the same time turns everything up to 11 in the most frustrating ways possible. Trying to see through dense clouds of sand while a hundred dead-eye soldiers fill you full of lead deflates the power fantasy you've worked so hard to create.

Something that was meant to make Just Cause 4 off-the-rails insane is instead relegated to the mundanity of "Mission XYZ". I suppose random storms could be irritating in their own right, but the magic Avalanche had in mind is completely lost when in your control or stuck in only one corner of the world. 

To this point, I haven't mentioned the game's graphics at all. That's because, like its weather system, JC4's graphics are sometimes disappointing and wildly inconsistent. Although Square acknowledged that the potato-tier cutscenes in the early review build would be fixed upon release, they didn't mention anything about erratic performance in regards to water, shadows, and level of detail. 

Speaking with several colleagues, I found I wasn't the only one experiencing less-than-stellar optics on both PC and console. Although there may be an incoming patch that will fix these issues, they are worth mention in the meantime. 

I'm running the game on a pretty beefy rig (i7-7700k, GTX 1080 8GB, and 32 GB RAM); that's above the recommended requirements on the game's Steam page. However, water still looks splotchy and muddy in places, shadows rip and move unpredictably in almost every occurrence, and the overall level of detail unreliably shifts based on locale and region. 

For example, the water in the opening jungle area looks like nothing more than an uncomfortably undulating sea of mud -- there's very little form to it and from certain angles, individual pixels can be seen from some distance. However, along the coast, things are considerably better, with water looking particularly crisp and colorful as it transitions out of shallows to deep water and back.

But even then, there are areas that look as if they're covered with a worn blue tarp, devoid of any real detail other than "I know that's water because coast." 

It also took some tweaking to get shadows looking just... OK. While the jagged shadows of overhanging trees are troublesome, things become overly bothersome with the unnatural shadows on Rico's character model, as well as the splotchy shadows created from smoke, explosions, aircraft, and more. 

For a game that's historically pretty darn beautiful, it's disappointing to see that the PC version is poorly optimized from the start. If Avalanche releases a patch that fixes these issues, I'll amend this part of the review to reflect such a course correction. 

  • Solid mechanics and controls
  • Increased tether customizability
  • Frontline adds depth to territory acquisition
  • Explosions, glorious explosions
  • Weather system doesn't live up to hype
  • Inconsistent graphics on both console and PC
  • Larger shift toward serious storytelling 
  • Irritatingly repetitive missions

Your main takeaway should be this: Just Cause 4 is a fun game and worth your attention if you're a fan of the series. In many ways, this could be called Just Cause 3.5, as it exhibits many of that game's best qualities. 

Unfortunately, a poorly executed weather system, inconsistent graphics plagued by pop-in, and a story that takes itself too seriously keep Rico's latest adventure from achieving its full potential. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Just Cause 4 used in this review.] 

Solbot: Energy Rush - A Colorful Journey Toward Energy Sustainability Mon, 03 Dec 2018 11:50:36 -0500 Allison M Reilly

In Solbot: Energy Rush, the player is a robot named Solbot who is on a space mission to collect renewable energy for humankind. The player accomplishes this mission by collecting brightly colored orbs in each of the game's 50 levels. Touch the wrong orb, and the player dies and has to restart the level. However, players will find plenty of help along the way in power ups and neat facts about energy sustainability.

Released in July 2018, this mobile game from indie game studio Freakout Games combines easy-to-learn gameplay with bright colors and an honorable mission. Solbot: Energy Rush is an entertaining casual game to play to help pass the time.

Good Difficulty Curve, Great Use of Color

The game's mechanics are simple enough, but can take a little time to get used to. Players move Solbot left or right by tapping on either the left or right side of Solbot. The game doesn't utilize a drag or pull to move the character, which is different but it doesn't affect the quality or difficulty of the game.

By tapping and moving right or left, players make their way through each level collecting the orbs corresponding to Solbot's color. Solbot changes color after each level. In each level, the orbs corresponding to Solbot are also indicated with a gold ring, making them easier to spot.

The difficulty in Solbot: Energy Rush curves nicely, starting simple at first. As levels pass, the arrangement of the orbs become more complex and the player needs to collect more orbs to complete the level. However, every 10 levels, the game introduces a new power up that makes collecting orbs easier, such as the magnet, which pulls all the right colored orbs to Solbot. The power ups appear on the screen among the orbs, and part of the gameplay is collecting the power up without running into any wrong colored orbs.

Facts Need a Little More "Energy"

Freakout Games seeks to increase social awareness of various issues through its games. With Solbot: Energy Rush, various facts about energy sustainability are presented daily along with a free key to resume after a death. I like the facts idea, but the presentation makes it easy to ignore the fact and just claim the free key.

Instead, it would've been cooler to present the facts either as a quiz. For example, instead of just sharing a fact with the free key, the fact could be presented as a multiple choice question. If the player picks the right answer, they receive two free keys. If they get it wrong, then they only receive the one. As a quiz, the player then has to read and interact with the information, which ultimately builds the awareness Freakout Games wants to achieve.

Overall, once players get the hang of the controls, Solbot: Energy Rush is fun game to open up when there's a few minutes to spare. There's enough challenge to keep folks interested, but not so much challenge to feel frustrating.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy: Reigniting a Franchise Tue, 27 Nov 2018 10:12:37 -0500 Joseph Ocasio

Throughout my entire playthrough of Spyro: Reignited Trilogy, I couldn't help but smile.

Revisiting the original Spyro games with an adult mindset and beautiful HD graphics brought about a flood of nostalgia. I could vividly see myself, sitting on my bed, playing the original games on my PlayStation. I remembered the joys of exploring each unique level and showing off to my family what I had achieved.

I never thought I could ever feel such a deep, emotional response with the return of a cartoon-y purple dragon, but by God, did the Reignited Trilogy do that.

I had no doubt that the original Spyro Trilogy would hold up well, as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy proved PS1 classics could gain a second life in today's gaming world. Sure, there are some hang-ups that don't quite line up as they did in 1998, but Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is another example of why we need more platformers in an age that's filled with open-worlds. 

If you've never played Spyro, here's the gist of his first three games: 

  1. Spyro the Dragon has the titular character fighting against Gnasty Gnork, after the latter turns all of his dragon elders into stone.
  2. The Sequel, Ripto's Rage, has Spyro attempting to go on vacation when he's summoned by a Professor and his two friends to help fight against the titular Ripto and his henchmen.
  3. Finally, Year of the Dragon has an evil sorceress stealing dragon eggs, and Spyro must team up with a group of colorful animals to get the eggs back. 

I say all of that to say this: don't expect much in the way of in-depth story. This is, after all, a platformer. Don't expect something like Jak and Daxter or Ratchet and Clank level's of storytelling

However, the charming cast of characters you meet are filled with personality. From the Surfer-Dude like Hunter to the Greedy Moneybags, each of the characters is filled with well-defined characteristics. You'll even get a few chuckles from the various cutscenes that bookend each level. 

If you never played a Spyro game before, it may just come off as just another 3D platformer. You'll jump, glide, and collect to your heart's content. Your only means of attack includes fire breath and a charge attack to take down shielded and metallic enemies.

What made Spyro stand out from other '90s platformers was the emphasis on exploration. While the worlds you visit aren't quite as deep or complex as in something like Super Mario Odyssey, there's still a lot to do and collect in each of the worlds.

The first game, in particular, is all about collecting, as you'll spend most of your time exploring and looking for dragons. In the Reignited Trilogy, the guidebook you have has seen a noticeable upgrade from the original and now does a much better job of keeping track of the dragons and gems still left to collect.

Aside from a few dragons that are hidden in some obtuse places and will require some finesse platforming skills, the original Spyro is mostly a breeze to get through, taking around four hours to complete.

That being said, you can add an extra hour if you want to collect everything. It's a much simpler game when compared to the other two, but the platforming and "urge to collect everything" still holds up -- even by today's standards.

Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon, on the other hand, have aged even better and both feel like what the first game should've been.

Where the first game was a collect-a-thon, Ripto's Rage and Year of the Dragon are more about completing various tasks and mini-games, like skateboarding, jumping challenges, and "killing X enemies" in some sort of order. While a few mini-games that haven't aged as well, they're few and far between.

Ripto's Rage introduces power up's, like increased fire and charge damage, shooting fireballs, short-term flight, and more. It also introduces abilities like swimming, climbing, and other interesting moves that propel the game forward. Some level sections are in-accessible without them, encouraging you to replay old levels with your new movesets.

It all adds up to a much more varied and a meatier game, lasting longer than the original (though it can still be beaten in about six hours).

Year of the Dragon, meanwhile, continues to improve upon the foundations laid by its predecessors and has sections where you play as new characters, such as Shiela the Kangaroo, Sgt Bird, Agent Zero, and Bently the Yeti. Each brings a different and unique style of gameplay to the standard platforming, but they never feel out of place. 

None of this would mean anything if Spyro didn't control well.

Luckily, Spyro has always had simple-to-learn controls and the Reignited Trilogy keeps that going. Spyro moves just as silky-smooth as he did in 1998 and the added analog controls make for better movement. Save for a few instances where Spyro just barely missed where you wanted to go and somewhat stiff flight controls, all three games handle like a dream.

The only real misstep with the controls is the default camera mode. It's far too sluggish to keep up with the action, so I recommend going to the options and choose the alternative camera option. You'll thank me later.

The biggest update to Spyro is the new graphics. The Unreal Engine is put to great use in bringing the blocky, triangle characters and world of the original games to the HD world. It's a beautiful looking game with vibrant colors, excellent animations, and character models that do a great job of mixing new and old.

On a base PS4, the performance kept well, though some of the cutscenes had some noticeable slowdown and it'll take you out of the experience. While some have taken issue with the game's use of motion blur, I never found it to be a problem and thought it worked fine.

The audio is equally impressive, with series composer Stewart Copeland remaking all of the music from the original with a modern take. It sounds just as good as the originals, though you can change back to the original soundtrack if you're not a fan of the new arrangements.

On the voice acting, the game sees Tom Kenny, Greg Burger, Michael Gough and more reprising their roles. They all sound just as great as they did back in the late '90s and it's a nice piece of fan service to have them back. The newer voice actors also do good jobs, though a few characters start to sound too familiar to one another.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is another win from Activision. It manages to modernize what made the original Spyro games so memorable while staying to its roots. Some parts haven't aged as well, but it's a testament to how strong game design never ages.

Now that both Crash and Spyro have returned, I can't wait to see what the future holds for these two icons.

Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection Review -- Skip This Beat Tue, 27 Nov 2018 09:45:01 -0500 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

Persona 4: Dancing All Night was the reason I got a PlayStation TV. Though the remote play rarely worked, the interface was laughable, and it required a first-party memory card to be functional, I was ecstatic to get my hands on the game. 


Needless to say, I was completely hooked from the first moment. 


Part of the reason is that the Persona series has always had amazing music courtesy of Shoji Meguro, but the remixes featured in P4D topped the originals consistently. Many of them are mainstays on my workout playlist (especially Yuu Miyake's remix of “NOW I KNOW.”) But that's not what made Persona 4: Dancing All Night a great game.


What really made it stand out in a crowded genre was the fact that it featured a 20+ hour story mode, full of all of the twists, turns, and emotional climaxes that the mainline series is known for. It was unlike anything I had ever played, halfway between a visual novel and a rhythm game. I loved it, and it made grinding tracks to unlock costumes and songs insanely fun.


It's no surprise that I was so excited to review the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection that I pestered my editor about it weekly for months on end.


I mention this only to say that if you were/are planning on buying the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection because you expected Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight to offer the same depth as 4, you'll be sorely disappointed.


Let's Dance

For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, the Persona series of rhythm games are spin-offs of the mainline Persona games, taking place after the events of the main game of which they're numbered.


The controls are fairly simple and will feel natural to anyone who's played a button-based rhythm game before; simply tap or hold buttons to the beat, flicking the joystick to boost your score with optional scratches. You're also rewarded for hitting special “Fever” notes -- if you manage to hit three, you'll see a special partner dance sequence and really boost your score.


At higher levels, this really gets challenging in terms of visual stimulus -- there's a lot going on.


This is where things get a little wonky with the scoring system as well -- depending on where a gauge is by the time you end the song, you might not clear the track. This is super frustrating because it means that if you're looking to clear a song, the only thing that really matters is nailing the last third of it.


You could have a full combo going and then miss four notes at the end and fail the track, then miss 50 notes during the first half of the song and clear it if you're able to pull it together by the end.


The main draw of the rhythm portions is in the dancing sequences that play out as you mash to the beat. Each track has bespoke choreography, and if you can split your attention enough to watch as Ryuji and Futaba bust a move together, you'll be rewarded.


There's obviously been a lot of effort put in, and it culminates in a couple of group tracks in each game that really shine.


The Music


I'll say this right now: if you're not a fan of the music in the Persona series, skip this game. Seriously. Close out of this review tab and read something else, maybe one of our wonderful Red Dead Redemption 2 guides or our review of Pokemon Lets GO Pikachu and Eevee


But if you're a fan, each game in the collection offers dozens of tracks, featuring impeccable remixes by the likes of DE DE MOUSE, Lotus Juice, and even Hideki Naganuma, the mad genius behind the soundtracks to the Jet Set Radio series.


As a collection, the soundtracks shine, but as three individual games, you'll likely come up wanting. Each game doesn't really have all that many songs on its own, and many of them are remixes of the same song. Both Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight only have 25 songs each, and that's paltry for a rhythm game -- even if many of the songs are brand new.


Anti-Social Link

Now, in Persona 4: Dancing All Night, the paltry song list was excusable since the story mode was a sweeping, long, unexpected symphony that introduced each song as special, one with significance to the story.


Neither Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight or Persona 5: Dancing Star Night has that to fall back on since they have both axed the story mode entirely.


In their places are a brand-new “Social” tab, which is supposed to be reminiscent of how you build up social links in the Persona games.


It's a cute idea. As the player makes progress, unlocks achievements, and hits milestones in the game, they'll be able to see scenes between the player character and the other characters. As they progress, they can even go into their private dressing rooms and play a pathetically simple game of hide-and-seek. It's very fan-service-y, with characters reminiscing on the events of their games and what they've been up to or how they have changed since.


It's nice, but... why?


I mean, why have a freaking HIDE-AND-SEEK mini-game in a rhythm game based on a role-playing game that itself is based on the folklore of a thousand different cultures? Why did they cut the one function of Persona 4: Dancing All Night that separated it from other cookie-cutter mash-the-button rhythm games? Why am I getting more and more enraged as I write these words?


Okay, I'm going to go for a walk and calm down. Back soon.


The Verdict

It was snowing. The walk sucked. I'm still angry at these games.


Here's the problem with the Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection. Rhythm games have already been perfected. Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band represent the Platonic ideal of what a rhythm game should be. Yes, you need accessories to play them, but the trade-off is a sublime feeling of flow when you perfect your technique, one where you can lose yourself in the music. It's perfect, and it's why I love rhythm games in the first place.


In order for a rhythm game without a specialized peripheral to offer a gameplay experience that even comes close to matching that feeling, it needs to offer some above-and-beyond gameplay hook. Many touchscreen-based rhythm games get around this issue by timing the music to touchscreen taps in a way that makes it seem like the player is actually playing the notes, as if they're cueing the music on a synthesizer or piano.


Persona 4: Dancing All Night got around this with a story mode that turned the game into something more than itself.


As I said before, at the time, I had never played anything quite like Persona 4: Dancing All Night. It was a visual novel with branching paths, a wonderful and heart-rending mystery, and a climax that had me at the edge of my seat. And to top it all off, the whole story dealt with the power of music, of one specific beautiful song that you're able to hear as the credits roll.


Sure, when you finish the story, you're not left with much to do other than chasing scores, unlocking the rest of a paltry tracklist, and playing dress-up, but the story mode excused all that.


Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night have no excuses. Despite the flash, they are both bare-bones experiences, and it's clear that the team couldn't bottle the same lightning they had for Persona 4: Dancing All Night. It's a shame, because bringing these games West was a pretty big deal for Atlus, riding on the massive success of Persona 5, and if the games under-perform, it doesn't bode well for a possible Persona 6 dancing game.


Having said that, the game mechanics work (with the exception of the weird gauge system,) and chasing scores is satisfying. It's also absolutely undeniable that the main draw here is in the music. It's all incredibly great, and the remixes do the originals justice. But without any kind of hook, without a story mode, without that draw, it's really hard to recommend Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night unless you're a rabid fan of the series who will be content playing and replaying the same tracks to unlock costumes for characters.


For everyone else, just wait for the soundtracks to show up on Spotify or Amazon, and save your time and money.


+Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a unique, must-play rhythm game, and playing it on the PS4 is a joy. 

+The soundtrack bangs. 


-Tracklists are shamefully short at 25 per game. 

-Persona 5: Dancing Star Night and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight both fail to include a compelling gameplay hook to motivate the player to play more.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Persona Dancing: Endless Night Collection for the purposes of this review.]

Darksiders 3 Review: Perfectly Adequatesiders Edition Mon, 26 Nov 2018 14:04:38 -0500 Ty Arthur

Game hype is a funny thing when it comes to long-running series, especially those finally releasing a new entry. Sometimes you wait years and lose 100 hours of your life to Red Dead Redemption 2. Sometimes you wait years and get Duke Nukem Forever.

Smack dab in the middle of that spectrum is Darksiders 3, the long-awaited sequel where we finally get to play as Horseman Fury while the apocalypse ravages earth.

Not an actively terrible game and certainly not a great one either, this third entry is the textbook definition of a perfectly adequate, run-of-the-mill action title that doesn't particularly stand out in any way.

Returning To An Old Friend... Who Is Less Interesting Than You Remembered

Let's start with graphics and aesthetics.

Darksiders 3 maintains the Darksiders style with the same distinctive character design on full display -- well, for every character besides Fury, who just looks like a Marvel superhero most of the time. 

The locations where you battle demons, elementals, angels, and terrifying little cannibal fairy children are appropriately varied. You'll hack and slash your way through subway tunnels covered in egg clutches, ancient lava-filled catacombs, fungus-riddled caves, and overgrown apocalyptic skyscrapers.

The story unraveling between the whip cracking and sword slashing isn't really even worth mentioning. Fury is angry and wants to punch things, so she gets sent to Earth to hunt down the seven deadly sins. All of these demonic fisticuffs take place during the same time as the first game while War is trying to prove his innocence and before Death goes off on his fantasy adventure from the second game.

Fury is probably the least interesting of the four Horsemen so far, as her motivation boils down to, "I'm bored, let's fight". She weirdly goes from hating humanity and not caring if it is eradicated to trying to save all the adorable little babies so fast you'll get whiplash.

It's a mess, but you can't really expect much coherence from a universe that includes dwarves, magic users, demons, and a modern-day apocalypse all rolled into one setting.

Bare Bones Game Design

Apart from the visual style, Darksiders 3 sees a noticeable downgrade from the previous game. Nearly everything has been extremely simplified and boiled down to the series' base components.

Those addictive RPG elements that made Darksiders 2 stand out are mostly gone. Sometimes simplifying and removing unnecessary roleplaying mechanics make for a better experience (Mass Effect 2, anyone?) but here it really detracts from the overall gameplay.

Fury can utilize a few limited upgrades to her equipment that are mostly "deal more damage" or "heal a little over time." The main changes in style instead take place when you switch between different Hollow forms, going from fire to ice and so on.

Besides letting you access new areas, each form changes your attack type. With five very basic forms, there are far fewer overall options when compared to the wider variety of combos and weapon choices in the previous game.

This time around, you get three stats: health, damage, and "arcane," which is just the damage you deal while counter-attacking. I'm not sure why the developers tried to dress that up as somehow being a magic stat, because it most decidedly isn't.

But here we are. 

There were also repeated statements from the developer that Fury is more of a mage-focused ranged character, and that is also the clear and direct antithesis to what's found here. She's up-close melee through and through, just more fragile.

You won't start to notice it until bigger enemies show up about two hours in, but there's been a shift toward more of a Souls-style combat. Fury doesn't have stamina to manage, but she's super squishy and battle heavily revolves around memorizing attack patterns so you can counter at the right times instead of dying immediately.

There's one big, glaring, obvious problem in inserting that style of battle into a fast-paced action title -- it actually slows down combat, which is a terrible design choice for a combo-heavy action game.

You won't crash into a group of enemies with your chain-whips slashing wildly, trying to rack up 99 hits anymore. Instead, you'll cautiously go against one opponent at a time and wait for them to attack first so you can counter, doing your best to avoid groups of foes (who will quickly overwhelm you).

This change honestly feels like a culling of elements so the developers had to do less rather than implement changes that were actually needed.  For example, the minimap is entirely gone. In most cases that doesn't matter, because Darksiders 3 is much more linear and less open than its predecessor, so it quickly becomes a glaring problem. 

Most of the platforming -- an intricate part of the puzzle solving in Darksiders 2 -- is also completely gone. The few instances that remain aren't exactly awe-inspiring, and the timed puzzles combined with a finicky ledge grabbing system just aren't particularly fun.

The Verdict

If you are keen to continue the next part of the Darksiders saga, I'd recommend doing so on console, as this entry doesn't seem particularly well optimized for PC. The error message above before getting dumped back to my desktop was probably the most frustrating puzzle to overcome (something you shouldn't have to navigate on console). 

So now the big question is, "Is this game worth paying $60 for on release day?"The answer to that question is a big old hell no, son! 

At best, this is a weekend rental. It also seems like a pretty good bet Darksiders 3 will be free on Xbox via Games With Gold within a year or so and either on PS+ or PlayStation Now around the same time. 

Save your money and pick up something with better design unless you are the most diehard, obsessed Darksiders fan in existence.


+ Unique character designs remain interesting to gawk at
+ Varied atmosphere and style in levels
+ You get to kill tiny fairy cannibal children, angels, and demons all in one game


– Extremely bare bones weapon, stat, and upgrade systems
– Slow paced Souls-style combat doesn't improve the series at all
– Crashes and stutters frequently on PC version

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Darksiders 3 for the purposes of this review.]

Thief Simulator Review: Crime Kind of Pays Thu, 22 Nov 2018 11:00:03 -0500 Tim White

Simulators seem to be all the rage these days, and I must confess, I rarely understand the appeal. Most of them seem to be based on activities I can't imagine wanting to simulate for entertainment value.

Thief Simulator from developer Noble Muffins at least has a premise I can understand and — to some extent — appreciate. I love to make intricate plans and execute them sneakily.

I would obviously never steal anything in real life, but pretend digital crime? Bring it on.


Games that have the word "simulator" right in their titles generally don't have any sort of narrative, and that's fine. I can't very well assess an element that doesn't exist in Thief Simulator. Moving on!


There's an inherent downside to not having any sort of story in a video game: the gameplay is pretty much all that's left. Consequently, it had better be strong enough to hold players' attention for a while.

Is Thief Simulator's core gameplay loop sufficient to keep the whole ship afloat?

Kind of.

It's immediately clear upon starting the game that it doesn't have a huge budget. That's fine; I'm interested in what the developers have done with what they have, not what they might have done with what they don't have.

That being said, the content that's here is reasonably fun — there's just not all that much of it, and once you've seen it all, there's not much reason to go back. The developers regularly roll out new content in small batches, but it's unclear how much the game might grow over time.

You start with no skills and no tools (other than a less-than-subtle crowbar). Steal a few things, pawn them for cash, buy tools and skills with your profits, and then you can lift more expensive things that are more heavily guarded.

On occasion, a perfectly planned and executed heist can be ruined by technical issues, such as an inability to move onto certain surfaces while crouched or doors loudly slamming when you definitely pressed the button to close them quietly.

These problems aren't frequent, but they crop up often enough to merit a word of caution if you're on the fence about buying the game.

If homeowners catch you in the act, police will arrive swiftly, and if you get busted, it's back to the last checkpoint, which are only created when you rest in your car or leave the area, so there's some pressure to take your time and avoid notice.

However, that sense of caution has to be maintained largely through voluntary roleplay once you figure out that it's pretty easy to hide from the fuzz until they go away.

In short, Thief Simulator is only as immersive and challenging as you choose to make it. An optional "hard mode" extends the game's life somewhat by removing the mini-map and making NPCs more perceptive, but it's still ultimately up to the player to refrain from abusing the clumsy A.I. if they really want to play the game as it's meant to be played.


Thief Simulator won't be winning any awards in this department, but that's OK — graphics are too over-hyped these days anyway. I don't think its mildly clunky PS2-era aesthetic counts against it too heavily.

The UI is functional if a bit too crowded. A more minimalist and less distracting visual presentation would have helped maintain the immersion that the game relies so heavily on to create tension.

The display on your in-game computer is especially ugly, but at least it's easy to use.

Sound & Music

The music selection is limited to a half-dozen tracks or so, ranging from a handful of snazzy jazz tunes in your hideout to sparse dramatic strings during a heist.

Most of it is generic enough to fade from conscious awareness, which is probably for the best; there are already some distracting visual elements that make it hard to focus at times.

Voice acting and sound effects are equally amateurish, but far from terrible. Again, that's not necessarily a criticism; it would be ridiculous to expect such a small indie project to hire John Williams or Troy Baker. In the context of the whole package, the sound design gets the job done well enough.


If nothing else, Thief Simulator's dated graphics and simple A.I. make it palatable even to budget-friendly rigs. I experienced no stuttering or any other performance issues on a GTX 1080 with an i-7700 Skylake CPU, and I wouldn't expect most other hardware configurations to struggle either.

Load times can be long, especially when first launching the game — so long that you may think it's frozen. It hasn't (probably). It may be upwards of a minute, but Thief Simulator does most of its loading at startup, so you shouldn't have to wait nearly as long between missions.

The Verdict

Thief Simulator could have been fantastically fun if there were more to do and if it were more challenging. As it exists now, it's just kind of fun, for a while. I hesitate to recommend a full-price purchase at $19.99, but if it goes on sale for 50% off or more, stealth fans may want to give it a whirl.


+ Only does one thing, but does it reasonably well
+ Cautious players who stick to the rules will have more fun
+ Regular updates from devs that seem to be active and responsive


– Not much to do after 5-10 hours
– Rudimentary A.I. can be easily abused
– Occasional problems with input and collision detection

Keep an eye on GameSkinny's Thief Simulator page as the game receives more updates in the future.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Thief Simulator for the purpose of this review.]

Battlefield 5 Review: A New Coat of Paint on an Old War Tank Wed, 21 Nov 2018 10:06:29 -0500 John Schutt

Battlefield 5 is perfectly functional. Everything people want out of a mainline entry, this game delivers. The gunplay is sound. The sound design is spot on. There are enough maps to cater to many different gameplay styles. Even the game modes are just, well, fine. They create the same rush we've felt when playing the series for years, though Rush itself is no longer playable. 

But there is nothing particularly new here, nothing to excite the imagination like the infantry focus and pacing of Bad Company 2 or the grand reopening for the series with Battlefield 3.

Battlefield 5 goes through the motions, trodding a well-worn path that is all at once fun and adrenaline pumping but somehow still terribly rote.

Stories Well-Enough Told

The singleplayer side of Battlefield 5 is a stronger showing than its multiplayer. It's here where we see the developers playing with expectations in gameplay, if not in narrative. 

Like Battlefield 1BF5's "War Stories" are self-contained mini-campaigns with a lens focused on a single soldier. They're about the effect a few competent men and women can have on a small part of a much larger conflict.

Each of them tells the story of a different phase and theater of World War 2, and each plays with the expectations players have of a big-budget FPS experience.

Mechanically, each War Story is unique, and each chapter of each story attempts to give Battlefield's take on another type of game. From open world to area defense, flight sim to stealth-action, the gang's all here. 

And I'll be honest: I was quite taken with every chapter I played. DICE has just about outdone themselves when it comes to making the Battlefield singleplayer fresh again.

As with the rest of the game, though, don't expect anything to fly out of left field; the storytelling is sound despite predictable plots and somewhat stock characters. I never found myself particularly attached to any of the playable characters, or the NPCs for that matter, but I was interested enough to see where their stories would go, so that's somewhat of a plus. 

The expansiveness of the missions warrants a mention as well. Some of the levels are among the largest we've seen in a Battlefield game, and each is laid out to allow for multiple (and different) playstyles and playthroughs.

There are collectibles scattered about and plenty of chances to play with all the weapons and other armaments on offer, and vehicles are ever-present, as should be expected.

My main issue with BF5's singleplayer is twofold. First, the complete experience is currently unavailable. The fourth and final mission won't unlock until December 5, and while I can see the value in holding content back to keep people wanting more, it smacks of incompleteness if not desperation.

Secondly, I can't help but compare this offering to those with a similar length and content-saturation. Take a game like Titanfall 2, where every level brought something wild and new but still contained it's best ideas to individual stages, and Battlefield 5 seems quaint.

I was never knocked out of my socks, and I know for a fact DICE can pull off those kinds of moments. I've played them.

The only truly memorable moment was when an explosion synced up perfectly to a section of the in-game music. I suppose that's the point, but in a genre partially defined by its set-pieces, to have something so small stand out seems like an overall missed opportunity.

At War With Ourselves

I began my AAA FPS career with the Battlefield series. My entry into the franchise was Bad Company 2, and I was terrible. I could hardly hit the broad side of a barn, let alone see it in the first place. If I were a new player in BF5, I probably would have given up ages ago.

As I said in my feature on the betaBattlefield 5 makes every player feel like they can have an impact on the outcome of a match. It's not something most will be familiar with, but a single medic can — and has — turned the tide with a few well-timed revives. 

Here, a coordinated squad can take the entire map by the bootstraps and run roughshod over an enemy team. Moreover, they can be of almost any class composition so long as their aim is good enough. 

In short, individual players haven't been this powerful in years. 

It's a beautiful feeling, but it's held back by almost everything else about the multiplayer, which is best served as a list of unfortunate "demerits": 

  • The maps are some of the worst in the series. They lack verticality, personality, and gameplay variety. Each match turns into "run to that house. Now that one," over and over again. Oh, and there aren't enough of them.  

  • The guns all feel fine, but none of them give me a sense of satisfaction when I use them. The strong ones are strong but in a flat, uninteresting kind of way.

  • The game modes aren't anything special. They are fun and facilitate entertaining gameplay, but none of them try anything interesting enough to make them stand out.

  • The vehicles are also what we've come to expect. A tank is a tank, and a plane is a plane (read: there's a lack of actionable variety). 

One thing I will give the multiplayer is that its pacing is well done. Even the longest matches are played out in high-speed. Everything happens at a mile a minute, and the sense of escalation and de-escalation is what I'm looking for in a shooter.

One moment I'm sending out health packs to three different squads and the next it's quiet save for the occasional ricochet in the distance.

The way classes have been laid out only helps the pacing, too. Because Assault players are dependant on Medics and Supports to keep them in top form, they can only plow through a defensive line for so long.

With Medics now wielding SMGs, they have every reason to be up in the middle of things, getting their hands dirty.

I touched on squad composition briefly in my TDM and Domination guide, and I'll be going into more detail over the coming days in individual class guides, but for right now I'll say that I'm super satisfied with the state of classes in Battlefield 5

The Assault is more powerful than ever, but as the workhorse class, I think they should be, and without competent squadmates behind them, they can only do so much.

I'll hold off on talking much about customization because it has almost no effect on gameplay. Short of becoming a microtransaction-laden mess, there isn't much to say beyond, "Oh, it's there. That's nice."

Final Verdict

Battlefield 5 ticks all the boxes for a fun, safe, copy-selling entry in the franchise. It could be one of the least accessible shooters in recent memory, but most AAA FPS titles can say that, Fortnite notwithstanding.

BF5's singleplayer mode is well-conceived but ultimately treads ground we've seen before, though it does so with new boots. The multiplayer functions and provides moments of entertainment but lacks any real bite. 

I don't regret the time I've put into the game for this review, and I definitely can see myself playing a few hours at a time if I need a way to unwind or get my Battlefield fix. There's great potential here, but right now Battlefield 5 doesn't quite reach it.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Battlefield 5 for the purpose of this review.]

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review: Scratch the Strategy Itch Tue, 20 Nov 2018 09:00:01 -0500 Oscar Gonzalez

For one reason or another, games inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu have become in vogue again. October saw the release of Call of Cthulhu and Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. The latter of the two – based on a tabletop game with the same name -- now makes its way to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 brings its unique strategic gameplay to the consoles. 

Developed by UK-based Auroch Digital, Cthulhu Tactics has a similar squad-based gameplay made famous by the XCOM series. Devoted fans of that style of play and lovers of everything Lovecraft may squeeze out some extra enjoyment, but it simply doesn't have enough in the tank for everyone else.


In the Nazi-killin' Business

Cthulhu Tactics takes place during World War II. As most history buffs know, the Nazis delved into the occult to either prove their superiority over other races or seek supernatural weapons that would ensure their victory. Other games explored this fascination they had, but in this game, the Nazi found the power of Mythos and plan to make use of it.

To take on this new mystic power, the Allied forces formed a special unit called Charlie Company with orders to stop the Nazis from using the power. The team is made up of British Captain Eric "Badger" Harris, Arian Dubois from France, Corporal Akhee "The Eye" Singh, and Sergeant Brandon Carter from the US. Each soldier has their own set of abilities and equipment for combat.

As players make their way through the missions, bits of additional background for characters and the overall storyline will be revealed, but not much. The battlefield will see bits of lore here and there with most of the story coming from briefings before the start of a mission. For a game based on one of the most well-known wars in history along with an iconic fictional world written by Lovecraft, Cthulhu Tactics' story doesn't have much to sink your teeth into.

Squad Goals

Missions place the squad on a 2.5D isometric map with a goal to reach a certain point on the map. Players will lead Charlie Company via a point-and-click interface called Explore Mode until the team comes within a certain distance of enemy units, which begins combat.

Enemies will not be revealed until they're within the sight of one of the team members. Until then, there will be no details about the opposition available such as the name of the unit or hit points.

When it's the player's turn, orders can be given to each character from taking a shot at enemies, reloading or using a special attack. Like XCOM and other similar strategy games, the number of actions available will be based on Action Points.

There are certain abilities that make use of Momentum Points, which are points based on the player with the highest leadership stat and can increase in number depending on how well the fight is going for the players. One of the special actions is called Overwatch that lets characters focus in a certain direction and if enemies move within that direction, the character will shoot at them.

Maps are based on a grid so players will have to move their characters in order to get the best shot on the enemy. There's plenty of cover in each area so it's a matter of deciding whether to do a hard push or to move slowly toward the enemy.

A battle will consist of several enemies and, once over, players will return to Explore Mode where they will continue moving toward their goal and investigate certain spots here and there until they come across another set of enemies. There are multiple battles in each mission, and after the mission, players will receive experience points that level up characters and in turn increase available skills. Weapon mods and other equipment will also be available after missions. 

While the Cthulhu Tactics' gameplay sounds intriguing, its execution is a problem. The controls are clunky, which really says a lot when we're talking about a turn-based strategy game. You simply have to press too many buttons per action, which becomes cumbersome when you are swapping targets often.

The game also desperately needs is a fast forward option as some actions take a long time to perform, which turns much of your time with Achtung! Cthulhu into a waiting game.

There is also the issue of performance. This review was played on an original Xbox One and there were multiple instances of slowdown in situations where it didn't seem warranted. Cthulhu Tactics takes around 10 hours to beat, but with a fast-forward button that could easily drop down by a few hours.

Another problem is the transition between Explore Mode and combat. Since it's based on distance from an enemy, players can find themselves in combat with an enemy that is quite a distance away because of the barriers separating them. This means battles could start with multiple turns needed to get anywhere near the enemy.

War Is Ugly

Cthulhu Tactics is simply boring to look at. There's a real lack of detail in both the characters and the environments, which ultimately makes the game leave a minimal impression. Although the game's aesthetics are on par with a tabletop game, considering it's based on one, it simply comes off as unappealing to look at after awhile.

Add on top of that the few musical scores and the few, barely audible words from the game's characters. There is nothing in the presentation to impress the player. 

The Verdict

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics may appeal to gamers in love with strategy games like XCOM, but who have beaten all the games in that franchise and are all out of juice. This is a game for those people that need a little hit for their strategy habit. 

For everyone else, Cthulhu Tactics offers nothing new or exceptional, It's like a video game version of junk food that has nothing but empty calories with no nutrition.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Achtung: Cthulhu Tactics for the purpose of this review.]

Farming Simulator 19 Review: Country Roads, Take Me Home Mon, 19 Nov 2018 14:53:50 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

I remember a time when my dad would tell me to stop playing video games and go outside. Well, the joke's on him because Farming Simulator 19 brings all the great outdoors right to your couch, letting you run the agricultural complex of your dreams.

It has it all: crops, animals... I guess that's really about it. However, it's a surprisingly deep game that has a lot to offer fans of simulation and management games, and it's a wholly unique title that probably isn't like many games in your library.

Despite Farming Simulator being a long-running seriesFarming Simulator 19 was my first time climbing behind the wheel of a digital tractor. I put together the most blinged out farmer I could -- leather vest and all -- to hit the fields.

So, is Farming Simulator 19 worth your time and cash? Let's dig in.

Gardening for Dummies

One thing that struck me almost immediately was how intuitive everything seemed to be in Farming Simulator 19. Loading up the tutorials made it all seem so streamlined: hop in your tractor, hook up whatever machine you need for the field, and get to farming.

Fields follow a fairly predictable pattern, and anyone can quickly learn how to take care of plants and get them growing quickly. Ready for the big time, I started up my very own farm.

How quickly I was lost in the weeds.

Strip away the tutorial, and you suddenly have a billion choices to make. What brand of tractor do I want to buy? How big of a cultivator do I need? Where do I find fertilizer in the mess of menus? Should I buy the frontloader attachment? Where do I get a vehicle with a forklift?

It's daunting when the world of Farming Simulator 19 just lets you loose because you can literally run a farm however you want.

The systems can be a bit obtuse - for example, the different types of equipment you can buy are laid out in a bizarre, seemingly random order. Instead of having categories listed alphabetically, you have to hunt and peck until you find the items you need.

After a few restarts, however, the systems all start to come together and you find yourself feeling like a pro. I was surprised how quickly the game becomes accessible; on medium difficulty, things are pretty forgiving and money is never too hard to come by.

The Beauty of Nature

Another striking aspect of Farming Simulator 19 is just how good everything looks.

This year's version features a much-ballyhooed total revamping of the graphics engine, and it is actually fairly impressive. There are tons of little details that add to immersion and help make everything look the way it should, though there are still some limitations. If you get close to objects and start inspecting them, you can still tell that there is not a huge, AAA budget allotted for the graphics.

The little details, coupled with the obvious visual cues of which areas of your fields have been worked, make the new graphics engine a big win for the Farming Simulator 19. Like many of our favorite simulator games, it's easy to just get lost in what you are doing, admiring the sights and feeling a sense of accomplishment when you perfectly cultivate straight lines into the soil of your brand new wheat field.

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

If tending to crops isn't your jam, there are plenty of options available to raise animals as well. Cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs all return in Farming Simulator 19, and you can tend to and breed these animals to make huge amounts of money. New to the series are horses, which come with all manner of extra options and abilities. Horses are a lot of work, but they add an entirely new layer to the game and are practically their own game.

Unlike almost every task in Farming Simulator 19, you cannot hire a helper to train horses for you. They're all on you -- without training, they're essentially really expensive lawn ornaments. Spend time going out onto your land and training them every day, however, and your horses will quickly level up, gaining stars, value, and abilities. Why would you drive your truck around town when you could saddle up on Bucaphalus and gallop around instead?

Raising livestock is an entirely viable way to succeed in Farming Simulator 19, and it offers a nice form of respite from the constant "driving back and forth in straight lines" that the crop portion of the game offers. Like much in the game, it takes a bit of experimentation to figure out how to make everything work but if you combine the two styles of play, you'll have a smooth operation running in no time.

Darn Hard Work

There are a lot of positives to take away from Farming Simulator 19, but this is definitely not a game for everyone. It can be a bit obtuse, and it doesn't offer much in the way of distractions from the farming elements.

In other words, this is not Stardew Valley. You aren't romancing your neighbors, traipsing through mines fighting monsters, or building more crab baskets. Instead, you are trying to save up just a little bit more money so you can add an engine upgrade to your John Deere tractor. You'll then be able to farm your fields even faster and finally be able to pull the massive fertilizer attachment you've had your eye on.

This is a game for stat geeks, people who want to build a fleet of tractors, line them all up in their garage, and feel a sense of pride and personal accomplishment for putting it all together.

There aren't a ton of "goals" in the game; Farming Simulator 19 is not really something you win. Successes are only what you deem as successes -- maybe a "win" is your first perfect harvest. Maybe it's putting together a cohesive operation on the hardest difficulty. Maybe it's buying every parcel of land in the entire game and just wandering through your farming empire, watching the money roll in.

It's not a game for everyone.

That said, this is THE game for some gamers.

The Fruits of Your Labor

There is a lot to like in Farming Simulator 19. It looks good, it feels good, and it manages to hit the sweet spot of simplifying a process but still making your efforts feel impactful when you get something accomplished.

It's not a game for those who demand constant action or concrete goals, but I was completely surprised with how hooked I was once I started to put everything together. When you get your operation running smoothly, using the leftovers of your harvest to tend to your animals, it triggered a wonderful sense of accomplishment that I did not expect this type of game to bring out in me.

If you know going into Farm Simulator 19 that you aren't going to get a realistic looking Stardew Valley, and you're still looking forward to it, then you really can't go wrong here. There are a few hiccups, but it's a pleasant and enjoyable experience overall.

Crank up the John Denver and hit the fields.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Farming Simulator 19 for the purpose of this review.]

Pokemon Let's GO Pikachu and Eevee Review: It's a Wonderful (Pokemon) Life Mon, 19 Nov 2018 13:22:21 -0500 Joshua Broadwell

Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! met with mixed reactions when they were first announced, with some fans claiming they were nothing more than a cheap way to pull in Pokemon GO players until the next generation comes out.

It’s true Pokemon: Let’s Go appeals a lot to the more casual Pokemon gamer, but it does an excellent job balancing it with traditional gameplay, making it a great entry in the franchise and a must-have for Switch owners.

The Story

Nintendo and The Pokemon Company didn’t do a stellar job clarifying the games’ setting after it was announced, but here it is in a nutshell:

The Let’s Go games are essentially a reimagining of Pokemon Yellow. You journey through Kanto with your partner Pokemon that’s chosen for you — Pikachu or Eevee — on your quest to become a Pokemon Champion, tackling eight gyms and taking down the organized crime group Team Rocket on the way.

You’ll run into characters like Blue and Red (and even Green!), but the games take place in an alternate timeline. For example, the Pokedex is Oak’s brand-new creation, something Blue didn’t have on his journey, and now Blue and Red are just wandering trainers, both having been Champion for a time already. So the TL;DR here is it’s not a direct sequel.


The Pikachu and Eevee versions are pretty much the same, with your starter Pokemon being the only significant difference. As always, there are some version exclusives — Oddish for Pikachu, Bellsprout for Eevee, for instance — but between in-game trades and connectivity with Pokemon GO, you’ll probably end up with the other version’s exclusives at some point any way.

Like Pokemon Yellow, your partner Pokemon can’t evolve. But your starter Pikachu and Eevee receive huge stat boosts, plus Eevee can learn a water, fire, and electric type move from a tutor in Cerulean City, so you aren’t at any real disadvantage.

Gotta Catch 'Em All

One of the biggest changes in the games is, of course, how players catch Pokemon. Like Pokemon GO, you don’t actually engage in fights with wild ‘mon, and for the first time in the series, you can see Pokemon moving around in grassy areas and on the water’s surface.

If you decide to initiate an encounter, all you need to do from there is choose your ball, decide whether to chuck a berry or not, line up the circles, and hurl the ball. It’s pretty simple on the surface, but as you progress, the Pokemon aren’t nearly so easy to catch, especially the rare ones (but you can check out our catch combo guide to make things easier for you).

There was some confusion for a while about how catching controls worked and whether you could play the game in handheld mode. You certainly can, and the mechanics are smooth and finely tuned. The internal gyroscope is balanced perfectly when you’re trying to line up your circle, rather like the motion controls in Breath of the Wild, and once you’re ready to throw, just press A.

However, docked mode’s mechanics do add a touch more immersion to the process, somewhat reminiscent of the Wii days. You’ll make a throwing motion with the Joy-Con to throw your ball, aiming towards whatever part of the screen the Pokemon happens to be on at the time (which means that Joy-Con strap is highly recommended, especially for younger players).

I never had any issues aligning the control with where I wanted the ball to go either, though I also wasn’t standing too far away from the system either. I didn’t pick up the Poke Ball plus, so I can’t comment on how that works in this review.

Despite criticism the catching mechanic is just a gimmick, I actually found it fairly engaging, and it's something I'd like to see implemented alongside traditional wild Pokemon battles in the future.

Monster Raising

That might seem like a lot of space devoted to just one aspect of the game. But, catching Pokemon is something you’ll be doing a lot of during your time with Let’s Go, likely more than you ever did before with previous Pokemon games.

There are still trainer battles, of course—more than any of Kanto’s revisits, as a matter of fact—but catching Pokemon is the best way to raise your team. You get various bonuses depending on your style and whether the Pokemon is huge or tiny, and the experience is doled out evenly among your party Pokemon, unlike in trainer battles.

It’s a great way to make sure you’re ready to tackle the gym challenges, but it also means it’s easier to raise weaker Pokemon up to your team’s levels and to fill out the Pokedex, since you don’t have to spend hours grinding to level up for evolution.

Plus, catching multiple Pokemon of the same type has its own bonuses. Candy makes its appearance in the Let’s Go games, with Oak giving it out when you send him some Pokemon, but you won’t use it for evolution. Instead, you power up your Pokemons' various stats with it. Oak also tells you that if you send a lot of one specific Pokemon, he’ll give you candy suited for increasing that ‘mon’s special strengths.

For example, donating 5 Vulpix netted me a bunch of quick candies. But, I can also send off Geodude or some other high defense Pokemon to make up for Vulpix’s abysmal defense stat. It’s a versatile system that lets you either break the game completely or raise and use your favorite Pokemon regardless of its innate stats, something noticeably lacking in earlier games.

A Tailored Challenge

Depending on how you approach the games, you’ll want to buff up some of your monsters as well. The duo’s billed as great for kids and newcomers, and it’s not too difficult to see why. You’ll trash Brock in no time, your starter is obviously overpowered, and you’ll actually be close to Misty’s level when you challenge the second gym.

Moreover, despite Pokemon-amie/Refresh being limited to your partner Pokemon only, your other party members develop the same additional abilities as their happiness rank increases, so you’ll see plenty of shrugged of status affects and 1HP miracles as you go along.

But Cerulean is where the game starts to throw in some additional challenge. You can pick up Bulbasaur next door to the gym and Bellsprout or Oddish north of the city, but the trainers use Water/Ice types, and Misty has a Confusion-wielding Psyduck this time instead of Staryu. Normal trainers can pose a minor challenge if you don’t completely optimize your team, and there are tougher Coach Trainers scattered around Kanto that require more strategy as well.

After becoming Champion, you then have access to Master Trainers, 151 trainers scattered around the region who each specialize in a superpowered version of a specific Pokemon — Bulbasaur or Chansey, for example — or who want to see an IV modified Legendary Pokemon like Articuno. There’s the chance to challenge the Elite Four and Gym Leaders again as well, along with extra battles with Green and a one-time-only fight against Red, the two most powerful trainers in the game.

It’s not the most challenging Pokemon game ever, but it also isn’t a complete cakewalk. The difficulty is basically customizable, and it’s got something for everyone. Hardcore players will appreciate Mr. Hyper at the Daycare, Let’s Go’s IV trainer, and the ability to influence Pokemon natures via a woman in Celadon City. It isn’t easy to pull of this kind of balance, but Pokemon: Let’s Go does it, and does it well.

Pokemon Let's GO Quality of Life Improvements

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in the games. Without wild Pokemon battles, it does seem like your journey moves faster than before, but the time spent in Kanto is enjoyable nonetheless. The region’s never looked better, with bright colors and smooth textures, and the orchestral soundtrack is something that definitely needs to make a return in upcoming Pokemon games.

Character customization makes a return as well. Options aren’t quite as varied as in Gen VII, but you get a number of outfits to mix and match over the course of the game, including things for your partner, and there's nothing quite so adorable as dressing up an Eevee.

There are a number of other improvements making Let’s Go the definitive Kanto experience. As you’d expect, the world is brimming with life and expression. It’s true the Pokemon wandering the world have limited animations, but it’s nice to finally see something wandering around in the grass, instead of the somehow-invisible-until-they-attack monsters we’re all used to.

Plus, letting players see Pokemon is almost a necessity in a game emphasizing catching, and catching the same kind several times. Similarly, you no longer require a PC to store and move your Pokemon around, since you have a portable Box in your bag. It makes poor Bill a bit redundant, but it’s a huge quality of life improvement regardless.

Beyond that, your partner Pokemon exhibit various adorable reactions throughout the game. There are some scripted moments where your starter interacts with something specific—the bow of the S.S. Anne, for example—but whatever Pokemon you have out of its ball at the time will interact with the environment as you wander along as well. Whether they’re finding you a hidden item or just admiring their surroundings, it feels like you’re really on a journey with your Pokemon.

It’s impossible not to mention the ride feature and Pokemon scaling. The old shadow-based size comparisons between you and your ‘mon gave a hint as to these creatures’ “true” size, but Let’s Go finally renders on-screen Pokemon true to size, from the massive Onix to the oh-so-tiny Oddish. It means each Pokemon ride is completely different too, from sitting perched atop Onix’s head far above everyone to sailing over the fields on Rapidash’s back.

Pokemon GO Connectivity

I’m not a Pokemon Go player, but I’ve heard the connectivity is pretty simple and intuitive. Connect your accounts in the options menu, go to a GO park in Let’s Go, and choose which Pokemon you want to transfer from Pokemon GO, and that’s that.

Apparently they don’t actually arrive in Let’s Go at the same level they are in GO, though, and you don’t get them back either.


Local Multiplayer

No game is perfect, of course, and Let’s GO is no different. The multiplayer option is an excellent way to play Pokemon with someone new to the series or with less skilled gamers, but it is rather limited. It’s as easy as jiggling your Joy-Con to summon a second player, and battles then play out like double battles (much to your opponent’s disadvantage), but player 2 won’t be able to catch their own Pokemon or customize their avatar.

It’s hard to criticize the multiplayer completely, because this is exactly what the creators intended it to be. But it would be nice to see expanded multiplayer options in the future.

Other Shortcomings

There are a few other minor issues as well. There’s some slowdown from time to time, mainly when the screen is busy. Viridian Forest is a notable example, where even the menu selection slows down. It’s unfortunate because players will encounter this so early in the game, but it isn’t constant, and that’s the worst I’ve noticed in the game.

Pokemon textures are a bit iffy. I’m a fan of the bright colors, but the GO models don’t translate too well to a bigger screen. The Pokemon tend to look a bit plastic-y, almost like the old character tokens from Pokemon Monopoly come to life.

Locking Meltan behind Pokemon GO isn’t my favorite decision either. Sure, everyone and their granny plays it, but keeping a new Pokemon tied to GO connectivity breaks the immersion. Two Master Trainers focus on Meltan and Melmetal, so if you want to fully complete the game, you’ve got to be a GO player, too.


Pokemon Let’s GO Pikachu and Eevee won’t satisfy everyone. They aren’t core games in the sense people are used to. But they shouldn’t be totally disregarded as cash grabs either. It’s a relaxing approach to Pokemon, one you can tailor to your own needs and enjoy, whatever your playstyle might be. There’s a lot on offer here, and behind the Pokemon GO add-ins, there are enough recognizable Pokemon mechanics to please newcomers and long-time fans.

Let us know if you plan on picking the game up and what your thoughts are in the comments, and be sure to check out our Pokemon: Let's GO guides as well:

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Pokemon Let's GO Pikachu and Evee for the purpose of this review.]

Road Redemption Review: A Fun Highway to Hell Mon, 19 Nov 2018 12:31:22 -0500 David Jagneaux

Anyone that grew up with the Sega Genesis likely remembers a little game series from Electronic Arts called Road Rash. In those games, you raced motorcycles and fought your way across the track using all manner of weapons to beat your opponents into a bloody pulp.

The same is true with Road Redemption from developers Pixel Dash Studios and EQ Games, and publisher Tripwire Interactive. It's a game that feels decidedly old-school in ways both good and bad.

Bad to the Bone

Road Redemption valiantly attempts to tell a story that you care about, but fails to muster so much as a passing subtitle skim. NPCs mumble over the top of the action during missions about cartels and gang members, but that's honestly about all I can remember. The attempt at establishing any sort of compelling narrative was a total waste here.

Instead, I imagined my own Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic world where the only way to get what you wanted is to decapitate and murder people on the highway while driving hundreds of miles per hour. Honestly, it just made a lot more sense that way.

Road Redemption is a simple game, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily easy. While racing you can swing your weapons on either side of you, grab enemies, kick other motorcycles, and block attacks all using the face and shoulder buttons. Cycling through the d-pad lets you swap out weapons once you find or buy new ones.

Road Redemption Gameplay Combat

Interestingly, Road Redemption is sort of split up a bit like a roguelike in some ways. You'll play through a series of missions, each of which have different layouts and enemy spawns, while you focus on completing objectives. Sometimes you just need to not die or finish high enough in the race, while other times things get more dangerous as you're sometimes required to kill enemies on the road.

The way the game dynamically mixes up missions and objectives really helps keep things fresh.

Your strategy changes dramatically depending on whether or not you're trying to place high in a race or if you need to take out seven marked enemies before hitting the finish line. In this way, some missions are more like races against the shrinking road than they are races against actual opponents. 

Plus, after each successful mission, you get an influx of cash that can be used to buy temporary upgrades such as more health for the rest of the campaign or increased damage. Then, after you eventually die (which you will a lot), you pick from an assortment of permanent skill upgrades.

Road Redemption Airborne Gameplay

Highway to Hell

Everything feels and looks a bit cheap in Road Redemption. The original Kickstarter for the game concluded its campaign back in 2013 and the game was originally slated to release in late 2014 but didn't hit PC until 2017 and just now released on consoles a week ago. Textures are muddy at times; I noticed some pretty bad pop-in issues, animations for crashes are laughable, and overall, it just feels like an Xbox 360-era game that got the remastered treatment before it ever even launched in the first place.

Actually using your weapons has great weight and impact behind every swing.

Your character has to really wind up before making contact and most riders can be taken out in just one or two swings. And if you don't block well, you can get thrashed really quickly as well. Combat has a deliciously violent speed as you zig and zag around corners, slam pipes and shovels into enemy torsos, and lop off heads for those without helmets.

Juggling various weapon types (short and long range, blunt and sharp, explosives, and even guns) is a big part of what makes everything work so well. It's far from a perfect system, hit detection isn't always the best, and it gets awfully repetitive quite quickly, but it's certainly fun once you get the training wheels off.

Road Redemption Ruined Highway

But one big problem with Road Redemption is a lack of explanation. A lot of the most interesting parts of the game -- like how repeatable it all is, how and when you should buy items, and what the general flow of gameplay is supposed to be -- are just overlooked. I just kind of figured out all that through trial and error because I was reviewing it; if I'd bought the game on a whim or got it for a gift I'm not sure I'd have had the patience to wait for things to click.

It also needs to be mentioned that the soundtrack selection is awful. Most of the music tracks sound like generic stock songs you might find built into YouTube or something else equally bad.

But despite all of those things, Road Redemption really surprised me with just how fun its core gameplay loop of speeding down the road and chopping away at enemies could continue to be even after dozens of races.

And in the end, all that really matters is if a game is fun or not. 

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

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus Review Mon, 19 Nov 2018 11:21:25 -0500 Fox Doucette

Warhammer, both fantasy and 40,000, has deep roots in tabletop miniatures gaming, moving pieces around a makeshift graph paper board and engaging various rules and random number generators to determine hits, misses, kills, and all that fun wargame stuff.

Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus captures that atmosphere brilliantly in a tightly-paced little turn-based tactics game that even manages to stir in some video game influences from games like FTL: Faster Than Light and XCOM.

But all the same, it's also a game that unabashedly loves its Warhammer roots, and that is both the best and the worst thing about it; this game can be utterly impenetrable to people who aren't deeply versed in the lore in the first place.

The game casts the player in the role of Magos Dominius Faustinius, part of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a faction of Mars-based mechanically augmented humans tasked with stewarding technology both lost in mankind's past and found around the universe. These are the guys who, in 40K, build all that cool tech that you see in other, less obscure 40K licensed titles like the Dawn of War series.

The Adeptus finds itself on the planet of Silva Tenebris, home of a massive network of Necron tombs, and the whole thrust of the game is to raid those tombs through a series of both tactical battles and grand strategic decisions on how to get from one end of the tomb to the other in the fewest number of moves while still acquiring the largest volume of actual useful tech.

That's where the FTL comparison shines through. Because you only get a limited number of turns to acquire all the weapons, augments, and power-ups you'll need to beat the game's collection of Necron bosses and their robotic minions, giant spiders, and “blasphemy against the Machine God” scattered into the world.

And you'll notice there's an ungodly amount of jargon here too. It's entirely by design; this game is not in any way at all trying to be accessible to non-fans of not just the genre but of the specific lore the game is set in.

The writer, Ben Counter, is letting his geek flag fly here. Word is he's read enough Warhammer 40K books to stock a library, and he's chosen a totally obscure section of the 40K universe to mine for a unique experience.

These are not the hulking teenage-boy-power-fantasy space marines that usually infest the testosterone-poisoned lore of Warhammer 40K games.

And because the game is on a shoestring budget befitting its $30 price tag, there's not the high production values that, say, Creative Assembly has brought to the Warhammer fantasy marque with the Total War series' two separate takes on that franchise.

This game reminds me of nothing so much as a higher-res version of Fallout Tactics, and that's a game from 2001 built on an engine from 1998.

But on the other hand, I ran it on a potato of a laptop that was midrange at best when I bought it in 2016 and it ran like a dream. The game insists its recommended system specs are higher than the minimum spec for 2015's The Witcher 3, but do you really need ambient occlusion and fancy tech tricks for a barebones turn-based tactics game?

Spoiler: You don't.

What continually amazed me during the time I spent with the game, apart from how utterly foreign it feels to someone with no familiarity with 40K's extended lore, is how utterly punishing this design truly is. This is a difficult game, as hair-pulling, anger-inducing, games-aren't-supposed-to-be-this-hard-in-2018 an experience as you're going to get from a game these days.

Enemies use flanking tactics. They “shoot and scoot”, outright requiring the player to understand how to outflank the enemy themselves. They target weakened player units in order to give the player no chance to heal those units between battles. And some enemies have the ability to teleport, and rather than that being just a gee-whiz, the AI can and will teleport one of its units in perfect position to shove a bolt of energy from a disintegration rifle right where the sun don't shine.

On the other hand, the game does provide an impressive array of upgrades and power-ups that, in the hands of a smart strategic player, will turn a punishing game into...well, maybe not a cakewalk, but a much more manageable experience.

As with its tabletop roots, the game amply rewards the ambitious player willing to experiment, maybe do a little save scumming, and devise the best way to clean out each of the game's mini-dungeons.

While it doesn't out-XCOM the XCOM series in this regard, it's also on a tiny fraction of the budget yet doesn't shy away from the comparison.

The bottom line here is that Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus gives you a game that, while you'll enjoy it a whole lot more if you're deeply immersed in the lore, is still one of the most competent turn-based tactical games to hit the PC in a long time. And because of that, I can give it a solid recommendation.

It's intentionally impenetrable, and it's certainly not for everyone, but it rewards the diligent player willing to embrace it.

[Note: The developer provided a copy of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus for the purpose of this review.]

Bloody MP-60R RGB Mousepad Review: Waterproof but Sinkable Fri, 16 Nov 2018 17:10:27 -0500 Jonathan Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's In A Name?

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

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

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

That Sure Is Pretty

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

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

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

Quality Time

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

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

A Word of Criticism 

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

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

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

One Last Hurrah 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shattered Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding through the second district, Halcyon Isle.

Familiar Gameplay Gets Advanced

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

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

In fact, it's really all about gameplay. 

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

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

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

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

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

Hard-to-Master Controls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Sound & Music

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8/10

The Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The racing game is certainly not exempt from this expectation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'80s Aesthetic Meets Modern Monster Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

The gameplay itself is another matter...

Early Access Jitters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom (But Very Early) Line

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Swampy Goodness

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

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

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

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

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

ESO swamp creatures

Cyrdoilic Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murkmire map

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

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

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

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

Murkmire is worth it, trust me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: A plot description and heavy spoilers follow.

The Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flash forward to where the action of the game begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

The Quiet Man is an opportunity squandered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Art Style

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

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

Track Efficiency

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

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

Goal Oriented

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

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


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


Better Suited to Mobile

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

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

Conflict and Stakes

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

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


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

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

Overall Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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


All Might and Eraserhead fight Shigaraki on the street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost In Translation

Not everything is pitch-perfect, though.

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

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

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

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

Roll Call

Deku and Bakugo fight All Might

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gran Turino fights Nomu in My Hero One's Justice

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

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

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

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

Fun, yes, but generic. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immersion Through Minimalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living The Outlaw Lifestyle

Arthur Morgan leads a horse across trains tracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How The West Can Go Wrong

A horse tumbles over a rock in Red Dead Redemption 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man hangs upside down in front of Black Cat

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

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

Black Cat pins Spider-Man down

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

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

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

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

Close up of Black Cat against city skyline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is MapleStory 2?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merets and UGC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trail to and Making Camp at Endgame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Fast Food, It's Addictive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Investigator's Tools

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

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

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

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

Cumbersome Gameplay

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

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

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

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

Gaming The System

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

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

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

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

Little Frights and Jump Scares

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just What Kind of Madness am I Descending Into Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncovering The Awful Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The True Star -- You!

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

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

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

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

The Story

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

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

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

Standard LEGO Gameplay

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

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

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

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

Your Character Is The Star -- To A Point

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

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

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

The Voice Acting And Characters Steal The Spotlight

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story and Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay Mechanics

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

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is destined to sit the Iron Throne?

No one is. That's the point.

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

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

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

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

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

And yet...

Does the format work? 

I asked myself this constantly while I played through.

Was it enjoyable? Absolutely.

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

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

Well... yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I have to have watched Game of Thrones?

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

Probably not.

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat after me

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

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

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

But it's worth it, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's New in Industries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I played my first full release multiplayer match.

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

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

Black Ops 4 is worth the price of admission.

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

Multiplayer Review: The Bread and Exotic Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombies: Complicated, Crazy Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackout: The King is Here

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

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

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

There are a few wrinkles, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Final Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Great?

Fighting Mechanics

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

soulcalibur vi reversal edge

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

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


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

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

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

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

Libra of Souls is an amazing new addition

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

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

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

soulcalibur vi libra of souls quest

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

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

What is Lacking?

Load times are Abysmal

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

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

Cheap Fights in Libra of Souls

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

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

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

Character Creation Options

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

soulcalibur vi character creation

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Landscape of Mixed Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utterly Unforgiving, Ultimately Unfair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mesh of Art Styles

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

But Mega Man 11 offers an entirely new aesthetic for the Blue Bomber -- a 2.5D look. The crisp HD graphics coupled with a smooth frame rate makes this one of the best looking games in the series, that's for sure.

With that said, the art-style does vary from stage to stage.

For example, Block Man's stage offers a beautiful Aztec-style backdrop with golden temples and old crumbling ruins crawling off into the distance, while Acid Man's stage is a sprawling chemical lab full of spewing pipes and scientific mystery.

However, Bounce Man's stage, for example, is mostly devoid of anything particularly interesting. It's like an amusement park minus the amusement. It just doesn't have the same pop. 

Thankfully, it's only one of a small handful of stages that aren't up to snuff. 

As for Mega Man's visual upgrade, the changes are subtle yet noticeable for any fan of the series.

The most notable tweak is when Mega Man acquires a new power from a boss. Instead of simply swapping color palettes like in previous titles, Mega Man now changes his costume to better reflect the boss he just beat. 

It could rub some fans the wrong way, but ultimately, it's a nice change of pace, adding more variety to Mega Man's look. 

Familiar Gameplay with Some Tweaks

Gameplay mostly remains the same.

In classic sidescrolling platformer fashion, you'll run from left to right navigating pitfalls and traps until you reach the boss at the end of the stage. Avoiding pesky enemies and shooting them into oblivion is key, and unlike the Mega Man X series, there are no secret paths or hidden upgrade capsules to find, keeping the action front and center. 

However, there are a few quality of life improvements from previous games.

Mega Man's dog buddy, Rush, returns with his famous Rush Coil and Rush Jet features, which allow you to spring high in the air and travel over pits and enemies. But instead of having to switch between them in the game's pause menu, they are both mapped to single buttons for easy deployment.

Switching between different powers Mega Man acquires has also received an upgrade. You can now use the right analog stick to open a rotary menu for quick switching between powers. 

Double Down on Double Gear

The biggest addition in this entry is the Double Gear System, which alters your speed, power, or both with the press of a button. It adds an extra layer of strategy to boss encounters and how you navigate certain areas; knowing when to use it is critical for getting you through some of the game's tougher spots.

For example, when you run into enemies too fast to keep up with, it's best to use the Speed Gear, which slows down enemy movement and allows you to pummel them with a barrage of shots. The Power Gear is best used to take down baddies by giving you rapid firepower and a boosted charge shot. 

While using these skills, a meter will slowly start to fill up and when it reaches its max capacity, your power will fizzle out and require a cool-down. However, if you pay attention to the gauge above your head while using the Double Gear System, you can disengage the power, allowing it to recharge faster than if you had maxed it out. Doing this also allows you to reactivate it while it's recharging. 

This new mechanic doesn't change gameplay too drastically, save for putting a strategic element on boss fights. But if utilized creatively, it can help you blast through areas of a stage with ease if you are someone who enjoys speed-running through games.

Double Gear Isn't Just for Mega Man

The eight new robot masters can also utilize the Double Gear System during battles. Some of them will use the Power Gear to transform themselves into towering monstrosities, while others will take advantage of the Speed Gear and fly circles around you while they rain attacks from above.

As with every other Mega Man game to date, defeating bosses grants you special powers that give you advantages over other bosses. So, as always, figuring out the right order in which to defeat each boss will make the game much less frustrating. 

And as usual, the powers obtained from each robot master are a mixed bag, ranging from dull to exciting. There's the Acid Barrier, which basically puts a shield around you and lets you spit acid pellets; then there's the Tundra Storm which will wipe out any enemies nearby with a giant icy tornado.

Each of these powers can be enhanced by the Power Gear, allowing them to mete out massive damage but at the cost of a ton of weapon energy -- so it's best to use the Power Gear sparingly with special powers.

A Mega Man for Every Skill Level

Mega Man 11 also caters to newcomers and longtime fans alike by adding different difficulty options, ranging from "Newcomer" to "Expert Mode".

"Newcomer" will grant you near invincibility, letting you freely enjoy the game and not get bogged down by the more challenging modes. 

If the main game feels too short, there are also several challenge modes that can keep you busy. These include Time Attack, Boss Rush, and Dr. Light's Trial, which involves navigating through 30 enemy-filled areas with one bar of life. Finally, if you're the competitive type, there are also leaderboards to put your skills to the test against players around the world. 

In With the Old, Out With the New

Ultimately, Mega Man 11 may cater a bit too much to classic 8-bit fans, and while there's nothing wrong with going completely old school, the game does take away a few additions that Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8 brought to the table.

There's no intro stage, no mid-game stage that takes place after defeating four of the eight robot masters, and Mega Man and Rush's rivals, Bass and Treble, are missing. It would've been great to see the return of those two as they're some of the franchise's most liked characters.

Did I mention Proto Man doesn't even make an appearance? It's like Capcom completely forgot that all of these characters exist.

Mega Man 11 is a decent, if not game-changing addition to the series. Although it takes some bits away, it balances itself out by including a few fun changes in gameplay.

It may not be revolutionary by modern standards, but it doesn't have to be. Mega Man is time and time again a simple and fun, pick up and play series -- and Mega Man 11 paves the way for future entries.

Let's just hope that Proto Man, Bass, and Treble make their way back in Mega Man 12.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ the Golden Country Review Thu, 11 Oct 2018 11:41:57 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Nobody is comfortable buying a pig in a poke. However, in recent years, with the enormous upswing in season passes and "Ultimate" editions, that's pretty much what you're putting money down for when it comes to DLCs and expansions. 

Luckily, there's no pig to found here. With Torna ~ the Golden Country, fans of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 get exactly what they wanted -- and I daresay it's a whole lot more than they ever expected.

When Monolith Soft's Xenoblade Chronicles 2 released on the Nintendo Switch late last year, it was the final jewel in the year's long necklace of hits for the console, following in the sparkling trail of instant classics like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2.

The majority of critics praised it to the stars, although all conceded that there were a number of frustrations marring it, particularly the battle system's high learning curve alongside muddled, unrepeatable tutorials, poor graphics quality in handheld mode, and inconsistent voice acting quality. 

The standout voice of dissent was from Kotaku, panning it almost entirely aside from the environments and the music. 

I note all of this right from the beginning because I didn't play Xenoblade Chronicles 2. (I know, it disappoints me too.)

So what did I do instead? Well, it involved a hell of a lot of YouTube.

I know what you're thinking. It is 100% completely not the same thing, and I absolutely agree. But I didn't want to walk into this game completely blind.

Did it help? Yes, and no. 

The story of XC2 is incredibly vast, multi-layered, and built on the back of virtually hundreds of hours of gameplay (if you're into collecting every last Pokemo -- sorry, Blade). I was barely scraping the surface.

Torno ~ the Golden Country is not nearly quite so ambitious, and rightfully so as a standalone expansion whose story acts as a prequel to XC2. It focuses on the Aegis War, long before the events of the main game. So while outlets differ on exactly how much content is packed into this standalone prequel, the Reddit community seems to agree that it can be finished in 12 hours.

Can, of course, because there exist some players that are not as easily distracted by silly, off-the-beaten-path explorations, harvesting, side questing, and unashamedly picking fights with everything that's got an HP bar like I am. (When it comes to games, grinding is my zen garden.)

Is it possible to play Torna, and to like it, without having played Xenoblade Chronicles 2? I answer -- unequivocally -- yes. 


Is it possible to follow and understand the story of Torna all on its own without having bought the base game? Wellllll... technically yes. But only technically.

After all, Torna is set 500 years prior to the events in XC2. As a standalone expansion, the game does fairly well bridging the gap of things to come, bringing all the battles, the action, the glorious, shameless time sinks that are side quests all to the fore.

But its story is not truly its strong point.

From the outset, it skims past most of the events that occur in the Aegis War and narrows its focus to the end of the war, on the adventures of Lora and Jin as the race to stop the evil Malos from destroying the world. 

As a new player, this is fair enough. Hello, new spiky-haired characters that appear to have some form of backstory! You two are charmingly lovable protagonists with your cooking and charm-making duty-sharing.

But what is the significance of all that's happening, of the fact that we are watching this story unfold between these two people? 

That isn't there, and Torna doesn't stop along the way to try and re-explain. New players with absolutely no idea about the game story will also have to guess at what the relationship between Blade and Driver is, what a Core Crystal is, and what happens after a certain BIG moment I won't spoil in the slightest.

Are new players able to get past this? Of course. But you'll be like me, skimming the surface when you can sense there is so much more underneath. It's like watching the Star Wars movies in actual episode order. Technically, it works, but your foreknowledge of their fates, that connection you already have with these characters, just isn't there.

Arguably, it's something you expect out of an expansion like this. If you're familiar with the base game's deep lore, then you'll find yourself at home here, so keep that in mind. 

Graphics & Gameplay

Like with the base game, there's still a learning curve to mastering the battle system in Torna, but from all appearances, many of the larger criticisms of XC2 were addressed.

Right from the get-go you are informed that if you missed anything while mindlessly skipping through the tutorial screens that you want to review again, you can do so through the menu options. 

The battle system itself is simple to understand once you get the hang of it, all of the concepts (Attack Canceling, Vanguard Switch, combos, etc.) stem from timing them properly and filing up different gauges. It also requires you, especially in the beginning, learn to lay off the button mashing while trying to figure out what to do in order to let your characters auto-attack in peace to get the combo ball rolling!

Speaking of Vanguard Switching, herein lies another brand new element to the battle system that was absent from XC2 -- the ability to switch your control between Blade and Driver, opening up new attack chains and uniquely different combos. While not in control, the rear guard can provide extra support, and when the Vanguard gauge is full, a swap between the two will bring out the rearguard with full attack gauges. 

The game has also cut out the rather tedious gacha system of collecting a number of different Blades in the hopes of building your perfect team comp. Here, your party size is condensed and less cluttered, which brings a more action RPG feel to the gameplay. 

The upshot of all this is a rather refined battle system that was a pleasure to learn and play.

In terms of graphics, the game still combines an odd, choppy mix of beautiful cutscenes that play like an episode of RWBY, in-game dialogue sequences with decent-looking character models, and an unfortunate amount of smeary graphics while running around the world when playing in handheld mode.

(Note: I play a lot in handheld mode.)

This is a shame, but not entirely unexpected since no graphics updates were ever issued to fix this in XC2. And certainly, while it's impossible not to notice how much these graphically inferior character models look and move around the beautifully rendered environments, it's not a death sentence.

Side Questing 

This deserves its own section, I think because your enjoyment of side quests will make or break your enjoyment of Torna.

I personally am a huge fan of silly side quests, having experienced my adult gaming reawakening with games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion where I didn't complete a good 3/4 of the main storyline until well after 200+ hours of emptying caves, picking flowers, committing ritual murder, and mostly just sneaking around stealing people's silverware. 

There's plenty of that in Torna (okay, maybe mostly the part about picking flowers and less about stealing silverware or committing ritual murder) because there's plenty of stuff that you can go out of your way on the map to investigate (and collect).

Most of these are crafting ingredients, but you do find the occasional treasure chest and other significant items hidden around the area.

Of course, all of the above was already part of the base game. What is new, however, is the Community System. While the gacha system of collecting Blades has disappeared, there had to be collecting of some sort thrown into Torna to fill that void -- and collecting NPCs is what you get instead. 

Whenever you meet a new NPC outside of your community circle, a notification pops up to register them. You can (and should) turn this notification off as soon as possible. The game even suggests it. This system acts as a nearly never-ending menu of NPC side quests that you have the option to complete. 

Well, "have the option" isn't quite true either, since there are certain points in the main story that halt your progression until you've done enough side quests to raise your community to a certain level/threshold. This is part of what pads out that 12+ hour game time we mentioned before.

Side quests that are required parts of the main quest sound a little odd, but it's a system that oddly appeals to my particular style of game progression, and I was charmed.

I know a lot of other players will probably find this kind of gate lock far more annoying. 

Is it worth it? 

Nintendo calls Torna a DLC, but I think that's a bit of a disservice to the expansion considering how much you're actually getting. 

In light of that, Torna ~ the Golden Country is hands down a beefy, impressive expansion that lives up to its promise of being a standalone game experience. It is not, however, as deeply meaningful when experienced as a standalone experience. 

The fun, action-y battle system and the exploration of beautiful environments, excellent music, the simple joys of digging random crafting ingredients out of the dirt, and the silly fetch-and-carry of completing side quests will rack up the hours. But mandatory side questing is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. 

In the end, if you were a fan of XC2, you are probably going to love Torna. If you played XC2 and just weren't a fan, this game probably will not change your mind.

If you were like me and visiting this world for the very first time, it may be just enough of a taste to get you interested in playing the main game for real. 

You can buy Torna ~ the Golden Country either on Nintendo's eShop or Amazon for $39.99. 

[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Torna ~ the Golden Country used in this review.]

Space Hulk Tactics Review: Turn-Based Combat in a Space Maze Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:28:56 -0400 Sergey_3847

Focus Home Interactive has released a new turn-based tactical game based on the Warhammer 40K universe -- Space Hulk: Tactics. It is now available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

This is not the first attempt at adapting a classic Space Hulk board game. For example, the previous one was Space Hulk: Deathwing, but unfortunately, it received mixed reviews from the gaming community. Space Hulk: Tactics will try to prove once again that there is room for high quality turn-based games in the 40K universe after all.

A few exciting new features and a fresh look at the tabletop original actually work in this case. There may be some balancing issues when it comes to the two conflicting races -- men and aliens -- but that will hopefully change in the future updates.

For more information on the gameplay, character customization and squad tactics keep on reading our full review of Space Hulk: Tactics below.

Story and Setting

Space Hulk is a remnant of the giant space ship filled with rubble that becomes a perfect environment for breeding the Genestealer swarm, an alien species that kills everything it sees. On the other side the squad of Space Marines or Terminators roams the claustrophobic corridors of this ship.

As a player, either in single-player mode or online multiplayer, you can choose on whose side you want to play. This approach is basically the main selling point of the game, as never before players could choose the side of the Genestealers. Now it's very much possible and there is an entire separate campaign designed just for that purpose.

The two perspectives are so different that you almost feel like playing an entirely different game. This is due to the vastly different mechanics that are used in the two separate campaigns. While Space Marines are mainly looking out to shoot someone in the head, the Genestealers attack like wild animals and can even spawn in groups.

As a result, the two factions require opposed tactics. The Terminators move individually and have to constantly overlook their perimeter for imminent danger. This slows them down significantly, and requires a lot of time and action points until they reach their objective. That is why the developers introduced a brand new card system into the game that allows players to convert them into additional action points.

The Genestealers, on the other hand, can be far more aggressive and in general have more action points to use than the Marines. They move around the map concealed and this is where the RNG enters the stage. Since aliens can spawn in the so-called Blips, they can appear as one creature or three. So you never know how many of them you will have to deal with in case you're playing on the side of the Terminators.

This makes the gameplay quite unpredictable and makes the multiplayer format extremely engaging. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer in terms of the mechanics.

Gameplay Mechanics

The gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics is based on Action Points (AP). One move equals one AP, whether it's a physical movement forward, backwards, etc., or any other action such as shooting or activating abilities. The Terminators, unlike Genestealers, have an ability to convert their cards into AP, which is understandable since they have 4 AP max, while Genestealers can do a lot more in one turn.

As soon as one of your characters finished its turn, the next one goes to your opponent. At this point you can choose to stand still and wait until your opponent takes action, or you could move your camera and see what they're doing and plan your next move by looking at your mini-map.

Alternatively, you could assign further actions to your units while waiting, and they'll just keep stacking until the turn is over. However, this is not recommended. You never know which action your opponent may take, so you need to react to their actions in real time rather than stacking your own. So it really depends on the situation you're in.

The Genestealers are far more agile and mobile than the Marines, so they can move a lot faster. Some of their actions cost zero AP, such as turning around. So in this regard the Genestealers are a lot more convenient to play with. Some aliens have 8 AP per turn, and if you can convert spare cards, then you will be able to spawn Blips -- randomized alien swarms that may contain up to three aliens per Blip.

It is also possible to deploy specialty units, such as various types of Biomorphs that can evade attacks and weaken Terminator melee attacks. But that's not the only way how one can disrupt the Space Marine squad's game plan.

The problem is that Terminators can't move or shoot over occupied squares. So in case there is another squad member standing on the way of the Marine, the Genestealers will have an advantage. By the way, aliens don't have this limitation and some of them can move freely, including over the occupied squares.

Players can use all these tricks to confuse another squad and prevent the Terminators from accomplishing their objectives. But the main power balance problem lies in the Genestealer's ability to easily shred heavy Terminator armor if allowed, and deploy multiple Blips that can easily overwhelm any Space Marine squad.

Map Creator and Squad Customization

In addition to the two main campaigns the game also offers Skirmish and Quick Match modes for players who want to play against other players online. There you can choose which map you want to fight on, or you could create your own Hulk using the Mission Editor tool that can be found in the main menu.

There you can play with the layout of corridors, create something unique and share it online for all players. The map creator is really simple and intuitive, so if you like to build space mazes, then you will greatly enjoy this area of the game.

Besides the geometrical structure of your new map you can add all sorts of obstacles, such as traps, doors, rubble, entry points, and many other objects. If you carefully combine all these elements in a fun way on one map, it can really enhance your gameplay experience.

The last but not least feature that Space Hulk: Tactics has to offer is he ability to customize your squads. The squad composition menu not only lets you choose which of the available Terminators or Genestealers you want to include in your squad, but also their looks. And for this purpose the developers have added an extensive character customization menu as well.

It allows you to change every little bit of your characters beginning from the color palette to surface patterns and even the model of your gear. But beware, the process is so fun that a couple of hours may pass while you decide to change every single aspect of your characters' appearance.

But it's a great way to personalize your gameplay in Space Hulk: Tactics and show off your squad on a global arena. And this is something that the fans of the game will enjoy immensely.

Final Thoughts

Space Hulk: Tactics is a genuine Warhammer 40K game that strongly resembles the original board game. The addition of the new cards system and the ability to customize both your squads and maps is a true gift to all the fans of the franchise.

If you were a fan of Space Hulk: Deathwing, then here you can also switch to first-person view and play the game just like before. But of course, playing in isometric view is a lot more comfortable since you can almost see the entire map at once.

The technical execution of the game is top-notch, and despite a few minor bugs here and there, you will not see any major disruptions. By the way, the developers regularly push out new updates so that's where bugs get fixed rather quickly.

If you like turn-based combat, then Space Hulk: Tactics will impress you. As of now, if you can overlook a few power balance issues between the Terminators and the Genestealers, then it can be easily called one of the best turn-based games in the Warhammer 40K universe.

[Note: A copy of Space Hulk: Tactics was provided by Focus Home Interactive for the purpose of this review.]

Great Balls of Fire: Marble It Up! Review Tue, 09 Oct 2018 10:27:56 -0400 Steven Oz

Marbles have a history that spans back centuries. From balls of stone to modern day glass balls, children have always played with some form of marbles.

These baubles have a history that spans back centuries. The new game Marble It Up! wants to recapture that playfulness of playing with marbles for a whole new generation.


Let me state: This is a very simple game. While it is simplistic in nature there are intense challenges and secrets that will push the envelope of playing with marbles.

Your goal is to get your marble to the end of a goal. Like a race, it is timed with different levels of medals handed out when you complete it. Marble It Up! is accurately described as a high speed-puzzle platformer.

More akin to a Rubik’s cube than a timed race, you have to bounce, speed. and master physics to advance through each level. With even more updates are promised which includes a marble royale mode and more maps, and a level editor.

This is a short game with level lasting around no less than two minutes or even less as you speed past them. You can beat the game within a two to three hours. However, most levels harbor a secret marble in them. That is where the extended play comes in. These secrets are for customizing your marble as you play.

There are 40 levels for you to test your skills as a marble master. Each level is suspended in a different space, with each one having a different look. Personally, I like the grid-like look that the game has. It feels futuristic at points. While there is no story, It feels like something created these levels for you to pass some type of challenge.

There are four power-ups to help you traverse through the levels: Super-Speed, Super Jump, Glide, and Pause.

Out of all the power-ups, Pause is the weakest power-up due to it only affecting your time. It doesn’t even pause time as you might expect. It only slows down time for around five seconds.

There is a reverse button that you can press but when it's active, your times are not recorded for obvious reasons.

Graphics & Music

Marble It Up has stellar graphics. Since I was playing on the Nintendo Switch, it ran at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second both docked and undocked. With that everything from the marbles to the levels looks fantastic.

Certain marbles have a reflection that actually reflects the level. Which is I believe is a cool thing to see in a game. The graphics processing power that went into creating that reflection is amazing. It just shows how far gaming has come, just like the soundtrack in this game.

Each piece of music you hear in Marble It Up is phenomenal. Described as an “An electronica tour de force by Solovox. Psychedelic techno, ambient, chillwave, melodic and heroic.” I would add the music is stimulating and in a way helps guide you through the level. If that particular song does not suit your fancy, pause the game and change it. You are in charge of the soundtrack much like being in charge of the marble.

Marble It Up! is a fantastic game that shows the power of bringing an old medium into the next generation. From the racing your marble against the clock to the futuristic soundtrack, this is all for a game of marbles. A very cool and different way of playing with and collecting marbles.

[Disclaimer: A code was provided by the publisher for review.]

Super Mario Party Review: Super Star Mon, 08 Oct 2018 11:05:15 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the Mario Party series lost the plot. Was it during the waggle era of the Wii? Was it during its ill-fated tryst with the 3DS? Was it the moment the developers decided to introduce a car into the mix? Or was it even earlier, when Mario Party 6 came bundled with a microphone?

Regardless of when it happened, the simple truth is that there hasn't been a Mario Party game that really feels like a Mario Party title in an incredibly long time. 

Mario Party: The Top 100 was our last, best hope at this; a title that promised to collect the best minigames from across all of the titles, packaging them in an easy-to-digest way. It fell short. Super Mario Party, however, does not. It's the first must-have Mario Party title in years, and it's incredibly ambitious for a party game.

Party Time

As you jump into the experience for the first time, you'll be asked to do an initial setup where you select the number of players, the characters they'll play as, and how many consoles you'll be using. You'll do this every time you boot up the game -- which is somewhat annoying given that it makes any kind of pass and play gameplay difficult if folks want to play as their favorite characters. 

After a short initial tutorial, you're free to roam around a main hub area that links you to all the different game modes. As you play each for the first time, the next one will unlock, which is a bit frustrating if you want to play a specific game mode to start. 

Your main menu is a "Party Pad," a little screen that serves as a way to quickly start a game, consult tutorials, and check on your progress.

Interestingly, the game's Party Pad system and a number of other aspects of the game suggest it may have originally been in development on the Wii U.

Aside from the Party Pad, there are a number of minigames that take advantage of asymmetrical play with two Switch systems. This is something that would have been possible with the use of a single Wii U and its Gamepad. The game's fonts and color scheme used in the menus match the Wii U style, rather than what we generally see on the Switch.

Image via Nintendo

One of the first, most disappointing things you're bound to notice about the game is that for the main Mario Party mode, there are only 4 boards to play, one of which is hidden. None of them have gimmicks that are particularly engaging or special, and that's a shame given the fact that the core Mario Party gameplay here is amazing.

The game features 80(!) minigames, and though a few of them pay homage to classics of the series, they're all 100% new. It would have been nice to see a few advanced boards that require more strategy. Perhaps there will be some DLC down the line.

Outside of that, the main mode is everything you probably expect. Roll a die, collect coins, buy stars, and learn to hate your friends. The addition of character-specific dice that augment your chances of landing on a specific space adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but it's still the same wonderful random game we all know and love.

Oodles of Extras

Were the main mode all that Super Mario Party included, it'd be a passable-but-forgettable entry in the series. Fortunately, the game packs in so much more. In fact, I imagine that I'll be playing the game's other modes more frequently than the classic board game mode.

A clear standout here is the Partner Party mode, a 2v2 romp that features free movement around a board and allows for much more strategic play. Of course, the goal is still to collect stars. Since you have the ability to split up, one teammate can focus on collecting coins or blocking the other team's path while the other focuses on collecting items or stars. There is a surprising amount of depth on display here, and I imagine that this will be a mode I come back to often.

Another winner is the River Survival mode, a cooperative adventure that tasks you and three buddies with traversing a branching path, playing minigames and avoiding obstacles in order to make it to the end before time runs out. It's kind of like a cross between OutRun and Mario Party, and it works way better than it has any right to.

Image via Nintendo

The Sound Stage mode may not be for everyone, but I had a blast playing it. This mode is sort of a Rhythm Heaven or Warioware: Smooth Moves-styled competitive game, featuring only rhythm-based minigames that require you to stand up to play them.

Though the Joy-Cons can be sensitive at times, motion-based rhythm games are never not fun, and Sound Stage mode is no different. As an added bonus, the music on display here (especially the remixes of classic Mario tracks) is pure head-bopping fun.

Super Mario Party also throws a bone to solo players with Challenge Road, a gauntlet of minigame challenges that is unlocked after you unlock all the minigames. It's incredibly fun, and is the type of game mode that will eat up the better part of your day before you even realize it. 

Oh, and speaking of solo play: Though there's no way to play the classic Mario Party experience online as of yet, the Online Mariothon mode is the perfect blend of engaging and frustrating that will guarantee I stay up until 4am getting more and more angry at children over the internet.

The way it works is actually pretty brilliant -- the games featured in this mode are all timed. Either you want to finish a task first (winning a tricycle race, cooking a delicious-looking steak cube), or you want to last as long as possible (avoiding Chargin' Chucks, outrunning Broozers, dodging Fuzzies in a plane).

Points in Online Mariothon are awarded based on time rather than whether you've won or lost, so the lead can swing wildly across the 4 minigames depending on if someone just absolutely airballs a challenge while another person nails it. I didn't see myself enjoying an online ranked mode for Mario Party (it even gives you a letter grade based on your performance) but, well, here we are.

Image via Nintendo

I've saved Toad's Rec Room for last, since it was my least favorite of the bunch.

Toad's Rec Room is pretty much a collection of minigames that are slightly more fleshed out than the rest: a miniature baseball game that is actually a blast to play if you have a full group of players, a top-down tank game that is reminiscent of classic Atari titles, a forgettable game where you assemble sprites with your friends, and a puzzle game that tasks you with arranging two Switch consoles beside each other in order to complete an image of a banana.

There's also a sticker collecting mode, which is something I will never do unless I unlock a really cool sticker by being the best in the world at Online Mariothon.

Party Crashers

There's a lot to love in Super Mario Party, but there's also a lot that is missing. Four boards for the main mode seems like not enough, but that isn't a huge deal given the other game modes. 

What is a huge deal is that in order to play with four players, you'll need four Joy-Cons.

The game doesn't work with Pro Controllers, or even Joy-Cons used in the grip attachment. Presumably this is to even the playing field for the games that require a gyro sensor, but the Pro Controller has that too! It's ridiculous that Nintendo is forcing folks to use the Joy-Cons, especially when every other game for the Switch supports multiple control styles. Hopefully this gets patched in later.

My only other major gripe here is the lack of any kind of 8-player mode. I get that Mario Party is traditionally a 4-player game, but 8-player modes have been supported on Nintendo consoles since the Wii U. It's a shame that they didn't include any kind of cooperative pass-and-play party mode that supports more than 4 players. It seems like a no-brainer. 

Party On

All in all, though Super Mario Party is by no means a perfect game, it succeeded in skyrocketing the Super Mario franchise out of mediocrity and back into the hearts of fans everywhere.

With a couple of tweaks and patches and -- dare I hope -- free DLC boards down the line, the game could stand alongside series juggernauts like Mario Party 2 and 3. But even if nothing changes, Super Mario Party is a must-have for any Switch owner, and a natural fit for the console. 

[Disclaimer: Writer was granted a free code from the publisher for review purposes.]

Northgard Ragnarok Update Review: The End of Days Isn't So Apocalyptic Sat, 06 Oct 2018 11:21:24 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Ragnarok. The end of days. 

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a time of great tribulation and hardship. It is a time of violence and difficulty. Ragnarok, as it seems, is when the gods kick you in the ass. 

If you've played enough Northgard, you know that even on its hardest setting, it's never been a truly difficult strategy game. Although it's immensely fun to play, I've always seen Northgard as a casual, more laid-back RTS experience. 

Hoping for something of a difficulty spike, I jumped into the game's new update with gusto. But despite its foreboding moniker, Ragnarok doesn't make Northgard any harder than its ever been. As soon as you figure out the gods aren't as clever as they think, gaining victory comes as it has many times before. 

In some ways, that's not a bad thing. But with such high hopes ahead of release, it's a bit of a letdown that more risks weren't taken. 

Three warriors in red stand next to a snow covered trading post by the shore

More Like DLC

If you're looking for it, Ragnarok brings plenty of new content to Northgard.

When you boot up, you'll find a new option for the update after choosing singleplayer in the main menu. Select your clan, and you're loaded into the new Ragnarok map, a terribly (and aptly) desolate place covered in the drab brown and grey overtones of the apocalypse. 

From there, things begin differently enough. 

Resource Priorities Have Changed

The biggest change you'll immediately notice is that early-game resources such as food and lumber are scant -- and you can only gain food by foraging or hunting (unless you're playing as Clan Fenrir, of course).

This one wrinkle can -- and probably will -- completely change your strategy; where you might have once expanded toward fertile land and then areas with stone or iron, you'll now find yourself quickly seeking out the map's few hunting areas to quickly establish a foothold. 

It's a dynamic mix-up I found refreshing for the first several matches, but ultimately one that led to rote repetition in subsequent games, specifically if I never deviated from the optimum path of my own accord.  

I also quickly found that Ragnarok is easy peasy if you play with a clan like The Raven, which has the ability to annex land via Krowns instead of food. By building enough marketplaces and trading posts alongside a savvy trade route or two, you can easily circumvent the primary obstacles inherent to the map and glide to victory. 

Ghostly fallen sailors attack a Northgard settlement from the sea

Ghosts, Raiders, Volcanoes, Oh My

Not everything comes up roses. 

One thing that does shake things up quite a bit is the addition of new events and enemy types. If you're like me and consistently go for Wisdom or Trade victories, completely ignoring your warband in the process, that changes here. 

In many ways, it's essential you build a relatively robust warband of at least 12 warriors and one hero unit. Not only will that help you defend against wolves, Draugr, and other players but also against Fallen Sailors and the Myrkalfar, or Dark Elves.

The former damage sponges present a dire threat as they attack from the sea in numbers and not only bring strife but also unhappiness to your territory, causing your workers to be less productive. The latter are more nagging, launching raids on "random players" (read: you) each year stealing resources from your stores and leaving a few warriors dead if you're not careful. 

But by far one of the most interesting new enemies comes from the molten rocks spewed forth by the unconquerable volcano in the middle of the Ragnarok map.

Like other random events, the volcano will erupt, sending ash across the sky and darkening the map for a time. This darkness hides the stone golems that have indiscriminately on the map. At first they look like simple boulders, but if you don't mine them fast enough, they'll morph into raucous golems bent of your destruction.  

Couple that with a random rat infestation and Gates to Helheim, and you're in for a devastating ride.

An overlay showing the three military paths new to Ragnarok

Way of the Warrior

If you've not yet guessed, Ragnarok more the pushes you toward a Domination victory, for better or worse. The incentive is increased by the new Military Paths system, which gives your warband XP for every enemy killed. 

Depending on your playstyle, points rack up quickly, giving you access to three different paths: Tactician, Guardian, and Conqueror. Within each of these three paths there are three buffs that unlock at certain XP levels. Some provide increased health while others instill fear into the hearts of your enemies. 

The Guardian is the clearcut choice, though, because it increases your warband by one for every guard tower you have built (and by two if that guard tower is upgraded). Since you can -- and certainly should -- build guard towers in each section of your territory for protection, you can save some space on Training Camps and resources on upgrading them. 

So while Military Paths are interesting, there's never really any reason to pick anything but Guardian. Ever. 

Oh, and there's also something called a Bloodmoon, which increases the attack power of every unit outside of its territory. This is perfect for attacking other settlements, but since I've only gotten one once in a few matches (and wasn't close enough to another camp to test it out) I can't exactly say if it works as advertised or note. 

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Northgard's newest update is a mixed bag. On paper, all of the added content adds dynamic new layers to an already fun RTS. In practice, the number of occurrences feels unbalanced and the Ragnarok map is just, well, drab. 

Since the update is free, it kind of feels a bit ungrateful to gripe at all. But with all its potential not maximized, it feels like all that tribulation and hardship is a bit for naught. 

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review -- Boldly Rolling the Dice Tue, 02 Oct 2018 11:25:30 -0400 Nick Congleton

Ever since the Pathfinder RPG made its debut in 2009, it has won over fans of classic RPGs time and time again -- including Dungeons and Dragons, which Pathfinder owes its lineage to.

The Pathfinder tabletop game earned its popularity and devoted fan base by staying true to more traditional elements of Dungeons and Dragons. But does  Pathfinder: Kingmaker stay true to those same roots?

In a world where the RPG has been popularized and ultimately toned down by the likes of The Elder Scrolls and World of Warcraft, is there a place for the unforgiving nature of tabletop RPGs?

Spoiler alert: the answer just might be yes. 

Interface and Controls

For anyone who has played anything similar to a true roleplaying game in the last 15 years, Pathfinder: Kingmaker's user interface should automatically feel familiar. It features a small menu with different character management and game system options. The character screen offers a very familiar inventory and equipment management interface that centers around dragging pieces of gear around an animated model of your character.

On a more practical action based front, the camera controls are your standard WASD keys. Then the combat controls themselves come on a tried and true action bar.

That's really where the similarities end, though. Pathfinder: Kingmaker isn't the PC RPG (CRPG) that you're probably used to. Kingmaker is a tabletop RPG in digital form. It is your dungeon master, and you're playing much the same game you would if gathered around with a group of friends.

Such a relatively bold move presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to controls. Most gamers, even RPG fans, have never played a game that controls like a tabletop game. That means that the controls would need to be highly intuitive to your average gamer while still preserving the tabletop gameplay elements.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker mostly succeeds in its control design. There are elements of that pen and paper gameplay that translate very well into a PC game. However, there are others, like live action combat and formations, which feel sort of strange and out of place initially.

It never gets perfectly smooth, but it is possible to adapt to it and feel mostly comfortable down the line.


Diving deeper into its gameplay, you'll really feel how strange Pathfinder: Kingmaker seems at first. Your first instinct will probably be to dive in and start mashing the buttons on your action bar, much like you would in countless other RPGs. That's, of course, not the way Pathfinder works. It is a virtual tabletop RPG, and it plays like one. That includes automatic dice roll mechanics. Yes, it rolls virtual dice.

When you first engage in combat, time freezes and gives you a chance to plan out a strategy for your party. This part is well explained in the initial tutorial, and it works great. After you have your strategy in place, you unfreeze time and dive into the fight.

That's where things get a little weird.

After the live-action combat kicks off, it's not all that easy to manage your party anymore, and attempting to attack just feels clunky, especially with the dice rolling mechanic factoring into the combat as well.

That's why, in practice, Pathfinder: Kingmaker feels a bit like a cross between an RPG and a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. That wouldn't really be the case if you were only controlling your one character, more like it's pen and paper origin, but it's also clear why that system wouldn't work all that well in the context of a PC game.

Altogether, the combat experience in Pathfinder is fun, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and there is a learning curve.

The game also features a fairly unique travel system that aims to replicate the experience of the tabletop game.

The map interface is nicely designed, and it cuts out a lot of what could be nonsense while retaining the adventuring feel present in a pen and paper RPG. Most of it is fast travel until you encounter a challenge on the road. At that point, you'll drop down to a ground-level view to fight.

Stopping also means setting up camp to rest and gathering rations. Rest resets your party's abilities and heals them up. You can also find interesting side content on the road that leads you down different narrative paths that build on the story and flesh out the world.

Art and Graphics

The art and graphical aesthetic of Pathfinder: Kingmaker are fantastic. The key here is not to go in expecting the same level of graphical polish that you'd find in a AAA title with a gargantuan budget. That's not what this game is, and it doesn't try to be.

Kingmaker's static artwork is essentially the same art that you'd associate with the Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons tabletop games. If you're not familiar, it's a painted style that takes advantage of a wide color pallet and a sense of motion. That same style is common in other media within the fantasy genre, especially with novels. It fits well with Pathfinder, and it really does help build the overall ambiance of the game.

The in-game environments are great as well. They expertly set the scene in the locations that you're playing through, and really do help with immersion, which is a huge deal in an RPG.

The game does a great deal with environment detail that helps to set the stage of the world, helping players understand bits about the plot and overall lore, without the need to play through any additional content.

There is one weak point with the in-game artwork, though: character models. They just aren't that detailed. In some cases, they even feel slightly out of place. The world itself seems more finely tuned graphically, while it's hard to shake the feeling that the character models feel dated.


There isn't too much to say without revealing any spoilers, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker's story feels like a very well put together tabletop campaign.

It comes complete with a main quest line that brings your character along through a story complete with meaningful decisions and the ability to shape your own narrative. It even partners you with a bard character to chronicle your story, which is a nice touch. 

The story kicks off with your character attending a gathering of heroes and mercenaries, all of whom were brought together for a chance to claim a lordship of their own complete with land and titles.

Of course, there's a catch. The land is occupied by a somewhat mysterious warlord. Within a few minutes, things at the gathering go violently wrong, and your adventure kicks off prematurely and chaotically.

Customization, The World, and RPG Elements

No RPG is complete without real role-playing aspects. This is another area where Kingmaker really delivers. The first part of every RPG is character creation.

So, when you first start up your campaign, you're able to create your character. There are a handful of template characters that you can pick and get started with right way. Chances are, though, you're an RPG player, and you want to make your character from scratch.

Of course, that is an option, too.

The beginning of the character creation process is probably also the weakest. There aren't many playable character races to choose from. It would have been nice to see more options, especially in a landscape where RPG fans expect a broad range of options.

Once you do pick your character's race, you'll get to customize their appearance. Unfortunately, the available options are limited. It would have been nice to see more variation here, especially with how invested RPG fans tend to get in their characters.

Beyond that, the class customization options are great. Pathfinder: Kingmaker brings an impressive range of character classes and subclasses to the table. The classes do feel unique, and each variation changes the flavor of the class and changes the way you play.

Of course, you get to choose specific talents and abilities for your character and customize their stats. Stats are a huge part of creating characters in a pen and paper RPG, and they're still very present here.

The world itself feels very alive. There are secrets, items, and NPCs to interact with through the entire world. Some just give you interesting loot. Others provide additional side stories or enhance the main plot of the game.

A lot of the game is fully voice acted. While not all of it is great, there are some real stand out characters that help to bring the game to life and build investment in both the characters and the story.

The Verdict

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a breath of fresh air in a fairly stale RPG landscape. It takes some seriously bold risks, and they pay off for the right audience. If you're a fan of tabletop RPG games, or you're looking for an unexpected challenge in the form of something truly different, you won't be disappointed.

It's important to note that the launch of the game was plagued with a really nasty bug causing saved games to fail to load. While there are some easy temporary fixes on Windows, Mac and Linux players are having a rougher time of it.

In reviewing this game on Linux, it was extremely frustrating having to start the entire game over every time the full party died because saved games couldn't load. That said, it's just a bug, and hopefully, it'll be fixed soon.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker set out to bring the look, feel, and gameplay experience of a classic tabletop RPG to the PC and, in that, is an absolute success. It's not without its flaws, but all of them could be corrected with additions and further content patches, which a game like this lends itself to very well.

You can pick up Pathfinder: Kingmaker on Steam for $39.99.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Pathfinder: Kingmaker used in this review.]

Assassin's Creed Odyssey: A Worthy Return to Form Mon, 01 Oct 2018 19:16:26 -0400 John Schutt

As I make my way through Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, I am often struck by how confident it is in itself. The action is a more polished version of Origins, its storytelling stands on firmer footing, and overall, I find the Greek world more interesting than Egypt. And that's not just because of personal preference.

Rather, it's because the combination of these and other factors make Odyssey feel like the game Origins was trying to be.

In this full review Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, we'll discuss the story and the content, as the series has always lived and died on its writing.

A Tale of Two Parts

For me, one of Origins' biggest problems was the way it split its narrative even further than the series usually does. Assassin's Creed: Odyssey has one protagonist around which the game revolves, with a large and interesting supporting cast.

Their story doesn't begin, as the series' narratives often do, with a revenge plot. Rather, it's simple pragmatism that sends our hero on their way into the wider world. 

Ubisoft's writers continue to add wrinkles to this easier entrance into the story, but not at the breakneck pace most players of the series are used to. This time, rather than hit us squarely with a grand conspiracy, Odyssey takes its time, introducing mechanics, characters, and plotlines at a pace that allows for actual comprehension. 

People Make it Matter

One of the initial highlights for me was the main character's position in the world. They don't initially have a reputation, aren't part of some guild or noble house, and they certainly don't seem to follow the creed of the Templars or Assassins. They are a normal, if competent, person who sees opportunities and takes them.

More interestingly, they aren't the naive kind of protagonist I'm used to seeing at the start of an Assassin's Creed game. Instead, they understand the world in which they live and are satisfied learning more about it as their journey unfolds — they aren't usually surprised by the darkness and suffering they see.

These were good qualities, as I expected our hero to change and grow as the story went on.

I'm sorry to say I was disappointed.

The same qualities that at first made the main character (whose gender is up to the player) unique and enjoyable in the end made them flat and relatively hollow. Certainly, their reactions to some of the revelations the story throws at them are believable enough, and there were some genuinely touching moments that involved the main character, but they weren't because of them. 

Thankfully, the supporting cast was there to lighten the mood, as each does, in fact, have roundness and color. Every major NPC — and even some of the minor ones — in the game felt like a person, with regrets, desires, and dreams that related to their situation in life. The protagonist's past, which is actually quite important to the story, acts just as window dressing even when things get serious, and never really moved me.

My family, friends, lovers, and enemies, though? These were people I cared about because they were actually people who were as unsure about their lot in life as you or me, and made due the best they could with what fate dealt them.

Even with Ubisoft leaning heavily into the reputation of some of the more important figures, people who helped define what it means to live in Western society, I was rarely left wanting more of their character, because to ask for more was to ask for a super-person, and those are boring. The NPCs in Odyssey are well constructed and are the real drivers for the game.

The Plot Thickens

As for the narrative itself, the common threads are here. Someone or something is pulling strings, the main character is somehow involved and becomes more so, their decisions will decide the fates of thousands, no one who appears to be of consequence (read: with a unique and higher quality character model) is exactly who they say they are, etc. etc. 

What impressed me, however, is how Ubisoft managed to weave as many story threads together as they did. Though there's the main story for players to follow, it certainly isn't the only one, and each plotline has direct connections to the others, and each was interesting enough that I was always curious where the story would go next. 

Some of the twists and turns were, sadly, predictable in an almost comic-bookish kind of way. I called several of them in the first couple hours of play. There were also moments where it felt like Ubisoft was putting in fantastical things just to get a rise out of their players, trying more to force a reaction than let it happen organically. 

Still, I was satisfied for the most part. The formula Ubisoft established is well intact, but Odyssey chooses to play with it in subtle ways that make what would be old news fresh(er) again. 

Solid Content

As with Origins, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey follows a more RPG style of gameplay, with character and enemy levels, a randomized loot system with rarity scores, health values, and skill trees all making up a solid, if not revolutionary, whole.

For me, though, the core gameplay in Odyssey is not what brings me the most joy. It's a moderate expansion on a system that functions, and I'm fine with that. I'm most taken by the small quality of life improvements Ubisoft's made. Most of the ideas come from other games, but they're implemented into the world well enough that I'm more than happy to take part. 

The Option to Enjoy

My favorite new side mechanic is bounties. Collected from a notice board, they come in several varieties and all offer either money, loot, experience, or some combination of the three. They don't take very long, they occasionally weave their way into the larger world, and the reward is usually worth the small effort it takes to complete them. 

More importantly, you'll want to pick up bounties and side content frequently, as story content is often gated behind a level cap. Especially as you approach the late game, Odyssey's main storyline takes longer and longer as you have to take more and more time doing optional content so the enemies in the core content don't kill you in a single hit.

This is an annoying design decision that forces the player to engage with the world against their will. It works in games like Destiny or The Witcher 3 because the main story — many people's reason for playing the game at all — is perfectly playable with little to no grinding required. Odyssey all but forces the issue, and in a game all about choosing how you approach something, such a heavy hand stands out.

On the flip side, I really enjoyed how armor customization matters in this game. The Origins system of standardized outfits is gone and head-to-toe gear with stats is in. And unlike previous titles, the overall aesthetic of the gear changes, and might even inform its stats. There are also specialized sets with accompanying bonuses, so there's yet more reason to seek out the hidden areas of the map.

The other bits of side content — the Shadow of Mordor-inspired Mercenary system, a pared down version of the Assassin's Creed 4 sailing mechanics, the various one- or two-step side quests, the arena — are all fun as well, and for the same reasons they've worked in the titles they originated in. It's just that they can really get in the way sometimes.

The number of times I suddenly found myself in a sea battle in spitting distance of the objective was incredibly frustrating, especially since pirating doesn't have the same charm or reward it did it Black Flag.

Mercenaries is a nice addition, though. There might not be any real consequence to the GTA-style bounty system, but finding a mercenary I hadn't encoutered yet was always a real thrill, as I knew the subsequent fight would be both tense and satisfying.

It's Not All Roses

The trouble with Odyssey, as with many recent Assassin's Creed games, is how spread out the content feels, and everything ultimately feels shallow because of it.

I enjoy bounties, but they will never carry a title. The ship combat makes something of a return, but it feels tacked on, as it has in every game after Black Flag. And many optional quests were almost always some variation on "go here, kill dudes, come back." That, and the fact that every non-story location in the game is a hostile zone really makes me wonder what purpose any location serves other than a new coat of paint on "this is a new place to kill dudes."

The voice acting is also hit and miss. Especially in some of the randomly generated world quests, but certainly not limited to them. Some of the line deliveries are incredibly stiff, with one mechanics explanation at the game's outset spoken so awkwardly I could tell the voice actors were just done with it that day.

Loot can pose issues, too. It's a problem many ran into with Nioh, where you're so overwhelmed with useless gear that managing it became a game all its own, and not one you wanted to play. Again, bounties are good for giving a possible upgrade, but the game completely floods you with common items you'll never so much as swing.

Last is an issue I saw pop up in Far Cry 5Odyssey does not want you to ever be bored and so tends to contrive reasons for you to engage with its world. Whether that means spawning a random patrol or NPC recruitment quest, I often find myself bombarded by things I don't have the time or desire to discover. And sometimes I just want to walk through the city without being attacked by guards. Is that too much to ask?

Final Verdict

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is one of the better entries in the franchise, especially in recent years. Its side characters are solid, and I care about their personal conflicts and motivations. It builds on the systems established in Origins without trying to reinvent them, and the gameplay loop and core mechanics remain fun and engaging. The game does try to do a little too much of everything, and the experimenting it does do — a player-driven protagonist, for one — sometimes falls flat. Odyssey also has its overbearing moments, too, and I wish parts of its story didn't drag on for so long.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. It's a beautiful world that's had real care and attention paid to it, and a worthy entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of AC: Odyssey used in this review.]


CrossCode Review: A Surprising, Expansive Adventure Mon, 01 Oct 2018 13:56:14 -0400 Zack Palm

At first, CrossCode looks a lot like your typical RPG throwback. Stylized, 16-bit graphics greet you from the get-go with catchy chiptunes that quickly draw you into an expansive world rivaled only by some of the genre's beloved titans. 

You assume the role of a hero eager to find out the source of your short-term memory loss, while also taking part in some fun gameplay consisting of unique puzzles, challenging platforming, and some really beautiful pixel art.

The game continues to surprise, even twenty hours in, and reissues its already understood mechanics to make them feel fresh. The developers truly crafted a wonderful game, though a few flaws still cut through.

The Setting

CrossCode throws you into a future world where the MMO, CrossWorlds, is the game everyone plays. Players assume all of the controls of their avatar with their bodies, able to speak and move for them by using some unknown virtual reality equipment.

You assume the avatar known as Lea, an avatar who has no memory of who they are behind the digital mask. Several of the starting NPCs know she's a unique case of a player, hinting at a grand mystery awaiting her as she steps off the tutorial boat and embarks on a journey to remember who she was. Because she doesn't know who she is, she can't speak, creating a loophole behind the silent hero trope.

To jog Lea's memory, she's forced to play through the game where the player's goal is to complete through the main quest called Track of the Ancients, where players uncover the mystery behind the beings that were there long before anyone else. Lea picks a handful of friends along the way, and just like in a traditional MMO, she gets the opportunity to join a small guild to help her out.

The developers crafted the world to feel like a constantly-moving MMO, including having "players" going through the world around you intent on completing quests. Though, after a time it's clear they're moving on a track and they don't fight with any of the monsters around you, the background details were added to make it feel authentic. The development team nailed it.

In the game, it's mentioned there are five classes to play from. You do not get to choose this as Lea is a pre-made avatar, and I felt a little robbed from this experience. I would have enjoyed getting to dive deep into the RPG aspects of this game, choosing my character's appearance, class, and perfecting her stats. But this linear experience demands to have certain aspects chosen for you, and it doesn't take away too much.

Gameplay and Puzzles

CrossCode provides you with two methods of attacking: range-based and melee-based. When you have a keyboard and mouse, you change between these two based on how you aim at the enemies on screen.

There's a quick-attack button on your keyboard, but you'll mostly ignore it. It's far easier to use your game's reticle than it is to remember what key it is. The range-based attack is called Orb, and they're the main way you interact with the hundreds of puzzles littered throughout the game.

The combat was a straight-forward affair. Beat an enemy until their health is zero. When you defeat a group of enemies you'll receive a battle rank based on how difficult they were. You'll have a bar on the top of the screen where you can continue to fight other monsters in the area, gaining more battle rank up to the rank of S. You'll receive more experience points and better loot if you do this, but you won't gain any health between fights.

To make fighting easier, you'll find instances to 'break' an enemy during combat. Breaking an enemy is basically stunning them, causing them to freeze up and they can't react for a number of seconds. The developers make this unique by forcing you to find different ways to break certain enemies. Some of them are broken by simply attacking them while they charge for their attack. Others require you to use a specific element to break them, thereby making your neutral attacks useful against them. The break mechanic doesn't get old, and even twenty hours in, the developers used it with a refreshing tone.

If you're not a fan of puzzles, you might not want to pick up this game. Not only are there puzzle-filled dungeons, which can take you an hour if you're not careful, but each new area contains platforming and orb-based puzzles for you to solve. While you do not have to do all of them as some of them provide you with great equipment, many of them are forced on you and prevent you from continuing forward.

The developers don't try to trick you through the puzzles. The puzzles were made in an obvious way for you to quickly grasp the mechanics and proceed forward. Although, the one-hour long puzzle dungeons were a bit much. There's a good amount of combat added to these dungeons, but it's easy to get lost in them and have to take a break immediately after you're finished.

The 16-bit RPG Art

The wonderful art shines throughout the experience. The various avatars, the season-changing worlds, and the unique monsters populated everywhere make every new sight an appealing experience. You'll forget you're playing a PC game and think you pulled out your old school PlayStation for old time's sake. The gameplay feels the same way, too.

There's a few times this art becomes troublesome when you're dealing with the platforming puzzles. You may think you're jumping on the ledge, but you miss by just a hair, and its enough to send you tumbling down. It also works in your favor when you need to remain on a platform and you're barely hanging off the side so you can make it to the next jump. There's a handful of cons with the chosen art, but you'll find far more pros and the art doesn't get stale.

It's Still An MMO

Because its an RPG disguised as an MMO, you'll feel the massive world gets a little lonely at times. Even when your companion consistently comments on your lust for battle or about the new area you've unlocked. You'll want to take a friend with you through your quests and show them what you've been looking on. But as you might expect, there can be a fair amount of grinding.

This feeling typically arrives just before a big fight. Right before a dungeon, your companions will ask if you're truly ready to tackle whatever lies behind those threatening doors. There are so many side quests for you to do before you enter it, you'll feel you need to take a step back to go take care of them. You can ignore most of the side quests and proceed into dungeon after dungeon, but you'll feel a far more difficult challenge if you don't do so.

You do need to grind XP to level up and stay within the appropriate limits of the game. No, it's not as bad if you were to play World of Warcraft, but it take an hour or two out of your time from your main quest to stay within the limit. It does pull away from the experience and make it feel like a necessary element. Those who love to be completionists and check off every box will have a blast running through every little detail of this game.

The Verdict

CrossCode is a wonderful game. The developers painstakingly added numerous background details to make the experience feel genuine and the mechanics don't feel stale, even thirty or forty hours into the entire game.

There's a lot to do, a good story, a handful of great characters to meet, and the combat feels like a challenge. You may bash your head against a wall attempting to figure out the puzzle-dungeons, but when you figure it out you're going to feel accomplishment and excited to move on to the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

You can pick up CrossCode for $19.99 on Steam. If you're not completely sold, try out the demo

[Note: The developer provided the copy of CrossCode used in this review.]

Think of the Children Review: Cute Concept But Fundamentally Unbalanced Mon, 01 Oct 2018 12:13:28 -0400 Littoface

Parenting is hard work. It involves delicately balancing love and discipline -- and making sure things don't catch on fire. 

Think of the Children from Fellow Traveller and Jammed Up Studio sets out to show players just how tough striking this balance is when you have six kids -- and they're all extremely flammable.

The game has some redeeming qualities, of course -- like its ridiculous death scenarios and silly writing. 

But try as it may, Think of the Children is, in many ways, on fire itself. The game is supposed to be a challenge, but it's more of a rote masterclass in patience and repetition. It'll need some balancing before it provides the "good" kind of challenge (as opposed to the "pull-your-hair-out" kind).

We tried our hand at virtual parenting and came out thankful that we're (just a little bit) better at it in real life. 

Ready, set, parent!

We're Pretty Sure Parenting Doesn't Work Like This

Think of the Children consists of several stages, each with its own set of objectives. Set up a barbecue in the park. Do some shopping at the store. Set up umbrellas and buy ice cream at the beach.

Each of these tasks is accomplished by walking over to key spots on the map and pressing a button repeatedly.

The catch? While you're tending to the BBQ, your kids are wandering off onto the road and getting run over. They're climbing the shelves and getting crushed when they fall. They're getting eaten alive by seagulls.

To save these unusually dumb kids from their inevitable fates, you run around and pick them up whenever they come into harm's way. You then place them down or, because it's more fun, fling them toward safety.

You can also call them over if they're nearby for some crowd control, but as this has an unfairly long cooldown, it's actually not very useful at all. Resorting to the other methods is just more efficient. 

Each child is given a random name, and it's darkly funny to see the names get crossed out one by one as you inevitably fail to save little Kristy from burying herself alive in the sandpit or baby Mort from swinging so high he flies off to his demise.

The levels end when the timer runs out or when all the kids die. At the end of each level, you're given a letter grade for completing objectives, with a score multiplier for every child that's still alive.

You can play in two main modes in Think of the Children: Party Mode and Story Mode. 

The former lets you play any stage while shooting for the high score, while the latter tells the story of poor parents who have racked up over 400 counts of negligence on countless kids, dead and alive, and are now in court pleading their cases before a judge and CPS (protip: that's definitely not how it works IRL.)

Although it's absolutely unnecessary to even have a story in this ridiculous game, the writing is funny and very tongue-in-cheek, which is a big plus.

The downside to Story Mode is that it makes you play each level again and again until you get a passing grade in order to continue — a feat which, as we'll see in a moment, is basically impossible to accomplish alone.

Frantic and Unfair

The game bills itself as a "multitasking simulator", and it certainly is that — but to a point that goes beyond challenging and becomes just downright unfair.

Every level's objectives are displayed in a tiny notepad in the corner of the screen, making it a bit difficult to see what you're supposed to do while also keeping an eye on the kids.

Like real parenting, you have to be in about 10 places at once. Just as you start unfurling the towels and opening the beach umbrellas, one kid swims off dangerously close to a circling shark, another kid tempts fate by poking a jellyfish, the grill back by the car has caught on fire, and — oh! — so has the tanning dude by the water who forgot to put on sunscreen (is… is this how it works? We're starting to believe it).

All of these things are happening all around the screen and even if you run it's impossible to save everyone. Literally. Impossible. 

It didn't take long before my partner and I realized the only way to get through a level was by just holding onto one child at all times and dragging them back if they started to wander off while other tasks were being completed.

And even then, points were lost for, you know, letting five other kids die, and the grade was inevitably an F, dooming us to repeat this weird parenting Hell for Story Mode over and over again.

Quite simply put, the balancing is off. When playing solo, there is no way to actually accomplish everything the game expects you to accomplish while also keeping those darn kids alive.

Luckily, Think of the Children has one saving grace: local co-op.

Parenting Is a Collaborative Experience

With drop-in local co-op for up to four total players, Think of the Children doesn't seem to scale difficulty when more people join.

Every player gets to choose an avatar: quirky, blocky people (and animal-headed creatures) with fun hats and colors. These are actually quite charming, and more features and character designs can be unlocked by doing well in the game.

Having co-op in means that if you have a few friends over who want to experience the joys of parenting, you can just about complete the levels by splitting the tasks between you.

If one player watches a group of three kids and another watches the other three, a third stands by for all the things that tend to catch on fire, and the final player sets everything else up… well, then things become doable.

We're not sure we'd call it fun, but it definitely becomes a bit easier to handle, which, let's face it, is true for parenting in reality. Sometimes, splitting the tasks is just about the only way to make sure everyone gets out of things alive.

Final Takeaway

Think of the Children is a cute idea in theory but in practice, it lacks the balance it needs to succeed. Couple that with an unfair pace and it's more of a train-wreck than a fun time.

It also doesn't help that it is literally impossible to complete levels on your own. So while the co-op mode makes the game a bit more manageable, it ultimately lacks the depth it needs to be enjoyable on every front.

Of course, we can see it being a fun and silly party game, where flummoxed IRL parents take a shot every time a digital child dies, but ... well, we hope we never type a sentence like that again. 

In the end, it's silly, colorful, and ridiculous, and we'll hope for a patch that better balances the game -- but until then, we'll stick to real parenting. It's easier, and the kids don't (usually) spontaneously combust.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Think of the Children used in this review.]

Underhero Review - I Need a Hero Sat, 29 Sep 2018 11:13:46 -0400 Kimberly Cooper

Underhero is another one of those games that you might've otherwise missed if you were not actively following its progress. More often than not, it takes a lot of perseverance and charm to get this far and Underhero is a quirky, exciting adventure that changes up the hero formula.

The Story

The game is played within a 2D side-scroller view and while it may feel compact, it's accompanied with delightful, unique characters and a solid story of trying to save the world when you weren't exactly cut out for the job in the first place.

You take on the role of an underling-turned-hero (the Underhero) and unknowingly tasked with saving the world. This puts the antagonist-turned-protagonist into quite the pickle because this obviously isn't what he planned to happen. 

The main character is another one of those silent-types, but the fluid animation and comical moments give him plenty of personality without ever really saying a word. You're paired with the former hero's sword that is capable of changing from a blade into a hammer and slingshot at will. 

The dialogue is both quirky and cute which makes listening to all the passive dialogue quite the adventure.  Each world hosts its own color scheme but they all end up coming off as vibrant and colorful instead of dull and dreary.

Going through each area filled me with excitement as I wondered what sort of enemies I would encounter and what kind of attacks they would use against me. Would I need to duck or jump when they attacked? Would I need to use my shield or bribe them with money because they were too strong? The enemy designs fit perfectly into the peculiar world of Underhero, however, at times I felt like there could have been a larger quantity of enemies between areas.

One thing that had me baffled throughout my play-through was how all of the enemies worked for the corporation led by the main boss in the game, Mr. Stitches, but they never seemed to question why one of their own was out attacking them in the field.

The Battle System

I expected to be faced with either turn-based battles or regular ol' hack and slash when going about my journey and was met with something entirely different. People that are familiar with Undertale might see some similarities in Underhero's battle system. Once you come across a monster you initiate a fight where you can talk to your opponent to get the occasional hint or even bribe them with your own hard earned cash so that they'll leave you alone.

If throwing your money away doesn't sound like your cup of tea, have no fear. Battling involves a little more thought in which you have to actually observe your opponent's actions in order to predict which move they'll use next. If predicted correctly, you're able to dodge moves by jumping or ducking.

Time your own attacks perfectly in tune with the music to get extra damage but your attacks are also based on how much stamina you have which fills back up during the battle.

You can buy potions and other items from the shop back at the HQ as well as finding potions out in the field. The game isn't overly difficult by any means but my complaint is the game occasionally experiences lag during battles which can make them go on longer than necessary or cause you to get hit by attacks. 

There's plenty of fun to be had in Underhero with mini-games, boss fights and puzzle elements with a little platforming thrown in. While you're playing, you get to experience a phenomenal soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren that I found myself listening to throughout the odd hours of the day.

Underhero isn't an overly difficult game and if you ever think an enemy is too much to handle you can always just bribe them so that they will leave you alone. You'll go broke, but at least you're able to continue on your adventure.

Despite the presence of a few bugs, this game was designed by a team of only four people and offers roughly 15-25 hours of gameplay that will scratch that indie itch. If you've been needing a break from Dead Cells or Hollow Knight and just want to experience some witty comments and bash around a few monsters without a fear of losing your head, this is the next best thing.

It's available for $14.99 on Steam, Gamejolt, and

A demo for Underhero is still available on Gamejolt and for those who need extra incentive. 

Depth of Extinction Review: A Fun, Old-School Throwback Fri, 28 Sep 2018 11:19:22 -0400 Sergey_3847

Anyone who uses Steam knows that games in Greenlight aren't always of the highest quality. 

But from time to time, something very interesting appears out of the oozing verdant mass to grab the community's attention. Depth of Extinction, a 2D turn-based tactical RPG from HOF Studios, is one of those rare finds.  

After spending some time in development, the game garnered enough votes to make it to Steam's front page -- and as of this writing, is one of the platform's top sellers. And with good reason: while Depth of Extinction might not be perfect, it's a fun throwback to old school classics like X-COM

Story and Setting

Depth of Extinction is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remnants of civilization have managed to survive on small bases scattered all over the world. Since most of the Earth has been flooded by a cataclysm, your squad moves between locations in a submarine, which is an interesting touch in a genre filled with space ships.

The world map is divided into five sectors, all of which correspond to different factions. On top of that, each sector contains several major locations, each of which consists of smaller bases that serve as mini-maps.

This is where all the events take place. Your squad arrives at one of the chosen maps, raids it for loot, and moves on to another one.

Main points of interest keep you pointed in the right directions, guiding you down the optimal path for story-based items. To get them, you'll go through a chain of intermediate mini-maps. However, the game allows you yo choose the path on your own, as well, so you can make your journey shorter or longer depending on your needs.

For example, if you need money, weapons, or healing items, then you ought to raid as many bases within the game's major locations as possible. Depth of Extinction will even suggest that you either skip certain locations or quietly observe them without interfering, while others state clearly that you can enter, kill a bunch of enemies, and take all that you can find.

This makes selecting your path to the main objective a lot of fun in most regards. Unfortunately, the mini-maps themselves aren't as exciting; the design of each is great, but the actions you need to take are all basically the same over and over again.

Gameplay Mechanics

Before setting out on missions, the game asks you to choose your loadout. It includes the submarine you want to take on your journey and the squad that will accompany you on your mission.

To get you started, you'll get a relatively good amount of funding, which is enough to buy a basic submarine and add one extra member to your squad. From there on out, it's up to you to keep things running and your crew manned. Each squad member has their own perks and specialties, but in the beginning, it doesn't really matter who you choose.

The further you progress through the game, you will be able to meet Merchants, NPCs that can provide you with extra equipment. Although you'll get loot from looting bases, the really good items come from spending mission money at the Merchant to get the really good stuff that'll help you deal with more powerful enemies and bosses. 

When you arrive at a base, your team moves in turns. If you spot an enemy, you can start shooting immediately.

However, positioning squad is very important, and you need to enter each map with certain tactics and strategies in mind.

Just as it is in other tactical games like X-COM, it's important to keep your squad behind cover as much as possible. It's also important to the range of your currently equipped weapons. For example, it's wiser to position a sniper further away from the enemy and a shotty much, much closer.

To get a better idea of what this is like, you can easily compare the game's shooting mechanics to those in Wasteland, where you see hit chance when hovering your mouse over the enemy.

Mercing enemies is made easier seeing as the controls are very simple and intuitive. Although the process can be a bit clunky in the beginning before you learn all the hotkeys, the mid- to late-game runs really smooth.

The only real downside is that there isn't much variation here. Perhaps the game will see a few post-release patches to increase tactical diversity, but as it stands, you'll us the same strategies to win time and time again -- even against Depth of Extinction's harder foes. 

Final Thoughts

Like I said in the beginning: Depth of Extinction isn't perfect, but it's got a lot of good things going for it. 

The game's visual and audio presentation are great. The soundtrack is especially cool, and it plays in the vein of 80's synthwave, which really strengthens the overall vibe; it perfectly fits the 2D setting of the game with its industrial design. Nothing really distracts you from the gameplay in this regard, which means that the developers paid a lot of attention to the details.

The downside here is that although the gameplay is fun, it does get a bit boring if you play for longer sessions. You basically repeat the same actions without much variation.

But if you're a fan of old-school turn-based games, then you will enjoy the hell out of Depth of Extinction. So at the end of the day, it's all a matter of perception and taste.

[Note: A copy of Depth of Extinction was provided by HOF Studios for the purpose of this review.]

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review: Beautiful Turn-Based Strategy Thu, 27 Sep 2018 18:55:53 -0400 ElConquistadork

I'm just gonna come straight out and say it: I'm not an anime fan.

I'm not going to discount the genre on the whole: a work of art is a work of art. I appreciate and enjoy Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion (I'm not a monster, after all), but the general over-the-top tropes that come with your average anime always left me a bit cold. But, as I said, a work of art is a work of art, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 is magnificent.

The Stories of War

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is another installment in the quasi-World War 2 universe first introduced to the PS3 in 2008. In it, you take charge of a scrappy group of soldiers from the Atlantic Federation: a force dedicated to fighting back against the creeping doom of the mysteriously evil Imperial Alliance.

With a wide-stretching range of characters with well-written motivations, it's nearly impossible not to get caught up in the story. These soldiers of yours are fighting to protect their homeland after all, and that underdog mentality has always been contagious. But beyond that foundation, there's a real flexibility in the narrative that allows for moments of irreverent nonsense just as often as staring, grim-faced, into the horrors of war.

As the war progresses, you're subject to a great number of little scenes throughout. And while some of these scenes felt a little long-winded at times ("when do I get to the next battle, for God's sake?"), they did a wonderful job of perpetually deepening the storyline.

As the perfect complement to this story, each character is lovingly crafted and detailed, to the point that even the grunts who aren't a part of the main storyline feel like fully fleshed-out people. Even the most minor character has a unique take on their actions. A failed writer-turned-grenadier mutters about how well a certain moment would work in his novel, and a pretty boy sniper quips "Did you fall for me?" after headshotting an enemy soldier from a distance. No two characters look or act the same (outside of the enemies), and that had an effect on how I treated these characters on a level that I haven't felt since I named all my characters in XCOM after my friends and family.

Commanding Your Soap Opera in Battle

XCOM is actually a game that gets brought up a lot when it comes to this franchise. With its combination of turn-based strategy and HQ-based research and development, it's easy to see why. Like XCOM, you spend a lot of time developing your army and building yourself up from your headquarters using resources collected on the battlefield.

But if I had to compare Valkyria Chronicle's gameplay to any previous game, it would have to be the Shining Force series: the classic turn-based fantasy games that were a high point for RPGs with the Sega Genesis, a console that otherwise felt very bare in that sense. Like the Shining Force games, VC4 focuses heavily on both storyline and tactical strategy, something that is often lost in turn-based games these days. That perfect blending of story and mechanics gave me a wash of nostalgia for those older games, and I was more than happy to take that feeling here.

There are differences, however. Your strategies are based on Action Points, meaning that units can move multiple times or not at all, which is handy for focusing on tougher enemies or getting a soldier out of trouble. 

That level of gameplay allows for a lot of replayability, given that you receive a score for the completion of each mission. This could be frustrating at times because your ranking appears to be based on nothing more than how fast you can finish. It doesn't hurt that, even on the more mild challenge levels, Valkyria Chronicles 4 can be hard. While some levels can have a more subtle bent, like an assassination or scouting mission, others are full out, D-Day style meat grinder affairs, with all the constant, bullet-pounding action that goes with it. Anyone who's interested in replaying this game for perfect scores will have to deal with that in a big way: and that's not even mentioning the fact that you can spend upwards to 40+ hours on a standard playthrough.

But past that difficulty (and occasional controller-throwing frustration), there's a game that is as filling story-wise as it is sharp gameplay-wise. As a continuation of a beloved franchise, Valkyria Chronicles 4 hits all the right notes, sometimes bending them into the stratosphere. It also works brilliantly as a stand-alone game or introduction, as the cast is completely new, and require no previous experience to fully appreciate.

For players who have enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles from the beginning, there's plenty of the same to enjoy here, with some added goodness. The first new thing to pop into mind would be the Grenadier class, a valuable heavy-hitter armed with a mortar-style weapon that can be launched up and over enemy cover, and even takes out the weak spots in the backs of tanks. The ability to upgrade your more rank-and-file soldiers into Leaders is also a terrific way to add some customization to your squad. 

Unfortunately, those players will also find some of the same exploits they saw in 2008. A glaring example of that is the unbelievably fast scouts, who can overtake and hold camps at breakneck speed, sort of breaking certain aspects of the game. As a small concession to that, there are many missions that center around far more than just holding camps, but the ability to tear through various missions with little worry about enemy reinforcements is absolutely still there.

Just graphically speaking, VC4 is a piece of art. The colors alternate from lush, blissful explosions of pigment, to muddy, dirty warzones. It only accentuates the two sides of the coin that the storyline offers. The weapons, uniforms, tank designs, etc: all of them are incredible. These characters were basically tailor-made to be action figures and statues: I wanted at least a dozen of them to display on my shelves.

This is a game for people who love strategy and/or love a beautifully woven story. The care and precision that went into making it is clear, and there's little doubt in my mind that Valkyria Chronicles 4 is going to make it into quite a few Best of 2018 lists come January.

Insomnia: The Ark Review -- A Conflict of Interests Thu, 27 Sep 2018 13:36:45 -0400 Jonathan Moore

At first glance, it would be easy to compare Insomnia: The Ark to games like Fallout 4 and even Bioshock.

Its diesel-punk inspired retro future screams both Bethesda and Ken Levine from the moment you hit "new game". However, Insomnia: The Ark quickly morphs into something of a genre hybrid. 

In some ways, it's an action-adventure with deep RPG elements, intricate story lines, and an expansive, sprawling world. In others, it's a horror game dabbling in the existential torment of life, death, and the purgatory in between.

In these ways, Insomnia: The Ark is as engrossing as it is interesting. It's a game that seeks to find a unique balance between action and repose, fetch quests and the theology of the soul.   

Despite its compelling nature, the game has its share of issues. Some of these are easily overlooked (and are set to be patched in a day-one update), while others are seemingly endemic to its development. From bugs and glitches to an overly complex story and a few strange design choices, Insomnia has a habit of getting in its own way. 


Although I'm only around 12 hours into the game's expansive narrative, I can easily say that the story is deep and labyrinthine. Tackling topics such as life and death, authoritarianism, and the politics of xenophobia, Insomnia crafts a sprawling mosaic of complicated moving parts. 

It's not exactly clear who you're playing as in the game's early stages -- a slum-dog gopher named Thyper or a dutiful soldier that (luckily) escaped a horrific blast in the State's cryogenic sleeping bay. 

What is known for certain is that the world you're thrust into is one full of violence, suppression, and mystery. As the mammoth metropolis of Object 6 hurtles through space to find a new home for the humans inhabiting it, a rebellion brews in its sewers and back alleys. 

Everywhere you see signs of The Committee, the authoritarian regime ruling Object 6 with nothing less than an iron fist. But you also see something more, something beyond the physical suffering and turmoil around you. There's an ether that beckons you away from "the surface". 

Beginning as an illness that appears to cause psychosis, depression, and delusion, you soon begin to understand that Somnia is more than another word for schizophrenia. Somnic lapses, as they're referred to, begin to illuminate the true nature of your character. 

The only sticking point is that this multilayered narrative can easily get convoluted, especially when the dialogue and writing becomes overly complex. It's by no means Tolkien-esque in nature, but following the game's narrative threads can sometimes turn into work, leaving you more perplexed than informed in the game's early running. 


The most important thing you need to know about Insomnia is that in the first 10 to 12 hours, there's a lot of exploration -- with a little bit of combat and puzzle solving sprinkled in between. 

Most of your time will be spent traveling from one side of Object 6 to the other, learning about the world, investigating shadow collectives, and helping quest givers deliver old-world record players. If you're into the story and diesel-punk aesthetic, it's more interesting than it sounds -- but it can get a bit tedious walking from one area to another and back again. 

Each area in Insomnia's semi-open world is large and often multi-tiered. You're able to travel from hub to hub using each area's exit points before selecting a destination on an overworld map. Think Pillars of Eternity in this regard. 

Along the way, there will often be random encounters with traveling shop keeps or helpless friendlies looking for a hand. Others will be with highwaymen and gangs, many of which you'll need to quickly dispatch, loot, and leave behind. 

For much of the early game, it feels like Insomnia's combat is centered around these types of encounters, supplemented by a few story arcs that put the cross hairs between you and a few pesky mercenaries (or riotous citizens, whatever the case may be). 

Combat is real-time. And it can be utterly unforgiving. 

You're able to choose from a variety of weapons, such as long rifles, sub-machine guns, swords, mallets, and even your fists. Depending on what class you choose after the game's prologue, you'll also be more proficient in certain areas than others (although in the current build, it doesn't seem like one class has an exponential advantage over another). 

However, strategy does have a distinct advantage over chaos, as a guns-blazing approach will often get you promptly eviscerated. Insomnia's combat requires a tactical, discerning eye; strategizing your movements before you make them and keeping your eye on your stamina meter will keep you from loading checkpoints over and over again. 

Stealth kills are almost always a necessity to even the odds. Strafing and rolling are important if you're killing from long-range without cover, while sprinting and dodging are important if you're bull-rushing with a sword or melee weapon. And most importantly, taking cover is an absolute must against a contingent with guns. 

While this sounds relatively deep, the primary reason combat is so predicated on strategy is because the enemies are incredibly overpowered. Two bursts from a heavy machine gun can immediately drop you. Three or four quick swipes from a knife can immediately kill you. 

In many ways, the combat is weakened by the fact that its masocore philosophy is little more than a trapping holding it to an oddly-fitting standard. In the time I've spent with it, I haven't much felt like Insomnia's combat was terribly difficult, but instead somewhat tedious. Crouch, wait for hail of bullets, peek up, shoot, repeat. 

There is more under the hood if you search for it, but I'm afraid many gamers will simply stick to the optimal path outlined above and completely miss more intricate elements because they have to specifically search them out. 

The last piece of the puzzle is crafting. 

Insomnia has dozens of recipes and schematics to collect in order to craft everything from grenades and ammunition to repair parts and story items.

But again, this part is slow and plodding as well. Despite having discovered nine areas on Object 6 so far, I've only found two workbenches, meaning that backtracking is the headline and looting is the subtitle. 

While robust in nature, the only real value I've found in crafting so far is in repairing my weapons. Being that I don't have any schematics for actual armor or weapons yet (sans three for grenades I arguably don't need), I don't feel at all compelled to craft a blasted thing.

The components I needed to repair that one generator that one time I needed to get in that apartment were lying in a junk pile. No need to travel all that distance to craft them ... 

The Verdict (For Now)

Insomnia has great potential. But like some games with promise, it often finds ways to undermine itself.

From overly complex storylines to tedious gameplay elements, a curiously obtuse inventory system and an identity somewhere between sci-fi RPG and supernatural horror, it's a game full of competing interests.

That's not to mention the veritable grind for experience points can make you feel like character and skill progress is going nowhere fast. 

However that may be, I must admit there's something about Insomnia that keeps me coming back. Despite my critical stance on some of the game's elements, it's world is utterly fascinating in its construction and scope. The score is pitch-perfect and thanks to a pre-release patch, the environments are beautiful in spite of their dinginess. 

Ultimately, I've had fun playing Insomnia: The Ark, and I plan on continuing my journey -- even if it is messy. All I hope is that its disjointed beginning coalesces into something more cohesive as I move along. 

You can purchase Insomnia: The Ark on Steam for $29.99. 



[Editor's Note: The score represented here is what we would give Insomnia: The Ark right now. This score could change as we make our way further into its diesel-punk futurescape, and after the game's Day One patch.There are also certain gameplay elements, such as team combat, we've not touched on here since our time with them has been limited so far. The developer provided the copy of the game used in this review. ]

HyperX Alloy FPS RGB Keyboard Review: Dazzling Tech and Effects Wed, 26 Sep 2018 12:04:41 -0400 ElConquistadork

The HyperX Alloy FPS RGB keyboard is deceiving in how straightforward it appears. Equipped with some incredible tech and dazzling lighting effects, this mechanical keyboard is ideal for gamers.

On first glance, HyperX's FPS RGB isn't much to sniff at. Its compact frame and standard design doesn't display a ton of the bells and whistles that you'll see on more high-end mechanicals. But that simplicity is just a mask for this wolf dressed as a poodle.

Immediately upon unboxing this beast, I was struck by the weight of it. The durability of HyperX's frames has impressed me in the past, and this one was no different.

The steel structure of the FPS RGB offers some serious durability, and the smaller frame size allows for more desk room (which is important for those of us who haven't got a ton of space for a massive gaming set up.) Even during more aggressive games, this keyboard wasn't moving anywhere: it's that solid.

That frame houses Kailh Silver Speed switches, which just felt good to tap into. The smooth push-click of each key was just lovely, too: there's no other word that better encapsulates it than satisfying. Plus, the switches are rated for 70 million key presses, so you know it's going to keep feeling that good long into the future.

The RGB lighting on this mechanical is pretty impressive as well. As always, HyperX offers a great series of options when it comes to customizing the lighting effects of your keyboard, whether it's for livestreams or just to make yourself happy and giddy with all the lights.

You can adjust the effects from home with HyperX's NGenuity software, or take advantage of three profiles that can be loaded directly into the keyboard. The lights themselves are bright; in fact, they're brighter than a lot of gaming keyboards I've seen in the past. But before that drives you away (because I know some of us don't like getting blinded), they're also adjustable, making for another added piece of nice RGB customization.

The N-Key rollover features on the keyboard are second to none, with inputs following you no matter how fast you hit the keys. This is really important for games like SMITE or Black Ops 4 where reflexes are a factor. I had absolutely no lag time or lost keystrokes while playing, which is a lot more than I can say about other keyboards I've tested in the past.

There's a USB port on the keyboard, which is very handy, though I was disappointed to find that it only served as a charge port and not a passthrough. It would have been great to be able to use the port for a wireless mouse or any other unobtrusive device, but that's a small gripe that's relatively easy to get over. 

The braided cable included felt good, and it's definitely convenient for travel, but I'm always a little nervous when it comes to detachable cables. The wear and tear of removable parts like that make me worry about the longevity of the device. That, however, is pure speculation on my part to this point: I had no issues with the cable during my time with it.


Along with the keyboard itself, we picked up the HyperX Detached Wrist Rest. As far as wrist rests go, it served its purpose very well. The cooling gel and memory foam inside kept my wrists comfortable and dry, and I quite liked the design of it. It's simple, but the stitching is a handsome detail that sets it apart in a small way.

AS far as wrist rests go, it's a nice addition to the keyboard and functions as you'd expect. 


Overall, HyperX has created a terrific keyboard for gaming. The size and on-the-go customization make it perfect for gamers who travel a lot, and the response and satisfaction I got from the keys themselves was just too solid. Great aesthetics and great hardware combined? I'm sold.

Couple that with the wrist rest, and you've got a great combination for on-the-go gaming. 

The HyperX Alloy FPS RGB is available on Amazon for $109.99. You can grab the wrist rest on the HyperX website for $19.99.  

[Note: HyperX provided the FPS RGB keyboard used in this review.]

Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 Review -- All Over the Place Wed, 26 Sep 2018 11:00:02 -0400 Charles Blades

Nothing can beat the original. At least that's what they say.

In every type of media, it’s a common sentiment that the sequel is never as good as whatever came before. Be it in film, literature, or television, the first iteration is usually better. But video games are different in that regard. It's usually the second game in a series gamers remember fondly.

Mass Effect 2, Half Life 2, Silent Hill 2, Uncharted 2.

When it comes to video games, it’s not too difficult to pick the best game from a franchise and have it be a numbered sequel. Why? Because the developers have learned certain lessons from the games that came before, making substantial improvements to key elements such as gameplay, graphics, and story. 

Yet with Life is Strange 2, Dontnod Entertainment finds that going back to the well is a bit harder than it might seem. 

Character Connection

In “Roads”, you take on the role of Sean Diaz, a 16-year-old high school student tasked with caring for his brother, Daniel. Although I won't dive too deeply into the narrative or the plot devices that put you on your journey, it's safe to say that something doesn't go right early on and the two of you set out to carve a new path.

However, despite my fondness for Life is Strange, Chloe, and Max, I immediately found it difficult to connect with the protagonists of Life is Strange 2. For most of my four-hour adventure with them, l often felt like the initial moments of the story were exploitative in a way, focusing too directly on current real-world events. 

It wasn't deal-breaking, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth, one I couldn't easily rinse out. And although the game does find firmer footing once you finally set out on your journey and begin to dig deeper into the dynamic between the two brothers, Episode 1 never really drew me into its story as I'd hoped it would. 

I never truly connected with Sean as a central character. Hopefully, as the brothers continue to flesh out their relationships, all of that will change. 

Having New Conversations

On the technical side of things, the dialogue system from Life is Strange has been revamped to make the sequel's many conversations feel more natural.

Eschewing the modern equation of statement + timer + choice = answer found in so many adventure games these days, conversations in Life is Strange 2 are more free flowing. This means that conversations often sidestep the rigid Q&A loop other games tend to fall into. 

That's not to say, however, that everything here is roses. Peppered throughout your naturally flowing conversations are some incredibly cringe-worthy dialogue sequences. Some even bring to mind the Steve Buscemi, "How do you do fellow kids?" meme. 

But where Life is Strange 2 mostly stumbles is when its writers desperately try to recreate conversations centered around sex or certain other coming-of-age exchanges. There are moments that pull at your heart strings -- and moments where you'll most certainly tear up -- but these awkward moments can easily pull you out of the story for all the wrong reasons. 

It doesn't help that facial animations can be stiff and unreadable -- or that the lip syncing is woefully off. I understand that the game has a specific art style it’s trying to pull off and that animations aren't real-to-life, but that doesn’t explain away the often dead look a lot of characters have when discussing major story events.

Couple that with awkward dialogue and it can be difficult to stay engrossed in the story as it plays out. 

The Verdict

The first episode of Life is Strange 2 is a bit all over the place for me. While I’m not head over heels for its characters the way I was for Chloe and Max in the game’s first season, I do think Sean and Daniel do have the potential to grow on me as the season goes on.

While the dialogue will hopefully get better, I doubt the facial animations will improve as the season goes on. It seems like a minor gripe, but in such a story-heavy game, every little detail matters -- and every little detail affects the gravitas behind the narrative. 

If Life is Strange 2 can improve upon that as the season progresses, and not lean too heavily on its political underpinnings as set dressing, it has the potential to equal the veracity of the original.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Life is Strange 2 used for this review.]

The Conjuring House Review: Haunting, But Not in the Way You Think Tue, 25 Sep 2018 03:15:01 -0400 Zack Palm

We want horror games to immediately put us on edge. We want them to make us question every decision we make and ignore almost every fiber of common sense we have. We want them to scare the living hell out of us. 

We also want them to do those things in a logical, engaging way. The Conjuring House delivers on these initial (unsettling) hopes, but they're quickly washed away as annoying bugs and glitches halt forward progress and suffocate any horror that would have otherwise terrified us.

Although The Conjuring House wears the masquerades in greatness, it never fully realizes its potential, becoming not much more than a murky, stumbling mess. 

The Atkinson Mansion

The beginning of The Conjuring House immediately places you face to face with the mansion's supernatural threat, giving you no illusion of what the game's about.

In a cliche that's more and more common, things open with a set up -- a visitor to the house quickly succumbs to the evil within, leaving you little time to assess how all of the pieces fit together. Although you can expect to see the evil force for remainder of the game, everything's a little jarring right out of the gate, especially considering the story elements don't exactly flow from one segment to the next. 

As you cut to a brand-new character -- our true protagonist -- who gets sent into the home in search of a previous paranormal investigation team, things (kind of) come into focus. Kind of.

In true horror form, you'll begin exploring the house to learn more about it and the nefarious forces within. Fully robed characters disappear right in front of you and a demon-woman hellbent on ripping everyone's face off stalks the halls. 

You'll find that the supernatural beings holding you in the confines of the mansion can only be defeated by finding five artifacts -- artifacts a Satanic cult used to summon them in the first place. This sets you on an adventure full of jump scares, death, artifacts, keys, and many locked doors. 

It's all typical horror game fare; most of it's stuff you've seen in other horror games like Layers of Fear and Remothered. In and of itself, the horror found here is decent at worst and scary at best.

It's just that key mechanics and a hefty amount of bugs make progress slow and enjoyment difficult. 

Struggling Progress

The entire first part of the game can take you far longer than you'll probably want it to -- and longer than should be allowed. Because this is a puzzle game, you already know you have to discover several clues hidden throughout the house to move forward. That's a given. And because it's a horror-puzzle game, you're also being hunted by demons and wicked spirits as you search for clues and solutions.

However, this is also the biggest snag in the game. Despite the developers crafting setting out to make a non-linear horror experience, several mechanics refuse to function unless the player interacts with or triggers specific events in the house.

An example of this comes immediately after you're given the flashlight. Right after getting it, you'll find a number on a wall written in blood. This is the first combination to a padlock you need to open nearby.

However, you're then forced to search the entire first area for other lock combinations, also using your flashlight to find them written in blood. However, they don't always trigger. I had searched the entire first area only to come up empty. But when I went down a specific hallway and watched a small cutscene, I found I magically had access to the third and final number of the combination.

The frustrating thing was that I needed another number that never appeared. 

I was forced to eventually stand at the padlock, guessing over and over again until the lock finally opened. Invariably, I was killed by the ghost several times in the process, and I had to consistently memorize what combinations I had already used on the lock.

Because of this particular bug, I even restarted the game several times in hopes the fourth combo would appear. It never did. 

At this point, I know what you might be thinking: I'm just bad at both horror games and puzzle games. However, I spoke to a colleague who was also playing the game, and we discovered the fourth code was almost impossible to discover. We found that it could even be bugged, as we both restarted several times and only he was able to find it after several tries. 

Not only do these hard stops get needlessly frustrating, they also make the game needlessly difficult. Since your flashlight is integral to finding puzzle solutions, you're in a race against the clock since there are a limited number of flashlight batteries in the game. 

Because you can only find a certain amount per area, you're often left searching locations over and over again -- and coming up empty handed, shrouded in impenetrable darkness.  

Glitches Galore

Throughout the game I ran into a number of bugs and glitches, from visual issues with the ghost to certain objects blocking my progress. There were times when the ghost would clip through objects and others where I attempted to interact with an object and couldn't until I restarted the game to try again. 

One of the most troublesome involved the ghost and save spots. To save in The Conjuring House, your character must safely enter a warded area, complete with seals, scrolls, skulls, and perfect candlelight. When the character closes the door, the demon cannot enter. Once it wanders away, then you can save.

However, I had saved a game with the demon nearby, patiently waited for it to go away, and confident I could return to my searching. However, I was shocked to see my character get swiftly mauled by the creature and the 'Game Over' screen pop up.

This happened to me several times. When I spawned on a save I knew I was going to die on, I attempted to run past the demon and go to a new save spot. This worked once, but several of these attempts still left my character dead. 

Sputtering Framerate

The Conjuring House is by no means a high-resource game. However, when you get into larger areas beyond the first few hallways of the mansion, the game noticeably starts to struggle.

I noticed this early on while wandering around a well-lit section of the mansion after I had descended a flight of stairs. The tearing was slow and tedious; to make matters worse, the game continued to struggle throughout my entire playthrough despite certain areas being less "intensive".

Things were made worse when the demon finally showed up to chase me. Running away from her as my game attempted to constantly load was painfully difficult to say the least.

In the off chance stuttering and tearing weren't bogging me down, The Conjuring House looks fairly nice and polished.

Light and shadow work together to produce a nice ambiance and atmosphere, while the visuals creepily reinforce the notion that not a single person has lived in the house for decades.

Taking time to stop and appreciate the eerie setting the developers crafted is certainly worthwhile, and the cut scenes appear polished, too.There's little doubt there was love put into this game.

However, love only goes so far when there's a creeping evil constantly breathing down your neck -- and one you can seemingly never escape from. And I'm not necessarily talking about the ghost.  

The Verdict

The Conjuring House tries to aim for something far more than the traditional horror game within the first few minutes. Sadly, these notes mostly fall flat as the game is haunted by a bevy of glitches and problems that exponentially stack up as time goes by.

Despite the developer saying players can take a non-linear path through the game, you'll still have to trigger the correct events in order to progress in many of the game's key moments. This problem makes the game tiresome and more importantly, it quickly erodes the game's horror elements, leaving a sour aftertaste that will linger long after you've stopped playing.

At the time this review, the developers have release a 2.2GB patch, but they did not note what the patch covered or what was fixed in the game.

I'm not sure if I'll ever know. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad I'll never have to return to the Atkinson mansion again.

You can purchase The Conjuring House on Steam for $24.99. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Conjuring House used in this review.]

NBA 2K19 Review: A Facelift Can't Hide the Blemishes Underneath Fri, 21 Sep 2018 10:06:21 -0400 RobertPIngram

With the NBA 2K series getting the nod over its EA rival, NBA Live, the battle for supremacy on the digital hard court has been considered settled law among many gamers.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of accurately translating the game played in arenas around the country onto the screen on your wall, it's simply the superior option.

Unfortunately, as has proven with other sports game rivalries, clear cut genre leaders can lull developers into a sense of complacency, pushing out annual titles but not always earning the entry fee.

King James stands next to a Chicago Bulls player with his arms crossed

For NBA 2K19some changes are readily apparent. The game looks beautiful, and players are rendered more lifelike and recognizable than ever before. That is certainly no small thing with a sports game, but at the end of the day, it ultimately pales in the shadow of the elephant in the room: gameplay.

While 2K remains the preferred option among basketball fans, it's evident the game engine has stagnated in recent years. Although 2K19 attempts to act on the frustration voiced by the community at large, the results for this entry are mixed.

Leading up to its release, a great deal of hype surrounded the changes being made to 19's one-on-one defending game, promising that drives to the lane would not be as easy as in the series' previous edition. By combination of a smarter algorithm for steals and improvements to the collision detection system (where bull-rushes were made harder), defense has been improved.

Defenders who learn how to time their steals will be picking pockets, and players who excel at positioning can shepherd opposing ball handlers into the low-efficiency deserts of the mid-range jumper. Though the changes are seemingly small, they go a long way in swinging the luck vs. skill pendulum significantly toward the latter.

If anything, the complaints from fans in 2K19 may end up being that 2K Games made defending too effective, leading to more frustrating offensive possessions.

A basketball player dives for a ball on the hardwood as another player jumps

The other major addition to 19's gameplay is the implementation of the Takeover system.

Every player in the game falls into a specific archetype based on their position and style of play, and these archetypes have areas of expertise. If playing a created character, you even have the option to lean into one specialization or take on a primary or secondary type.

The more success you have in a player's expert area(s), the more their Takeover gauge will charge. String together enough good plays without making errors to drain the gauge, and their icon will catch fire. While you shouldn't expect half-court dunks or near-perfect shooting like the system's clear NBA Jam inspiration, your player will perform better and access special skills based on their archtype when in Takeover mode.

New Players Beware

With the best representation of real-life basketball in the digital realm, NBA 2K19 provides an outstanding in-game experience for veterans of the series. The engine is still not entirely without its flaws -- transitions are clunky, and at times, the defensive decisions of your NPC teammates can be maddening -- but the overall experience is improved.

The changes to gameplay reward skilled execution, meaning the better player will come out on top more often than not.

On the flip side, the game is not particularly welcoming to new players. The provided 2KU game mode sets out to teach players the complicated controls, but there's only so much that can be done when you put the controller in the hands of a newbie. That's doubly so  when your game prides itself on having tremendous depth and responsiveness.

Even on lower difficulty settings, 2K-novices should expect to have some growing pains as they adjust to the game.

Players stand at the free throw line in NBA 2K19's practice modeMicrotransactions are Coming for Your Money

Microtransactions are a sad reality in most online gaming these days, and 2K Games' has proven particularly fond of the system. The use of microtransactions reached a breaking point with NBA 2K18, where players were faced with the realization that their created characters could look good, or they could play good, but if they wanted to do both, it was going to be pricey.

While the use of microtransactions in NBA 2K19 is an improvement, that's a low hurdle to clear. And it's apparent 2K Games didn't have a lot of interest in doing much more than barely clearing it.

Where 2K really insults its fans is the importance of VC in your MyCareer mode. The starting attributes for your created player are terrible, and while you will earn VC with every game you play, the graduating costs of each upgrade and the massive improvement required to be even a decent player mean it's unreasonable to expect to be a competitive player without splashing out some cash.

The problem compounds itself at the completion of the early development phase in China and the G-League, where your created player receives their first NBA contract. If you haven't spent real money on improving your attributes, the contracts on offer will be significantly worse.

Not only will you be starting off less-skilled than a player who spent real money, but the problem will only snowball as you earn fewer VC with each win because of your cheap contract.

Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder from mid court

MyGM Soars, While MyCareer Stutters

In addition to a basic season mode, 2K19 includes two different modes featuring role-playing elements -- and to mixed results.

The MyGM mode is an outstanding bit of front office simulation. It provides one of the most enjoyable experiences of full-scale management in any sports game, not just of the 2K series. The use of goals offers guidance to newer players while providing an additional challenge to veterans, forcing you to win it all in certain ways.

Unfortunately, the MyCareer mode is not as successful. Be-a-Player modes are usually fan favorites, but 2K19's leaves much to be desired.

In addition to the previously mentioned issues with pay-to-win, the narrative's writing leaves a lot to be desired. The main character is an unrepentant jerk to nearly everyone he encounters, which could have been an interesting arc to take if there was more development -- but that development never comes.

For every false dawn, where he appears to realize he's sabotaging himself and being terrible to everyone around him for no good reason, there's a near immediate follow-up where he again reverts to bemoaning that the world is out to get him and nobody has his back.

It gets old very quickly, particularly when paired with the paltry attributes of a non-boosted character, which make him legitimately undeserving of all the opportunities he's furious at being denied.

A player attributes panel in NBA 2K19

Online Play Off to Promising Start

It's difficult to take a strong stance on how online play will shake up in the early stages of a game's release. At the time of this review, only 18 players have even reached the fourth-highest tier of online play.

With that said, the structure of matchmaking relies on a tried-and-true method, which has tended to lead to fair and balanced play. Every 10 games played counts as a season, at the end of which your results can see you moved up or down a level.

When opting to start up an online match, not only will you receive an opponent from the same level as you, but the NBA teams are also divided into three tiers, with the servers attempting to also pair you with an NBA team of the same tier. This means if like me, you're a fan of a team who could charitably be described as "not super great," as the Hornets, you can freely choose them online without being demolished by an endless stream of Warriors opposition.

Final Verdict

NBA 2K19 is far from a bad game -- by any stretch of the word. Once you get your feet under you and get the motor running, it provides fun gameplay and enough variety to keep you interested as you play.

Unfortunately, it is not a game without its flaws, either. From play-to-win issues to those moments of frustration when the engine suddenly sputters, there are just enough annoyances to mar the overall experience.

If you're in the habit of always buying the newest 2K game, then you won't be disappointed with the latest effort. But if you're just looking for a game to play around on from time to time, you'd be better served to check out the used game rack and finding an edition two or three years back for next to nothing.

[Note: A review copy of NBA 2K19 was provided y the developer for this review.]

Frostpunk: The Fall of Winterhome DLC Review Thu, 20 Sep 2018 10:31:42 -0400 Sergey_3847

If you already own Frostpunk, you now have access to a new, free scenario: The Fall of Winterhome. This free expansion tells the story of the Winterhome settlement that preceded the events of New London in the game's main campaign. It gives you the chance to restore the ruined city amidst a literal frozen hell.

Unlike Frostpunk's main campaign, every extra scenario has thrown you right into the thick of things with some of the developments already unlocked. The Fall of Winterhome is no exception -- it gives you a lot to work with from the very beginning. 

First, we'll talk about what's new in the DLC, the we'll take a look at what you're faced with when you start and how the expansion fares compared to the base game. 

New Map and Gameplay Mechanics

A bright circular settlement sits in a valley between snow covered mountains

11 bit studios created a brand new map for the Winterhome scenario. It looks a lot like the endgame of the main story. There are a lot of structures ready with streets, a beacon, and several outposts. 

As would be expected from any DLC, there will also be new structures to build as well.

One of them is the Repair Station. This can be built to repair the main generator, and it is also the place where engineers fix any malfunctioning equipment in the city. Since one of Winterhome's new additions forces you generator to lose power and range over time, the Repair Station is the biggest addition in the DLC. 

Another new addition is the Evacuation Center. This new structure can be built for emergency situations, allowing people and food to be moved to the dreadnought. However, it's not as important as the robust Repair Station. 

Of course, there are a few other smaller tweaks to the gameplay, but those are mainly bug fixes from the original game.

Restoring the City of Winterhome

A Fall of Winterhome splash screen shows man, woman, child sitting by fire

When you begin the DLC, the city of Winterhome is in ruins. Many of its buildings are badly damaged, hope levels are low, and discontent is high. You're immediately thrust into a situation where you're responsible for hundred of the sick and dying.

Thankfully, some laws and technologies have been developed prior to your arrival, so you won't be starting from scratch. Food storage is full, and although you have to start the generator, the coal storage is full as well. 

You'll also find your population consists of

  • 300 adults
  • About 200 children
  • 50 engineers

That means there is also no need to attract new settlers, so you can focus all of your attention on removing old buildings and setting up new ones. 

However, don't let that lull you into a sense of complacency. Taking action from the get-go is a must. Why? Because unchecked sickness will quickly kill the settlement, so building new medical posts and infirmaries is a necessity early on. 

Overlooking a snow-covered city with management menus overlaid in gameplay

Your settlement also receives help from the outside; an outpost that doubles as a coal mine will come to your aid, transferring an additional 800 coal once a day to your storage.

Besides the coal mine, you can send scouts to check out one of the Dreadnoughts that brought you to the area, or you can send a squad to learn everything about the nearby Weather Station, which will help you predict and survive the most unbearable weather conditions.

As the city of Winterhome increases its hope and things get warmer, the ice starts melting. As a result, the rotten bodies of  dead workers come to the surface, quickly increasing discontent among the living.

However, this is only the beginning of your troubles. 

With so many things in the progress queue The Fall of Winterhome DLC gets overwhelming quite fast. The developers obviously made the DLC with a clear purpose to make the gameplay more aggressive.

The heating screen of Winterhome's technology screen with upgrades

New events pop up constantly, reminding you that there is no time for rest. You could be focused on building new structures or repairing old ones, but then something happens: an injury, frostbite, or death. 

Unlike the main story, where you could gradually develop and better focus on the needs of the people, in Winterhome, you have to multitask like crazy, without a single moment of relief.

This approach really turns the new DLC into a rollercoaster ride, which many players may not survive.

Final Thoughts on The Fall of Winterhome DLC

This expansion is definitely not recommended for beginners. It's not made to introduce new players to the game, but instead put veteran players into more complex scenarios. You'll have to apply all of your knowledge and experience from the base game to survive this DLC.

The content The Fall of Winterhome is even harder in Survival mode, and for most, it will be impossible to play.

Things move really fast in Winterhome. Couple that with discontent that rises very quickly, and you're in for a harrowing experience. 

Catastrophes can happen at any point in the game, completely devastating your settlement. In fact, you can lose hours upon hours of gameplay.

But that's the type of challenge Frostpunk fans are looking for. And in this regard, The Fall of Winterhome fulfills the demand in full force.

[Note: A copy of Frostpunk was provided by 11 bit studios for the purpose of this review.]

Megaquarium: Joyous Fun in a Straightforward Management Simulator Tue, 18 Sep 2018 12:21:36 -0400 Zack Palm

Whenever you sit down to enjoy a majority of management simulators, you're expected to handle various different pop-ups jumping up at you to gain your attention, you're expected to notice small problems in your facility and address them accordingly, and the developers want you to handle every detail with the accuracy of an overhanging god. The developers behind Megaquarium threw away this mindset and instead hand you a wonderful simulator so you can sit back, relax, and take pride in the joy you bring to crafting a lovely aquarium for every member of the family to enjoy.

Though Megaquarium may seem overly simple, there's plenty the game brings to your attention in a great manner without making you feel like you have to micro-manage every detail of every day as you run your ideal aquarium.

We All Start Here

The game's story is loose, but it keeps you engaged as a player. You start beginning to learn how to run your own aquarium, discovering what the needs of your fish are and what they require to stay alive. There's a lot more going on than you expect! However, you don't have to manage too much of it, only make it available for your staff to access, and they do the rest.

The game introduces you to the requirements of each tank, as they need proper water filters and heat filters to survive in a suitable environment. This becomes easy management, at first, until the game starts to throw at you various species that need different things beyond this -- some require the proper amount of vegetation living their tank, or the right amount of hiding spaces to survive; fish need their privacy if they're ready to get adored by humans. Each tank provides space for a certain amount of fish, and each species of fish takes up a certain amount of space. 

This concept becomes a bit more complicated due to some species growing even larger after a set number of days. You either prepare for this by having space for more filters or heaters to accommodate the bigger fish, or have an empty enough tank for them to room. You also have to watch out for their tank-mates -- as they may eat smaller fish if they grow too big.

Are you following all of these minor details?

While it may seem insane at first, Megaquarium breaks all of these concepts down in simple, easy-to-follow levels that make you handle them one by one. None of these issues or problems are brought up without a thorough explanation, which makes this game a fun experience to behold as you can almost never feel left behind, unless you jump straight into the sandbox menu.

Breaking Out

The game's campaign takes a while to break you out of its training wheels, but when it does you'll have a wide-wealth of skills at your disposal. You'll learn how to build tanks in the middle of a floor and have the equipment away from the audience's eye, how to make it look natural against the wall of your establishment, and how to provide the best reading material for your audience without letting them look at it for free. There's balance to knowing how to build your aquarium, but it's entirely up to you.

The campaign's levels give you a good breadth of what to expect when you craft your own building, but don't expect any handouts -- expect for the optional missions that pop up to give you a small leading hand while you handle the main mission of managing your revenue and your prestige. The more prestige you have, the more ranks of fame your aquarium has, which means the wider diversity of fish and buildings you can incorporate into your personal choices. These pieces of research take time, as they you need aquarium points in ecology and science to build. You can only add these up based on the types of animals you have in your establish. 

Thankfully, the wonderful break downs make it easy for you to see what you're earning and what you need to work on. You can even see which fish are the most popular, and this changes based on where they're located in your aquarium.

The Beautiful Data

Don't fret if you believe you're going to spend half of your time in game staring at a menu, reading numerous numbers. This part distinctly tells you the information you need to know, and then you can freely move on to use that date to improve your park.

It's that simple!

On the lower left hand of the screen you pull up how much money you make in a day based on the tickets you sell. While you can change how much the tickets cost, you can see the increase of how many tickets are purchased based on the attractions you've added to your establishment. You can't strictly see this information, but it becomes obvious as you add more exhibits and add more places for people to visit. I found myself waiting a few days for the audience members to do their rounds, view what they wanted, and then move on, before I felt safe in adding a new attraction. 

One thing that was really nice about this game was I never felt a distinct pressure about crafting a new area. Some management games hurt or encouraged me to build a new station, and when they hurt me I felt the repercussions for several days as I attempted to cover the losses. You don't get that in this game. You can have bad things happen to your tanks, such as a bigger fish eating a smaller fish or a predator eating a prey, but other than that, there's no big consequence to adding a new tank to your facility to increase revenue or prestige to build your location even further. 

You do have to look out for the fact you may build too many tanks for a similar species. The more diverse species you have in an aquarium, the happier your audience is as they don't have the see the same thing over and over again. When you watch out for that, the minor attractions like food, drink, and restroom facilities, you're basically golden to sit back and enjoy the numbers going up, and up in this game.

Difficult To Produce Errors

One thing I never felt while running my little aquarium was a sense of fear. I never feared I would run out of money, I would simply need to wait a day or two for income to arrive and I could purchase the items I needed. I never felt the information the game gave me was insufficient to where I would accidentally house fish together that could eat each other. While it did happen, it was never a learning experience, it was always presented to me.

This is the one thing Megaquarium doesn't seem to present players: a sense of worry or doubt in themselves in what they build. There's plenty of brakes given to the player to ensure they build at a gradual rate without going too overboard. I never went into the red and never ran into money issues or felt I needed to fire an employee to ensure the lights stayed on.

Though, this isn't a huge issue. For those who want a simple, relaxing simulation game to play without feeling the need to constantly fixate over charts, this makes for an excellent experience. There's nothing wrong with this, but it feels like a missed opportunity for players to feel the weight of having to own a struggling business.

The Result

Megaquarium invites you to have a good time learning how to run your own aquarium with the various different mechanics going on in its game. You learn plenty, and when you the spend the time getting to know what you need to do to run your own establishment, everything falls into place -- don't ever feel too pressured!

Though this game doesn't offer too much pressure, that's not the point. You're meant to relax while you build your favorite aquarium and provide pure joy for everyone who walks through your days to view your exhibits. Only remember to watch what species you put together and what you show off, as too much of a good thing is not a good sight for others to behold!

Marvel's Spider-Man Review: Simply Amazing Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:22:22 -0400 RobotsFightingDinosaurs

There's a well-worn cliche that shows up in most reviews of superhero video games: it claims that a certain game really "makes you feel like a superhero".

It's a crutch used to simplify the process of explaining how the physics, controls, camera angles, and atmosphere blend together to give the player a sense of power, speed, or control.

The issue is that nobody actually knows what it feels like to be Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, or any other superhero, so we as players don't have anything to compare that feeling to. Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4 doesn't actually make you feel like Spider-Man.

Here's a list of things that Spider-Man for the PS4 does feel like:

  • Jumping in an upward-bound elevator right as it's about to stop
  • The moment on a roller-coaster where you crest a hill and are weightless before hurtling downwards
  • Sledding
  • Watching a new Marvel movie
  • Trying not to wake your roommate up at 3:00 a.m. as you steal handfuls of the shredded cheese they were saving for breakfast quesadillas
  • Playing a fighting game in practice mode
  • A really good high five


Spiderman shoots his web in the rain in Marvel's Spider-Man

The first question in a review of any Spider-Man game is this: does the swinging feel good? 

In Spider-Man for the PS4, the answer is a resounding YES. The designers at Insomniac did a great job not just with the physics of web-slinging, but with the design as well. The wind whips past your ears differently based on whether you're zipping along rooftops, hurtling toward the ground, or running up a wall.

The visual effects change too, with the camera assuming a cinematic, high-action angle right behind Spidey's head during high-speed dives, complete with some of the best motion blur I've ever seen in a video game.

What this means is that even if the game had a sub-par story and combat, flying around Spider-Man's faithful depiction of New York City would be a joy in its own right. Since web-swinging is different based on the specific buildings and surfaces that you're swinging from, Manhattan becomes a playground, allowing you to breezily scale skyscrapers and skim across the lush landscape of Central Park without missing a beat. Each of the areas in the game offers distinct movement options, and it's all exhilarating. 

The combat takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get to grips with it, it's insanely satisfying. You're not likely to find a lot of challenge here if you just want to cheese your way through the game, but for the more creative-minded players, the feeling of uppercutting a baddie into mid-air, webbing them up, swing-kicking them into a wall so hard they stick there, and then hurricanrana-ing a second baddie into the pavement is more than worth the added difficulty spike that comes from refusing to just mash square and triangle.

So, yes, Spider-Man's combat isn't technically all that deep since there's no real reason to dig into it that much, but the game's combat mechanics stack in a way that bears mentioning.

Spiderman kicks a large thug in the chest on top of a skyscraper

The game says "yes" to you at every turn with the combat. Want to stick a web trap to somebody, then lure another person over in order to stick them together before electrocuting them all? Go for it! Perhaps you're more comfortable sneaking around, hanging goons up light posts like horrifying pinatas? Why not? 

As you level up, you'll also unlock abilities that further encourage experimentation, from increasing the potency of your web shooters, to impact webs that hurl enemies back, to the ability to swing huge enemies around like a wrecking ball. Again, none of this is necessary, but you're really missing out on a lot of the fun of the game if you don't take advantage of these tools.

The only drawback here is that the side missions don't really take advantage of the game's flawless design.

Race type missions aren't unlocked until you're most of the way through the game, and even then, they're not races so much as they are chases.

Combat missions don't really reward you for getting creative with your fighting, either. It's a bit perplexing since it really seems like the game is working against itself. Maybe this problem will be fixed with some DLC down the line, but for now, it is what it is.

Another baffling gameplay choice is the fact that, for whatever reason, Insomniac really wanted half the story missions to be stealth-focused. When news broke that the player would step into the roles of Mary Jane Watson as an investigative reporter and Miles Morales before he got his powers, I doubt most people thought that their segments of the game would simply be dollar-store Metal Gear Solid knockoff lure-the-guard-away-and-run-forward missions.

It's really disappointing, especially since it would have been an absolute slam dunk had Insomniac broken up the rhythm of the game with a few L.A. Noire-styled investigative missions starring Mary Jane.

It just seems like a huge missed opportunity, especially when you're giving these fan-favorite characters the spotlight.


Spiderman jumps to punch a bad guy in the face in a warehouse

Spider-Man won't win any awards for its story, and you'll likely see all of the twists and turns coming a mile away.

The bigger issue with the story, however, is that it seems somehow unstuck in time. The game tries to draw parallels between the New York Spider-Man calls home and our own, quipping about a "fascist" para-military force while at the same time spin-kicking drug dealers off of a building because the police tell him to.

It's just a bit... dissonant to have a rebellious vigilante like Spider-Man pretty much acting like a cop the whole game. Kinda ruins the fantasy.

Other than that, you'll get pretty much everything you want to out of the story. The big bads don't show up until very late in the game, but that can be forgiven since the first 80% is meticulously designed for you to kind of mess around in the city finding collectibles and completing challenges.

This odd pacing may be a dealbreaker for some, but personally, I had so much fun blasting around Manhattan that I didn't mind.


The one aspect that brings everything together in Spider-Man is the visual and auditory design. If you've seen any of the Avengers movies, you'll be blown away by how reminiscent this game is of them, from the camera angles, to the gratuitous use of slow motion, to the orchestral score that swells and ebbs with the on-screen action. 

The game doesn't skimp on collectibles either. From backpacks that each carry easter eggs that will be familiar to fans of the comic books, to secret graffiti featuring Spider-Man characters, to literal pigeons you have to chase down, scouring the map for all of these little goodies is a whole lot of fun.

Oh, and speaking of graffiti, the street art in this game really does bear mentioning. There are hundreds of murals in Spider-Man's Manhattan, with varying art styles and subjects. It seems like such a small detail, but the fact that the street art is vibrant and not just a slapdash copy and paste job really makes the city feel so much more alive and lived in.


These are the factors that suck you into a game, that cause you to put down the controller, look at the clock, and realize that you were supposed to meet your best friend for dinner three hours ago... yesterday. 

All told, this game really is a masterpiece, one of the few games you'll want to complete 100% even if that's the kind of thing you hate doing.

It's the best Spider-Man game ever made (yes, it's better than Spider-Man 2), and despite some head-scratching flaws, possibly the best superhero game ever made.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have three more pigeons to catch, four more Taskmaster challenges to complete, four more landmarks to photograph, and 11 more backpacks to find. 

Bright, Button-Mashing FUN - ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS Review Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:15:51 -0400 Stephanie Tang

Despite being a remaster of a remake of a mid-2000s Japanese console game, Konami’s ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: M∀RS is no Final Fantasy VII - you can still rattle the entire name off and be met with a blank “huh?” from your oh-so-knowledgeable gamer crew.

From the first, the Hideo Kojima-created ZOE franchise has always been somewhat niche in North America in spite of fairly decent sale. Although in that niche, it has managed to grow into something of a cult classic, you'll be hard-pressed to find a ZOE fan just walking around. 

Even so, ZOE is more expansive than you might think. The franchise includes two titles originally released on the PlayStation 2, a Game Boy Advance side story that was released in between 1 & 2, an animated OVA prequel and 26-episode anime. A ZOE 3 has been in the works since 2008, but the only announcement since was in 2012 when Kojima confirmed that work on this title had finally begun.

Beautiful cel-shaded cinematics and in-game graphics, expansive environments, enormously satisfying giant robot combat (although perhaps not necessarily the 90s style over-the-top English dubbed anime cinematics) give this game a character that appeals to a number of die-hard fans that insist on its superiority as a mecha game over any and all Gundam titles that came before and after.

(Note: No alternate audio languages available, unfortunately, so you're stuck with the dub on this one. It's been one of the biggest complaints from most longtime fans.)

For those new to the series (and there are many), rest assured - if you haven’t touched these games before, you won’t need to start from the beginning in order to pick up on what’s going on.

While ZOE 2 expands on the universe of its predecessor and refers back to it now and again, ZOE 2 keeps the storyline centered on the doings of new pilot Dingo Egret (yes, really) in the original Orbital Frame JEHUTY from ZOE 1 against his nemesis Nohman who pilots sister model ANUBIS.

Set two years after the events of the original ZOE, protagonist Dingo is working as a miner on Callisto hunting for Metatron ore (used to power/create Orbital Frames) and stumbles upon the hidden JEHUTY. When the facility is attacked by the despotic BAHRAM military organization, he pits himself against their forces, infiltrating their battleship, but ultimately is defeated by Nohman, piloting the ANUBIS.

When Dingo refuses to join their cause, Nohman shoots him. Left for dead, he is rescued by an undercover agent who revives him and places him back inside the JEHUTY frame as both a life support system and a way of escape. In it, he stands as the last hope for the planets against BAHRAM's robotic takeover. 

The mechanics of the game are simpler than what came before in ZOE 1, concentrating on mecha battles pretty much exclusively. This includes facing off against a number of different enemy types which take different weapons and attacks to fight efficiently.

Spacing matters - and part of the gameplay's elegance comes from figuring out how to position yourself in cramped hallways or open space and how to distance yourself depending on the enemy, melee sword combat or laser guns.

There are a lot of weapons open to you as you pilot JEHUTY, and that number only grows as you progress and unlock new sub-weapons from boss kills, besides the environmental items that you can pick up and use as weapons as well. Some players found this complicated, but for the most part, the weapons are fairly straightforward - and switching between caused me fewer headaches than trying to do the same in, say, Monster Hunter: World.

(There have been some improvements made for weapon switching between the original game and this version, perhaps therein lies the difference.)


The original game in 2003 was re-released in a two-game set in 2012 as an HD Collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360 with updated graphics and art, better interfaces, new trophies/achievements, right analog stick and rumble support, and improved audio. The company toyed with the idea of releasing it on the PS Vita as well but soon scrapped that plan. It did okay.. mostly because there didn't seem like enough extra content to make the new collection worthwhile, and ran into frame rate issues on the new platforms that it never had on the original. These were fixed later on the PS3 but not on the Xbox 360.

You can see a similar upjump for 2018’s MARS: enhanced graphics and 4k resolution support, new sound design and surround sound support, and a few new features like Very Easy difficulty, training modules, and versus mode where you can 1v1 against other players or a bot (future-proofing this feature for the inevitability of a shrinking online player base in later years).

VR Mode

The shining star of this release, however, is the brand new VR content. Fully playable in first person VR (although all cinematics you experience in theater mode not quite in first person), this mode brings you front and center into all the action and in combat can make you feel like you're really piloting a giant death machine. 

(Note: I don't actually own a VR headset and this review was written while played in third person so it's been supplemented with a lot of YouTube/Twitch streams.)

ZOE 2 was originally made to be a third-person mecha fighter, however, and the switch to third person will close off a large portion of the surrounding environments as your visuals keep you squarely in the JEHUTY cockpit (you do get a 3D figure of the mecha in motion on your console to help gauge movement.)

I do recommend that you play at least some of the game without the VR headset to get the hang of the gameplay as it was initially meant to be played - it's a lot more difficult to figure out how to space yourself properly in battle when played in first-person VR.

It is however, such a large part of why this remake exists, that I also feel like you'd be missing out if you never strapped on a headset either.

Worth it?

ZONE OF THE ENDERS The 2nd Runner: MARS doesn't pretend to be anything more than it was - and the price tag reflects that at $39.99 CAD. The first person virtual reality support is really cool-looking and an excellent addition, but it doesn't promise to transform the game any more than the 4K resolution support.

It does provide an excellent way for old fans to revisit an old classic in a brand new way, with possibly just enough shiny new features to lure new fans in. The game isn't very long, and its runtime is pumped up with somewhat dated anime cutscenes that, for me at least, didn't add a great deal to my enjoyment of the game but did allow it to unfold as a real game rather than a blander sort of progression through different mecha fights.

If you play on the PC version, the game demonstrates the usual lack of care for keyboard/mouse control that many console ports do - namely that you're not allowed the luxury of key rebinds. Furthermore, only through tutorial help and trial and error do you actually get to really figure out how to work your controls (another reason I advise at least starting out without VR). Control-wise, it's a little wonky, so players may prefer to use a controller to play this comfortably. 

Otherwise, it's a fun button-mashing romp in space, with all the bright, splashy attack colors I could wish for. As a VR title, it's excellent (I've played my fair share of other titles in VR that bored me all too quickly once the novelty wore off), and made me seriously consider a VR headset for myself. It is perhaps the most generous and non-gimmicky VR experience I have seen a game offer to date.

15 years after the original was released, this may be exactly what this game needed to finally get its chance to shine. 

NHL 19 Review: Not Doing Much New Fri, 14 Sep 2018 09:00:01 -0400 Charles Blades

Last year, the Vegas Knights were a new hot shot team in the NHL. They took the momentum from a city that has long been one of the biggest markets without a major sports franchise and turned it into a playoff run that nearly ended in lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup. This year, the Knights are not only projected to return to the post season, but make another serious title run.

However, as with all shock-the-world runs, the Knights are liable to fall into the trap of the sophomore slump. Which is to take what was once a promising opportunity at greatness, and see that chance slip away.

This is the most telling analogy to describe my feelings on what I think EA’s NHL series is falling into, just a year out from one of its most challenging entries in the series to date.

While it’s not uncommon for a lot of sports titles to remain similar from year to year, the lack of innovation from last year’s installment in NHL 19 is astounding for a full-priced sequel.

The two biggest changes come in the form of the introduction of a new mode called the World of CHEL, as well as some minor on-ice gameplay changes. Both of these left me underwhelmed and feeling as though this edition of NHL is one of the most poorly updated installments in the franchise

To start, the World of CHEL is the premier mode of NHL 19, and it is being marketed as the progression of the fan-favorite mode EASHL. This mode essentially boils down to the subsets of various other online My Player Modes in other sports games -- except it's stripped back and put into a hockey rink.

The mode sees you progressing your player’s attributes through numerous modes, from offline Pro/Am tournaments to online matches. Game types such as 1v1v1 do break up the rather standard experience, although the online modes (which I was unable to really dive into pre-release) are where this mode is going to live and die.

What worries me about that fact is that a lot of the customization aspects of the mode are locked away behind loot boxes. This, of course, includes various cosmetic changes that provide a lot of the mode's depth. It also affects classes, traits, and specialties that all have real impact on the on-ice action.

As of now, an EA representative talking to Polygon said that it is, “only possible to earn World of CHEL gear by playing the mode.” However, it can’t help but feel like this is a slow erosion of one thing that that NHL series has had to hang its hat on over other sports franchises. The lack of predatory monetization efforts.

While it can be forgiven in a way, to lock cosmetics behind loot boxes as a way to fund active development of an online game as a service, putting player progression and real-game, impactful progression behind loot boxes is a mortal sin. This is the standard in various sports franchises, from NBA 2K to Sony’s The Show, and the rest of EA’s own sports titles.

This doesn’t really get talked about in the traditional gaming media the way it does for say, Star Wars Battlefront 2 or Shadow of War. So year after year, these manipulative practices fly pretty much under the radar while EA and other companies make boat loads selling loot boxes to teenagers.

However, just because sports games aren’t in the traditional “gamers” repertoire doesn’t mean that these exploitative practices should be given a pass.

In addition to this looming and problematic factor for NHL 19's flagship mode, the lack of a true story mode has gone from a small oversight in 2016 to a downright problem in today’s sports game landscape. With every sports title under the sun from Madden to FIFA containing some semblance of a story mode, the lack of its inclusion here is incredibly shortsighted.

In 2018, this is the sports game equivalent of not including a battle royale mode in a shooter. While EA Canada certainly sees the smallest return on its investment on the NHL series, with the sport being the least popular worldwide, it’s no excuse not to invest the extra resources it would take to even put in a passable story mode. This is especially true when EA is clearly setting up more monetization features into a game that, while it has had them in previous years, was one of the least exploitative in the sports game genre.


On to the at least something semi-positive, back from last year is the NHL Three’s mode. While not updated in any noticeable way from last year, it is still a blast in local co-op. The nonstop action of 3v3 hockey is undoubtedly fun and adds a level of play that people (maybe) unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game might still find fun and enjoy.

With mascots taking the ice as well as fire and ice pucks hurtling toward the net, it’s quiet a unique mode that I wish, in lieu of a story mode, EA had put more effort into. However, the almost NBA Street Vol. 2 campaign of clearing out different cities and unlocking new players is rewarding enough to want to want to play the mode outside of online matches.

The one area in which the simplicity of the game plays to its benefit is the game's Seasons mode. Like it sounds, this mode allows you to play through an NHL season with your favorite team. While on one hand this might seem like a simple thing to do, the fact that EA keeps this away from the franchise mode is a nice streamlined choice for those of us who don't want to deal with setting ticket prices before we go out on the ice.

On the other hand, if you are the type of player who prefers to decide just how much your team is going to spend in free agency this year, and micromanage every element of running an NHL franchise, this is going to be great for you. 

The addition of outdoor hockey rinks is a welcomed new aspect to the game, as well. With hockey struggling a bit for popularity in the modern sports world, the Winter Classic game is always one that brings out the best in NHL fandom. It’s a fantastic throwback to young kids skating on frozen ponds, and it brings a sense of youth and innocence into the game. While you can’t quite play in notable Winter Classic locations such as The Big House or Wrigley Field, the inclusion of the customization option is a welcomed advancement that is lacking in the department generally. 

All in all, NHL 19 isn’t an abhorrent game. All the modes work well enough that it feels like a hockey game that, while not too much improved from last year, is good enough to stand on its own feet. The increasing spotlight being put onto a mode that at any moment could be turned into an exploitative, micro-transaction filled machine worries me, but it’s not enough for me to strip away that passable grade that NHL 19 probably deserves.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of NHL 19 used for this review.]

Senran Kagura Reflexions Review: Senran-Lite Thu, 13 Sep 2018 13:28:24 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Let's not pretend the Senran Kagura games are high art: you play the games for the boobs. I also play the games for the boobs. You know what you're getting into when you buy a Senran Kagura game, is what I'm saying.

The big draw to this series is the fanservice -- oppai here, oppai there, oppai everywhere! Somehow Senrans have found their way to several platforms over the past few years, from PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS to PC and Nintendo Switch.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is not a game for a new wave of players, but it's more a toybox for already-acclimated fans who want to spend time with their favorite girls. Out of its digital box, Reflexions allows you to practice massage and spend time with series headliner Asuka.

Yeah, the above paragraph is kind of weird. This is a fanservice game, which can mean a few things within the anime community. Sometimes it means simply something for fans of a series to enjoy, and other times it means it's explicitly erotic without showing sex (or outright nudity; this definition is also called "ecchi").

In the case of Reflexions, "fanservice" retains both its definitions. It's pretty much only for fans of certain girls, and it's pretty much all ecchi content. This is not a game you buy for the gameplay.

Your time in Senran Kagura Reflexions is spent massaging Asuka in three phases. In the first, you massage her hands. In the second, you massage her body. In the third, you use one of a handful of tools for a deeper massage. Between each phase, she talks to you about the dream scenario you're in or her training a la' a visual novel.

There's not much to it. Her interactions with you adjust a bit between each phase based on how you just finished massaging her. In the Standard Reflexology ~Body~ phase, this is most easily directly affected as each action you perform can give one one of five feelings that will carry over into the next phase. It is very simple and easy to understand once you get to it.

When you finish the game -- which takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes -- you unlock new accessories to dress Asuka in and pose or freely massage. Dressing the girls up and posing them is a series past-time this entry couldn't afford to miss out on.

If this all sounds bad, it's time to check out from this review. If it sounds decent, it's time to get to the real meat of it.

Ecchi, at your service

The things I was excited for in Senran Kagura Reflexions were the supposedly unique controller vibrations the Nintendo Switch Joy Cons were supposed to have with this game. You're supposed to feel the jiggles. That's very tempting. Regrettably, I would not say I "felt the jiggles".

There's a lot of rumble in the jungle but don't let that push you into a buy if think it's going to feel like your holding your favorite Senran's hand. It's not going to. I'm sorry.

The last of the three phases is the most ecchi of them by a few miles.

The first one focuses on her hands, which (for me) is a big "whatever." The second is squeezing, caressing, or spraying water on her to affect her mood; this phase takes the longest, but is another "whatever." This one is best in Mini-Reflexology mode where she wears your chosen outfits.

The third is the one where it gets real weird. You can use one of a handful of massage tools -- from your hands to a brush or even an ultimate massager.

This is easily the most ecchi of the phases, but it's also the only one that actually has active gameplay. The motion controls are best for this phase but are significantly more cumbersome than just pressing the buttons. The motion controls are for dedicated fans only! At least, they're the only ones I can imagine using them the whole way through.

Among the 3D ecchi are a few visual novel-style CGs. These are few and far between, but I find them more satisfying than petting Asuka's arm with a brush.

Senran Kagura Reflexions is ultimately not much more than a toybox for fans of the series who want to get more up close and personal with a handful of Senrans. It's nothing more and it's nothing less -- the pool of girls and overall reflexology activities you can participate in are both very shallow.

As mentioned earlier, Reflexions only comes with Asuka to start. That's fair considering the $9.99 price tag, but there is no way to get out of buying Asuka (my second-least favorite girl).

Further characters to be added as DLC are Yumi, Murasaki, Ryouna, and Yomi. Each girl costs an additional $9.99 to practice reflexology with, with Yumi being the first available DLC today. Yomi, Murasaki, and Ryouna will be released in the coming weeks.

I can appreciate a good ecchi game but the lack of character and gameplay variety in Reflexions sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone not a massive fan of the five girls, and additional characters being $9.99 each only makes that sting a little more.

This is a discount game in price and content, and is by no means the high point of the SK series. If you want an ecchi game on console, go with a different Senran Kagura game like Estival Versus or Peach Beach Splash. There's even SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy out now, and that's a fanservice fighter.

If you're a superfan of one of the five girls mentioned, you'll probably want to pick Senran Kagura Reflexions up just to interact with them in a more direct manner than the series usually has available. I'll no doubt be buying Ryouna on release day, but only because she is of my particular tastes; otherwise this is an entirely forgettable entry to a series that is best known for it's big boobs and nutty scenarios. It's got the honkers, but they're not varied enough that i would recommend a purchase unless you really really want to get up close and personal with Asuka's thighs.

(Disclaimer: Writer was granted a copy of the game from the publisher for review purposes.)


Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers -- Shinobi Dreams and Jutsu Wishes Wed, 12 Sep 2018 14:03:07 -0400 Jeffrey Rousseau

The Naruto franchise is without question very popular. It has created a lore-rich world and introduced us to a multitude of compelling characters. Not only has the anime been highly successful, but so have the games based on it. With the latest, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on major console and PC, that trend mostly continues. 

Shinobi Strikers is a MOBA of sorts that uses the entire history of the franchise as the backdrop. You play in the present timeline of an adult-village-leader Naruto and his son/the game's titular hero, Boruto. You are thrust into a worldwide competition among other ninjas where you'll compete online to get stronger and be the best shinobi. So this game a new Naruto game actually fun? Find out in our review below.

Entering The World Wide Web of Shinobi

If you've ever wondered what you'd look like in the world of Naruto, fret not. One of the game's more interesting aspects is its character creation mode. You'll be able to dial in your height, body type, starting village, and more, as well as choose your gender in what can be described as a pretty robust editor.

As a person of color myself, I really do appreciate games with a solid character reaction. Strikers has an assortment of skin tones you choose from. It's an extra touch of inclusion that makes you feel good.

You could spend a good amount of time creating yourself in-game, and a lot of players certainly will. For those who are big fans of customization, this mode lets them differentiate themselves in an already grossly established world -- not to mention show their swag when taking on other players. 

In the beginning, options are limited, but as you play, more and more options will become available. One of the main draws of Shinobi Strikers is content (more on that later), but here, you can unlock so many clothing options the more you play that things can get overwhelmed. Every accessory, tattoo, and piece of clothing you've ever seen in Naruto is unlockable, adding a sense of real uniqueness to Shinobi Strikers

Tailoring Your Ninja's Arsenal 

After creating your avatar, you can assign yourself a particular fighting style. Within those fighting styles, characters can use signature moves straight from the series. For example, I have a character that's literally a clone of Rock Lee. Essentially, he uses powerful hand-to-hand combat and fast movements. With time, you can eventually have a ninja that can fight exactly like Sasuke or Naruto himself.

Each of the game's missions (which we'll talk about below) rewards you and provides drops to increase your repertoire of techniques (jutsus). There's a lot jutsu available in the world to find and use, so you don't have to lock into anyone particular playstyle or fighting style if you don't want to, adding even more creative options to the game. 

Aside from techniques, players are also able to use a plethora of weapons in Shinobi Strikers. You can charge into battle with a giant broad sword, samurai blade, or a simple kunai. That's just the tip of the ostensible iceberg, with dozens and dozens of other options available. 

Clash with your Heart's Content

Battle (ranked, unranked matches) comes in the form of 4 on 4 battles. 8 players (2 randomly selected teams) fight it out within random chosen arenas of various sizes and designs. Now, consider the fact you can run anywhere on a map. Whether you're upside down a giant tree branch, or along side a mountain cliff, you can fight anywhere as well.

Like most brawlers, you can use light attacks and heavy attacks. Light attacks allow quick attacks that can interrupt actions. Heavy attacks, are slower but they can knock down enemies on impact. You can also defend, dodge and parry as well. You'll definitely need experience to become both defensively and offensively efficient. 

Fighting is definitely a visual treat. From your weapons, special moves, and fighting styles battles often look like a scene plucked from the anime -- but there is a minor downside to that.

When the eight of you are fighting close to one another and using a bunch of flashy moves, the game can experience a few frame rate drops here or there. It doesn't break the immersion but it's noticeable at times. 

As this is a MOBA, you and your team can communicate via in-game chat. This coordination can certainly help you win. I personally never used it and had no issues wining with a plethora of teams. You can actually communicate pretty well with in game gestures and expressions available to anyone. Objectives are made very clear by the game itself so  

Battle does varies from degree to degree with each match. Your team may encounter an easy series of wins over weaker teams. Or you could find yourself losing back to back from much stronger teams. The reason being is that matchmaking isn't so great, yet. Now when you do fight enemies closer to your rank and level, battle is a bit more fair. 

Fighting All of Ninja History 

When you start the game, you'll be introduced to a brief tutorial that helps you get familiarized with the game's hub area. After learning the ropes, you'll then be introduced to online matches, which are either ranked or random. 

You can spend hours trying to increase your rank to climb the leaderboards if that's your thing. However, you can also take part in ranked missions, of which the game has plenty.

These missions are separate from your battle rankings and leaderboards. These missions are for your solo career as a ninja but you can join players on a tone. With each rank you have a number of missions available to you. They are unlocked by fulfilling requests from NPCs and so forth.

From capture the flag, collectathons, and bouts against major characters, the choices are plentiful. Shinobi Strikers is built to be what I call a good weekend time-sink; whether you're able to play for one hour or 24, there's enough to indulge yourself in when you take its modes into consideration. To the game's credit, tackling missions requires little to no commitment, but it also knows that some of us like to grind levels, so it does a great job of bridging that gap. 

However, not all of the experiences of Shinobi Strikers are cherry blossoms. While there's plenty of content for the game, that content is mostly aesthetical. Overall, Shinobi Strikers doesn't leave a lasting impression after you've played it for a few hours. At its core, it feels like a game that you could easily put on the back burner -- especially if you're not into ranked play.  

Another hard-to-miss issue is the game's matching making. When you battle in ranked and random matches, you'll be placed in arenas with players who are many levels higher than you. This creates very-hard-to-win battles because the gap in skills and experience is often very high. It's often frustrating (at best), and you'll likely just opt to play online coop missions instead.

A Conclusion of Our Ninja Adventures

Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers is an interesting game for fans. It allows people to play a Naruto game they've been waiting for for ages, a game where you can insert yourself into the world and become your own ninja.

Shinobi Strikers is also a game that mostly respects your time. Being able to jump into the world and tackle missions at your own pace is welcomed in a world that is filled with long-winded games. The title encourages players to play whenever they can, and there are occasional bonuses and campaigns so players can gain more experience, rewards, and more.

To be frank, If you need an enjoyable MOBA or a Naruto game to invest in, I can't recommend Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers enough.

Fans of MOBA and Naruto can play Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers, now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Strikers used in this review.]

Marvel's Spider-Man Review: An Exhilarating Thrill-Ride Mon, 10 Sep 2018 11:29:14 -0400 Joseph Ocasio

The second I first started web-swinging in Marvel's Spider-Man, I said to myself, "God, it's been too long."

I've missed swinging around New York, and I've missed playing a good Spider-Man game. Sure the Arkham games have filled the void in open-world super hero action games, but bat-a-ranging foe's and gliding around Gotham as Batman never had the same appeal as playing as the ole' Webhead.

When Sony and Insomniac Games announced they were working on a Spider-Man title, all they could of done was just make an HD port of Spider-Man 2 and I think every Spider-Man fan would've been satisfied. But like with Rocksteady's Arkham games, Insomniac went the extra mile and made not only the best Spider-Man game, but one of the best super hero games in a long time.

After taking out a certain villain early in the game, a new gang calling themselves "The Demons" begin to appear around the Big Apple --  and it's up to Spider-Man to stop them.

While a lot of the game's plot twists are easy to see, especially if you're a big Spider-Man nut, it's still a great tale thanks to fantastic writing and good use of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. What I loved the most was how Insomniac really made this version of Spider-Man its own. Just like with Rocksteady, Insomniac has a firm grasp of what makes Spider-Man and his supporting characters great, and the company's not afraid to change well-established comics "guidelines". This shines through with the interactions Spider-Man has with his friends and family, especially Mary Jane. 

Right away, Spider-Man throws you into what he does best: swinging around the Big Apple. As Spider-Man leaps, runs, and swings his way across New York City, I instantly had Nostalgic flashbacks of playing Spider-Man 2 and Ultimate Spider-Man on the GameCube.

Controlling Spider-Man is just as exhilarating as it was before, but the additions of a parkour system and the ability to leap as I landed on the edge of a building or a street light created a sense of exhilaration that I never experienced before. Spider-Man just might have the absolute best traversal mechanic in any game -- and I could spend hours just swinging around.

As you explore a digital Manhattan, you'll come across various collectibles and side missions. While the collectibles are just there to help you unlock costumes, the side activities are a bit more varied. From simple combat challenges stopping crimes in progress, the game gives you a lot to do. I never felt like I was ever bogged down by these challenges, and there wasn't one that was bad or broken. A few of these could even be considered more fun to do than the main missions. 

Spider-Man's combat, meanwhile, is equally as astonishing as its web swinging, though it does take a bit of time to adjust to. At first glance, it looks and plays like Batman: Arkham Knight, but with Spider-Man re-skinned. However, controlling Spidy is vastly different than the Dark Knight. Spider-Man doesn't simply counter enemy attacks; he quickly dodges and jumps right behind them. Small things like this may take some time to get used to, but once you do, Spider-Man is a one-man army against the criminals horde he faces. 

Simple punches feel good and using your web to bring Spider-Man's fist to an enemies face never gets old. The upgrade system contains a vast amount of moves and rarely did I find a new skill that I didn't want to buy.

From pulling guns away from burglars to webbing up and throwing criminals, nearly every move felt useful. The same can be said with the various gadgets you acquire. From taser webs and trip web mines, the gadgets Spider-Man can use are crazy and a ton of fun, though it shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's played any of Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank or Resistance games. 

If I had any issues with the combat, my main grip would be that the camera could've been pulled back a little more, as I was hit on a few occasions by a foe I couldn't see. The fights, especially with certain enemies, can also become a little too chaotic, as I would be bombarded with various guns, energy blasts, and Spidy's own spider-sense icon.

It can be frustrating to be hit by so much and expect to know what to do in such a small camera space. 

Along with combat, there also a few stealth sections in the game. Most are optional, but there are few that will have you avoiding enemies at all cost. This is particularly true in the few sections where you get to play as a certain someone with the initials M.J. Thankfully, stealth is mostly forgiving, and I never felt like these sections were forced like so many other games.

You'll also get to do some light detective and puzzle work as both Peter and M.J. Most of these objectives are pretty easy to figure out and these sections do a good job of breaking up the action and give you a chance to breathe.

Graphically, Spider-Man has a nice balance of realism and MCU-ness. While I as a fellow New Yorker I can't say that the digital New York is 100% accurate to the real thing, it's still a pretty damn good recreation of it. With the various NPCs that inhabit it to the large buildings to swing from, Spider-Man's world is constantly brimming with personality and joy.

The various character models look equally great and never run into the uncanny valley. The only real issue with Spider-Man's presentation was the occasional texture pop-in.

The audio is also pleasing, with great web sound effects that help immerse you as you swing by or shoot a goon up with some webbing. The music is great to listen to, especially the theme that's used when you start web-swing. It's a tune that makes you feel both empowered and heroic, absorbing you more into what it feels like to be Spider-Man. The voice acting is great throughout, with a lot of the actors nailing each of there roles. 

The game even has dynamic dialogue that see Spidey's tone of voice change whether he's exerting himself or not. 

After Disney purchased Marvel, it seemed that video games were pretty low on there priority list. Since then, most of Marvel's heroes were stuck with lame movie tie-ins or dull free-to-play titles -- unless you're a LEGO fan, then you're covered.

However it finally seems that Disney has finally started listening to the gaming community: Spider-Man is easily one of the best games of the year. It's a wonderful title that not only works as an amazing video game, but one that also just happens to star your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Here's hoping we see more of Spider-Man and the Avengers on home consoles... Just as long as they're not the umpteenth LEGO title.  

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review Mon, 10 Sep 2018 09:00:25 -0400 Ty Arthur

How did we manage to reach the end of a trilogy of Tomb Raider reboots already? It seems like just last year when we first had a revamped Lara Croft climbing her way up rocky inclines while avoiding deadly guards and picking up hordes of collectibles.

After the snowy sequel Rise Of The Tomb Raider, we're now headed into the South American jungle with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Yet again, this entry is another third-person action adventure that doubles down on killing cult members, skinning animals, and horribly injuring a even more vulnerable Lara.

From plane crashes to jaguar attacks to being crushed while drowning, Square Enix just loves to see this iteration of the Croft heiress fall into painful situations. But this time around, in the climax of the new trilogy, we find her against the greatest stakes, so her trials and tribulations are understandably the most violent yet. 

With a title like Shadow Of The Tomb Raider and a marketing campaign full of of eclipse imagery, it would be easy to think this ultimate version of Tomb Raider was full of gimmicks. However, the imagery and name speak more to what we see in the game -- a changing world and a changing Lara in a dying world brought about by some bad decisions in an ancient tomb. 

A jaguar growls in Lara Croft's muddy face in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

From Doom and Gloom to Polygonal Laras

If you just want to plunder old sarcophagi without giving any thought to who's buried there, this may not be the Tomb Raider for you. The narrative has strongly shifted here, and there's a big focus on Croft's privilege as an ultra-rich white woman tromping across the world taking whatever she wants.

This time around there are finally some consequences for her impulsive actions. In fact, the game starts with the world on the brink of utterly ending because Lara couldn't keep her hands off an artifact. In Rise, the pseudo-stakes felt more personal. Here, they're literally global. 

It's clear the developers went out of their way to make the cultures and people Lara comes across more of a central focus here, rather than something to be trampled through while she seeks out trinkets. This may be a fictional universe, but the game still wants you to think about how people in South American nations are treated by the wealthier nations to the north.

But if you don't care about heavy concepts or social commentary, there's plenty of amusingly silly options to lighten the game up a bit. Want to play through as the old school, 32-bit Lara from Tomb Raider 2 or Tomb Raider 3? Guess what? You can. And it's a hilariously fun nod to the players who have been following this franchise throughout the years.

Personally I couldn't play Shadow with the model for very long, because it felt too much like playing Dead Rising where Chuck has on some absurdly silly outfit. My second playthrough will be all old-school Lara though for maximum lulz, though. You can count on that. 

Lara wears a throwback PS1-era polygonal skin as she stands in front of plane wreckage

Familiar or Repetitive?

Silly Easter eggs to fans aside, the core of the game feels nearly identical to the previous two entries of the rebooted trilogy. Remember the first time you played a TellTale game and were blown away? Then five or six games later you were thought, "Are we still doing the same exact thing yet again?". That's what's going on here ... at first, anyway.

If Shadow feels too familiar from the get go, don't give up in the first few hours. Shadow comes into its own and sets itself apart around the 25% completion mark. When you hit a certain hub area, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider finds its stride.

It's so large you could get lost just exploring this one location. Talking to the locals and performing quests in this area is essentially a game all its own -- and that's without ever even hitting the surrounding tombs.

Traveling through populated areas and talking to characters adds something to the base experience, so the game isn't just completely adherent to remote jungle set pieces anymore. These characters feel more like people whose lives Lara is intruding on rather than silent NPCs that solely exist as quest givers.

Because of this, you also get to see behind the curtain and into what made Lara into the titular Tomb Raider. In one particularly memorable segment, we get to see a young Lara at Croft manor and learn why she's so hellbent on living the life of a professional assassin archaeologist. 

A young Lara Croft solves a puzzle on a playground at Croft Manor

Lara Croft: Ninja Assassin Archaeologist 

Some of Shadow's changes, like a bigger city to explore, are welcome. Others are less so -- and start to strain credulity. There's no question the first game in the reboot trilogy featured improbable actions like ridiculously expert rock climbing and god-tier bow skills, but it was still grounded in reality and aimed for a more restrained feeling.

However, we're officially starting to lose that here. Lara landing impossibly perfect pickaxe throws to somehow wedge it into a rockface while leaping insane distances is stretching it to say the least. That's not to mention she also carries an absurd amount of disposable rope, which is also all apparently invisible. 

Despite being a completely polished third installment in a trilogy, Shadow feels somewhat regressive. Some areas are in retrograde, particularly in the mechanics department. 

Invariably, there will be sections where it feels like you very clearly landed the jump or grabbed the crumbling wall section, but you fall to your death anyway. Many crypts and challenge tombs are more about battling controls than the puzzle -- and that's very frustrating for a game that revolves primarily around puzzles.

On top of that, the blue waypoint pillar no longer functions as well as it did in the previous two games, and sometimes it just doesn't function at all. You can literally be standing directly on top of a collectible you've set as the marker point and it won't appear. 

For the most part, the game's combat is satisfying, but the death animations deserve special mention. There are some truly weird body physics going on that rival the worst of Bethesda's ludicrous glitches. Dead guards often looking like they are either taking a very uncomfortable nap or keeled over in the middle of break dancing. That's not to mention some of Lara's death scenes are unnecessarily brutal. 

Lara Croft shoots an enemy with an assault rifle in ruins

Why Am I Pondering Morality?

While slaughtering your way through rank and file Trinity guards and seeking out a way to save the world, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider takes some time to make you think about your actions. We aren't quite in Spec Ops: The Line territory here, but the developers seem to be keenly aware that a more grounded, realistic Tomb Raider universe needs to have more consequences. 

It starts out with little things like a villager commenting, "Oh, I wish you were a tourist. Tourists bring money. Archaeologists just take things." Which, of course, is a somewhat subtle commentary on Lara's tendency to dabble in kleptomania from time to time. 

But the concept or morality expands rapidly from there, and by the end of the game's first quarter, you may start to wonder if maybe Lara is actually the villain and Trinity might be the saviors of the world.

I actually laughed out loud when Lara at point muses, "What are they so afraid of?" upon stumbling across some terrified Trinity guards. Gee, I don't know, maybe they are a tad bit worried about the psychotic ninja archaeologist literally stringing their friends up from trees?

Lara hangs an enemy from a tree in the jungle

Honestly, the only difference between Trinity and Lara's rag tag group is the size and scale of the operation. Both are well funded, both break shit and take what they want, and both firmly believe they are justified in doing so. Trinity just has more people at their disposal. 

The primary driving force of the story is directly caused by Lara in the opening segment. She just can't stop herself from snatching a magical ancient artifacts without thinking it through -- and being hyper focused on keeping it out of other peoples' hands.

In more than a nutshell, she's responsible for widespread death and devastation throughout the game, and then she doubles down on her bad decision. Her entire motivation in trying to stop Trinity from getting the totem she seeks is that she thinks no one else should be allowed to find what's rightfully hers.

If you look at this game from the viewpoint of anyone besides Lara Croft, the only conclusion you can really reach is that she's really a mega-maniacal villain. Oh sure, she's cute and likable, but she's also a mass murderer. Seriously, how many of those armed guards have even close to the kill count Laura has racked up in the last two games? 

I have absolutely no idea how much of this was intended by the develops to be inferred by the player, but there's something to be said for a game that makes you think a bit.

Lara Croft overlooks a city devastated by a tsunami in Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The Bottom Line

There's a solid mix of old Lara and new Lara here, along with the good and bad that come with those. You get a revamped skill tree to play with, and the camera mode is fun for taking snapshots of a dangling Lara defying gravity (and death). Stealth mechanics take more of a front seat this time, and there are now merchants to trade with and cities to explore, providing a bit of an RPG feel to the action-adventure formula.

Water also plays a much, much bigger role than before, with huge flooded areas to swim across while avoiding deadly piranha. There are also tons of places to explore while diving, and some of the game's tombs and crypts use water in unique ways. 

The game can appeal to any kind of player because of its difficulty settings. Instead of being static difficulty modifiers, you can turn on super blunt hints and just play through the story or crank it up to maximum and try for the classically hard Tomb Raider experience.

There are some frustrating downsides to battle against, however, like clunky mechanics that need an overhaul, specifically in traversing cliff faces and jumping from precipice to precipice.

Overall, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider is a worthwhile experience for fans of the previous two games, although I'm getting the feeling the series may be in need of another reboot soon.

Check out our pre-order guide here

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider used in this review.]

Two Point Hospital Review: More of the Same Is Good Thu, 06 Sep 2018 14:53:36 -0400 Ashley Shankle

There are few games that have made me come back as often as Theme Hospital has over the years. Maybe it's the quirky treatments, the loose management style, or the snarky receptionist on the intercom. I've never been able to figure it out. I just know I've played Theme Hospital all the way through seven or eight times.

The announcement of Two Point Hospital and the ex-Bullfrog staff behind it had me excited but pensive. There are a lot of modern remakes, ports, and spiritual successors that just fall flat for me. Two Point Hospital isn't one of them.

In a market where spiritual successors and remakes decide to change up the original game's formula in some major way, Two Point Hospital doesn't do that. In fact, it is so similar to the game it's derivative of that my husband just calls it Theme Hospital 2. It's certainly close enough.

More of the same isn't a bad thing

Building and managing the hospital is done in very much the same way as its spiritual predecessor.

Working up and building the hospitals you're tasked with managing is straightforward. You need diagnostic rooms to determine what's wrong with patients and treatment rooms to deal with specific ailments. If planned and staffed properly, patients should be able to make their way through your hospital and get the right treatment. If you've planned poorly, don't worry -- the game is easy enough that small mistakes don't mean a closed hospital.

You spend most of your time building new rooms to deal with patients and trying to figure out why some are storming out unhappy or dying in the hospital corridors. Sometimes just plopping down some well-placed vending machines will do the trick to keep patients happy, sometimes it takes some hospital re-planning. Fortunately, this rarely leads to a loss.

Running a successful hospital often just comes down to fulfilling the star requirements. There are 15 hospitals to work with, and for each one, you can manage it up to one, two, or three stars. A one-star rating lets you move onto the next one, with the other two stars being for fun.

With the above in mind, I'm not even sure it's possible to fail at managing a hospital. I've made one very poor hospital on purpose and it's somehow chugging along. It's a bit like there are no real repercussions for poor planning, aside from a lack of cash flow. Who cares about that, really.

While the game is all very similar to the original Theme Hospital, the biggest changes lie in additional decorative items, the ability to assign employees specific jobs (so doctors trained as GPs will just sit around in GP's offices, as they should), and the new skill system.

While you could train doctors up in Theme Hospital, in Two Point Hospital, every employee -- from janitor to doctor -- is able to learn a number of skills to add to and improve their capabilities. This ties back into the whole GP thing, which is likely most players' biggest source of frustration: patients having to check back in with a GP after every diagnostic step. If you have low-skill doctors, they are going to be slow and inaccurate in a GP's office.

Training your staff is one factor in the whole equation that got a serious bump from 1998 to now. You had to train your doctors in surgery and psychiatry back in the day just so they were useful, but now you have to do it so your patients don't get stuck in endless queues until they die or leave.

Emergencies and epidemics have also made their way into Two Point Hospital, with epidemics coming into play later in the game. Emergencies require you have the rooms and staff to handle a quick burst of patients with a specific ailment, while epidemics must be hunted down and snuffed out via vaccines before afflicted patients leave the hospital.

Epidemics are probably the most difficult part of the game aside from wrestling with GP queues.

Patients and staff will show symptoms of a rare contagious disease and you must play at standard pace and look for people acting strangely. This gets complicated by staff also being afflicted -- I mean, it's not like your GPs and psychiatrists are moving around all that much. Sometimes it's best to just vaccinate them to be safe.

20 years waiting

There could be no better continuation of the spirit of Theme Hospital than what's found in Two Point Hospital. If you played the original and simply want more, you can find it here. If you never played it but want a simple but engaging management sim, you can find it here. If you're looking for your soulmate, you.. might be able to find it here? Nah.

The only thing that could knock Theme Hospital out of my top 10 games was another one, and Two Point Hospital is just that. This is the way I want to see older series come back: with the same bag of tricks in a fancy new binding.

For me, Two Point Hospital marks the end of a personal gaming era. It's something I've wanted for nearly 20 years, it's something I've whined about for ages. Suddenly that's over -- suddenly there is a new Theme Hospital, and it's even better than the original game, all without taking a million liberties to fit the new market.

You won't find particularly challenging gameplay here -- it's not a hard game. You will find an absolutely addictive hospital sim in a perfectly charming wrapping that won't be so easily removed by a Plaster Caster.

Two Point Hospital is the game I wanted more than any other and it's also the one that satisfied every want I could have had for it -- well, almost. The game could certainly do with a sandbox mode and maybe a higher difficulty mode, but I didn't expect those. They would be nice, but they're not necessary.

As it stands, this is a fantastic entry to a genre that pretty much just contains this game and its spiritual predecessor. Everything from the ailments and building to the radio hosts (!!) and annoyed receptionist voice comes together to make Two Point the definitive hospital sim in both fun and overall content. What a time to be alive!

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Two Point Hospital used in this review.]

The Messenger Review Wed, 05 Sep 2018 10:26:21 -0400 Zack Palm

There's a particular emotion you feel when you're reminded of a fond memory. There's the initial feeling of warmth, followed by the excitement of getting to relive something you may not have thought of for such a long time. When it comes to video games and nostalgia, sometimes its a hit or miss game that leaves many people wanting more than what they initially thought they were getting prior to their purchase.

Hands down, The Messenger, does not disappoint and while it leans on several elements from the 80s and 90s era of platforming games, it brings plenty of new things to the table to make it stand out from others and drips with tongue-in-cheek humor from start to finish.

The Set Up

The story takes place in a world where the entire human race is nearly extinct, save for a gathering of survivors in a small village. Civilization was attacked by a demon army intent on killing and enslaving them all, but they were driven away by the survivors. Legends say the demon army threatens to return -- but they have a hope. A hero from the west will appear with a scroll that, when the destined Messenger takes it to the top of the mountain on the island to give to three elders, everyone will be saved. As they await this hero from the west, the village trains for the day the demon army returns.

Our main protagonist finds himself wanting to skip these important lessons, feeling the dread of the day-in, day-out routine. On this fateful day, the demons return! And, just in the nick of time, the hero of the west arrives to give our hero his scroll, making him The Messenger from the legend. Now it's up to him to travel across the island, face the demon army, and give the scroll to the three elders at the top to bring peace to the world once more!

The story certainly feels cliche, but the humor that takes place in the dialogue between all of the characters you meet on your journey makes up for it immensely.

Good Ol' Nostalgia 

Before you're even in the game you can tell the developers spent a lot of time in their local arcades. They clearly missed the days they were asking their parents for their allowance in quarters so they could play their favorite pixel platformer -- but they absolutely nailed it.

You play a light tutorial before you're thrown into the fray of the game, and everything feels perfectly aligned. Our main character's jumping arc lands in an ideal way, making dodging, attacking, air-jumping, and strategically timed dives over spikes feel phenomenal. The platforming doesn't attempt to force you into too many creative moments until later on as the game gradually guides you throughout your time with it. The real challenges arrive after you've had some practice with the game, they don't happen early on to make the entire experience feel tougher than it actually is.

The combat was designed to feel straight forward. Your character's main weapon is a sword and the enemies usually die after one hit. There are a few stronger enemies, but most of them are strategically placed to feel like another game mechanic you need to avoid while traversing the game, weaving themselves in and out of the platforming challenges.

The same can be said about the bosses. One of the bosses took me about five tries, which was the most I died. The patterns become obvious pretty quickly, and you use skills you picked up during your time with the level to show how well you've mastered your time in the stage. Each boss comes with its own unique twist, making every fight stand out and feel like a fun experience. I never felt like I went against someone I had already faced.

The Pixel-Popping Art

The gameplay wasn't what made The Messenger feel like a 90s arcade game brought to PC, though -- it was the art. The wonderful, breath-taking art stood out during each stage, and every new stage in the game felt like an individual experience, something I would have loved to explore more of if it were an open-world game.

The island wasn't a single, massive jungle with different colored trees every time I went to a new area. There's a lava-filled mountain level, a snow level, a marsh level where the monsters themselves look different and reflect the environment they're stationed in. Unfortunately, a few enemies you see in the beginning pop up in the later stages. But they're not the only ones. Whenever you enter a new stage you can guarantee you'll find something new attempting to kill you and disrupt your journey to the top of the mountain.

On the topic of enemies, the amount of diversity really made the game feel alive. As your character grows in skill and you become more familiar with the game, the developers continue to throw new, creative horrors for you to face that challenge you in a new way. They were uniquely placed on a stage to make you think of a brand new way to get past them and proceed forward. The further you get in the game, the fewer punches they hold back and the foes look just as beautiful and retro as the landscape you're traveling through.

The On-Point Music

The music. I cannot, nor will I ever, get over the amazing music in The Messenger. This, along with the pixel art, made this game feel like the gorgeous throwback it desperately wants to be. The developers wanted to throw this game into an arcade machine and give it back to the 90s for their younger selves to enjoy.

During each stage, you'll subtly notice the background music changing ever so slightly to sway with the environment. There's no big differences or heavy things thrown in your face. Instead, you're gifted to this wonderful ambiance as you slice your way through the demon army to save the world. You couldn't ask for a better soundtrack.

Clever Dialogue and Writing

When I first fired up The Messenger, I assured myself I was in for a game where the developers were going to have tried too hard with being a note for note 90s game. I was dead wrong, and I'm happy about it.

The first indication of this change was when I arrived at the shopkeeper. I traveled into a mystical, starry realm surrounded by beautiful magic that I knew was beyond my character's comprehension. The shopkeeper knew this too and assured him that whatever he saw here, he had to go with it or never feel comfortable there again. I immediately liked the robed shopkeeper and wished he would accompany me on my journey.

He kind of did, as he was the helpful game mechanic to give me new tools to use as I progressed through the stages. These useful tools were designed to change up how I played the game and provided another level of depth for my platforming skills, which were steadily growing throughout my playthrough.

Though they weren't perfect, death was a welcome treat. Each time I died a small red, flying demon appeared to turn back time and return me to the nearest checkpoint I passed. His name was Quarble, and he's the death mechanic in The Messenger. The consequence of having him with you was to consume any of the currency you collected along the way for a short amount of time.

Having Quarble as a brief companion and as a game mechanic was great as it crafted a new, fun way to make death a thing in the game, without making it a daunting task. They could have easily had it where you were thrown straight back to the start of the stage, but they were kind to have a series of helpful, well-placed checkpoints throughout the stages. Plus, each time you died Quarble would provide a small, sassy quote about your death. These quotes do repeat after a time, but it does take awhile. Don't worry, I tried.

Putting It All Together

The developers wanted a game to throwback to the time when side-scrolling platformers had a specific art to them, back when they had style. They succeed in this along with great gameplay, an amazing soundtrack, wonderful art, and joyous writing I was looking forward to reading each time I died or stopped in to ask the shopkeeper about a new story they had.

While a little short, The Messenger was a fun time I'd happily play again in a heartbeat. 

Donut County Review Tue, 04 Sep 2018 10:43:10 -0400 Zee Sheridan

A six-year labor of love, the tale of Donut County is one assuredly inspirational to many in the games industry and beyond. It's one of a talented individual putting in endless hours and copious effort to create something magical. Given said magic game includes talking raccoons and destroying cities? It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

That unholy lovechild of Animal Crossing and Night in The Woods was released on August 28th, and – as countless people are no doubt finding out – it’s just as promising as the previews suggested.  

Let's take a look at what makes it so special -- and well worth your time. 


Right off the bat, the most instantly recognizable thing about Donut County is the charm. A game about an all-consuming hole in the ground could have easily turned gimmicky, and yet through the careful creation of the world you interact with (and destroy), it becomes so much more.

For those who owned a Wii from 2007 onward, the whole game has an element of Zack and Wiki to it -- that is, a vibrant and interesting story and environment, backed up by solid writing and clever puzzles. 

Puzzle games often suffer from their tone, as an overly serious or silly tone can put a damper on playing the actual game itself. This is the side benefit of the playful nature of the game, as it stays on a whimsical track that never feels like it’s taking itself too seriously. The friendship between the 'hero' BK and his BFF Mila is particularly wonderful, both in their entertaining conversations and capturing the essence of how close friends interact.

Combine that with the satisfying 'collect-'em-all' mechanic of games like Katamari Damacy, and you have an unusual, yet incredibly interesting treat on your hands.


There's something oddly calming about destroying environments piece by piece. While Donut County may not be a very difficult game, there's still enough challenge that you feel accomplished after finishing a level - along with the satisfaction of seeing the once cluttered landscape peacefully empty.

Bringing havoc to the various levels and landscapes really give you a feel of the game's universe and atmosphere - even though your main objective is to absorb said universe into the gaping void. The black-hole mechanics are quite clever too, gaining different abilities based on the things you collect. While some of these abilities are only temporary - based on the things around you on each level - finding new ways to affect your surroundings through fire, light and rabbit powers always make you feel at least a little bit clever. There are also permanent upgrades at plot-relevant parts of the story, allowing for both a sense of progression and different ways to use the hole, like being able to launch stuff out of it.

The limited use of upgrades and powers is a great choice, as they don't undermine the fun of using the black hole itself. Although somewhat 'bouncy', the physics of the game are incredibly well made, with each item having a certain sense of weight to it. As you start each level as a hole too small to get some of the items, you quickly learn how to use the physics of the game to your advantage - as some items will only fit if you absorb their smaller part first. It's a simple basis for a game, yet pulled off effectively enough to be endlessly entertaining.  

One of the most interesting things about Donut County is its ability to add mechanics that would normally clash with a puzzle game, without them ever seeming out of place. Having a boss fight, for example, is normally the kryptonite of the puzzle genre, as the things you want from a boss fight and the things you want from a puzzle game are usually complete opposites. However, the game manages to pull off a three-phase boss fight with relative ease, despite it being fairly different from the rest of the game.

In short, every part of Donut County's gameplay fits into it as perfectly as placing some garbage into a gaping black void -- or a house into a void. Or a town -- you get the point.        


Gameplay aside, the bread and butter of the game is its story. Not only does Donut County immediately reel you in by making you ask how the plot is taking place, but it keeps you planted in that interest through its characters. Adorable character design aside, the relaxed and funny dialogue adds a hilarious element to the game that makes it feel all the more relatable and human – or, as human as a talking raccoon can be considered, anyhow.

That said, the game doesn’t focus solely on our morally questionable protagonist, as time is taken to introduce you to the whole colorful cast of characters – each with their own personalized level. In a game that could have easily had minimal character interaction, it’s the icing on the cake (or doughnut) to also get a look into each character’s life and personality. It’s also a pretty smart way to make the levels feel different – as what the character does and is like has a fairly solid impact on the level itself.


The only real criticism of Donut County is that there’s not enough of it – with its current game time spanning two or so hours, depending on how quickly you blaze through the story of friendship, raccoon politics, and donuts. While it’s always better to have a short, purposeful game than a long, less impactful one, you can’t help but finish Donut County feeling like you could have played twice the game and not gotten bored.

That said, the plot is carried out in a way that feels engaging and not drawn out – something a longer play time likely would have jeopardized.



For those puzzle fanatics hoping that Donut County would fulfill their need for some fiendishly difficult puzzles, the game may fall short of expectations. This isn’t to call Donut County a failure, though – not wanting to be ‘the Dark Souls of puzzle games is pretty respectable in a time where making such a game could get you instant fame.

For folks wanting a quirky, lovable game that’s main focus is on the simple joy of having fun solving puzzles, Donut County is as sweet a treat as the name suggests -- and you don’t have to worry about having a gluten allergy.

Shenmue 1+2 Console Review Sat, 01 Sep 2018 12:00:01 -0400 Edgar Wulf

Shenmue received its first western release back in 2000, exclusively for the Dreamcast, and until now, It was never ported to any other platform. It successfully placed itself among the most expensive video game projects and its sequel -- Shenmue II -- was released a year later for the Dreamcast in Japan and ported to the original Xbox in 2002.

Neither of them enjoyed what we might think of as commercial success, but the series developed a devout following and since then has been relentlessly requested by fans for a potential re-release. Nearly two decades later, those requests came to fruition and Sega announced a compilation of Shenmue and Shenmue II for current-gen consoles and PC earlier this year.

Shenmue is officially back, but was it worth the long wait?

Shenmue Remastered?

First and foremost -- what's new about this particular compilation? It's excellent for anyone who's about to acquaint themselves with the series, but what's in store for those who intend to revisit the saga?

Both games run in HD and are displayed in a 16:9 aspect ratio -- though cutscenes still run in 4:3 -- and some minor options for graphical adjustments have been added. Some textures may seem dated, but seeing the game run at 1080p does make the picture slightly more appealing. Overall, it is worth noting that Shenmue and its sequel are nowhere near on par with modern graphical standards, but both have aged well and still look surprisingly good.

Another important aspect of the visual design -- the UI -- has been updated for current platforms; menus look and feel more streamlined and a form of fast-travel has been added to certain locations. 

Many may be pleased to find out that both English and Japanese voice over options are available, as well as corresponding subtitles; Corey Marshall is well regarded for voicing the game's main protagonist in the English version, but some of the lesser characters have been neglected, so it's a welcome thing to have an additional option.

Another improvement, which doesn't seem to be mentioned a lot is the improved loading time. No doubt due to the superior hardware, transitions between locations are almost instantaneous making the whole experience quite seamless. There are, of course, other minor additions and improvements, but I'll get to what's really important.

Shenmue 1+2

Shenmue's biggest strength is its story; it's why it has become timeless and even inspired series like Yakuza. Its plot revolves around a young martial artist by the name of Ryo, who finds himself on a destructive path of revenge after witnessing the murder of his father. In pursuit of the killer, Ryo will explore various locations across his hometown Yokosuka in Japan, Hong Kong and even a secluded village in southern China, all of which will lead him to uncover many mysteries pertaining to his family.

Ryo himself is an impulsive character; he's a young teenager and is, understandably so, blinded by vengeance. In Shenmue, he quickly develops into a more formidable fighter. However, in Shenmue 2, he meets a mentor of sorts, develops as a person and regains his composure as he takes his journey across the sea.

This development is greatly supplemented by the many diverse characters Ryo encounters along the way, the superb musical score adding the necessary tone to each event, and is what makes Shenmue rise above the status of a predictable revenge-tale.

In terms of gameplay, Shenmue is a third-person action-adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration. If you've played any of the Yakuza games, then you will find yourself right at home. A great deal of time is spent exploring the various environments, visiting shops, conversing, gathering information and accumulating it in Ryo's notebook.

The locations within the game feel genuine -- people go to work, stores have an opening and closing time and you can pretty much interact with any of them. Most objects can be closely examined revealing additional information, though some interactions may be easily missed since you need to view each object of potential interest in first person mode for a prompt to appear.

Shenmue's environments may feel limited compared to current open-world games -- restrictive even -- but it can be a good thing since it doesn't overwhelm the player with too many choices and doesn't feel like an endless slog. Shenmue 2 improves upon that, greatly increasing in terms of size and scope, up to the point where a map is mandatory.

Eventually, you will stumble upon a point which requires you to wait for the next event to trigger, likely due to a potential point of interest being inaccessible. Apart from sleeping, which is only available during certain hours, there is no option to skip time and this is where the many activities and pastimes Shenmue is known for, come into play.

There are arcades with classics by Sega, darts, slot machines, arm-wrestling and much, much more. Ryo will spend a great deal of time playing games and earning prizes, but often enough beating a Hi-Score won't suffice and he will also have to beat up people.

Combat also plays a pivotal role in Shenmue and there's more than enough of it throughout. Ryo will face everyone, starting from mere bullies and gang members to formidable martial artists, including some tough boss battles. The player has punches, kicks and certain throw moves at their disposal; new moves can be discovered in the environment, learned from other masters or purchased in stores, in the form of scrolls.

However, it's not enough to just purchase a move to instantly become Bruce Lee -- moves have to be learned first. This can be done by practicing various button combinations until a prompt of a successfully learned move appears on the screen. Furthermore, moves can be improved by sparring with a partner or during an actual battle.

Some progress, like learned moves and collected items, can be carried over into the sequel by using the completed save data from Shenmue and a neat little feature of taking snapshots anywhere in the game -- even during cutscenes -- is included in Shenmue 2.

The sheer variety of gameplay, the interactions between characters, the beautiful musical score, and the quality of each aspect -- including combat, exploration, mini-games, and story -- is what keeps the game from becoming monotonous, but does it mean everything is perfect?

Almost, but not quite. The controls often feel sluggish and the camera can be annoying sometimes, especially indoors and during combat. I also noticed that some sound effects -- when performing a move or opening a door, for instance -- would occasionally not play. Still, these are minor gripes and shouldn't hinder the otherwise impeccable experience.

It's hard not to recommend Shenmue 1+2 to anyone who appreciates exceptional storytelling and highly interactive environments and if you've ever felt the urge to experience the unique appeal of these classic titles by Yu Suzuki, then this compilation is the best way to go.

Shenmue 1+2 is available right now for PS4 and Xbox One via Amazon, and for PC via Steam at the price of $29.99.

Editor's Note: This is a community review of Shenmue 1+2 for consoles. You can find the official GameSkinny review for the PC version here

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GloGo Review: Send the Ball Home Thu, 30 Aug 2018 11:34:49 -0400 Allison M Reilly

Do you know the scene from Happy Gilmore, where Happy yells at the ball after he fails to sink the putt?

"Are you too good for your home? Answer me!"

GloGo by Accordion Games is the video game version of that scene.

Released in January 2018, GloGo is an arcade, puzzle game where the player sends the ball toward its hole (a.k.a home) at the end of the level as fast as possible. Players are the ball, using a keyboard or joystick to control it. Obstacles, such as holes, walls and moving blocks, add difficulty and ensure the "way home" isn't a straight line. The game is a neat concept, but at times so frustrating, you want to punch that guy too.

And GloGo knows it. Rage quitting is one of the Steam achievements.

The Environment Isn't the Problem

GloGo and Accordion Games nail the aesthetic. No frustration here.

The music is perfect for GloGo, reflecting the concept's simplicity while adding flair when the game's objective never changes. Each level has its own track, but the entire soundtrack is dubstep, so I don't recommend this game if you hate electronic music. However, the music doesn't get in the way of the gameplay. Players can easily spend 20 minutes on a level going for the fastest time possible, and the music doesn't distract or get stuck in your head.

The neon color scheme is also a great choice. The bright colors add pizzaz but also make it easy to see the obstacles. I also like that certain objects are always specific colors. The ramps are green, the moving blocks are blue, the ball is white. The neon colors also contrast well against the white ball and black floor. Everything in the game is easy to see and identify; there's no confusion about what obstacle is coming up.

The Platinum is a Lie

Ultimately, GloGo doesn't get a higher rating because it doesn't have a good balance between speed and precision. Level 11, for example, requires so much precision that players need to complete the level several times before thinking about how to do the level faster. Yet, Level 11 is full of jumps where the player won't clear the jump if they're not going fast enough. Ultimately, there isn't much room for players to learn and master levels at their own pace. This can make getting through some levels infuriating.

The platinum times are just about impossible to get. For each level, there are five awards: participation, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Any time matching the participation time or slower earns a participation trophy. In the above photo, to earn bronze, the player needs a time of 20 or 21 seconds. Under 20 seconds earns silver, while a 22-second time will earn the participation trophy.

There are Steam achievements for platinum times that no player has achieved yet. Level 1 has a platinum time of 7 seconds, meaning to get the platinum award, players have to complete the level in under 7 seconds. Six seconds may seem easy but unlike Level 11, there's not much precision to Level 1. It has a straightforward solution, the ball also only goes so fast, and the levels do not provide speed boosts. GloGo consists of 16 levels, four sets of four. The difficulty progression is somewhat steep, but that's expected with only 16 levels. Each level, after the initial learning phase, takes between 10 to 60 seconds to complete. So, finding another second to cut out of seven is tough to do.

Something else GloGo is missing that would greatly improve the experience is an options menu. For example, I would love an options menu to turn off the tutorial messages that come up throughout the first few levels. The messages are helpful for my first playthrough, but break the immersion when I'm trying so very hard to hit platinum-level times.

The Final Putt

Overall, GloGo is a neat concept that invigorates the purest of tryhards and satisfies some casual gamers. For me, I don't want to quit GloGo because if I quit, the game wins. It's a one-player game meant and designed to be beaten. If I can't beat it, who can? But, completing a game so the game doesn't win isn't a very compelling reason to play. Knowing how unforgiving it is to learn each level, I don't look forward to it and I don't expect many other players to look forward to it either.

Divinity Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition Transfers The Classic RPG Experience To Console Wed, 29 Aug 2018 10:22:45 -0400 Ty Arthur

One of the best RPGs of 2017 is about to get even better with the launch of its Definitive Edition. Available as a free upgrade for existing PC players, the bigger news is that this modern-day CRPG classic is now up for grabs for the console crowd as well.

Yes, we're talking about the criminally good Divinity: Original Sin 2, which originally released last September and some of the best gameplay of any CRPG all year.  

Making the leap from computer to PS4 and Xbox One meant there were going to be some big changes, and those are what we're going to focus on here rather than re-reviewing the core gameplay and story.

If you haven't played the original version and want to know what's in store, you can read our full review here.

Square Peg In A Round Hole

First thing's first -- the Definitive Edition is still a glorious turn-based, tactical role-playing experience. It remains absurdly fun; turning enemies into chickens and teleporting enemies into broken-oil-barrel infernos is still a blast.

Much of the game's base experience remains the same (with some welcome tweaks noted below). The main differences you will notice immediately come in the form of UI and control scheme changes specifically made for the console edition.

I'm not going to sugar coat it -- this is a game that's meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Can you imagine trying to play Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale on a controller? If you've ever tried, you know it can be dicey at best.

Here's the thing, though. Larian Studios made a truly valiant effort to get this game working without a mouse. It is beyond clear that a ton of thought went into transferring the core D:OS2 gameplay mechanics into an intuitive experience for a PS4 or Xbox One controller. 

Sadly, it ultimately falls short, and after having spent a good deal of time with the Definitive Edition, I can easily say I still prefer the keyboard and mouse.

The main menus are opened in a radial wheel in the vein of Dragon Age, with an inventory screen more along the lines of Oblivion. If you've played the PC version, you know that every area is littered with objects, from barrels to candles to flowers, that can all be opened, picked up, moved, lit on fire, etc.

While it works great in the PC version, all of that exploration doesn't work particularly well with a controller, and using the bumper keys to switch between very-close objects still isn't quite fine tuned enough to always hit what you want.

The developers obviously knew that would be an issue, so now you can initiate a search area in a specific radius around any character. Everything within that area that can be opened or picked up appears in list form, and you can easily move between each individual object.

My first thought was to wildly abuse this feature to get into objects I wasn't supposed to be able to reach. Sadly, the devs figured that out, too, and you still have to be able to reach an object in the search area to open it and begin looting (curses!).

On the other side of that coin, there are some advantages to this change. To properly sneak through areas or get single characters positioned for combat advantage, you've got to frequently break up your party. Switching between characters and chain-linking groups (or breaking them up) was easier than I expected with the controller.

In that regard, the radial menu actually works pretty well. Inventory and equipment management isn't as smooth as on PC, but party management isn't half bad. Overall, the radial menu is my one big complaint with the Definitive Edition, but it's one that some players may not find as intrusive as I did. 

Arena Mode

Now that we've got that unpleasantness out of the way, let's dive into a very welcome change -- Divinity's revamped arena mode!

On my first playthrough of the original PC version, I distinctly remember stumbling across the Arena Of The One beneath Fort Joy and thinking, "I need a full-game version of this." Well, we've got it now, and it is absolutely nuts.

You can play the arena against friends or A.I., and there are several different map layouts to choose from. The replay value here is huge if you love the tactical combat of Divinity: Original Sin 2 but don't want to replay the story mode again. Getting to play with fully upgraded characters that have all sorts of skills right off the bat is a ton of fun, and there is an absurd number of options available.

Having a full 16 heroes to choose from is just the beginning of the changes. Mutators are the major new element here -- and they increase the fun quotient about 10,000%. These wacky options change the flow of battle every turn (they can, alternatively, remain static if you want). Everyone on the battlefield might suddenly get functional wings to fly over terrain or all the barrels might automatically explode. The options are seemingly endless. 

If you thought battlefields could becoming crazy flaming, electrified, frozen hellscapes of tactical nonsense in the original version, you haven't seen anything yet.

Other Changes From The Base Game

The Definitive Edition kicks off with a brand-new tutorial area in the ship bound for Fort Joy, and that will be very welcome to console players who didn't already master the ins and outs of this complex system on PC.

Tutorials aside, the newly added story mode also widens the appeal of this otherwise hardcore game. Many battles -- even some very early ones -- can be overwhelming for new players not familiar with the mechanics. Even on normal difficulty, it is entirely possible to die in the very first fight with the viscous voidwoken, and beyond easy to get annihilated when trying to escape Fort Joy.

If you find the combat incomprehensible, pop on story mode and just enjoy experiencing the ride.

But what about changes for returning players who don't want the game to be easier? There are changes for you in the form of tweaks and additions to late-game content, so if you weren't satisfied with the ending, give it another go. Arx, in particular, was a major sticking point for a lot of players. The quality of that area just fell short of the earlier acts, both in the writing and in the area design. It was easy to get lost or have no clue where to find people to advance storylines.

Much of that has been retooled with the Definitive Edition, and with changes to the quest log, there's less frustration in this area. A lot of work went into changing this area, including entirely new dialog.

Finally, the dwarf battlemage Beast had some big upgrades on his origin quest as well, so if you never cared for bringing him along, he's worth exploring with now as well.

The Bottom Line

If you've already played Divinity: Original Sin 2, the late-game content changes make the Definitive Edition worth a re-install.

Watching companies like Larian develop games through crowdfunding and then give players what they want is a breath of fresh air in the gaming community. The changes made were all clearly culled from fan criticism over the past year, and overall, they make the game a better experience.

For PC players, this is easily a 9/10 game (or potentially even higher if you absolutely love turn-based tactical combat). On the console front however, the control scheme is wonky enough to knock the game's rating down a bit.

It's still fun, no doubt, and you are getting an improved version of an already great game. The gameplay here is still great. Sadly, after playing the PS4 version, though, I really just want to re-install the game through Steam and play with the Definitive Edition changes over there.

You can buy the console version of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition on Amazon for $59.99. 

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[Note: The developer provided the copy of Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition used in this review.]

Guacamelee! 2 Review: Bright but Brutal Tue, 28 Aug 2018 14:09:33 -0400 Littoface

Seven years after the events of Guacamelee, the famous luchador fighter Juan Aguacate has… let himself go a bit, to put it mildly. Saddled with an intellectual wife and two boisterous kids, Juan's been living the easy life.

Until now.

Developed by DrinkBox Studios, Guacamelee 2 draws everyone's favorite legendary luchador out of retirement for a new adventure. Inspired heavily by Mexican folklore and history and pumping with an electro-Mexican soundtrack, the long-awaited sequel brings eccentric characters, a colorful palette and some serious fun to the screen.

Note: This reviewer has not played the first "Guacamelee" but is well-versed in Metroidvanias.

The Mexiverse Is in Danger

After a brief tutorial showing the final events of the last game, Juan is sent on his first real quest in seven years: to buy avocados for tacos so his dear wife Lupita can finish her dissertation.

But what starts as a simple enough task becomes a whole lot more serious when rips in time and space appear. Avocados forgotten, Juan is sucked once again into a whole different dimension. Juan is lauded as "the last Juan alive" and, once he gets his trademark luchador mask back, he's back to his old baddie-busting self.

And thus, Juan, along with his companion Tostada and some more familiar faces, are back in an adventure to save the Mexiverse. This time, his opponent is Salvador and his companions. Timelines are collapsing in on themselves as Salvador steals relics in search of the mystical eternal guacamole.

The story is not the big draw here, obviously, but the dialogues and writing are perfectly funny and tongue-in-cheek. Expect plenty of fourth wall breaking, references to the previous game, and general verbal shenanigans.

There are some weird and quirky characters, plenty of chickens, and pretty much all the silliness and character you'd expect from this game.

A Metroidvania Platformer with a Punch (Literally)

Guacamelee 2 calls itself a Metroidvania brawler -- and for good reason. The gameplay is a fairly balanced mix of fights, platforming, and backtracking for goodies as Juan recovers his powers.

All three are equally important, which means that if you're not very good at any aspect, you'll definitely have a hard time. Juan fights his way through areas, greeted at intervals by "lucha" instances that pit you against a group of stronger enemies one after the other.

On the other hand, platforming is an integral part of the game's progression, and special moves like smashing a fist upward and shifting into the form of a chicken are used both to fight and to get to where you want to be. There are even a few "jump quests" that require you to navigate around moving platforms, spikes, and other obstacles to get to some coveted treasure chests.

For the most part, the fighting and platforming are fluidly linked. For example, Juan can uppercut from one platform to another and take out an enemy in the process. You can also throw enemies at each other or at your companion fighters, creating strategic opportunities.

But the reliance on special moves means that playing this requires mastery of all your skills, which can lead to fumbling around. Sometimes this provides a welcome challenge but most of the time it's just frustrating, especially when you begin to use skills in rapid succession. Unless you are a button master, be prepared to fail. A lot.

Although Juan's special skills are pre-set, there is some variety offered in the form of character trees -- literally: certain characters you meet offer up different skills for you to purchase using gold and special pieces collected from chests.

Bring Some Friends

As soon as Juan gets his mark of power back, he can get help from some friends. The game supports drop-in co-op for up to 4 players. The action is kept on one main screen, which means all players have to be able to keep up.

Once someone moves on to a different screen, all other players are warped after him. But when you're traversing through an area, the screen doesn't stretch far. That means every player has to succeed in the platforming, or no one can move on. This is all fun and games if you're playing with someone on par with your own platforming prowess, but if your companion isn't very good, the game can get bogged down.

There are several characters to choose from, some of which start out locked. These are for aesthetic purposes only, and every player, regardless of their appearance, drops in with all of Juan's already-gathered special powers.

Full of Quirk and Color

While there are many frustrations to this game, "Guacamelee 2" has plenty of good points, too.

The artwork and characters are absolutely gorgeous, popping with color and shapes and drawing on traditional Mexican styles and mythology. The Mexican-themed music can get a bit repetitive, but for the most part, it adds a great ambiance to a game already bursting with personality.

The passage between timelines and its effect on the map is also a great mechanic, adding or removing platforms and other environmental elements in a way that's reminiscent of A Link to the Past.

As with any good Metroidvania, finding a new skill is cause for backtracking, and exploration is encouraged through plenty of hidden spots and useful collectibles.

Speaking of hidden goodies, Guacamelee 2 is absolutely packed with Easter eggs. There are the very obvious Chozo statues, the accidental trip into the "Baddest Timeline" which asks Juan if he is "a bad enough dude to save El Presidente", the amazing "Dankest Timeline" which we won't give away, and so many other goodies to find in every corner. 

All in all, Guacamelee 2 is definitely a great game -- it's colorful, funny, and so full of personality and chickens that it's sure to win anyone over.

Just be ready for a challenge: brawler-inspired controls and some tricky platform-hopping mean the first few hours have a steep learning curve. If you're a newcomer to either platformers or brawlers, you might want to cut your teeth elsewhere.

Fans of the first game certainly won't be disappointed, as this long-awaited sequel is even bigger and more luchalicious than ever. 

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more "Guacamelee 2" news and guides.

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Guacamelee 2 used for this review.]

Strange Brigade Review: Co-Op Fun With Traps And Shambling Zombies Mon, 27 Aug 2018 19:01:07 -0400 Ty Arthur

For a particular breed of gamer who loves overcoming challenges with a team, Strange Brigade couldn't land at a better time.

Did you spend way too much time trying to hit wave 50 in Gears Of War's horde mode? Was it a regular occurrence for you to co-op Left 4 Dead 2 or Resident Evil 5 with your drinking buddy until the wee hours of the morn? Do you consider it your solemn duty to discover every last nook and cranny of any given Call Of Duty zombie mode?

The tomb-exploring pulp adventure Strange Brigade combines all those mechanics into one full game and throws in a few other styles for good measure.

Genre Boundaries? Who Needs 'Em? 

There's a truly odd mashup of archetypes from across the gaming spectrum on display here -- starting with the third person perspective rather than the tried and true FPS viewpoint -- but it's an overall fun combination.

Dodge rolling away from attacks and stomping downed zombie enemies is pure Gears Of War. You might not be playing a genetically enhanced super-soldier always on the lookout for a cover point, but there will still be plenty of head squishing going on.

Oddly enough, the game's font combined with the safari locations and overly-excited narrator all strongly bring to mind Kinect Adventures from the Xbox 360, which obviously is a radically different genre.

Earning coins through kills to open doors or buy limited use super weapons definitely has a Call Of Duty zombie mode feel. Ditto on the overall atmosphere and character types, which exude that over-the-top '50s pulp atmosphere.

The base gameplay meanwhile pulls heavily from 4 player co-op monster shooters like Left 4 Dead or Warhammer: Vermintide.

Most of the elements you loved from those games are on full blast here, like choosing from four characters with different starting load outs, tackling waves of enemies, and so on.

Team members even revive in specific locations on the map if one of them dies (this time popping out of a sarcophagus instead of being found in a closet).

Unlike L4D or Vermintide, this isn't a game where you can wade into the hordes with a two handed axe or chainsaw and come out the other side. Instead, your arsenal revolves around a single main ranged weapon -- like a bolt action rifle or quick firing SMG -- with an unlimited ammo pistol as a backup.

Your build can be tweaked further by completing puzzles to open doors and acquire sigils. Whether you want to heal with each kill, set enemies on fire, or just flat out deal more damage, these are you main method of upgrading equipment.

Different play styles are accommodated by each of the four starting characters, but as you unlock new weapons and magic sigils, essentially any character can take any role.

Slow Motion Zombie Apocalypse

Strange Brigade isn't quite a 1 to 1 crossover from Left 4 Dead though, and there are lots of changes to tweak the gameplay -- some good, and some bad.

Both the campaign storyline and the horde mode heavily rely on luring enemies into traps to whittle down the throngs of undead. Carefully planning how to activate traps and navigate their cooldown times is a major component of your survival strategy.

Whirling blades pop out of the ground for chopping up those skittering giant scorpions, for instance. Blasts of flame and retractable floor spikes are better suited for shambling the undead, and so on.

Utilizing the environment to take out enemies is a fun twist, but it also reveals one of the game's major flaws. Strange Brigade just simply doesn't have nearly the speed or frantic nature of Left 4 Dead.

You won't often (if ever) have to restart a level in the campaign to try again. That sense of accomplishment is missing when your team finally figured out the best strategy for surviving a wave while taking out the giant boss monsters.

Much of the game is quite slow moving in fact, and it's not often you will ever feel like the hordes can truly overwhelm your defenses. Playing the campaign solo, its unlikely you'll die even once, let alone manage to do it 50 times to unlock an achievement!

Until you reach the higher waves on horde mode or get into the boss sections of the later campaign missions, there simply isn't a ton of challenge here. Whether you are co-oping or going solo, you won't often feel any legitimate sense of danger.

Going Solo Or With A Team

Sadly, there's no split-screen local co-op option, but that's just how games tend to go these days. Multiplayer on the couch with your best friend is a thing of the past, and instead, you've got to play with a disembodied voice over the Internet.

One element that sets Strange Brigade apart from the competition is that both the campaign and the horde mode are balanced for solo play. Yes, you can actually play the game from beginning to end on your own if you prefer.

Tracking down collectibles and overcoming puzzles to find more loot and upgrades for your weaponry adds a level of replayability for the solo player. If you prefer a group of grave robbers stomping into ancient Egyptian tombs as a team, however, then you get the classic 4 player co-op experience.

Every campaign level is jammed packed with puzzles to work out with your teammate. The campaign puzzles even change between solo and co-op modes, so there's reason to play both ways.

You may want to ditch the slower, easier campaign mode however and dive straight into the heart of the game. Horde mode is where gamers are probably going to spend most of their time and get the most replay. Although the slow-moving zombies remain easy to overcome, this mode offers much more challenge in later waves with the addition of boss creatures.

Avoiding a crowd of the walking dead is one thing, but doing it while leaping away from charging minotaurs, dodging blasts of magic from mummies, and avoiding the stinging tails of giant scorpions is another matter entirely.

What you get here is essentially a full game version of COD's Zombie mode, complete with buying your way through doors to increase the play area to spending money on weapon upgrades in-between waves.

Snipers, grenade-lobbers, or automatic weapons fire experts all have their place here with the wide range of weaponry. For me, the explosive tip crossbow and noisy blunderbuss -- which is effectively the game's take on a shotgun -- are easily the most satisfying options.

Strange Brigade does feature a twist on this style though, and it will be very welcome for most players. You can restart at any wave you've previously reached, so there's no need to kick off horde mode from wave 1 again every time.

The Bottom Line

Whether you're playing the campaign, horde, or the score attack mode, Strange Brigade is inundated with pulpy humor. There are plenty of dark and heavy games these days, so a little levity and a tongue-in-cheek style aren't unwelcome.

The narrator clearly seems to know he's in a video game and makes offhand remarks when you pause the game like "Oh, is someone at the door? I'll wait."

I legitimately laughed out loud at one point when hitting pause and heard a deadpanned "...two sugars for me, please." To give you an idea of what sort of humor is on display, there's actually an achievement for annoying the narrator, and he mentions you are unlocking it when it pops on the screen. 

So here's the thing -- if you don't like silly pulp action and need something as difficult as a Souls game, then Strange Brigade probably won't be for you.

On the other hand, if the idea of having a hilariously good time with a team while tromping through ancient Egyptian pottery sounds like a killer way to spend the weekend, you should grab this one as soon as possible.

Since we're in the doldrums now with no new Borderlands or Left 4 Dead in sight, and Gears 5 still about a year away, Strange Brigade stands in as the new de facto co-op experience for the foreseeable future.