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Liberated Review - V For Very Frustrating

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 23:00

Surveillance is out of control, technology is numbing the minds of the masses, and the government (or corporations, or some combination thereof) has become fascist and corrupt, stripping freedoms and assassinating dissidents in the name of security. That familiar premise has been utilized again and again in works ranging from 1984 to Westworld, and it's also the state of the world in Liberated, a cyberpunk-ish side-scrolling action game that's as much comic book as video game. The tech dystopia is well-worn territory in movies, books, comics, and video games, and Liberated offers little that hasn't been done better elsewhere.

Liberated's story is pretty much a carbon copy of its more interesting inspirations. The same is true with its frustrating side-scroller gameplay, which is both overly simplistic and often frustrating. It's unfortunate that the playable parts and the story that are meant to drive the game can't match up to its gorgeous, comics-inspired art style--paging through all those great-looking panels will make you wonder if Liberated wouldn't have made a pretty good comic, instead of a lackluster game.

To be fair, Liberated's story is mostly a comic book. The game is presented as though you're reading through four volumes of a graphic novel of the same name. As you pass over panel after panel, you'll occasionally pause on one that becomes a playable side-scrolling level, where you're generally tasked with shooting a lot of enemies, or hiding from them and breaking their necks as they pass by.

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Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath Review - Friendship Never Ends

Sat, 05/30/2020 - 11:15

When the credits roll at the end of Mortal Kombat 11's excellent story mode, the slate has been wiped clean. After a variety of entertaining time-travelling hijinks, everyone's second-favourite Shaolin monk, Liu Kang, has ascended into godhood and is ready to begin writing an all-new chapter in Mortal Kombat history. It's as close to a perfect ending as you can get to the almost 30 years of convoluted lore this series has. But now, there's Aftermath, Mortal Kombat 11's optional expansion that tacks on a handful of new chapters to that narrative. And while the idea of a story-focussed add-on to this fighting game is an exciting prospect--and it certainly has its high moments--when the credits roll for the second time there isn't that same sense of gratification.

At the beginning of Aftermath, which immediately follows the end of Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang is interrupted by the nefarious sorcerer Shang Tsung. Along with the righteous wind god Fujin and badass indigenous shaman Nightwolf, the trio stops Liu Kang from proceeding with his rebuilding plans with the warning that they need to go back in time, again, to retrieve a MacGuffin in order to stop the process from going to shit. Over five chapters and a cinema-appropriate two-and-a-half-hour running time, the five Mortal Kombat characters that have now been introduced to MK11 as post-release content get to make their mark in the story. The chapters cover the hijinks of Shang Tsung, Nightwolf, and the banshee queen Sindel from the Fighters Pack 1 DLC, as well as two characters newly introduced in Aftermath: Fujin and the four-armed Sheeva.

The relatively brief running time of the whole thing allows it to be mostly filled with great moments. The blockbuster flair present in the original story mode is again in full force, as is the excellent fight choreography that makes you want to leap out of your chair. There's still that weird disconnect when an extravagant fight cinematic transitions into the more rigid nature of the game's actual one-on-one fights, but there are some good moments that lie in the gameplay portions too, like the handful of battles where you have an assist character to call on.

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Crucible Review - A Prime Disappointment

Sat, 05/30/2020 - 07:05

It's easy to recognize Crucible's many design influences. The Amazon-published third-person multiplayer game features hero-style characters with abilities similar to those found in Overwatch. Its one MOBA-centric game mode should feel familiar to you if you've played Smite or the now-defunct Paragon. And even its light progression system echoes the one found in Gearbox's Battleborn. Crucible attempts to remix a lot of existing ideas and cohesively tie them together into something more successful, but as a result, it fails to create an identity for itself.

Crucible takes place on an alien planet primed for off-world mining, which plays host to three game modes on its single map. Heart of the Hive is as close to a MOBA as Crucible gets, with a focus on PvP and PvE play as two teams fight to secure the hearts of dangerous hives. Alpha Hunters is a spin on battle royale, with teams of two skirmishing in short matches. Lastly, Harvester Command combines traits of team deathmatch and classic point control, rewarding players for kills and the number of objectives controlled on the map. In each mode, you have a choice to play as one of 10 characters, each with a handful of unique abilities and unlockable traits.

Heart of the Hive is the main event, pitting two teams of four against one another on a large map filled with AI enemies as you hunt down periodically spawning hives and attempt to capture three of their underlying hearts. Like in most MOBAs, you kill these enemies for XP, levelling up your character to improve your health, damage, and ability effectiveness. But in Crucible, there's no challenge involved in killing these enemies; it's easy enough to tackle a large group of them alone without any risk, dancing around their slow and predictable attack patterns. It reduces the necessary farming of experience to a mindless annoyance, made even more irritating by the fact that it's predominantly how you'll spend most of your time in this mode.

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Resolutiion Review - Asked, Not Answered

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 07:23

Resolutiion constantly implies there’s more going on than you realize. Its strong anti-imperialist messaging pushes you to question the nature of your mission. Its mechanics, including the fact that most enemies fall incapacitated before you kill them, suggests that maybe you should show mercy when given the choice. The concept of scholars studying the world in VR, seeking to understand things without seeing what's in front of them, challenges you to question when knowledge is useful. Walls and signs adorned with intricate symbols and filled with cryptic, interactive elements forces you to consider the possibility that you’ll need to be extremely clever and dig really deep to find the truth.

That truth is extremely hard to come by, though. Even after combing the world and finding out how many of the pieces fit, I walked away feeling that Resolutiion’s big philosophical questions stirred my mind. However, its obtuse attempts to manifest them as a deep, mysterious puzzle beneath the game’s surface-level objectives created a gap between the loose, but entertaining Metroid-style action game I played and the intellectually stimulating action-puzzle I could tell was there but had trouble parsing.

Resolutiion is a stylish game. Its smooth-moving but highly pixelated art style evokes games like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, Below, and Hyper Light Drifter at a glance, but it has its own thrown-together mix of cultural influences that create a unique setting. The backdrop of its world, a post-apocalyptic ruin rebuilding in the shadow of a cyberpunk dystopia, permeates every screen. The landscape blends large swaths of concrete and sand with bright, unnatural skies. Its characters range from Buddhist monk laborers to talking deer and bunnies espousing subversive anti-imperialist rhetoric.

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Those Who Remain Review - Getting Hopelessly Lost

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 04:55

Horror is often bulging with contradictions and illogical deaths. Take, for example, the hapless victim who runs into a dead end when hounded by a machete-wielding murderer, or deeper into the unsettling darkness of the woods where unknown terrors lie in wait. On the other hand there's Edward, the everyday man you're embodying in Those Who Remain, the type of horror protagonist who is decidedly more aware of the dire situation he finds himself in. Despite being unwittingly caught up in the spooky affairs within the sleepy town of Dormont, he seems to regard the scenes of terror and panic unfolding around him with the detachment and fatigue of a man who desperately wants everything to blow over. Scenes of sheer exasperation in the game are absurdly common; Edward routinely shouts variations of “Not you again!” as he scrambles from yet another blood-thirsty demon that's frantically clambering towards him.

It's not difficult to empathize with Edward's circumstances--and by that, I mean the exhaustion of going through, over and over again, the onerous cycle of looking for the right object to unlock the next objective with, and painstakingly searching for clues that will move the plot along, while eluding a freakish behemoth that's screeching for your blood. To put it plainly, Those Who Remain is essentially a three-dimensional version of a find-the-hidden-object game, where flinging furniture about and peering into every single desk drawer you spot are par for the course. Edward wanders about a lot just to look for things--into a luxurious mansion, the town's post office, the national library--and even traverses through into a parallel, alternate dimension to hunt down more keys, letters, and in one instance, weed killers.

Like many horror games, Those Who Remain is also draped in shadows, which piles on the growing tedium and frustration of searching for these items. Even in the midst of looking for these in murky corners, Edward also has to constantly seek refuge in illuminated spots against glowy-eyed specters, which can be seen silently observing him from the pitch darkness of the abandoned town. The notion of giving your enemies such a distinct form seems like a novelty in a genre that usually presents them as some wispy, unknowable force, but the ruse soon wears thin after you realize there's not much more to this idea. In the end, the impenetrable darkness simply functions as an invisible barrier that prevents you from wandering into places you shouldn't be in just yet, while hardly posing any real, active danger.

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Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition Review - I'm Really Feeling It

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 23:00

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is just as vast and fantastical as it was in 2010. While not every aspect has aged gracefully, Monolith Soft's lengthy role-playing game has withstood the test of time and further cements itself as one of the most memorable JRPGs in the last decade.

Although Xenoblade Chronicles' opening hours may seem standard fare for JRPGs story-wise, what sets it apart right from the get-go is its setting. Years before the events of the game, two massive titans, Bionis and Mechonis, were locked in a devastating battle of unfathomable proportions. One day, the titans froze, and life started to pop up on the backs of these enormous figures. To put things into perspective, Colony 9--where protagonist Shulk lives--and the sprawling plains and lake surrounding it are located near the Bionis' ankle.

Despite Xenoblade Chronicles's age, its sense of scale is still impressive. Throughout your journey you explore wide-open plains, dense forests, snow-capped mountains, and vast lakes. All the while, Mechonis looms over you as you explore every corner of Bionis.

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If Found Review - Call Me By My Name

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 11:33

A little empathy goes a long way. Especially when it comes to those we seek unconditional love and support from, it can mean the difference between spiralling into a black hole of depression and having the comfort to simply exist free of judgment. It's one of the many themes If Found so vividly represents in sketchbook-style visual novel form. Through expressive minimalist illustrations, ethereal sound design, sharp writing, and thematic coherence, the chaos and serenity of young adulthood jumps out of its pages for a story that's heartbreaking, heartwarming, and wholly affecting.

With a diary and eraser, we recollect and move past the memories of main character Kasio during a pivotal time in her life. It's December 1993 in County Mayo of Ireland, and having come back to her small hometown of Achill from Dublin for the holidays, she's kind of lost. With two higher-education degrees to her name and a lukewarm desire to pursue a Ph.D, she gets the "why don't you get a decent job and start a decent life" spiel from her mom--a conversation that some of us are all too familiar with. But underlying in this early exchange is a hint that a source of pain comes from her own mom seeing right past who Kasio really is.

Tension between Kasio and her mom can paint painful scenes.

In real life, not everyone has a place to go, a network to build off and help spring you into adulthood, or even a loving home to fall back on--such is Kasio's life. As you literally erase each scene on screen with your cursor to move through the day-by-day events, all of her introspections and interactions are laid bare. Erasure is a simple gameplay mechanic, making you peel layers upon layers of vivid memories, and one with powerful implications.

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Minecraft Dungeons Review - A Cuter Looter

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 08:11

Minecraft represented a massive paradigm shift in games, having served as a popular proto-example of both early access releases and unstructured, creation-based gameplay. More than a decade later, Minecraft Dungeons doesn't strive toward revolutionary, but it may just use the now-familiar trappings of its namesake to introduce a new generation of players to old-school tropes. The dungeon-crawler is a light, breezy introduction to the genre for newcomers and a friendly, low-impact callback for veterans.

Those experienced with games like Diablo or Torchlight already know the basic gist. You venture from a hub area into various environments, battle enemy hordes, occasionally fell some larger-than-life boss monster, and then spend time laying out and sorting through your new loot like a kid who just opened a pack of baseball cards. Rinse, repeat.

Within that framework there is some simplification in Minecraft Dungeons, which helps to make it more inviting. You only have six gear slots--melee, bow, armor, and three artifact-based abilities. You won't find specialized classes or complex skill trees here. Everything is tied to your gear, and the level-ups mostly matter in that they determine the quality of your loot drops.

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Maneater Review - See Food And Eat It

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 23:00

Toward the middle of my time with Maneater, my shark, now the size of a sedan and sporting glowing blue fins and whiskers to help it channel bioelectricity into the water around it, leaped out of a canal and onto the cobblestone dais filled with drunken revelers. As the folks enjoying the shoreline of Port Clovis screamed, my shark flopped after them, deterred by neither lack of limbs nor lack of oxygen as it chased down and chomped partier after partier unfortunate enough to think they could enjoy a gathering this close to Dead Horse Lake.

As I gained bloody vengeance against the residents of Port Clovis for their abuse of the marine ecosystem, actor Chris Parnell's voice-over narration filled in some interesting details about the horse monument my prehistoric killing machine was defiling. One year, he explained, a Port Clovis-born horse placed 20th at the Kentucky Derby, creating a new holiday since the local population, known for public drunkenness and petty crime sprees, was eager to celebrate.

Maneater provides a lot of these kinds of moments, mixing ridiculous ichthyological carnage and reality-show absurdity to create something hilarious. It's an uneven experience, due largely to technical glitches, frustrating marine predator combat, and repetitive missions. But the longer it goes on, the more fun Maneater becomes, and its presentation keeps it from getting stale.

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What The Golf Switch Review - Under Par (In A Good Way)

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 10:28

What the Golf, 2019's hilarious anti-golf golf game, is at its best on Switch. Everything that was good in the Apple Arcade and PC versions, which we reviewed last year, remains good here, but the additions and improvements that the Switch version brings make it the definitive What the Golf experience.

The game arrives on Nintendo's hybrid console with a new two-player "Party Mode" that wasn't included in the PC or Apple Arcade releases. This mode, which sees you and another player each picking up a Joy-Con and facing off in a series of competitive levels, is an absolute hoot. Both players are made to compete across 11 random levels, each based on levels from the campaign, to see who can get to the hole first. There's a great diversity across Party Mode's levels, with some levels feeling more like puzzles, some purely based on skill, and others that could only work in multiplayer, like when you're both controlling separate items that are tethered to each other or trying to goad the other into tipping over a tower of boxes that the pin is sitting atop. There are lots of levels here, and I still saw new ones pop up after playing for several hours.

In keeping with What the Golf's style, very few of Party Mode's levels really feel like golf, which is part of the fun. After you've played through 11 stages, you and your opponent compete in one final competitive arena-based game, and the number of lives each of you has depends on how well you did in previous rounds. There are only three types of final competition, but they're all fun, particularly the combat-based game where you fling around in an office chair, trying to pick up and fire explosive beach balls at your opponent. Your victory depends on how you perform in this final game, and how many lives you have--if you won seven of the previous rounds, you can take up to six hits in the final competition, whereas your opponent can only survive three. A full round of games in Party Mode rarely takes more than 10 minutes, and you only ever need the analog stick and the A button. These are less mini-games, more micro-games, often lasting just a few wild, hilarious seconds.

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Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA MegaMix Review - One More Time

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 23:00

The phenomenon around Vocaloid-based music and the anime-inspired mascots that personify these synthetic voices is one that brings tremendous joy to many. It's not just because our beloved blue-haired virtual pop idol has been the face for a subsection of Japanese music that we hold so dear--through the Project DIVA rhythm games, Miku has represented our way of personally connecting with hundreds of songs composed by a number of incredibly talented artists. With Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA MegaMix, we have yet another great collection of genre-defying tunes and all-new bangers that bring the series to Nintendo Switch in familiar, but terrific form.

MegaMix's rhythm gameplay system follows that of previous Project DIVA games; note patterns fly in from off-screen to form a continuous string of button prompts that sync to the beat of each song. When you choose to ramp up the difficulty, the face buttons or directional inputs (or any combination thereof) and shoulder button prompts begin to layer over one another at a rapid pace and challenge you to keep up. And it's a gratifying thrill when you've mastered your favorite songs, as if you're playing some role in the performance of the song itself, especially at Hard or Extreme difficulty when the button patterns begin to accentuate every intricate part of the instrumentation.

"COOL" doesn't even begin to describe the feeling you get from a 340-note combo on Extreme difficulty.

The Switch's portable nature makes it convenient to satisfy the impulse to crank out a few songs or get lost in hours of music, much like the desire to jam out for a while on an instrument you play. It's been quite some time since the PS Vita entries and the heavily modified 3DS versions, so the return to handheld form is a welcome one. Thankfully in MegaMix, you can swap out the Switch's letter-designated face button prompts to instead show up as either the appropriate directional arrows or as PlayStation's face button symbols (which is absolutely necessary since rapidly processing Nintendo's lettered-button prompts can throw you for a loop). Getting the timing right to rack up your score and the highest possible combo is nonetheless fulfilling as a long-time fan even though it very much shares the DNA of the ones I've poured hours into on Sony platforms. It's a tried-and-true foundation, but it's no less joyous here in MegaMix.

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The Wonderful 101 Remastered Review - Mob Mentality

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 01:00

The Wonderful 101 is the latest in a long line of Wii U games to get a second chance at life on the Nintendo Switch. Platinum’s wacky Sentai superhero story was a true-blue made-for-Wii U experience: Using a combination of traditional buttons and hand-drawn symbols, you corral and control a mob of up to 100 characters who fight through beat-'em-up arenas, navigating reaction-based puzzle-platforming challenges and a litany of setpiece minigames. But something feels off about The Wonderful 101 Remastered. The seeds of Platinum’s best games are there--the snappy dodging and parrying, the clever writing and design, the demand that you hone the craft of controlling your characters--but it’s hard to appreciate them in a game that demands mastery over its complex mechanics without taking the time to properly explain how they work. Combined with new technical issues, The Wonderful 101 Remastered doesn’t just fail to make the generational jump, it forces us to question whether it warranted a second look.

The Wonderful 101 tells the story of Earth’s costumed global defense force, the Wonderful 100, who fight off an alien invasion. It’s a light, peppy romp across secret labs and cities under siege by aliens. Though there are 100 members, the narrative focuses on a few core, color-coded characters--trope-borne personas who exchange quips through their adventures.

Though the deeply campy storytelling creates some amusing moments, the story indulges a little too much in Sentai’s penchant for stretching out dramatic moments with sudden but ultimately inconsequential plot twists. Many a boss fight ends with you defeating your opponent and declaring victory, only for them to get up so you can beat them two or three more times. The jokes, good and bad, always overstay their welcome.

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Legends Of Runeterra Review - Much Ado About Nautilus

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 05:44

Runeterra is the world of League of Legends, Riot’s MOBA that has arguably experienced a Golden Age of esports in the past few years. The MOBA has undergone various lore overhauls, but centralized all of its bits and pieces in 2016 to come up with a vision for Runeterra and its competing factions, as well as the backstories of the game’s champions. The latest step in fleshing out this world is Legends of Runeterra, Riot Games’ flagship contribution to the current online card game market--with DNA that’s a highly entertaining splice job between streamlined design sensibilities and touches that harken back to the original card game great, Magic: The Gathering.

The realm of Runeterra feels fully realized here, and part of that is how the game revolves around the various in-universe factions that are currently playable: Piltover & Zaun, Bilgewater, Demacia, Freljord, Ionia, Noxus, and the Shadow Isles. You’re not playing for rounds of ale at a tavern; this feels like a conflict of a uniquely larger scale because of the game’s insistence on you not embodying a hero but instead commanding them.

Each faction has these heroes, though they’re called champions. They’re souped-up cards representative of characters from League of Legends who are somewhere between Legendaries in Hearthstone and Planeswalkers in Magic: The Gathering--game-changing because they’re stronger than your average unit, but not game-breaking. The factions have their own unique playstyles that span the whole spectrum from aggro to control, spell-heavy to flood-dependent, and more. The champions themselves all buy into each faction’s playstyle fantasy, with flashy animations that depict their unique personalities and strengths.

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Predator: Hunting Grounds Review - Muddied Up

Sat, 05/09/2020 - 08:35

Predator, the 1987 film, is defined by its cheesy dialogue, testosterone-filled cast, and tense cat-and-mouse action between its platoon of soldiers and a crafty alien hunter. Predator: Hunting Grounds seems to, at first, hit all of those notes. There are cringe-worthy one-liners that are initially worth a chuckle, a host of customization options to make your gun-toting hero as ridiculous as you like, and streamlined gameplay that lets you play both sides of the hunt with ease. The problem isn't with the initial impression Hunting Grounds makes, but rather how quickly it loses its appeal.

Predator: Hunting Grounds is an asymmetrical multiplayer game, pitting a team of four human soldiers against a single roaming Predator across three almost indistinguishable maps set in dense jungle environments. When you're playing as part of the human fireteam, you have a string of objectives to complete before a timer expires, shuffling you from one AI enemy-filled camp to another. When you're the Predator, your objective is even simpler: Hunt down the fireteam and take them all out before they're able to complete their mission and extract, while avoiding confrontation with AI enemies and using the chaos they create to your advantage.

Playing as the titular Predator is the most appealing part, and while its mechanics often allow for smooth, fun, and engaging moments, Hunting Grounds' framework doesn't adequately support them. The brutish assassin is as fast and nimble as you'd expect, with an easy-to-use parkour system letting you effortlessly navigate the twisting mazes that the canopy of trees create. A single button press sends you scampering up a tree, after which you can automatically move between branches and adjacent trees by moving in any direction. It lets you focus on hunting your prey instead of having to focus on intricate navigation, while also making you feel empowered through the sheer speed at which you're able to traverse the map. The press and release mechanic for the Predator's leap is less elegant, however, and tricky to use when you really need to get some distance between you and your enemies.

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Cloudpunk Review - Time To Fly

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 07:56

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe," begins Roy Batty's dying monologue in Blade Runner. In the nearly 40 years since Ridley Scott's film established a visual aesthetic for what would become known as cyberpunk, we've seen these things many times now. Cloudpunk is a complex and uneven narrative-heavy adventure game that trades heavily in cyberpunk cliche. Familiar tropes are rejuvenated with mostly smart writing and consistently striking art direction, but there are also opportunities missed thanks to undernourished, by-the-numbers design.

Nivalis is the last city, or at least that's what people say. Towering neon spires thrust out of the climate-ravaged ocean and, eventually, emerge through the clouds; at the top live the privileged few, the self-dubbed CEOs secluded in their stratified penthouses, while underneath everybody else ekes out a living in the dense urban sprawl where every city block has a noodle stand, night is permanent and it's almost always raining. You've seen it all before, of course, yet this well-worn set dressing is rendered in such singular fashion it remains striking throughout.

Simply put, Cloudpunk is a stunningly gorgeous game. Nivalis is constructed out of voxels, big chunky bricks of solid colour that give the urban landscape the feel of an enormous, elaborate Lego diorama. Terrific use is made of contrast and lighting. Skyscrapers almost recede into negative space, their facades composed of hundreds of tiny boxes of light, alternating in lurid pinks, yellows and blues. When you're flying through the city in your hover car, each turn delivers a spectacular view, each ascension over a row of high-rises greeted with a dazzling neon-drenched vista. To be honest, this review took longer than it should have because I had to pause every few seconds to snap off another screenshot.

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Streets Of Rage 4 Review - The Beat-'Em-Up Boys Are Back In Town

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 10:23

Everybody has a favorite old game series that they'd like to see make a comeback, but modernizing a long-dormant franchise requires a deft touch. Not only do you have to please the old fans--who see their longtime favorites through rose-tinted nostalgia goggles--but you also have to find a way to make the game appealing to a newer audience. Fortunately for longtime Sega and beat-'em-up fans, Streets of Rage 4 adeptly walks the tightrope of classic and modern appeal while busting some heads in the process.

Taking place a decade after the third game (which released 26 years ago), Streets of Rage 4 reunites Axel and Blaze to unmask an evil plot devised by the children of series uber-antagonist Mr. X. Joining them are two new fighters: Cherry, a hard-rockin' young woman with deft moves and (literal) killer guitar riffs, and Floyd, a cybernetically-enhanced hulk who might not have speed or high jumps, but definitely has a myriad of ways to get his giant metal fists up in somebody's business. As the story unfolds, you meet characters old and new, sometimes in surprising places... but don't expect much from the plot, as it exists simply to take you to new and exciting locales where you pound a rogue's gallery of enemies into the pavement.

And there is a good amount of pavement-pounding to be had. The 12 stages in Streets of Rage 4 offer a lot of variety in scenery, obstacles, and enemies. While the clean, sharp lines of the new art are very different from the low-res, gritty pixel look fans have come to love, the HD hand-drawn characters and backgrounds look spectacular, and are packed with fun details and little Easter eggs that'll take you by surprise. The stages are fairly typical beat-'em-up settings--a dive bar, some sewers, back alleys, Chinatown--but the animations of crowds, steam, critters, and machines make these archetypal stages feel fresh and exciting. Equally excellent is the soundtrack, a techno/dance-inspired collection of hot beats from Eastern and Western game music composers, including veteran Streets of Rage alumni Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima.

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Rainbow Six Siege Review (2020) - Smooth Operator

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 01:00

In Rainbow Six Siege, small tactical choices always lead to big consequences. Every round is a new lesson in what you could have done better, with your mistakes acting as a stern teacher. Taking these lessons to heart and adjusting your team's strategy accordingly keeps each match feeling fresh and exciting, and a drip-feed of new operators, loadouts, and abilities constantly introduces new considerations. The thrill of seeing your plan succeed--whether that's a collection of traps that stops the enemy in their tracks, a well-placed breaching hole that sets the stage for an ambush, or two operators' abilities working together to pull the rug out from the opposing team--is what makes Siege not only a compelling shooter but one of the best examples of teamwork, tactics, and crack shooting out there.

Despite its evolution over the past four years, Rainbow Six Siege has always been a battle between attackers and defenders over a single objective. There are five operators per team, each with their own special gadgets that can be used to slow the attackers' assault or poke holes in the defenders' fortifications. Every round, attackers need to move in on a specific objective; depending on the mode, they'll need to sneak in and extract a hostage, create a pathway to secure a specific room, or strategize carefully to defuse a bomb. Bomb is the quintessential Siege mode, as it makes every operator feel viable and balanced. Pushing the objective, finding an opening to plant the defuser, and then protecting said defuser gives the attacking side a steep, rewarding climb to victory, and it's the defenders' job to knock them down and keep them from reaching that summit.

Playing video games with friends is usually more fun than playing alone, and the benefits of communicating and working together make Siege a more enjoyable experience when playing with people you know. Thankfully, solo-queuing isn't an entirely lost cause, as it's not uncommon to find like-minded players interested in coordinating as a team, but you will inevitably come across players more interested in taking the objective on their own. Siege incentivizes teamwork, and when a group of players executes a coordinated assault on the garage in House or top floor of Kanal, it results in some of the most exciting moments you can experience in a team-based first-person shooter.

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Fallout 76: Wastelanders Review - A Disappointing Return

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 05:19

Since its launch in late 2018, Fallout 76 has lacked one element crucial to the series’ identity. The series' best moments predominantly involved stories of its survivors, the poor souls unfortunate enough to have been exposed to nuclear war and the horrors of its fallout. Fallout 76's latest free expansion, Wastelanders, attempts to inject some of that humanity into the game by introducing human NPCs and their stories to the auburn hills of Appalachia, while also expanding upon available role-playing options. Taken as a separate part, Wastelanders represents some of the best Fallout content since New Vegas, but Fallout 76's flawed structure and mechanics prevent it from shining.

It's been more than a year since I played Fallout 76, and it's likely that I'm not the only one returning from a prolonged absence now that Wastelanders has launched. This made me decide to start a new character in a bid to see just how much Fallout 76 has changed since then. Wastelanders' changes are apparent from the start. After the tutorial, you emerge from Vault 76 to something new: Two human travelers, marking the prominent return of human life to West Virginia wasteland, greet you at the entrance to the vault. They mention a treasure rumored to be buried in the hills of Appalachia, which quickly leads you to a newly established bar under the management of Duchess and her party of ragtag brains and brawn. This alternative start to Fallout 76 is more gripping than the previous audio logs that initially introduced you to its world and serves to illustrate how Wastelanders' content affects the rest of the game.

Initial tutorial quests take you through the broad strokes of Fallout 76's survival elements and base-building, interspersed with contextual dialogue for each action delivered by a character you can actually interact with. The disembodied audio logs and impersonal robots of the original tutorial are still there if you choose a different route, but running through the same lessons while advancing a more captivating story in Wastelanders make Fallout 76's opening hours more akin to a traditional Fallout adventure. It can be easy for brand-new players to miss this pair of human NPCs entirely, but for returning players their mere existence will quickly draw you to their new introduction.

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Sakura Wars Review - All The World's A Stage

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 10:54

Sakura Wars is perhaps the most anime game that I've ever played. There are plenty of games out there based on popular anime, yes, but when it comes to feeling like you're an active part of an ongoing, episodic adventure filled with quirky characters, dramatic action, and satisfying melodrama, Sakura Wars has everything else beat. Its structure, charming cast, and whirlwind story help set it apart from other colorful anime-inspired adventures, and, much like the characters whose stories it tells, it manages to overcome many of its flaws to become a satisfying experience in the end.

For the uninitiated, the entire concept of Sakura Wars is rather offbeat. This particular game is a semi-reboot of a long-running Japanese game series of the same name, set in an alternate 1940s Japan where steam technology quickly surpassed electricity and history took a very different path. The world's nations, rather than fighting each other in World Wars, took arms against demonic invaders with armies of steam-powered fighting robots called Spiricle Strikers. Oh yes, and these armies also operate semi-covertly as theatre troupes whose members consisted mostly of young women.

It's a lot to take in, and it's compounded by the fact that only one other Sakura Wars game has made the voyage Westward, though some related media (like anime and manga adaptations) have seen release here. Still, if you're coming in totally blind to the Sakura Wars concept and mythos, you might find yourself rather confused, particularly when references to previous titles crop up.

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Gears Tactics Review - One Step At A Time

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 23:00

Gears of War, as a series, has always required tactical planning. Understanding how to read a battlefield to find ideal cover and a path to outflanking your opponent is just as essential as your trusty Lancer assault rifle. Still, it's surprising just how well the series translates to a turn-based strategy RPG. Gears Tactics captures the chaotic, gory roller coaster energy generated by the shooters, even as your focus turns from playing a cog to maintaining the machine.

Technically, Tactics is a prequel, as it takes place before the events of the original series, but it really feels like a throwaway story from the expanded canon. Though connections to the overarching Gears saga, particularly Gears 5, abound--your unit is led by Gabe Diaz, Kait's dad--Gears Tactics' story is simple and mostly detached from the larger franchise.

So while the plot takes a back seat, Gears Tactics cleverly twists the formula of the modern strategy RPG, creating scenarios that fit the Gears mold. All the XCOM-inspired mechanics are there: action points that can be used to move or attack, half- and full-cover, defensive "overwatch" positioning. If you've ever so much as thought the word "tactics game," the flow will feel comfortable.

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