When it first released in 2011, L.A. Noire was an anomaly; its facial capture tech was an innovative showcase of animation, and it's focus on slower-paced interrogation puzzles widely contrasted the big-budget shooters of the time. Six years later, the game has surprisingly managed to make its way onto Switch. While a few sacrifices were made in performance and graphical fidelity to get L.A. Noire running, the ambitious spirit of this stylistic 1940s-era detective adventure remains.
L.A. Noire's principal 21 cases are all present, including all of its DLC cases. As budding LAPD detective Cole Phelps, you spend the bulk of your time gathering evidence, interrogating suspects, and making accusations. Phelps is a fascinating, yet morally flawed, character whose checkered past is compelling to see unfold as the story goes on. The cases you solve remain interesting and well-paced, balancing slower, more meticulous investigative moments with brief shootouts and vehicular/on-foot chases. On Switch, the game controls as well as it did on previous generation consoles, especially when playing docked with a Pro Controller. It also offers motion and touch controls, which are welcome additions that make L.A. Noire feel more involved. Motion controls allow you to use the right Joy-Con to control the camera and physically manipulate objects you pick up, while touch controls command Phelps where to go and what investigate by simply tapping the screen. However, both control schemes don't feel as functional as playing with a traditional gamepad setup.Interrogations often lead to many of the game's most tense and captivating moments.
While L.A. Noire's story and varied pacing are some of its most exceptional aspects, where it truly shines is in its interrogation sequences. Armed with your intellect and the wealth of evidence you collect during your investigations, questioning suspects and seeing through their facial ticks to expose their secrets lead to many of the game's most tense and captivating moments. The facial animations hold up well, displaying a level of realism that's still impressive. And with top-notch performances from its facial capture actors, interrogations are just as absorbing and believable.
In a subtle change from the original, interrogation options have been changed from "Truth," "Doubt," and "Lie" to "Good Cop," "Bad Cop," and "Accuse." The new naming scheme helps to give you a better understanding of Cole's behavior towards a suspect's testimony, which was difficult to gauge in the original. The renewed context is particularly useful when a suspect is playing coy, where it makes sense that using the more forceful "Bad Cop" approach would root out more information. However, the new terminology isn't perfect. There are situations where it isn't specific enough; this is apparent when responding with "Good Cop", where the option seems to lean more towards believing the suspect rather than following proper police protocol. Despite this occasional issue, interrogations are consistently rewarding, often requiring critical thinking and sharp judgment to complete perfectly.There still isn't much to do in the game's faithful recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles.
L.A. Noire's finer qualities are maintained, but its notable shortcomings also persist. Movement is a bit clunky during shootouts, and there are plenty of useless filler objects to sift through during crime scene investigations. But the most glaring issue lies in the game's recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles, which is authentic but doesn't offer much to do outside of main missions and random street crime activities. New hidden collectables in the form of books and records have been added to the Switch version to encourage exploration, but it's not made clear that these items exist nor does the game encourage you to seek them out.
These issues don't do much to detract from the experience at large, especially considering how well the game runs. Visuals have taken a slight downgrade compared the original version, sporting new jagged edges, fluctuating textures, and noticeably weaker draw distances and dynamic lighting effects. However, these issues are less apparent when playing the game undocked, where it runs and looks the best.
Even considering L.A. Noire's age, it's a wonder that the game can be played on Switch.
On the other hand, frame rate maintains a steady 30 frames per second, only drastically dipping when surrounded by multiple NPCs or vehicles while on foot. Though, it's not a deal breaker, seeing as the game consistently performs well during the moments where it matters, like during investigations, interrogations, and car chases.
Even considering L.A. Noire's age, it's a wonder that the game can be played on Switch. While nowhere near as technically striking as seeing Doom run on the console, there's still something special about playing what was once such an ambitious game on last-generation consoles in the palm of your hand. And the game lends itself well to the platform; the bite-sized length of missions makes it a great fit for playing on the go.
If sharp visuals and higher frame rate are huge factors in your enjoyment, then you're better off playing L.A. Noire on PS4 and Xbox One, which sport added bells and whistles that elevate the game's performance. But if you're charmed by the idea of experiencing it portably, then L.A. Noire on Switch comes recommended. It may not work the best under pressure, but it's well worth replaying or experiencing for the first time on Nintendo's convertible console.
With each passing year, Sports Interactive iterates on the long-standing fundamentals of its Football Manager series. A slight tweak here and there: applying some ease of use adjustments, or tinkering with the 3D match engine--like a manager moving pieces around a whiteboard. Some of these tweaks might not become evident until you've spent hundreds of hours entrenched in the virtual dugout, while others may only affect those eccentric enough to deploy a tactic featuring a Raumdeuter. In Football Manager 2018, minor refinements are similarly sprinkled throughout; but, crucially, there's also a significant new addition, and other impactful overhauls, that are palpable from the get-go, profoundly changing the way you manage and interact with your team on a daily basis.
The first of these is a new module called Dynamics that focuses on the topsy-turvy world of player morale. The concept of squad happiness has existed in Football Manager since the early days, but the cause and effect of your actions was previously hidden behind an algorithm we weren't privy to, which made managing your player's mood a case of pure guesswork and gradually learning through repetition. That all changes in FM 2018, as each interaction with your squad now has a clear, defined outcome that helps keep your chosen group of expensive primadonnas in check. A detailed hierarchy displaying your team leaders and most influential players advises you on who not to annoy; social groups determine which individuals sit around the breakfast table with each other based on parameters like their shared nationality and how long they've been at the club; and myriad other menus track your player's individual mood, their confidence in you, and the consequences all of these variables has on team chemistry.Click image to view in full screen
A harmonious squad generally leads to better results on the pitch, with the team's collective mental state contributing to the quality of their positioning, vision, and reactions during the course of a match--making it imperative for you to maintain your team's high spirits if you have any notions of success. Football is a results-based business after all, and player power is definitely a factor in FM 2018. If the squad is displeased with how you're doing on match days, or how you're handling their various personalities off the pitch, you're liable to find yourself unemployed. Thankfully, with the addition of a hierarchy and social groups, there's a surfeit of valuable information guiding your decision making that helps you understand how to handle different types of player.
If a rugged team leader comes into your office complaining about a lack of playing time, you're going to have to weigh up the risks of introducing him to the starting line-up when he might be off form, or face incurring a potential player revolt if you turn him down and piss him off. Conversely, if a player on the lower rungs of the hierarchy comes to see you with the same issue, telling him he'll have to remain patient is less likely to upset even a small portion of the dressing room, and may not bother anyone at all. Admittedly, conversing with players in FM still lacks the subtlety of believable human interactions, but with all of this new information on hand, player reactions appear more logical than ever, and keeping influential players onside will ensure there are fewer unhappy players knocking on your door. It's a fun, personable new module to toy with, and it emboldens Football Manager's recent focus on the human side of the beautiful game.
Meanwhile, an overhauled medical centre places an increased emphasis on Sports Scientists, with each one providing you with crucial information on how and why your players are suffering from injuries, and how you can counteract their pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles from occurring too frequently. If there's a busy period coming up where you've got, say, three matches in seven days, you'll be advised on which players are most at risk of sustaining injuries from the wear and tear of successive action. It forces you to be more proactive with your training schedules and player selection, as you're encouraged to adjust the intensity of training sessions on a week-by-week basis, and intelligently rotate your team in an attempt to keep your squad healthy without sacrificing results, (which also ties into Dynamics and how you can maintain squad harmony through frugal management of your team's playing time).
The 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016--and the same can be said of this series as a whole.
Dynamics also factors into FM 2018's improved scouting system. When it comes to finding new players, you're now able to set a scouting budget: spend more and you'll cast your net wider; spend less and you can rely purely on the existing knowledge of your scouts. However much you spend, the process of unearthing new talent is slow. Your scouts will gradually build a picture of the type of player you're looking at, represented by a rating out of 100 that covers their attributes and also the type of personality they are. A player might be good enough from the statistical side of things, but will they gel with your squad? Maybe they don't fit into any social groups, or maybe they carry too much influence and will risk upsetting the balance of your dressing room. These are the types of things you have to consider when signing a new player, and it makes each transfer window much more engaging.
AI logic has been modified, too, ensuring other teams are smarter at handing their transfer business. You're unlikely to see the likes of PSG spending ludicrous amounts of money to stockpile talent they're only going to leave rotting on the bench--as has been the case in previous years. Transfer fees and budgets have also skyrocketed to reflect these astronomical times, with teams (particularly in the Premier League) holding out for more money for even the most marginal of talents.
When it comes to assembling your team on the pitch, the tactical interface is relatively unchanged. There are new player roles like the Carrilero and Mezzala, and more player instructions--such as the opportunity to direct your central midfielders into wider areas--that give you more options when it comes to establishing your team's playing style. But it's disappointing that this aspect of Football Manager hasn't seen any substantial developments. Building your tactical plan is still far too rigid and restrictive, and would benefit from giving you more control over how your team functions, particularly during specific phases of play. The current tactical interface is serviceable, and there's now a plethora of useful analysis that pinpoints the strengths and weaknesses of your setup, but a more robust system would elevate this aspect of the series in a crucial way.
Once you emerge out of the tunnel, the 3D match engine is at least better at demonstrating how each team follows your tactical setup. Any adjustments you make mid-match are immediately tangible, and players have enhanced intelligence all over the pitch. You'll see strikers timing their runs behind the defensive line, players opening up their bodies to curl Thierry Henry-esque finishes into the bottom corner, and midfielders will generally play a more expansive brand of football--if you let them. There are still baffling moments where players will inexplicably stop dead in their tracks, which is particularly troublesome in defence. And goalkeepers are still inconsistent--one moment they're saving everything that's thrown at them, the next they're palming a daisycutter into their own net. It's certainly not perfect, then, but the 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016--and the same can be said of this series as a whole.
For a game that's so consuming you might not even realise the sun's gone down, it feels almost irresponsible to proclaim that giving you more things to do is a resounding positive. Yet the way these new and overhauled systems coalesce with Football Manager's deep and emotional fundamentals is fantastic. The series' propensity for telling emergent stories has only increased with this emphasis on player personalities and morale, and it bleeds into every other facet of Football Manager 2018's design, from transfers and injuries, to team selection and tactical considerations. These are changes that tilt the simulation closer to reality with captivating aplomb, and ensure that the armchair managers among us are kept busy for another whirlwind 12 months of 40-yard screamers and cup final heartbreak.
Six years after its release, Skyrim still manages to be relevant. Between the 2016 remaster, the upcoming VR version, and now a Switch port, it's hard to forget about The Elder Scrolls V, and that's a testament to how absorbing an RPG it is. With the addition of instant portability on Switch, it's even harder to put this high quality port down.
Skyrim is one of the best Switch ports currently available, though it's not too surprising considering the game's age. It runs smoothly with a rock-solid frame rate both in smaller spaces and in the overworld. Text can be a little small when playing in handheld mode, though it still performs and plays as well as it does docked and with a Pro Controller. The newly introduced motion controls are all optional as well; wagging a Joy-Con will swing melee weapons, and you can use motion to fine-tune your aim with your bow. Skyrim does retain the glitches it has always been known (and loved) for, though, including bizarre NPC pathing problems. In our 10 hours testing the game, we didn't find any new bugs, so it's just the silly weirdness you might remember.
The main addition on Switch is Amiibo compatibility, which nets you extra treasure and works well within the existing game. Amiibo use is nested in the magic menu under powers, and you have to cast it the way you would any other power before tapping the Amiibo to the NFC reader. Like in Breath of the Wild, using an Amiibo isn't a guarantee of good loot--in this case, Zelda Amiibo give you a chance to get Link's Breath of the Wild tunic, the Master Sword, and the Hylian Shield, though you might get a chest filled with arrows, random weapons and armor, or an assortment of meats instead. You can use each Amiibo once per day, but we were able to get all the cool gear in one day using a few Zelda Amiibo around the office. As a bonus, the gear is better than any of the early-game weapons and armor you can get, and you can easily sell off the other loot you don't want.
The quality of the port aside, Skyrim has certainly aged since it first released in 2011. On top of the jankiness of movement and NPC interaction, there are a few outdated things that might be hard to contend with. Most glaringly, the oft-maligned sword-and-shield combat is still underwhelming, since it never felt great to clumsily swing a sword around to begin with. Certain recurring dialogue that has ascended to meme status can be grating, too, provided you've heard it enough. There's also no mod support currently, so if you're used to the user-created quality-of-life mods available on PC and other console versions, it can be weird to go back to regular old Skyrim, even if you still find its quirks and more old-fashioned aspects charming.
Skyrim is one of the best Switch ports currently available.
But everything great about Skyrim is preserved here as well. Pursue whatever it is you want to--whether it's just completing the main story or stealing as much cheese as you can carry--and you're all but guaranteed to find interesting stories along the way. Progressing through its still very deep skill tree is a huge but satisfying endeavor in figuring out exactly how you want to play (though magic- and archery-based combat specializations are preferable). There’s so much to do in Skyrim that it’s likely you haven’t done it all yet, and because it's now portable, you can pick it up and play for shorter bursts that can easily turn into hours.
The original version of Skyrim is still an immense, engrossing RPG, and the quality, number, and variety of its quests makes it as easy to become lost in its world as ever. With the addition of Zelda-themed gear that's actually useful--and the fact that you can play anywhere--the Switch version of Skyrim is a great excuse to revisit a much-loved RPG.
Very few sports struggle to survive the transition from real-life to video game like cricket does. Cricket is perceived as slow and long; some might even call it a little bit boring. Cricket video games have often suffered similar problems, often weighed down by cumbersome, complex controls and glacial pacing when compared to the likes of a FIFA or a Madden. Ashes Cricket suffers some of these inherent problems as well as a few of its own making, but also manages to capture the heart of the game in a way that few have achieved before. Despite some poor presentation and a handful of bugs, fans of the sport will find Ashes Cricket a good way to enjoy the virtual sound of leather on willow.
For those of you not from Commonwealth nations, The Ashes is the name of a series of five, day-long matches held between Australia and England that has been going on for well over a hundred years, and serves as this game's flagship mode, with fully licenced men’s and women’s squads from both nations. If a full test series seems a little intimidating, there’s no shortage of other variants to play. Casual matches are quick and easy to set up, allowing you to get into a Test, 50 over, or 20 over match with total ease. You can go online and play a match with some mates, jump into the nets for some training, or if you want something completely different, you can create your own match type in the match editor, which lets you change up almost every facet of the game to your heart's content. You can even create your own stadium, defining everything from the grandstands and the pavilion, down to the individual roads that lead into the grounds. While I can’t imagine everyone getting a kick out of being able to make their own stadium, it’s great to see this level of customisation offered out of the box.
But when it comes to playing the Ashes series, the emphasis is on the licensed Australian and English teams, who all match their real world likenesses. However, it's on this visual level where Ashes Cricket's flaws start to show. Players lack any kind of nuanced facial animations, so they tend to maintain a steely, thousand-yard stare at all times. Animation quality varies throughout; while core actions like batting, bowling, and some field movements look top notch and smooth, transitions between animations can be problematic. On more than one occasion I had a batsman run out because they took too long to turn around and get their bat back over the crease, something which I had no control over at the time because they were on the opposite end of the wicket. Losing a key player in a moment like this can be not only hugely frustrating, but it can change the face of a match as well. This can also be a problem in the field, where slow animations when chasing down the ball can leave you begging for a little more effort from your players.
Lack of a full license means all the other national teams--any country that’s not Australia or England--as well as club and state teams are sadly filled up with fantasy players instead of their real-life counterparts. However, through the player and team editor modes, the community is encouraged to create their own squads, and this is backed up by the inclusion of a Get Best button which automatically downloads all the highest rated community made players for that team. It’s not as ideal as having fully licensed squads, but it’s one way to creatively circumvent the problem.
The worst part of the lacklustre presentation is the in-game commentary. It is irredeemably bad, to the point where I can only recommend turning it off and saving yourself the pain. When they aren’t busy making incomplete calls, they are making entirely incorrect ones, all while sounding bored out of their minds. What makes everything even worse is the fact that the team is voiced by professional, real-world commentators.
Thankfully, the act of playing the sport in Ashes Cricket is enjoyable. The full career mode lets you create a brand new player and skill them up through the ranks, from club and state/county level cricket all the way up to fighting for international selection. Playing and performing well in matches will reward you with SP, which is spent on raising your player’s skills, and in turn, helps raise your player’s profile and chances of selection for the national team. It’s one of the most engaging game modes thanks to its depth, modelling the full, real-world club/county cricket structure.
How you engage with career matches is also completely up to you. You can choose to take control of the full squad or just your player for each match, which significantly changes how a match plays out based on whether you’re a batter, bowler, or an all-rounder. While controlling a full squad gives you complete control, playing as a single player feels much more focused. A batter will rarely, if ever, have to worry about bowling, so you can elect to skip the fielding portion of the game entirely, taking control only when your player comes onto the pitch to bat their innings. Letting players focus on specific parts of the game works well as a way of keeping play progression moving along steadily, without getting bogged down by the sport's arduous match lengths.
And while the game’s worst moments make an appearance on the field, the parts that do work both feel good and capture the moment-to-moment nature of the sport that makes it so alluring. Controls for batting, bowling, and fielding feel intuitive, save some slight inconsistencies, with two distinct control variations available to pick from: standard or classic. While the standard controls rely more on timing your button presses when batting and bowling, the classic variety instead relies on use of the two thumbsticks to control the action. Classic controls feel just right for batting, giving you the most flexibility, whereas for bowling the standard controls felt more intuitive. You can mix up control styles however you please, but ultimately it doesn’t matter which you choose, because smashing a bowler to the boundary or taking a batsman’s stumps out of the ground with a swinging fastball feels nothing short of fantastic in either mode. Appealing for a wicket is left to the player to handle, though, and the game doesn’t do a great job of communicating this. Caught behinds, lbw’s and run outs all require an appeal and while I enjoyed being able to control this, more automated help could be offered for novice players in this regard.
A lot of the field work is handled semi-automatically, with the closest fielder chasing down the ball on their own, and the player then choosing which end of the wicket to throw the ball too. But the speed and trajectory with which the ball is flung back to the wicket feels inconsistent as sometimes the ball will come back hard and fast, other times it’ll be a harmless lob, despite nailing similar timings on the throw.
But the most enjoyable part of Ashes Cricket is when the ball is smashed towards one of your fielders and time slows down to a crawl, triggering a sequence where you need to quickly move a cursor into a circle then hit the corresponding button to safely take the catch. It puts the emphasis on the tension of the moment instead of relying on an automated fielder. Get it right and you’ll take the catch, but get it wrong and it could cost you dearly. It’s a shame this mechanic doesn’t trigger for catches that go straight down the fielder’s throats, as I like the idea of the player being responsible for the outcomes, but mostly because it looks and feels really good when you get it right.
Ashes Cricket has definitely got its issues; bad commentary, some rough presentation, only two licensed teams and a few bugs. But ultimately they can be shaken off, because the feeling of enjoyment I get when I’m playing Ashes Cricket is palpable. I haven’t played or watched the sport in over 10 years, but sitting down to play here feels intuitive and familiar in a way that’s surprisingly comforting. The batting, bowling and fielding all feel better than they have in any other cricket game before, and the sheer variety of game types and customisation offered makes Ashes Cricket, in spite of its issues, a sports game worthy of your time.
As an ode to the ever expanding Marvel universe, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is practically without peer. The characters you'll play, the locations you'll visit, and the references you'll come across span the length and breadth of the comic juggernaut's history in comics, TV, and film, extending to the genesis of Marvel as Timely Comics way back in the forgotten mists of time (the 1930s). In fact, outside of the exclusion of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters (for some undisclosed and surely byzantine legal rights reasons), this game is the most Marvel any Marvel game has been so far.
It's also pretty much the most Lego game any Lego game has been so far, which is to say all of the charm and wit and ease of play of this long-running series is here, but also all of its little faults and idiosyncrasies. Outside of the dizzying array of heroes and villains you'll (eventually) be able to play, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 adds little to the franchise in terms of innovation or transformation. There is only more, but more doesn't necessarily mean better.
What's here, though, remains appealing, particularly if you have some kiddos to share the experience with. The aforementioned charm and wit of the Lego formula is becoming predictable and creaky after almost two dozen entries, but manages to retain that sense of simple joy inherent in seeing Lego-fied versions of some of your favorite pop culture characters bash around in a brightly colored world, quipping their cute little quips all the while. Seeing a Lego Ms. Marvel embiggening while geeking out that she's fighting alongside Spider-Man is simply delightful, as is seeing teleporting Inhuman dog Lockjaw flopping onto his back for a belly rub.
The game is filled with little charm bombs like this, but if you read that previous sentence and came away with questions like "Who or what is a Ms. Marvel?" and "There are dogs in video games, now?", then perhaps some of this appeal will be lost on you. Needless to say, your familiarity with all things Marvel will impact just how cute you think all of this is. And the cuts here run very deep. From the inclusion of cowboy characters from old Timely/Marvel series like Kid Colt and Arizona Annie, to more recent characters like Spider-Man Noir from the Noir Universe (this Spidey uses guns, guys!), Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 seems tailor-made for the Marvel super fan.
That's not to say those whose Marvel knowledge comes only from the recent big budget films (but who did see the last Thor movie and thought the rock guy was pretty funny) will be left clueless amidst a series of complex comic references. The game anchors it's main narrative on the cinematic versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Star Lord, Rocket, Groot (both baby and full-grown), et al racing to Earth to help stop megalomaniac-from-the-future Kang the Conqueror from doing his thing (ie, conquering). It's a doomed quest, as Kang quickly achieves his raison d'etre, ripping the fabric of the time-space continuum and creating Chronopolis, a mish-mash of worlds from different time periods and Marvel realities.
From here, it's up to the heroes of the Marvel universe to band together and stop Kang. The gameplay here will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played a Lego game in recent years; it's bash bash bash on enemies and the environment using simple combat mechanics, before solving various environmental puzzles that may or may not involve bashing things some more (or alternatively using a specific character's special abilities to progress). To its credit, the many characters in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 do sport some interesting abilities, so much so that you can for the most part look past the cookie-cutter nature of most of them and find individual heroes with unique skills. The combat, though, remains stakes-free. There are no "lives", and dying simply means regenerating in the same spot not even seconds later. Dark Souls this is not.
But that ease-of-use has always been the main appeal of the Lego games, especially for parents. As is usual with this series, the entire game can be played in co-op, and it's fun to partner with a developing gamer through these relatively stress-free adventures. The puzzles here can sometimes get a little obtuse, but that's exactly why it's a great shared experience. Your little ones can have fun running around and mashing buttons playing as the Invincible Iron Man, while you do the legwork of figuring out how to actually progress through a level.
There's also an impressive amount of things to do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Apart from the hundreds of available characters (most you'll have to unlock) and the approximately dozen hours of the main campaign to work through, the "world" of Chronopolis is also expansive, functioning as an open world where your heroes can find little sidequests, missions, racing events, and other activities when you're not chasing the main storyline.
Of course, these other activities aren't all enormous fun, but if you're a Marvel nut or a completionist (or both), then this game's basic cheerful gameplay and demeanour will make all of those extra pursuits worthwhile. Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is reverential to its source material, even if the game that surrounds that adoration is starting to sag somewhat. After all these years, the Lego formula is still a winner--but only barely.
GT Sport may look and feel like Gran Turismo, but it's a very different beast under the hood. In place of an extensive single player campaign and an exhaustive car roster, developer Polyphony Digital have established a professionally sanctioned esport-focused racing platform under the watchful eye of The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. There's no denying that GT Sport hits a few bumps along the way, and struggles somewhat under the weight of Gran Turismo's legacy. But when viewed as something new, GT Sport accomplishes nearly everything it sets out to do. It offers a wonderfully detailed and responsive driving experience along with arguably the cleanest and most competitive online racing on a console to date.
The renewed focus comes at a cost, with GT Sport offering a meager 160 cars (far less if you discount variants) and 40 courses based on 17 distinct tracks. And because your progress, earnings, and reputation are linked to your competitive profile, GT Sport requires an internet connection for most of its content--single player included. The only exception are one-off races in arcade mode, but your rewards there won't be saved unless you keep the game running until servers are back online. It’s one huge caveat, and while maintenance and outage periods have been minimal post-release, losing access to most of GT Sport isn't unheard of.
Despite the relatively small selection of cars, each one is beautifully rendered with an incredible attention to detail. And while GT Sport's tracks lack dynamic lighting and weather effects, each real-world track has been laser scanned to an impressive degree of accuracy. Marry these qualities with the improved tire and suspension models, beefy engine tones and screaming tire sounds, and GT Sport makes a strong impression behind the wheel.
Online races are your ultimate goal, and come in a few different forms. While you can create a private lobby to race with friends, most of the action happens in the organized daily races. Daily races occur at set times--usually every 5 to 10 minutes, though this can change--and come in three options, each with varying rules and regulations. Place well and you’ll see your Driver Rating improve, which defines the skill of the drivers you’ll be placed into future races with. If you place poorly you’ll naturally see your driver rating drop, and be forced race with less capable and confident drivers.
Ranking highly isn't everything, and will mean nothing if you fail to race cleanly along the way. The overarching system monitoring everything you do is called the Sportsmanship Rating, which counts all incidents you’re involved in, regardless of fault. Shown as a rank of A through to F, put a wheel wrong by touching another car, leaving the track or, unfortunately, being rammed, and you’ll lose some of your sportsmanship rating. Drive a few clean laps and you’ll recover what’s lost eventually, though it’s clear the no-fault system is a sore point, causing needless annoyance at losing SR on top of having a race ruined.
On the same foot, though, it appears to be working. Although turn 1 tends to be a bit of a nightmare, once things are underway races are generally as clean as you’d hope for. Cars recovering from spins or looking like they’re going to crash will ghost, letting you drive right through them, though this can be a bit sketchy at times as you can’t really tell when a car will solidify. Thankfully there are plenty of assists like ABS and traction control to help racers who might struggle, which can also be turned off for the hardcore or those with wheel and pedal setups. These support systems are a boon beginners who may be intimidated by GT Sport's demanding races but nonetheless want a taste of competition.
Outside of the daily events are the officially sanctioned championship events, which in practice are run similarly to daily races, but with a few core differences. Each round runs five races at pre-scheduled times roughly once a month, and like the daily races there's a small window of time for you to sign up. The main difference is that you can only sign up and compete in a round once, so if you have a bad run in the first of the five scheduled races for that round, you don’t get another chance to improve your results. While intimidating, this also adds a palpable sense of tension to the beginning stages of each race.
The number of points you can earn per race is worked out using a few variables, but is mostly down to your driver rating; the higher your rating, the more potential championship points you can earn per race. Your final points tally is accumulated from your three best finishes, ensuring that a bad race or having to miss one because of other commitments won’t put you out of contention. In general, the level of competition is extremely cutthroat, making race wins--especially in the official championship races--very difficult to come by.
That said, there is plenty of satisfaction to gain from merely finishing races. Personal achievements aside, every race rewards you with in-game credits, mileage points--another in-game currency used to upgrade cars or purchase paint decals, wheel rims and the like to customize your car with--and experience points that raise your driver level. You’re given a new car for each driver level you attain, up to and including level 20, and the Daily Workout bonus also gives you a new car after driving only 40 kilometers (just under 25 miles) in a day, so it doesn’t take long to amass a personal car collection.
Where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust "Gran Turismo" experience.
Given the focus on online races, the single-player campaign is more an elaborate training tool than any campaign from a prior GT game, geared to prepare you for the jump to racing online. Its three modes--Driving School, Mission Challenge and Circuit Experience--each cover a specific aspect of racing, be that the car handling, knowing the circuits or knowing how to race with other cars without running them off the road. In clear Gran Turismo tradition, hit the bronze target time for the exercise and you can move on. But although this is a good measure of your performance, a more detailed, visual breakdown of your runs would go a long way towards making these lessons more effective at making you a better racer. Accompanying YouTube videos give you an impression of how it’s done, but something that gives more feedback would be more welcome. Arcade mode is the closest you’ll get to the traditional style of campaign, letting you pick your car and track combo then race offline against the AI, who do a good job of racing cleanly but with a measured sense of aggression too.
Ultimately, where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust "Gran Turismo" experience. You won’t find it. Casual fans will feel the pinch of the scaled-down offering and the intimidating push towards racing online. But for sim-racers with a competitive spirit, it’s easy to look past the smaller car and track roster and appreciate the incredibly detailed and responsive driving model, which is better than anything the series has offered before.
The original Hand of Fate succeeded largely on the strength of its concept. It combined the rules of a roguelike with a deck-building card game to create something unique, and the devious, ever-present Dealer made the whole thing feel like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons experience where the Dungeon Master was actively trying to stop you. It was a great idea, but had some major issues that held it back from reaching its full potential. It was a good game crying out for a great follow-up; thankfully, Hand of Fate 2 has delivered just that.
In each of the sequel's 22 missions, you select several encounter and equipment cards from your personal deck. These are then mixed in with the Dealer's deck to form the card base you're playing with. The cards are scattered onto a table face-down, although the shape and structure they form changes on a mission-by-mission basis. As you move across the table turning over one card at a time (usually either looking for or moving towards a specific card), you're issued challenges that might or might not help you achieve the mission's goal. The outcomes of several situations are dictated by games of chance and skill--rolling dice, perfectly timing a button press to an on-screen pendulum, stopping a spinning wheel at the right time--and there are various stats you need to follow and maintain, as your character can run out of money or starve to death. There are also several cards that throw you into combat, at which point the game briefly turns into a third-person action experience until all your enemies are downed (or you die, failing the mission).
While in the first game you were constantly on the hunt for the boss card, in Hand of Fate 2 there's far more variety in objectives, and the game is better for it. You usually still have to find and kill a boss, but each mission now has its own gimmick. These can include challenging you to work out which character of three is plotting a murder, or tasking you with escorting an innocent potato farmer. Each mission has a strong sense of identity and purpose, and many of them are clever.
However, while the game gives you plenty of opportunities to escape bad situations or reasons to rethink your deck if your current plan isn't working, the start-over-if-you-die structure can sometimes be excessively frustrating in certain scenarios. A prime example is the Justice mission, in which you travel around the 28 cards laid out on the table, gathering resources and dodging enemies through games of chance, continually traveling back to your base card to use said resources to strengthen your fort. It's tremendous fun, but less so when you're killed an hour into it, right at the end of one of the many, many intense battles you've been made to fight. It's hard to pull yourself back into retrying a mission when these things happen. It also took me many attempts to beat the Strength mission, which starts you at low health and takes away your ability to heal by eating food. In a typical roguelike, where heavy randomisation makes the game feel different each time you enter, this wouldn't seem like a big deal. But the individual missions in Hand of Fate 2 often ask you to fight the same battles repeatedly, and replaying the more difficult ones over and over is a strain. Thankfully, until you reach the very end, you'll have multiple unfinished missions unlocked at any given point; if one is giving you grief you can usually jump into another.
Hand of Fate 2's combat has gone through an overhaul. It discards the ineffective camera, clunky controls, and unclear parry cues for a system that feels much closer to the Batman: Arkham Asylum fighting system that so clearly inspired it. It's not a unique system, and the game lacks variety in both enemies and tactical possibilities, but it's now much more satisfying to take on a group of enemies. Parry and dodge cues are clear, and managing the timing of your attacks and moves requires active attention.
You can equip different weapons before battle, which are divided into three classes (heavy, two-handed, and one-handed), and what to equip largely depends on your opponent. Thieves, for instance, are weak against blade attacks, which do little damage but let you attack multiple times in quick succession, while several different kinds of guard are easier to fight if you're carrying a one-handed sword and a shield. However, the more hectic battles can still be hard to read, and the quality of the fights may vary depending on which equipment you've managed to source during your journey--if you aren't able to find or buy useful weapons, it can turn into a slog. Luck plays a big part in Hand of Fate 2, and while you can manufacture better luck with a good deck, there's always the somewhat frustrating possibility that random chance will strike you down.
In most missions you're joined by one of four unlockable companions who provide buffs during combat and specialize in improving your odds of victory in some specific circumstances. The mighty Colbjorn, for instance, can offer an extra die for you to roll should you need it in certain scenarios. These companions also add to the already rich incidental storytelling of the game. Playing through each mission, uncovering cards, and watching as conflicts and allegiances twist and shift depending on the story you're pursuing at any given point gives you a strong sense of the game's world, even if it's largely confined to text. The Dealer, who is once again voiced by Anthony Skordi, is a treasure of a character, repeatedly referencing events from the first game and hinting at the dark secrets he keeps stored somewhere within his robes. He's not an antagonist in the same way he was in the original game, and ultimately feels like a deeper, more mysterious character.
The moments of frustration in Hand of Fate 2 are worth enduring for the sweetness of its adventures, and getting to know the different cards and learning to build a deck that is perfectly suited for the mission you're entering is satisfying. Hand of Fate 2 is a realization of the first game's promise, and it's exciting to play a game that blends seemingly unrelated elements together so well.
Rocket League was a phenomenon when it debuted in 2015, and two years later it shows no signs of slowing down. The unorthodox sports game is a mix of soccer and vehicular acrobatics that's immediately engaging, but a high skill ceiling ensures that you can put hundreds of hours into Rocket League online and continue to improve your control over car and ball alike. In our original review, editor Miguel Concepcion said "the promising concept of combining two wonderful things--cars and soccer--is equally magnificent in execution." It's unique, it's complex, and now that it's on the Nintendo Switch, it's wonderfully portable.
Rocket League makes the leap to handheld courtesy of developer Panic Button, the same team responsible for the respectable Switch port of Doom. And similar to that conversion, Rocket League's visuals have been somewhat stripped down to maintain a steady frame rate under the Switch's hardware limitations. The impact of the downgraded visuals can be seen in jagged edges and fluctuating texture resolutions, but unlike a game that relies on a world to set the stage for characters and narrative events, Rocket League's Switch scars are easily overlooked. The only time they can interfere is when playing handheld, where choppy models make it difficult to differentiate between objects in the foreground and background on Switch's small display. This, thankfully, is rarely an issue.
When you're focused on a handful of other drivers and protecting your goal from a fast-moving ball, jaggies are the least of your concerns. And when subconsciously calculating your trajectory as you ramp up onto a wall and blast your rockets for a last-minute boost to slam a ball into the back of a goal from mid-air, you probably aren't focused on a blurry texture here or there. Rocket League on Switch isn't always a pretty game, but that doesn't stop if from being every bit as exciting and competitive as it is on other platforms. As someone who has spent upwards of 200 hours with Rocket League on PS4, I was pleased to find that jumping into matches on Switch was just as easy as before, in terms of both matchmaking and controlling my car on the field--thanks in part to the rock-solid frame rate.
The game's Nintendo-exclusive rides and their series-appropriate sound effects are small if charming touches that make the Switch version feel slightly more special than it otherwise would have. But the big new feature is local splitscreen play on the go. Relative to the constraints of playing on a small screen, it works as well as you'd hope, to say nothing of the surprising effectiveness of controlling your car with a mere single joycon. Small and short a few buttons, they still cover almost every input on traditional controller setups. The one notable exception is the lack of a second analog stick for camera control when you aren't locked onto the ball.
Switch players can engage in cross-network play with Rocket League's Xbox One and PC community. As evidenced during our pre-launch tests, this system works without a hitch, and matches are readily available. The one minor caveat when it comes to playing online with others is that creating custom messages mid-match is less convenient than usual. This is because toggling chat brings up a window that takes up the entire screen, leaving you without the usual live feed that runs in the background in other versions of the game. You do have the option of connecting a USB keyboard if you want to type out messages while your Switch is docked, which can help speed up the process.
Save for its presentation, Rocket League on Switch is every bit the game it is elsewhere, and when you factor in its newfound portability, it's also the most versatile. That alone makes it attractive to regular Rocket League competitors.
For people new to the game, they have a lot to look forward to regardless, as it's one of the most fascinating sports games in memory. Nevermind if you don't like soccer or couldn't care less about the growing esports community. Rocket League is a unique game that redefines the concept of what a sports game can be, and Psyonix continues to support it with new content on a regular basis. It's been around for a while, but now that it's on Switch, there's no better time to give it a shot.
Editor's note: for a more in-depth analysis of Rocket League, check out our original review from July, 2015.
Neither sequels nor remakes, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon take a mostly simple approach to updating 2016's Sun and Moon. Much of the previous games has been left untouched--the story once again takes place on the tropical island region of Alola and focuses on the Island Challenge, which differs slightly from the series' typical Gym Badge-based progression. But some key story details have changed, keeping things surprising for returning players even if the story itself is basic RPG fare. Most notably, there are small quality-of-life improvements and charming touches that make an already enjoyable Pokemon game a more endearing experience regardless of your skill level.
The original Sun and Moon brought new Pokemon, a break from the Gym formula, and a number of updates that make the seventh generation (Ultra Sun and Moon included) the most approachable and prettiest Pokemon games yet. With an overwhelming roster of monsters to catch, Sun and Moon's UI improvements made it easier to battle without an encyclopedic knowledge of every Pokemon, as well as train your prize fighters for the competitive metagame. But if you fell somewhere between newcomer and meta player, a mediocre story and pacing issues may have been disappointing.
Ultra Sun and Moon immediately streamline the originals' slow start. As a newcomer to Alola, you quickly get your first Pokemon and are initiated into the Island Challenge, a series of trials that Alolan Pokemon trainers undergo to prove themselves. Instead of meeting all the characters and going through a few cutscenes before picking your starter Pokemon, this time around you get to pick a starter right away and then go through the introductory story beats. The result is an opening that doesn't hold your hand in the same way it did before--though it still has the obligatory Pokemon-catching tutorial, among others--and lets you wander more freely, a welcome change for both returning and new players.
Even before the first trial, you'll have the opportunity to catch some pretty good Pokemon covering a variety of types and needs, including Pichu, Gastly, and Rockruff, meaning you can build a useful team early on without going too far out of your way. And you won't have to spend much, if any, time grinding to make it through the Island Challenge as long as you battle any trainers you encounter on your journey.
Some of the trials are slightly different this time, like the one where you have to find a series of ingredients to make a stew, which adds a more puzzle-like element to stave off the fetch quest feel. Most notably, though, the battles against the powerful Totem Pokemon seem a little more sophisticated; the ally Pokemon that join these extra-powerful opponents in battle will sometimes use doubles support moves like Sunny Day to throw a wrench in your plans, and the added challenge is more satisfying to overcome.
Other than the trial tweaks, the next 15 or so hours--roughly the first three islands--are essentially the same as Sun and Moon, but new, small details break up the stretches of repetition. Your Rotom Pokedex asks you questions and makes adorable faces as you get to know it (though it can be a little too chatty at times). You'll occasionally find a Pokemon in the world that just wants to play with you, and you can do things like play peek-a-boo and even walk through a meadow of playful Pikachu. There are also more side quests to take on, and though they're rather small requests like catching a specific Pokemon or finding a few Pokemon that are hiding in a particular area, they reward thorough exploration and provide fun distractions in between trials. Talking to everyone, too, has its benefits; there are tons of new silly and cute interactions to be had that add even more personality to Alola and its inhabitants.
While all of the best parts of Sun and Moon are present and accounted for and things in general get off to a quicker start, Ultra Sun and Moon's story remains underwhelming. And with the introduction of a new sort-of-antagonist in the robotic, mysterious Ultra Recon Squad duo, there's almost too much going on--especially since there's already two antagonist groups in Alola as is. By the time you've confronted Team Skull and are immediately thrown into a confrontation at the returning Aether Paradise, you'll probably wish you could just get back to your Island Challenge and become the Champion already.
Though they aren't very different from their predecessors, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon make enough changes to stand apart as the definitive version of the seventh generation games. An overly complicated story is offset by charming details that bring even more life to the most vibrant Pokemon region to date, and small fixes iron out the shakier parts of the original journey. If you make it through Alola a second (or even first) time, you'll be rewarded with a fun-filled and uplifting Pokemon adventure with its own share of spoilery surprises in store.
If there's one thing that Star Wars Battlefront II accomplishes well, it's the feeling of being in the universe of the legendary film series. Serving up the greatest hits of all things Star Wars, the follow-up to DICE's 2015 multiplayer-focused game presents a package that features a greater breadth of content, including an admirable single-player campaign. But the game overall is weighed down by an overbearing and convoluted progression system that doesn't value the average player's time, obscuring an otherwise solid Star Wars experience.
Set across the backdrop of the entire Star Wars saga--encompassing the prequels, the original three films, and the new trilogy--Battlefront II's online modes and single-player offerings expand the scope of its galactic battles to feature more variety in its locations. From taking part in aerial dogfights above Kamino to raiding the Death Star II and escaping before its destruction, the sequel puts its campaign and 14 multiplayer maps set across the 40-year history of the series to good use, showing a clear difference in aesthetics and tone from one time-period to the next.
Unlike the first Battlefront, the sequel contains a narrative-driven single-player campaign. Set during the twilight of the Galactic Empire after Return of the Jedi, the story sows the seeds for the First Order in The Force Awakens. You take on the role of Iden Versio, commander of Imperial special-forces outfit Inferno Squad. She normally works to undermine Rebel forces with wet-work missions and other forms of espionage. But after the destruction of the second Death Star, her loyalty to the Empire is put to the test when an increasingly desperate Imperial army takes drastic measures to ensure its future.
While the brisk 4-5 hour campaign features some strong writing and performances from its cast--with some standout levels that show off the visual luster and diversity of locations within the universe--the potential of its Imperial point-of-view soon becomes lost. Falling into some rather predictable twists, the story eventually turns into a familiar by-the-numbers Star Wars adventure, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined, and with a lead up to the final act's confrontation that's signposted from a mile away.
On occasion, the campaign will switch things up with levels that feature familiar faces in entirely different scenarios, adding some moments of levity to the story. The downside of these missions is that they often veer into pure fan-service territory, leaving Iden Versio--who proves to be an interesting character with her unique view on the galactic struggle--standing in the shadow of more-established characters. This is made worse by an abrupt ending that teases future updates to the campaign, instead of delivering a strong conclusion for its hero's journey. The campaign does a decent job of showing the internal strife within the Empire's ranks, even allowing you to explore an eerily sterile and oppressive Imperial civilization on Iden's homeworld of Vardos. But it falls a bit short of making it a remarkable journey for its characters.
Outside of the campaign and massive multiplayer battles, there are side-modes that offer some interesting diversions. The Arcade mode makes a return, featuring themed levels where you battle AI bots as classic Light and Dark side characters. While it isn't a particularly deep mode to dive into, with each mission offering increasing tiers of difficulty for better rewards, it can be fun to try out the different heroes against increasing numbers of enemies. Moreover, the fan-favorite Heroes vs Villains mode makes a return. Cutting out unnecessary filler, players can choose their unlocked characters--such as the rocket wielding Boba Fett, to the unstable Kylo Ren--and compete in 4v4 battles in over-the-top and ridiculous fashion. Heroes vs Villains will be the mode to unwind and cut loose with, away from the chaos of the epic conflicts.
Battlefront II's main attraction is its expansive multiplayer content. From the 40-player conquest battles in Galactic Assault to the smaller, infantry-focused skirmishes in Blitz and Strike, there's a greater variety of multiplayer modes than before. Selecting from several infantry classes and hero characters--including Luke Skywalker, Rey, Han Solo, and the story campaign's Iden Versio--Multiplayer battles are usually intense affairs, especially at the full capacity of 40 players. Along with some stellar visual and sound-design, the large-scale battles have the same exciting flow as Star Wars' most iconic fights, where one heroic action can turn the tide of a conflict.
Over the course of each match, you'll acquire Battle Points, which you can cash-in for mid-battle rewards--such as piloting special starfighters or taking control of select hero characters to dish out punishment. While Galactic Assault will likely be the most popular mode for fans to see much of the game's systems in action, the upgraded Starfighter Assault deserves recognition. Now with more responsive and tighter controls for maneuvering your vessels, the aerial- and space-focused mode features Battlefront II's most intense missions. There's nothing more exciting than piloting an A-Wing interceptor through a tight space and pulling off a killer shot in the nick of time.
Your set of troopers, starfighters, and hero characters can be boosted with Star Cards. They can amplify stats, add bonus attributes, and even give characters alternate loadouts--such as replacing a Heavy trooper's energy shield for a grenade launcher. As you acquire more Star Cards and increase their ranks for a particular class or hero, the overall level for that character increases. The number of ways you can modify your characters is impressive, and the game gives you options to switch things up however you see fit. After each battle, you'll collect experience for your overall multiplayer rank and credits to purchase loot crates in the in-game store. Unfortunately, the focus on chasing Star Cards--and the prominence of loot crates--reveals bigger issues related to the progression.
"The biggest problem with this system is that it's never clearly explained."
Not only is this entire system confusing, it's also problematic that most of your unlocks and earnings come from opening loot crates. By relying on randomly yielded weapons, resources, cosmetic items, and Star Cards of varying grades, Battlefront II ties its progression to dice rolls. You can acquire and upgrade Star Cards on your own by using crafting components (also found in loot crates), but this also leads into the problem of gating. To upgrade a card, you have to ensure that your class level and overall multiplayer ranking meet certain standards--which in turn means having to rank up several levels in-game, and spending precious resources on loot crates for more resources and cards. Simply focusing on the characters and classes you like to play isn't enough.
Due to the randomness, and the inherent dependence on the loot crates, progression is often dictated by what these results are. This can steer you away from classes you'd prefer to use, and more annoying results in receiving cards for hero characters you have yet to unlock. With how progression is structured, simply spending time with the Heavy or Assault classes does not guarantee more loot for them, as advancing them is all tied to the luck of the draw. This is especially frustrating when you invest so much time in the game--coming across others online who've had better luck or purchased pre-orders copies to acquire epic cards for their characters--only to see your favorite classes fall by the wayside due to the overall systems working against your favor.
While the game gives you options to purchase premium currency in the form of crystals--which you can buy in bundles costing up to $100--these can only be used to buy more loot crates. This is all made worse by the cumbersome menu system, which prompts you to exit out of multiplayer games to collect your paltry rewards from milestones and challenges while also obscuring vital info such as player rank and class data.
The biggest problem with this system is that it's never clearly explained. While you'll eventually come to understand how credits, crystals, and crafting components are used, you'll still have to reconcile the fact that the time you invest in the game won't always be rewarded with progress, or at least in the way you want.
In this way, Battlefront II plants itself in the same territory as free-to-play games, with much of its content and characters tucked away behind progression walls and randomized loot crates. This is an especially disappointing reality for a full-priced release. Above all, it ends up doing a disservice to the core gameplay, which can still provide solid moments of enjoyment despite the looming presence of its progression systems. Many of these issues related to the meta-game fall by the wayside when you're in the thick of battle, as you're taking part in the massive struggle throughout the many locales in the Star Wars universe.
While its main narrative feels unresolved, and the general loop of the multiplayer carries a number of issues, Battlefront II still manages to evoke that same sense of joy and excitement found in the core of what the series is all about. But as it stands, the biggest hurdle that Battlefront II will need to overcome--for its simultaneous attempts to balance microtransactions with genuine feeling of accomplishments--is deciding on what type of game it wants to be.
Editor’s note: This will remain a review in progress until we’ve had the opportunity to test Battlefront II’s multiplayer servers on all platforms after launch. And in an unusual set of circumstances, we will also continue to put the game’s progression system through its paces as a result of EA’s rigorous pre-launch rebalancing of Battlefront II's in-game store.
When a game series runs as long as Etrian Odyssey has, you usually start to see some sweeping changes and reinventions to its formula. But Etrian Odyssey has never really been about keeping with the latest gaming trends--after all, its core conceit of exploring a 3D labyrinth that you must carefully map out harkens back to the very earliest days of PC role-playing games. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth continues in that tradition: It offers a big, challenging old-school-style adventure that has been carefully iterated on and improved over the past decade, with various enhancements and refinements bolstering a formula that doesn't need any dramatic changes to stay relevant.
Beyond the Myth plops you down in the continent of Arcania, which is home to a Yggdrasil tree whose mighty branches grow all the way up into the heavens. Surrounding (and within) this great tree is a sprawling labyrinth, with many a myth spun about what lies at the top. Adventurers from across the land come to the kingdom of Iorys, which has just recently permitted exploration of the great tree for the first time. You construct and take control of a guild of adventurers. But many hazards await you on your climb--twisting mazes, unexpected surprises, and myriad monsters, including especially bloodthirsty beasts known as FOEs.
Like previous Etrian Odyssey games, Beyond the Myth focuses on exploration and atmosphere over storytelling. It lets you create a team of adventurers to your liking before setting you free to explore the gigantic labyrinth, with little in the way of extraneous banter (beyond some expository text and events every so often). Your characters don't have much in the way of personality besides what you imagine, and the handful of non-player characters that you encounter outside of town aren't terribly chatty.
In a lot of ways, it feels like a tabletop RPG campaign, with a game master chiming in every so often to describe a character or elaborate on lore, while leaving much to your own interpretation. But Beyond the Myth has a fair bit of voice acting for NPCs and the narrator, as well as battle cries for your created characters. While this sounds like a potentially good thing, the voice acting at large ranges from forgettable to aggravating, ultimately doing more harm than good. Sometimes things are better left to the imagination.
Before you begin your long, treacherous climb, you must assemble a guild from several different classes of characters, ranging from variations on standard RPG classes like Fencer, Pugilist, and Warlock to more esoteric classes like the Necromancer (who can conjure up wraiths as additional party members on a whim) and the Shaman (who wields dual buffing/healing abilities). As you level up, you can put points into character skills as you see fit, to create a truly customized party. Once you get some ways into the game, you'll be able to hyper-specialize characters using Legendary Titles--a new system that effectively replaces the dual-classing system of previous games by allowing you to hyper-focus characters into a particular role (for example, your Dragoons can be unmovable, party-protecting tanks or hard-to-kill damage dealers). The option to hyper-specialize and micromanage your party to your heart's content has always been a strong point of the series, and Beyond the Myth continues that tradition.
A brand-new element added to the character management mix is the choice of races. There are four races of characters, each with distinct stat growth patterns and unique skills: the humanoid Earthlians, rabbit-eared Therians, elf-like Celestrians, and cute-and-tiny Brouni. Each race has unique skills (also powered with skill points), such as elemental resistance debuffs, and passive restoration skills. While this opens up some neat possibilities for additional min-maxing of stats to create superpowered adventurers, it's also kind of a pain to manage at times; not only do you want a nice, balanced mix of party members that work well together, you also want to make sure you have the correct race skills to make your crew run like a well-oiled machine in combat. Sometimes remembering who has which race skills available can get messy.
Once you've made a party, it's time to start the long, arduous hike up that big tree. A common element across Etrian Odyssey games are the grid-based, first-person 3D dungeons that you need to thoroughly explore and manually map out using the 3DS's bottom screen. This isn't an optional thing; you will need to make maps, or else find yourself terribly lost in a sprawling labyrinth of flora and fauna. Fortunately, you have a lot of mapping tools and markers available to you and a new automap feature that will save you from having to manually draw walls (a tremendous time-saver that I recommend turning on immediately). Don't expect automap to do everything for you, though; you'll still want to mark points of interest, hidden passages, and other potential hazards.
Speaking of hazards, the labyrinth houses plenty of them, mostly in the form of monsters that inhabit each successively more demanding floor. From the moment a member of your fledgling party gets one-shotted by a rabid flying squirrel on the first floor in your starting expedition, you know you're in for some grueling fights.
The combination of careful, quiet exploration punctuated by fierce combat is what makes Beyond the Myth so much fun.
Fortunately, a variety of improvements makes combat a lot more enjoyable. For starters, the "enemy radar" in the dungeons is more accurate, allowing you to know almost exactly when you can expect an encounter to pop up (and prepare if you need to). It's also possible to check enemy data mid-fight, meaning that you don't have to memorize a bunch of weaknesses and details over the course of the game. Finally, a "Basic" difficulty setting makes the game slightly more merciful, altering stats and damage by a small amount in your favor and increasing experience gains. Thankfully, you can turn it on and off at a whim.
The combination of careful, quiet exploration punctuated by fierce combat is what makes Beyond the Myth so much fun. Seeing your meticulously planned party finally take down a fearsome FOE that's been giving you trouble for hours is immensely satisfying, while little text-based side events that litter the dungeons as you explore are enjoyable in a different but no-less-engaging way. By focusing instead on small improvements to systems and ideas that already worked well, Etrian Odyssey 5 is a long and challenging RPG that sucks you in and leaves you determined to see what lies above.
From its opening stage, Sonic Forces displays a number of issues that are emblematic of the journey ahead: Its insistent tutorial messages interrupt your initial sprint down a winding road, the cinematic transition sequences that take you from one path the next that renders you an observer, not an active participant, and right as you're about to settle into the glee of your mad dash forward, the stage ends. In this 3D Sonic game, developer Sonic Team attempts to iterate upon the formula of games like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors, but it falls short due to frustrating design choices and inconsistent level design. Even its most entertaining moments come with caveats.
The game's story once again sees Sonic getting involved in a battle against Dr. Eggman--this time over the fate of the world. The conniving scientist recruits the expertise of a powerful entity known as Infinite, who he uses to make short work of the blue hedgehog. Six months pass and Dr. Eggman has nearly taken over the entire planet, leaving Sonic and his friends in a tough position. To combat the threat, a ragtag group of freedom fighters consisting of Sonic, a younger version of himself, most of his supporting cast, and a new character you personally create--simply named "the Rookie"--come together.
At first, Sonic Forces' emphasis on story seems like a refreshing shift from the predominantly simple plot lines of recent games in the series. However, even though the heightened stakes provide an interesting power shift, they never culminate into anything interesting or impactful. It's only in Sonic Forces' levity where it manages to be somewhat entertaining, turning to puns or brief comedic situations to elicit a snicker, but all too infrequently.
Throughout your adventure, you'll switch back and forth between playing as either Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic, or your custom character. Both Classic and Modern Sonic play similarly to their past iterations, with some minor additions: Modern Sonic has a double-jump and Classic Sonic comes equipped with Sonic Mania's Drop Dash ability; both are welcome tools that better distinguish the two hedgehogs. But the biggest addition to the formula is your custom character, who sports special weapons called Wispons that grant unique offensive and movement abilities. For example, the Drill Wispon allows you to quickly charge through foes or ride up and down walls. All three characters play distinctly from one another, and there are fleeting thrills to be had in plowing through robots with a speed boost or using a homing attack on a series of flying creatures to quickly clear a path towards the finish line. However, the excitement of these high speed escapades are held back by clunky platforming and unwieldy movement.Expect to repeatedly careen off the edge of a stage in your mad dash forward.
During platforming and speed sequences, you frequently plummet down bottomless pits due to how abruptly your character builds up speed before a jump or how a road's bumpers aren't made clear. While death is to be expected, the level design repeatedly miscommunicates the placement of oncoming hazards and the timing required to avoid them. Admittedly, practice means you inevitably develop the reflexes demanded of you over time, but even with experience, the game's inconsistencies mean you'll often end up stuck on a ramp mid-run or make a double-jump that simply doesn't flow the way you want. Sonic Forces' sense of control is erratic and unreliable, resulting in a wealth of unintentional deaths and bizarre collisions with environmental hazards.
Sonic Forces' level design does little to accommodate your need for speed. Although Modern Sonic and your custom character have abilities that encourage you to push forward at a blistering pace, it's often smarter to slow down. Telegraphing the right time to go fast has always been a major design issue in the series, but it's magnified here, where obstacles and platforming sequences that require slower, more methodical movements aren't as explicitly signposted as they should be. The game does a poor job of teaching you the flow of its design, instead relying on multiple frustrating and unfair deaths to educate you on the intricacies of a stage's pacing.Set-pieces typically boil down to simplistic quick-time events that take you out of the high-speed action.
There's a pervading sense of monotony across Sonic Forces' seven unremarkable worlds. Nearly all the obstacles you encounter are rehashes of concepts and mechanics from previous games; lane-based level design, grind rails, speed boost sections, and side-scrolling platforming sequences all make a return. A set-piece sometimes breaks up the pace, but these encounters usually boil down to simplistic quick-time events that make you feel passive to the action happening on-screen rather than an active participant. Multiple routes or lanes in a stage create the illusion of branching paths, but they're so brief that they feel more like quick diversions than actual alternate pathways. It doesn't help that stages are also incredibly short, typically clocking in at two-and-a-half minutes. With cutscenes before and after each stage, you can't help but wish there was a little more ground to cover before reaching the finish line.
Your custom character's Wispons add some variety to the mechanics, but even those are limited, as there are only a couple that offer practical benefits. For instance, the Lightning Wispon allows you to zip through a line of rings, often leading you to alternate routes in a stage. Out of the seven Wispons available, you're likely to stick to using one or two, as there's rarely any incentive to experiment once you've grown accustomed to how a couple work.
In terms of performance, Sonic Forces runs smoothly at 60 frames per second on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. The Switch version, however, runs at 30 frames per second and suffers from a downgrade in visuals comparatively while docked or undocked. While tolerable, the higher frame rate of the other versions gives them a significant bump over the game's performance on Switch.
It'd be fair to write Sonic Forces off as another weak entry in the series. It's numerous shortcomings make for an uneven, often frustrating gameplay experience. However, knowledge of its various flaws can make for a smoother second run through. In replaying for S-ranks it's possible to use your accumulated knowledge of a stage's hazards and its most illogical pitfalls, the growing pains of overcoming these obstacles slightly lessened. It was rewarding and enjoyable to go back to older stages to take the most efficient routes, knowing precisely when to increase Sonic's speed to earn faster times. That said, acquiring S-ranks and completing challenges isn't entirely difficult, which makes the endeavor of replaying stages short lived, especially considering how brief stages can be. And speed running or not, Sonic Forces' ill-designed stages and poor handling are still major obstacles that detract from your time spent playing.
For years the Sonic series has come up short in its 3D games. It wasn't until Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations that the series was able to grasp a semblance of quality that could change the perception of the series as a whole for the better. Sonic Forces ultimately fails to advance the mechanics of previously successful 3D Sonic games, or present them in their best light. A mediocre platformer at best, Sonic Forces manages to do nothing more than reinforce long held stereotypes against Sega's beloved blue blur.
When you bring up "difficult games," the first thing that comes to mind for many Japanese players isn't Dark Souls, but the NES game Spelunker, thanks to the many ridiculous ways that the game's hero can die very, very easily. This notoriety has given Spelunker a cult following big enough for developer Tozai Games and publisher Square-Enix to reimagine it on modern platforms--while implementing all the little idiosyncrasies that made Spelunker so infamous in the first place.
The game follows Spelunker, Spelunkette, and companions as they travel to the depths of the earth in search of a mysterious energy source that's causing strange events across the globe. You and up to four friends, either on- or offline, go exploring in stages filled with hazards large and small (though size doesn't really matter when everything kills you). These stages are divided up into several smaller sections, and everyone playing needs to reach the end of one section before they can move on to the next. Oftentimes, this involves collecting multiple colored keys to open doors blocking the way to the section gates. Other collectibles are scattered around the stages as well: Bombs and flares add to your ammo supply, gold lets you use various in-game features like excavating for items, and Litho-stones contain pieces of new gear that can boost the heroes' stats and level up with use.
One thing Spelunker Party does particularly well: It recreates the myriad absurd ways that Spelunker can die an ignoble death. If you're used to platforming heroes who can survive a fall of more than a foot, it's going to take quite some time to get used to Spelunker dying after attempting jumps that any other action game protagonist would easily survive (and that's not even taking into the account the absurd one-hit deaths from things like self-inflicted explosions and bat poop, either). But that's the way Spelunker was, and that's how Spelunker party is: true to its source in a way that some players will find charming, and others will find aggravating.
Thankfully, Spelunker Party's level design takes these weakness into account. Yes, the stages are challenging--owed mostly to the limitations of the old-school mechanics-- but they rarely cross the border into downright unfair territory, instead rewarding you for cautious play. They also have a fair bit of variety to them, and introduce new gameplay mechanics over time--some of which turn out far better than others (I really don't think Spelunker needed expanded water physics or boss fights). Stages also tend to go quite long, which can be a terrifying prospect as a solo Spelunker: If you run out of the five lives you're given on each stage attempt, you lose everything that you collected since you started the stage, and you must start the level over from scratch. This can get very frustrating once you reach the even-more-difficult later and optional levels.
Thankfully, there's a way to offset this difficulty significantly, and that's by playing with others either on- or offline. The addition of more people to play with transforms Spelunker Party into a cooperative platforming experience that's far more fun than the solo mode. Local multiplayer allows for you to play split-screen with up to three other people in the same room. Communication is a big thing here, as you can coordinate exploration duties, help guide folks through difficult areas, and--most importantly--have a mutual laugh at the dumb deaths you all take.
Online play is similar, though lack of voice communication in the Switch version of the game hinders it. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the multiplayer is that you're not automatically toast when you run out of lives; one your lives counter hits zero, you respawn at your last checkpoint with 30 seconds on a timer. If another player comes back to save you, you're back in commission – but if time runs out, you're out of the stage for good. The back-and-forth revival mechanics make the stages a lot easier to tackle, lead to tense situations, and even present moral quandaries--is it worth trying to backtrack through a space littered with hazards in 30 seconds to save another player, or do you simply mourn for the fallen and make haste to the exit with your loot? Is it worth constantly reviving a weak link in the group? That's something you'll have to decide for yourself.
But while Spelunker Party is far more fun with others, finding friends who can put up with the rigid, old-fashioned game mechanics and grind might prove challenging. Much of Spelunker Party's free-to-play lineage is still evident: While microtransactions are absent, the game pushes you to replay levels in order to earn money, boost scores and experience points (both for your player, companion animals, and individual pieces of gear), and collect Litho-stones. Perhaps most frustratingly, collected Litho-stones don't grant loot immediately--they only represent pieces of items that are assembled over the course of playing and replaying levels. Even the game's quest system seems purposely designed to waste as much of your time as possible; they function like achievements (collect X number of items, defeat ghosts, and so on), but you must manually select each one, and you can only take on a single such quest at a time when, ideally, the game should be automatically tracking this stuff from the outset and rewarding you as you go.
Spelunker Party is a bit of a hard sell. If you can get a bunch of old-school-minded players together as a group and are prepared to laugh at yourself (and others) over a bunch of stupid deaths, it's a pretty great time. As a solo experience, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even if you like the absurdly strict mechanics, the grindy nature of the game and the overly long stages simply don't lend themselves well to solo play. Spelunker Party, much like the original game it's based on, can be a hard game to love, but if you're prepared to dig deep with some friends, it can be a gem.
The Steven Universe cartoon is a conceptual gold mine, and an RPG may be the perfect kind of game to showcase its bubbly and feisty superhero personalities. Following its 2015 mobile RPG (Steven Universe: Attack The Light), developer Grumpyface successfully captures much of what makes the show special in Steven Universe: Save the Light. Though somewhat tragically, the otherwise lovable adventure is regularly disrupted by underlying technical issues.
For most of the game, it's just Steven and up to three of his besties getting into some relatively standard RPG shenanigans. You explore the environment, pick up loot where you find it, run into wandering enemies, and take them on in active-time turn-based combat. Like its predecessor, Save the Light is an RPG from the Paper Mario school of game design. Combat emphasizes contextual button presses, where hitting your mark does extra damage, defends against attacks, or adds effects. This comes with the minor-but-nifty twist that characters don't necessarily have to act when their turn comes around, but can instead bank Star Points for more expensive abilities in future turns. Strategy comes down to determining how best to dismantle an enemy, not necessarily whose turn it is.
The vibrant cardboard cutout art style manages to admirably convey the spirit of the show without being an exact copy. One area, the Strawberry Battlefield, is particularly stunning, with warm green natural beauty and plump fruit engulfing the still-discernible remains of deadly weaponry and wartime detritus. The game’s fixed camera angles give you a good look at the expansive environments; however, the camera often has trouble adjusting as your party moves around the map, and sometimes the camera doesn't follow you at all.
The character animations are also a source of joy, with every little action conveying a ton of personality. Peridot doing a fiddly Super Mario Bros. 2-esque Luigi jump is one of those little treats that constantly makes you smile. The music follows suit: While the number of tracks is limited, the tunes themselves are pretty well in line with the show's 8-bit sounds, with gentle synth pop. Even here, the glitches rear their ugly head, with music from the overworld frequently continuing to play when you open the menu screen, leading to a dissonant overlap between tracks.
Traversing the environment presents the most debilitating problem of the game, which lies with the AI. All four of your party members are onscreen at once, and it's all too easy for characters to get stuck behind objects, seemingly forgetting that they have the ability to jump and could use it to regain freedom. To make the situation worse, the game doesn't auto-teleport lost characters to your location when a battle starts, so getting into an encounter with a glitched-out party means that the battle starts with only one character, or sometimes not at all (which can only be fixed by quitting and restarting the area). Latter portions of the game are extremely puzzle- and platforming-heavy, which exacerbates the problem.
Still, the game almost makes up for it by staying staunchly true to its source material, as far as the fine details go. Fry bits and donuts restore health; Together Breakfasts heal the entire party; you can use Bismuth's forge to upgrade weapons; Onion sells goods in hidden areas of every stage, like the shady little criminal that he is.
But where the show's personality really shines through is in the character progression: While leveling up gives characters a number of upgrade points to pour into different stats, the most powerful attacks and abilities are predicated off of the characters looking out for each other. A few of the basic attacks utilize that philosophy by themselves; Steven can play his ukulele for his allies to boost their attacks, and Greg can do the same and heal them (it's worth noting that these instruments add guitar/ukulele tracks to the background soundtrack). When the relationship meter between two characters is full, they can either perform a team-up attack... or if it's two Gems, they can perform a special dance that allows them to meld together and become a Fusion (an ultimate version of each Gem from the show that can deal out major damage).
After a particularly tough battle, Steven will often stop the journey in its tracks to tell one of his traveling companions how great they are, which not only increases their relationship, but grants additional XP. Yes, every character can just hammer away at enemies and still do well--but true success in Save the Light is nothing without a little help from your friends. Save the Light plays like your typical RPG, but the notion that you're off on an adventure with your best friends is tied to the game’s systems in an extraordinary way. If this was all Save the Light was, we'd be talking about a simple-but-enjoyable RPG, and a pitch-perfect way to hang around in Steven's universe between seasons of the show. Unfortunately, it’s still brought down by the fact the game being broken in some major ways.
There was a time when the thought of playing a game like 2016's Doom on Nintendo Switch seemed too good to be true. Yet here we are, playing Doom on Switch. While it's impressive to see it running on a portable system at all, Nintendo's convertible console obviously can't stand up to the performance of other consoles or PCs. Doom has endured a few compromises during its transition to a more modest platform, and depending on your tolerance for blurry visuals and fiddly controls, these cut corners may be a deal breaker no matter how fascinating the experience is at first blush.
One thing is certain, however: Doom's campaign is all here, accompanied by the leaderboard-centric arcade mode. Just like before, you push through hordes of demons with bullets and gut-wrenching melee takedowns while a heavy metal soundtrack encourages you to go faster and hit harder. As enemies scale, your weaponry follows, offering a gratifying escalation of excitement befitting Doom's reputation.
This is not to say that Doom's campaign was perfect to begin with, and the same issues it had in the past persist on Switch. There's a fair amount of repetition to deal with, some of which diminishes what should be a monumental milestone: landing on the ground in Hell. You wind up going to and fro multiple times, and despite the feverish action that carries you along the way, there is an amount of deja vu to contend with that saps your enthusiasm, if ever so slightly.
Ultimately, Doom's fast-paced combat makes the occasionally repetitive journey worth taking, and the addition of arcade mode allows you to focus on action alone if you have little interest in the game's so-so narrative or mission structure. The mode was introduced on other platforms in a post-release update and is designed for people who want to either practice their speedrunning skills or rank on internet leaderboards. Multipliers and other score-boosting elements have been introduced to encourage different tactics, and in some cases, to create an unlikely path around a map for optimal scores and efficiency.
Every stage of the campaign is unlocked in arcade mode from the start, and you're allowed to pick and choose from the weapons that would normally be available to you, in addition to every rune perk (regardless of mission), when choosing your loadout. The freedom to hop back and forth throughout the game is a boon as a returning player, though it's constructed in such a way that you might want to dip your toes in the campaign from the start to get your bearings if you haven't played Doom since 2016. Unless you're able to find the rare extra lives amidst all the chaos, one death is all it takes for your run to end in arcade mode.
One of the unfortunate realities of playing such a demanding game with Switch Joycons is that you're bound by the limitations of small analog sticks. Doom offers sensitivity and camera smoothing adjustments that do help to a degree, but compared to playing on the full-sized Pro Controller, Joycons feel notably less reliable. And despite the options menu hinting at motion controls when docked, they don't apply to aiming--you just waggle the right joycon to melee enemies, which isn't as responsive or effective as simply pressing in the right analog stick.
Switch's screen can also prove problematic when facing a room of sprinting demons. It may just be too small to provide the encompassing experience the game's toughest challenges demand. It's also strange to see the UI as it is, with a font size so small that you'll be hard-pressed to quickly read menus when playing undocked. None of this is to say that Doom is unplayable or unenjoyable on the go, it's just the least optimal way to play.
No matter how you approach playing Doom on Switch, you will undoubtedly have to contend with blurry visuals. Bethesda has promised the game will run at 720p regardless of whether your Switch is docked or not. In practice, even if Doom is outputting a 720p signal, It frequently shifts into lower gear, presenting not only low-res textures and models, but an overall muddied image that indicates dynamic resolution switching and stretching. There are rare moments when Doom appears sharp and clear, but you regularly see drastic swings in quality.
There's nothing else like it on a portable system, but be prepared to face a handful of compromises, especially if you're used to playing on other platforms.
If you can stand to look at a lesser version of Doom's once captivating world, you'll find that the game plays well enough on Switch so long as you've got a TV in front of you and a Pro Controller in hand. There's nothing else like it on a portable system, but be prepared to face a handful of compromises, especially if you're used to playing on other platforms.
For a more in-depth look at Doom, be sure to check out our original review of the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions from 2016. Come back in a couple days for our final review after we've put Doom's multiplayer modes to the test on Switch.
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Sometimes it's not clear what a game is trying to do, exactly, or what you were meant to get out of playing it. Sometimes a game just exists, and you finish it feeling neither richer nor poorer for having played. Oure is one such game; it's pleasant in parts, but it lacks a clear vision and sense of purpose.
In Oure you play as a young boy or girl who, in the game's opening moments, is pushed through a glowing door of light and finds themselves suddenly able to transform into a long and slender dragon, one obviously inspired by Chinese mythology. This type of dragon is a traditional sign of prosperity, and the game implies throughout that the actions you take may be repairing a broken world. Of course. There's a personal cost--there usually is in this sort of narrative--but there's not much in the way of pathos in this plot.
After a brief tutorial you're unleashed into an open expanse of clouds and invited to fly around the game's hub, following glowing markers to your next objective and collecting scattered blue orbs to progress. The dragon is simple to control, because there's not actually a lot it can do--you can climb up or dive down while flying through the air, and speed up if your stamina has recharged. The dragon is pleasantly zippy, and snaking through the skies at fast speeds is inherently satisfying. Gliding through the air, dipping into clouds, chasing orbs, and simply existing peacefully as the dragon is the most enjoyable part of the game. Unfortunately, the appeal of flying around wanes fairly quickly--the sky holds few surprises, and there's never a major change of pace or scenery. Wherever you go, it's just clouds as far as the eye can see, and the few collectables and additional pieces of lore you can scavenge aren't going to amount to anything significant beyond a few PlayStation Trophies. The novelty of flying around as a dragon wears thin because the game gives you little sense of purpose outside of your primary objective.
Your ultimate goal is to tame eight Titans, and to do so you need to collect the aforementioned orbs (although you can finish the game having collected less than a quarter of them) and activate pillars scattered around the map. Doing so is as simple as flying to them and finding their nearby activation point, at which point a Titan sequence will kick off. Most of these encounters are over within a few minutes, and combined they don't add up to much. The Titans might be epic in scale but taking them down is either very simple or annoyingly fiddly, with the game never quite finding the right balance in between.
The relaxing tone of flying through the clouds is at odds with these Titan sequences, and it's hard to identify a coherent link between the two parts of the game. The goal in each sequence is to grab every one of the glowing spires attached to a Titan, flying over them and figuring out the best way to approach the Titan's weak points. Each one requires a different method, but there's nothing here that feels particularly distinct--if you’ve played games with boss fights in them you'll be familiar with many of the approaches. After you grab a spire you'll have to solve a quick line-drawing puzzle, a la The Witness, to pull it out. Once all of them are pulled out the Titan will be tamed.
Among these sections there are quite a few good ideas, like scouring a creature's back for puzzle clues or one sequence that resembles a simplistic arcade shooter (albeit one where you don't shoot back), but these sequences aren't rich enough to elicit a strong response or make them memorable. I never felt a sense of achievement beating any of them, and by the time I'd defeated all eight I was surprised that the game had so little to offer. The difficulty curve is all over the place, too. The second Titan, which will occasionally knock you back with gusts of wind unless you grab onto pegs scattered along its enormous back, took me the longest to complete out of any of them. It was frustrating rather than feeling like a fair challenge--there's no indication of when the big gust is about to hit, and losing all your progress along the beast's back every time the wind came felt unfair. Only one Titan encounter felt particularly unique in how it was designed, forcing you to switch between dragon and child forms to progress (and even that one has some frustrating structural issues).
There just isn't very much to Oure beyond aimless exploring, since the battles are unsatisfying and brief and the collectables feel arbitrary. Lazily soaring through the clouds collecting orbs and finding secrets can be momentarily relaxing, but there's no compelling reason to keep exploring the clouds once you've wrapped up the Titan fights. The plot doesn't go anywhere, and the main action sequences feel like a small batch of concept proofs. Oure is the gaming equivalent of a daydream--it's pleasant and light, but it feels like a distraction rather than something worth latching on to.
Need for Speed Payback is the kind of arcade racer that never requires you to lift your foot off the accelerator. Its brazen drifting is effortlessly achieved with aggressive cornering and feathering the brakes, and judicious bursts of nitrous are your best friend down any stretch of open road. There are few games of its ilk nowadays, but perhaps Payback points to a reason why. Despite its impressive visuals and contemporary trappings, Payback's pick-up-and-play driving model harkens back to Need for Speed Underground and its Fast and the Furious-inspired street racing. Yet, unlike the series' heyday, Payback's arcade sensibilities aren't enough to save the game surrounding it from wallowing in mundanity.
Where Need for Speed was once heavily influenced by Vin Diesel and co.'s predilection for tuner cars and Japanese imports, it's now taking cues from the more recent Dwayne Johnson-centric entries, with heists and over-the-top action as the order of the day. Set in the fictional US state of Fortune Valley, Payback's derivative tale of betrayal and vengeance takes place against the backdrop of an expansive open world that surprises with its range and variety. The faux-Las Vegas of Silver Rock is a glistening urban jungle of glitz and greed that gradually broadens out into sun-kissed deserts, precarious mountain ranges, and the twisting turns that skirt through its forest wilderness. With a steady framerate and impressive draw distance, Fortune Valley's slice of diverse countryside is picturesque at times, yet its locales are never distinct or memorable enough to make a lasting impression, and speaks to an open world that fulfills its role without ever standing out.
And the same can be said of Payback's story. After our three plucky protagonists are double-crossed during a heist gone awry at the game's outset, they set a plan in motion to exact revenge on their conniving defector and the ominous criminal syndicate she represents. It's a simple enough conceit that gives purpose to the game's structure, as you're tasked with defeating various archetypal racing crews in order to earn a shot at your nemesis.
It's the type of clichéd story you'd ideally want to turn your brain off for; yet there's not a noticeable shred of self-awareness involved, and its earnesty does it no favours. The dialogue is hammy, but not in a fun B-movie way, and it frequently goes out of its way to reference everything from The Matrix to Dragon Ball Z, with some cringe-inducing millennial slang shoehorned in for good measure. There's also the kind of forced banter that's become commonplace in video games and is dutifully featured here--where, for example, calling someone "Lil' Ty" is absolutely hilarious to anyone within earshot. All of this might have been bearable if the story was confined to intermittent cutscenes, but the narrative is so prevalent in everything you do that there's little respite from its hackneyed storytelling.
Infrequent story missions do at least latch onto the pomp and spectacle of Payback's Fast and the Furious inspiration, but it falters here, too. While these moments of vehicle-based histrionics feature its most visually arresting set pieces, they're frequently spoiled when the game rips control away from you just as things are getting interesting. Whether it's launching an 18-wheeler off a bridge, perilously driving alongside a truck on the wrong side of the road so your partner can hop aboard, or something as simple as using a car transporter as a ramp; as soon as the game deviates from the simple act of driving from point to point, control is wrestled away in favour of canned cutscenes. This might look more cinematic, but being forced to watch a scene you could feasibly control from behind the wheel is incredibly disheartening, and feeds into Payback's inherent dullness.
This all combines to make a game that's bland and unfulfilling, and is only exacerbated by the sheer amount of grinding you're required to do.
Like previous Need for Speed games, you'll pull up to checkpoints within the open-world, with race, off-road, drift, drag, and runner events providing plenty of variety. There are also Forza Horizon-esque speed traps and drift challenges spread out across the open-world, and these provide minor distractions on the way to each checkpoint. Race and off-road events speak for themselves, and drift competitions offer an anomalous thrill. Getting your car sideways is so easy that there's a singular pleasure in simply seeing how long you can maintain a drift for, while drag events are short and sweet but soon grow repetitive as you're essentially just staring at a meter to time your gear shifts. Races and time trials are occasionally interspersed between the traditional drag events in an attempt to break up the monotony, but having to heave these cumbersome vehicles around the twisting turns of a race track isn't a great alternative. Meanwhile, runner events focus on police chases and timed dashes between various points on the map.
The problem is, outside of drift events where it's a non-factor, the sense of speed in Payback is startlingly lacking. The speedometer may say so, but there's no tangible sense that you're hurtling down the road at 160 miles per hour in a fuel-guzzling death trap. Motion blur attempts to sell a fast pace, but never captures the sensation that the world's rushing by. It's all surprisingly pedestrian, with passive AI racers and police chases that are elementary. The cops might be aggressive but you never have to outthink or outmaneuver them; escaping is as simple as reaching a specific checkpoint. Pursuits are just glorified time trials, and even the damage model lacks steel-crumpling detail, so takedowns are underwhelming.
This all combines to make a game that's bland and unfulfilling, and is only exacerbated by the sheer amount of grinding you're required to do. Each event in Payback is gated by your car's level in the most egregious case of caRPG mechanics in recent memory. Each vehicle you own has six slots for Speed Cards that represent various parts under the hood (like the gearbox and ECU) and come with perks that will increase particular stats and your car's overall level. Each event has a recommended level, and since there's no scaling this means you'll usually have to spend upwards of 40 minutes or so collecting Speed Cards to upgrade your car. It's possible to win races if you're a smidgen below the recommended level, but any more than that and the AI is likely to leave you in the dust. The AI might be lacklustre, but there's no way to compete when they're in significantly faster cars.
You can purchase these Speed Cards with in-game currency at tune-up shops, but whether they have useful parts or not is down to timing, with stores refreshing their stock every 30 minutes. But you also need this cash to buy new cars. You can trade in unwanted Speed Cards for part tokens, with every three able to be exchanged for a new card, and you also earn a single card for each event you win. But this means you're constantly reaching these frustrating choke points, where the only way to progress through the story is by going back and replaying old events in order to earn enough Speed Cards to bump up your level. There's even a Trophy / Achievement for replaying races that literally mentions grinding in the description. And when you factor in the ability to expedite the process with microtransaction loot boxes, it feels geared towards encouraging you to part with real money unless you want to spend time replaying lukewarm parts of the game over again. There's nothing fun about repeating events, especially against opponents that are now at a significantly lower level than you are. But the alternative solution of spending real money doesn't bear thinking about.
Need for Speed Payback's banal racing is only magnified by this focus on grinding. The simple, almost retro, handling model provides occasional bouts of fun, but it's never enough to escape Payback's flaws, with an unwillingness to let you partake in its most hair-raising moments, and a general drabness that seeps into every layer of the game. Fast and Furious, this is not; and that's a disappointing outcome.
With its incredible-looking environments and an ornate combat system, Horizon: Zero Dawn is an easy game to slip back into (even if you've ignored it for the better part of a year). The Frozen Wilds expansion makes a return visit even more enticing with new gear and challenges to seek out in the frozen north, with fresh enemies balanced to fit into the game's latter half. There's also a new storyline, which slightly expands your knowledge of the past and hints at events to come. Those revelations alone aren't terribly exciting, but as an excuse to revisit one of the best games of the year, Aloy's new journey hardly suffers from that small disappointment.
The Frozen Wilds primarily takes place in a previously unforeseen stretch of land that encompasses roughly 10-15 hours of new side quests and errands. Snow isn't new to Horizon, but it's never felt as ubiquitous as it does here. Mountain passes, valleys, and forests are choked with snow both on the ground and in the air. And when the sun cuts through the atmosphere just right, individual snowflakes take on gorgeous pink hues that make an already pretty game even prettier.
This scenic territory belongs to a tribe known as the Banuk, who have long lived in isolation from the rest of society. They follow a strict code of conduct that has more to do with self-reliance and pride than it does with justice and order. The constraints therein put pressure on Banuk in various ways, and most of your objectives in The Frozen Wilds focus on helping individuals overcome their personal struggles with tradition.
Your primary task has bigger implications, however, as a Banuk shaman living on the outskirts unknowingly holds the key to a new chunk of historical data and a new facet of the technological powers operating behind the scenes. Both this quest line and personality-driven side quests deliver heaps of dialogue, which, like Horizon's exchanges at large, range from heartfelt scenes to perfunctory filler.
But as excuses to clash with new sparking mechanical beasts, practically every mission in The Frozen Wilds feels valuable. The three fresh monsters are hugely formidable opponents that require considerable effort to defeat, and they are joined by a new power tier for every enemy--one step above "corrupted"--which makes pre-existing machines faster and stronger than ever. As you're shepherded along to new points on the map, you'll also discover strange towers that heal nearby enemies, their loud bellows making stealthy approaches even more stressful than usual.
Of the few new additions, the two grizzly bear machines--one uses ice, the other fire--stand out from the pack. They are capable of running on all fours or standing tall on their hind legs, and employ a wide range of hard-hitting attacks that punish delayed thinking in a heartbeat. Taking them down calls upon expert targeting and intelligent use of elements, the latter of which is linked to the new casting staffs introduced with the Banuk. These purely elemental weapons are perfect for putting enemies into a vulnerable state, to be followed up by attacks from more traditional weaponry. They prove useful beyond the frozen north as well, and it's easy to imagine (as a returning player who's already finished the game) how their capabilities would have come in handy during past trials.
Beyond new weapons, you'll also find a new grade of armor that adds an additional modification slot to standard armor types, as well as the Banuk's new gear, which carries auto-healing properties. Most new gear, if not given to you, is acquired through the usual mix of resources, which also includes the territory exclusive currency, Bluegleam. These gems are rewarded for completing quests and exploring the wilderness, and are in very short supply. You have to work to earn your new toys, but that's OK; the "work" is what makes Horizon so enjoyable.
The biggest and farthest-reaching addition has to be the new Traveler skill tree. Geared towards making your life easier and more efficient, traveler skills include things like disassembling extra items (rather than selling or discarding them), procuring resources while on horseback, and expanding your resource stash at large--all things that would have been immensely useful throughout Horizon. Seeing these new skills having already finished the main game isn't terribly inspiring unless you've got a lot of lingering quests left to hunt in the main map, or if you've been holding off on starting a New Game + run.
That said, coming back to Horizon for The Frozen Wilds alone is still worthwhile for the fights and sights, but it ultimately feels like a missing chapter, rather than an eye-opening extension of what came before. It's easy to imagine how newcomers to Horizon will benefit from its new gear and skills the most, for example. Likewise, its story feels better suited as an interlude than the revelatory companion to the conclusion it tries to be. Yet these are feelings that come up after more than a dozen hours of riveting battles and serene hikes flew by, so it's hard to get too upset at such a captivating experience when it's all said and done.
Though it shares a protagonist, art style, and platforming mechanics with 2016's Lucky's Tale on Oculus Rift, Super Lucky's Tale is distinct from its predecessor--at least at first. It features an entirely new set of levels and a greater focus on collectibles, but it's still a paint-by-numbers 3D platformer that lacks depth and falls short of being memorable.
Aside from how it looks, Super Lucky's Tale is almost indistinguishable from an N64-era mascot platformer. Lucky, a plucky fox wearing a little cape, has to save a series of four realms from a band of evil cats known as Kitty Litter. Along the way, you collect clovers to open boss doors and meet cute, if two-dimensional, characters who speak like Sims and need your help. It's never too challenging, always sticking to its safe, time-tested formula as you jump and dodge and collect your way to becoming a hero.
Though it's generic, Super Lucky's Tale is certainly charming, from Lucky's encouraging quips to the little smiles that appear on everyone's, even enemies', faces. Despite being under attack from the Kitty Litter, the worlds are joyous and colorful, looking a little extra sharp on the Xbox One X. The holiday-themed desert world is a standout if only for its offbeat combination of aesthetics--it features Yetis who live in a candy cane- and skeleton-adorned desert and live to wrap presents for each other.
The four worlds are split into five main levels and a handful of optional levels that earn you extra clovers. Most of the main levels are short bursts of 3D platforming, though a few are 2D, and the optional ones vary from constant runners to simple puzzles. The variety is welcome if only because most levels feel too similar; aside from a few mini-challenges in some levels, like corralling a flock of escaped chickens for a weary farmer worm, most of the time you're just jumping past easy-to-avoid obstacles to reach an obvious end point.
There are technically four kinds of collectibles: coins, gems that function essentially as coins, the letters L, U, C, K, and Y, and clovers. But clovers are the only collectibles that matter. There are four to collect in each of the main levels, though you automatically get one just by completing the level. Collecting 300 coins will get you the second clover, the only real benefit to collecting coins; finding a secret, like a underground bonus stage, will net you another; and finding all the letters in Lucky's name, easily the most fun collectible, earns you the fourth. The letters reward deeper investigation and a sharp eye for switches and hidden routes, though only a few of the many letters hidden throughout the game take more than a few extra moments to find.
And you don't need to find them, because you'll likely get enough clovers (or close to it) by playing normally, maybe returning to a level to get one of the coin clovers. You could easily beat Super Lucky's Tale by disregarding anything that takes extra effort, which would be fine if the platforming were enjoyable enough on its own. But a limited 3D camera that doesn't rotate a full 180 degrees and inconsistent mantling on Lucky's part causes enough hiccups to be frustrating. Most of your deaths will be caused by missing or misjudging jumps due to a weird camera angle or Lucky just not grabbing the edge when it looks like he should have.
Across all four of its worlds, Super Lucky's Tale doesn't stray far from its formula. It's consistently cute and full of smiles, but the breeziness of its atmosphere extends to its simple levels. It never builds upon itself or asks much of you, including the building blocks of a 3D mascot platformer without the feeling of accomplishment you get from learning and applying that knowledge to new challenges. It's easy to imagine how Super Lucky's Tale would be the highlight of a younger kid's weekend, but it has little to offer anyone looking for an enjoyably challenging 3D platformer.
Call of Duty's long-awaited return to its World War II roots is not only a homecoming, but also a commemoration of the powerful bonds that form between brothers in arms. Yes, connecting with strangers through online matches and the Zombies mode isn't unusual, but Call of Duty: WWII's moving campaign also salutes the brotherhood that grows and strengthens on the battlefield. Moreover, this theme is cleverly tied to a gameplay mechanic where you rely on your company for resources. Seen through the eyes of an American soldier and a few other Allies, this affecting story offers brief glimpses of how the Nazi occupation ravaged Europe and its people, including German civilians. It's emblematic of a game that--along with its multiplayer modes--delivers practically everything that one looks for in a pick-up-and-play shooter set in the Western Front of World War II while also breaking free of Call of Duty's formulaic trappings.
A first-person shooter set during the journey from Normandy to The Rhine isn't unique, but you haven't quite experienced anything like the tour of Ronald Daniels and the 1st Infantry Division in Call of Duty: WWII. It's a substantial, six-plus-hour trek where intense close-quarters combat complements spectacular showcase events, brought to life through excellent visuals and sound design. The booming cacophony of gunfire is fittingly accompanied by the crispness of the weapon reloads. And it's a journey rich in scenic environments that poignantly contrast against the death and destruction that surrounds you.
A supporting cast of well-crafted personalities greatly enhances the narrative. Moreover, they directly assist you during combat based on your needs and performance. As your best friend, Robert Zussman fittingly takes care of your health pack supplies while the equally helpful Drew Stiles ensures you have enough grenades at the ready. And while the war-hardened William Pierson is an dispassionate commanding officer effectively played by Josh Duhamel, his eagle-eye skill with binoculars allows you to spot outlines of nearby enemies. These contributions are tied to a cooldown that decreases as you kill enemies. This kill-driven method of supply replenishment is undeniably gamified, but it's nonetheless a crafty way to serve the narrative's focus on bonding with your squad.
While this is clearly Daniels' story, developer Sledgehammer thoughtfully shifts your perspective from time to time by putting you in other soldiers' boots, from Perez, a tank commander, to Rousseau, a French resistance operative. These valuable interludes relieve you of playing as the typical one-man army from start to finish. Sure, in the right hands, Daniels can be the war's greatest sniper and an accomplished AA gun operator in the same playthrough, but this campaign is a group effort and ultimately benefits from it.
Combat itself is not about rushing forward to the next objective. It's about hunkering down at nearly every fallen table, picking off just enough Nazis to give you an opening to the next cover point. Whether you're toughing out every yard of forward progress with your best available machine gun, or quietly knifing Nazis in the tough-but-fair stealth sections, the campaign delivers a wealth of harrowing battles where checkpoints feel well-earned. And as you count on your squad for supplies and recon support, you feel empowered as a valuable team player in a company that has your back. The result is a level of gratification missing from the newsreel kitsch and globetrotting designs of the series' last foray into World War II, Call of Duty: World at War.
It's a story supported with just the right amount of emotion, playing out both during firefights and periods in between. You have the option to add to your heroic reputation by saving wounded and exposed comrades or sparing surrendering Nazis. And Sledgehammer carefully humanizes Germans with dialogue that acknowledges the country's cultural contributions as well as having you play through a section where you help innocent civilians escape a heated warzone. Such small touches go a long way in adding heartfelt gravitas in a game focused on killing.
Naturally foregoing the future tech and superhuman mobility of the last few CoDs, the return to mid-20th century combat is especially welcome in WWII's adversarial multiplayer. Fought across 10 diverse maps set throughout Europe, these locales accommodate all the series' basic weapon types, although the prevalence of tight and enclosed areas makes shotguns and submachine guns the popular weapons of choice in Team Deathmatch and other classic modes like the territorially driven Domination or Hardpoint. Whatever your preferred game type, the maps offer a solid mix of symmetrical floorplans like Flak Tower or labyrinthine layouts like the Ardenne Forest.
Gridiron--WWII's version of Uplink--proves that Capture The Flag converted into a ball carrying competition continues to have a place in COD multiplayer. Even without the advantages of double jumps and wall running, there's much strategy at play as you weave in and out of the ruins of Aachen, Germany or the docks of London, the latter toying with the fantasy of Nazis troops on UK soil. It's more nuanced than simply running the ball to the enemy's goal; success lies in knowing when to pass to a teammate or throw the ball forward, allowing you to sprint until you repossess the ball. It's also not unusual to find joy playing whole sessions in a supporting role, whether you're making yourself a diversionary target as the ball carrier's escort or drawing the ire of opponents by camping at your goal.
If you are a sniper fan, your talents shine the brightest in War, Call of Duty: WWII's version of Battlefield's Rush. As a mode where one side of attackers attempt to conquer multiple segments of a map one section at a time, its multi-phase, linear format makes it a prime battleground for long-ranged weapons, whether you're picking off on-foot tank escorts or you're bold enough to zero in on bunker-based machine gunners. The asymmetrical format of assaulting and defending fits the D-Day invasion perfectly as one of the three available operations. Rather than limit the attacking side with finite respawns, the pressure is time-based. While this places the burden of success more on the aggressor's side, playing on either team presents distinct challenges and opportunities to be a valuable contributor. All operations proved involving and satisfying, no matter the side, which makes the limited selection of three sorties the one drawback of this otherwise stellar mode.
Whatever your preferred armaments, Call of Duty: WWII's new Divisions class system excels by letting you make the most of your specific play style while offering the flexibility to diversify your loadouts. By joining the Expeditionary Force for example, you have the exclusive benefit of incendiary shotgun rounds, but that doesn't mean you can't switch to an assault rifle mid-match. The more you play, the more rewards you earn that can be spent to hone your personal armory and abilities to suit your needs. Adding to your identity-building are the myriad cosmetic items you unlock by opening supply crates, which are awarded regularly as you play. This blind box system plays out innocuously, with no pay-to-win shortcuts in sight, at least in the game's launch iteration.
Tying these adversarial multiplayer modes together is the activity-rich social hub aptly titled Headquarters. Set against the backdrop of the Allied-occupied beaches of Normandy, this lively gathering spot is an inviting site to chill and train in ways impossible in standard issue multiplayer menus. Between the cluttered user interface and the checklist of available objectives, Headquarters feels overwhelming at first, but it speaks to the richness of this area's practical and entertaining activities. Along with completing goals related to the social aspects of Headquarters (e.g. commending your fellow soldiers) for modest amounts of in-game currency, greater rewards are in store if you activate Contracts. These timed challenges provide incentives to perform well in online matches beyond just maintaining a respectable kill/death ratio.
Headquarters itself offers its share of stimulating gunplay. A real-time score duel against a stranger at the shooting range delivers a 30-second competitive thrill, but the marquee match is in the 1-vs-1 pit. Its single-weapon stakes are socially enhanced by letting those in the queue watch current matches while they wait their turn. This spectator appeal even extends to watching others open their loot crates, effectively echoing the childhood pastime of opening collectable card packs with friends. It's the place to feel motivated by higher ranking players who wear their prestige status icons proudly. Sledgehammer knows what a big deal prestiging is as evidenced by the fanfare and spectacle of a plane flybys when you reset your rank.
Pairing cooperative play with the appeal of a goal-driven narrative, Zombies once again proves its worth as an essential Call of Duty mode. Titled The Final Reich, this survival mode of fantastical fiction pits players against waves of the undead in a Bavarian village. It's a setting as expansive outward as it is downward, where it can be easy to get separated in the midst of having to fend off zombies from all sides. When you're not busy trying to stay alive, you're completing objectives, activating switches, and uncovering the town's occult secrets, some involving symbols hidden in paintings scattered around the map. Those who thrive on multitasking will find the abundance of action items and the near relentless influx of brain-dead enemies positively engrossing. Yet you're delusional if you think you can complete The Final Reich after just a couple attempts.
Like the best iterations of Zombies, this latest take is loaded with different forms of carrots that compel fans to come back again and again. Chief among these motivations is how it instills the belief that you and your friends can progress just a bit further in your next session. Along with naturally gaining a better familiarity of the map and the many zombie types, repeat playthroughs reward players with a host of meaningful upgrades and quality-of-life conveniences, from passive buffs to custom loadout slots. Sure, you can amass the highest body count among the team by playing with the Offense loadout, but imagine how much more valuable you'd be if you customized your ability set with a support skill normally reserved for Medics.
Compared to multiplayer, loot crates in Zombies play a much larger, more practical role, adding to the mode's value as a compelling showpiece at the same level of Call of Duty: WWII's other game types. Any given pack can contain a game-changing consumable, whether that's a few free revives or a couple zombie-obliterating panzerschrecks. Figuring out when to use these valuable enhancements is part of the fun: Do you use your best consumables now to make a modicum of forward progress, or do you save these items for when you've committed the map layout and objectives to memory?
Ultimately, if every shooter set in the European Theater of World War II is measured by how it depicts its D-Day landing--assuming it has such a mission--Call of Duty: WWII emphatically succeeds in its impactful designs and delivery. The sensation of riding the troop carrier as it approached the beach filled me with depression more than dread, knowing I'd survive eventually while many of my surrounding brothers in arms wouldn't. While not equally emotional, this battle's reinterpretation in War mode proves to be a highlight in a superb suite of competitive modes. Zombies rounds off this stellar return to form, effectively blending the ferocity of online cooperative play with the goal-driven satisfaction of found in the campaign. As one of the most comprehensive and filler-free Call of Dutys in recent memory, Call of Duty: WWII successfully capitalizes on the series' strengths.
Reviewer's note: Call of Duty: WWII was primarily evaluated in a controlled "review event" environment hosted by Activision. As such, we haven't had the opportunity to fully test the online performance on public servers. Once we're able to do so, this review will be updated accordingly.