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The Medium Review

5 hours 43 min ago

The world of The Medium begs to be closely examined, to be parsed for small details that begin to paint monsters as something not too dissimilar to humans. Recognizing these similarities, at times, can be even more terrifying than facing an actual grotesque creature. There's something disturbing about being forced to confront the evils that humans can inflict on one another, and recognize how horrific acts of sexual abuse, ethnoreligious discrimination, and physical violence rarely, if ever, result in a singular trauma. The aftereffects of such actions can fester in the heart and mind of victims for years, an unsettling truth that is often glossed over. It's here that The Medium finds the basis for its story, one that leaves a lasting impression

In The Medium, you play as Marianne (voiced by Kelly Burke, who does a fabulous job), a powerful clairvoyant who travels to the Niwa Resort. She goes there in search of Thomas, a man who leaves her a strange message telling her to find and help him, promising that he'll give her the answers she seeks about her past in return. As a medium, Marianne is able to commune with spirits and help them pass on to the afterlife, a skill she's developed working in her foster father's funeral home. To that end, The Medium plays out on two planes of existence: the normal world and the spirit world, the latter of which acts as a twisted reflection of the former.

The spirit world--inspired by the surreal dystopia portrayed in the paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński--is a nightmarish hellscape, one where the doors are made of human skin that you have to slowly carve open with a rusty knife, and the inhabitants are either monstrous creatures or creepy mask-wearing spirits. Even Marianne takes on a new appearance when navigating the spirit world, the sleeve of her kickass jacket (she's so stylishly put together, I'm jealous as hell) and pant leg becoming frayed, as if this version of her is an incomplete, less-human being. But these two depictions of the world are not black and white opposites. Instead, the game posits that they exist as mirrors of one another--one manifesting literally what the other only hints at figuratively. And via this shared window into both perspectives, The Medium is able to explore the trauma of its characters through puzzle-solving and riddles.

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Hitman 3 Review — Perfect Execution

Wed, 01/20/2021 - 00:00

Since it rebooted its Hitman franchise in 2016, IO Interactive has been putting on a level design masterclass. Each of the missions the developer rolled out in what it calls its World of Assassination series has contained a huge, intricate collection of scripted and free-form systems that create harrowing moments, presented elaborate puzzles to solve, and allowed the player to orchestrate ludicrous and often hilarious situations. Levels are designed to be played over and over so you can explore, understand, and eventually master all their moving parts, and it's impossible to see everything one has to offer in a single playthrough (or in most cases, even two or three).

At first blush, Hitman 3 appears to be more of the same. It makes no drastic changes to the underlying formula, instead adding a few graphical upgrades and quality-of-life improvements to the existing Hitman framework. But Hitman 3 improves on the World of Assassination through consistently excellent level design--which is saying something, given how strong all the previous missions are. Hitman 3 is full of fun and fascinating ideas, many of which play with the concepts underpinning the last four years of Hitman levels.

Presumably knowing that players have spent all sorts of time mastering its many settings and systems, IO throws in some brilliant curve balls that require you to use your assassin skills and knowledge in clever, challenging new ways.

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game - Complete Edition Review

Sat, 01/16/2021 - 06:03

When people think of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they'll likely gravitate to either the comics from Bryan Lee O'Malley or the live-action film from Edgar Wright. However, one of the lesser-known strands of the Scott Pilgrim brand was the film's licensed game tie-in. Like the film, it was not only a faithful adaptation of the comics' tribute to geek culture and retro games, but it also happened to be a fun co-op brawler in its own right. After a sudden delisting from digital video game stores in 2014, the once-lost licensed game has scored a second life with the Complete Edition, and it hasn't lost its exuberant style. The game's passion for a bygone era can often be a bit overwhelming, yet it still offers a satisfying time brawling through the streets with friends.

Like its comic and film counterpart, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game sticks with the same video game-inspired conceit, but interprets it into an actual video game. After the titular character meets the girl of his dreams in Ramona Flowers, Scott and his bandmates Kim and Stephen, along with Ramona, have to fight a rogue's gallery of evil exes seeking to disrupt the relationship. In the vein of a classic arcade brawler, the game keeps its story light to put all its energy into showing off the stunning 2D visuals of its side-scrolling beat-'em-up gameplay, which leans heavily into the splendor of the retro era.

The original game wore its inspirations--classic games like River City Ransom, Final Fight, and Final Fantasy--on its sleeve, and the Complete Edition keeps its aesthetic and core gameplay intact. What you get in this enhanced package is the full game, the four bonus modes involving zombies and dodgeball, and the extra DLC characters--which include Wallace Wells, Knives Chau, and hidden character Nega-Scott. The Complete Edition also comes with Network Mode for online play, which was a late addition in the final DLC for the original game.

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Super Meat Boy Forever Review -- Can't Stop, Won't Stop

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 06:04

Every aspect of Super Meat Boy Forever is frustrating in some way or another. It's a runner, so you have to time your jumps and don't have the liberty of setting yourself up perfectly before taking on a puzzle. And despite putting you on a treadmill, its levels demand incredible nuance and precision, which you'll hone through failure after failure after failure. Super Meat Boy Forever will kick you in the teeth and expect you to stand back up, flash a bloody grin, and go after it again. And that's exactly what happens. Though the jumps may be challenging, Forever's incredibly precise controls give you all the tools you need to stick the landing. The runner format is different, but it opens the door for new and interesting types of complex puzzles that spawn new, captivating varieties of spectacular yell-and-throw-your-controller platforming.

Like in the real world, time has passed in the Meat Boy universe. Meat Boy and Bandage Girl, whom he saved in the original, have settled down and had a baby, Nugget. In Forever, Nugget is kidnapped, so Meat Boy and Bandage Girl go after her. (You can play as either one from the very beginning.) The story has no material effect on your gameplay, but the short cartoon cutscenes find ways to grab your attention all the same with a webtoony out-of-left-field story chock-full of references to video game canon, adorable woodland creatures, cuddly animals, and the adorable little Nugget, who often proves too adorable for even her captor to ignore.

Super Meat Boy Forever captured on PC

The cutscenes are thus an entertaining reward for hard-earned progress. Following in the original Super Meat Boy's footsteps, Forever lays out levels sprinkled with bottomless pits and buzzsaws that require quick thinking and quicker reflexes to escape. At the same time, it's a very different game. Meat Boy or Bandage Girl constantly runs forward, and you simply control when they jump, slide, or punch. By necessity, the levels take on longer, more horizontally oriented shapes to accommodate the new system. Despite those changes, Forever still retains the essence of Super Meat Boy. Though automated movement theoretically seems like it would make the platforming less satisfying, since you aren't in complete control, Forever's challenge is just as captivating.

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Calico Review

Thu, 12/24/2020 - 10:18

I was quite a young girl when I first got interested in video games. It was something of an awkward transition. At the time, games were largely considered "boy toys," so moving from typical "girly" things like princess dolls and My Little Ponies into gaming was jarring at times, especially since not a lot of games catered to the cute, colorful things I’d been enjoying at playtime to that point. Sure, I loved the fantasy worlds of Mario and Sonic, but I also wished there was a fun gaming playspace for me that echoed the fluffy-cats-and-rainbow-unicorns aesthetic of my Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers.

Had my third-grade self seen Calico, an open-world animal cafe and social interaction game, she would have lost her mind. Calico embraces an aesthetic and theme that is shamelessly, unabashedly girly in the best ways--a world of happy magical girls living in pastel-colored lands with fluffy, cotton-candy trees where all kinds of lovable animals roam freely. But while Calico's concept and visuals are a delight, the simplistic, bug-ridden gameplay dragged me kicking and screaming out of the childhood fantasy world I so wanted to exist in.

Calico is very cute (screenshots captured on PC).

Calico starts off with your created player character inheriting a cat cafe in a faraway world where magic is very real and a part of everyday living. Your job is to fill your little cafe with animals, decorations, and cute kitty-themed pastries while exploring the world and helping your new friends with various errands. It’s a very laid-back, play-as-you-please experience in the vein of other life-sim games, but with an air of play and fairy magic baked in: You can buy potions with funny effects to use on yourself and your animal friends, like shrinking down to mini-size to cook, zooming around while riding on giant red pandas and bunnies, decorating your house with clouds, flowers, and cat paws, and collecting basically any animal in the game (that isn’t already someone else's pet) to be a part of your cafe or your traveling posse.

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Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond Review

Fri, 12/18/2020 - 10:56

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond marks a return to the series' historical roots as well as its first foray into virtual reality. It's been a long time since we've stormed the beaches of Normandy or liberated Nazi-occupied France in a Medal of Honor game, but Above and Beyond strives to bring us back to that familiar WWII experience within the new technology. Being asked to answer the call of duty and return to the battlefield in a new Medal of Honor is an exciting prospect, but Above and Beyond is far too simple a shooter and far too restrictive to ever feel engaging like the series once was.

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond's campaign is composed of six major missions, each of which is broken into smaller sections, moving you from location to location as you make your way through the story. Each moment of gameplay has you moving through a small area and using a variety of WWII weaponry to take out Nazis. These moments can feature you walking around on foot or, at times, in the back of a vehicle.

Some of the action sequences can be a little too intense, including a sequence where my character was in the back of a moving truck and shooting enemies in the opposite direction, which made me especially motion sick. That said, Above and Beyond offers some great comfort options to help alleviate motion sickness. These include settings that let you tweak turning increments, turn on tunnel vision when sprinting, or even let you skip more intense action sequences entirely and continue through the story. These were enough to alleviate my own issues with motion sickness and made it possible for me to make it through every section without skipping through them. Starting up a new VR game without knowing how your mind and body will react to its movement can be intimidating, but Above and Beyond's options help mitigate discomfort you may experience throughout its duration.

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Myst Oculus Quest Review

Thu, 12/17/2020 - 07:29

If you've enjoyed having your brain teased by a video game in the last 20 years, or enjoyed the layered mechanical riddles of an IRL escape room, you have Myst to thank. Wildly popular when it launched in 1993, the narrative adventure was a pivotal moment for puzzle-solving in games. Now, 27 years later, the classic is reborn in virtual reality--rebuilt, but almost completely unchanged. Myst is and will always be a treasure. Even after all these years, its puzzles will still test, and maybe even stump, you. For returning fans, seeing it in VR for the first time is a powerful nostalgia trip. Being inside a world you’ve only seen through a screen before feels like diving into your own memory. When you get over that initial sense of wonder--or if you don't have the nostalgia that conjures it--Myst can’t hide its age, and its VR makeover exacerbates its blemishes.

Myst is a small uninhabited island dotted with odd buildings and unintuitive, free-standing switches. When you arrive, you have no idea why you're there or what you should be doing. As you poke around--opening every door, pressing all the switches, reading the books and notes you find--your situation starts to take shape. Trapped on Myst, you will need to unravel its puzzles to uncover its secrets and escape.

The content of Myst's places and puzzles do not follow any kind of unifying aesthetic--they are united in service of creating perplexing challenges that require you to be mindful of your surroundings and think creatively. At a glance, each puzzle seems completely obtuse, a hodge-podge of interactive puzzle pieces that don't easily fit together. More often than not, you'll need to take a good long look at your surroundings and figure out how the puzzle works before you can solve it.

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Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 Review

Sat, 12/12/2020 - 11:50

Fans of competitive, block-dropping puzzle games had it pretty rough for most of the last decade. Creativity in the Tetris space was being stifled by a strict set of game-rules guidelines imposed by The Tetris Company, while Puyo Puyo was mostly trapped in Japan, playable only by those international fans fervent enough to tread import waters. Thankfully, things have changed somewhat on both fronts, bringing us the unusual mashup title Puyo Puyo Tetris in 2017 to critical and fan success. Three years later, we now have a follow-up in the form of Puyo Puyo Tetris 2. While it keeps much of what made the original game a success, it offers a few new game modes and online enhancements--but as a sequel, it lacks the same punch as the original.

Like in the original game, Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is built around an engine combining these two competitive puzzle titans into a singular game entity. Players pick either Puyo Puyo or Tetris gameplay and go up against an opponent, with rules adjusted according to which style they're using--or they can play a mode that switches between Puyo Puyo and Tetris gameplay at set intervals. If you're feeling especially brave, you can attempt Fusion mode, which puts Puyo blobs and Tetromino blocks on the same board in a complex rules mashup that will put your puzzling skills to the true test.

But that's just the beginning. There's a lot on offer in Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 for both solo and multiplayer play. The Adventure mode offers an all-new story, complete with a pleasant new overworld interface and featuring a cast of colorful weirdos--mostly from the expanded Puyo Puyo universe--who solve all of their problems and disagreements by tossing colored blobs and blocks at each other. The game modes change in every chapter, so Adventure Mode serves as a way to practice and learn the various styles of gameplay available while also unlocking characters, in-game shop credits, and various embellishments for your profile. While the rainbow-colored characters and their jokey personalities are certainly cute, the nonsensical nature of the narrative will either charm you to bits or leave you mashing the skip button to get to the dropping faster. This mode takes a few hours to finish, and future DLC expansions have been teased.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Review

Tue, 12/08/2020 - 04:00

Early on in Cyberpunk 2077, there's a series of side quests that has you tracking down rogue taxis run by faulty AI. You have to talk one of the taxis down from suicide as it contemplates driving off a bridge, while another needs to be brute-forced into behaving, and a third is an obvious reference to a famous video game AI that manipulates you as you chase it down. It's one of the best minor questlines in the game, an intriguing and surprisingly human substory that rewards you with lots of much-needed cash. It's also an excuse to send you to every corner of Night City, a clever introduction to all the areas you haven't yet been.

I spent a lot of my playtime following side-quest threads like this one, excited about the premise and hoping to find something as interesting or fun or rewarding at the end and, in many cases, I did. But now, after finishing the main story, I can't see how most of those activities fit into the overall narrative or the character I was playing. The main story doesn't even gel with itself.

Cyberpunk 2077 draws heavily from its source material, with everything from the world itself to the life and death of Johnny Silverhand coming from its pen-and-paper inspiration. But unlike in a tabletop RPG, you aren't playing a role of your own creation in Cyberpunk 2077; you're playing V, and this is V's story, not yours. I often felt like I was role-playing two different characters: one V for the side quests and one more limited V for the main story.

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Sam & Max Save The World Remastered Review

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 19:01

Nostalgia is a funny thing. When the first episode of Telltale Games' Sam & Max Save the World debuted in 2006, fans of 1993's Sam & Max Hit the Road had waited years for the dog and bunny's return. Now, Save the World is old enough to have built up its own nostalgic fanbase, keen to once again revisit these lovable weirdos. Sam & Max Save the World Remastered isn't a new game, but the huge visual and mechanical improvements implemented by developer Skunkape Games (a team made up of ex-Telltale folks) make it a pleasure to revisit.

For the uninitiated, Sam & Max Save the World Remastered is about two freelance police agents: Sam, a loquacious, wry dog who acts as de facto leader of the duo, and Max, his psychotic rabbit pal. Across the six episodes included in this remaster, the pair gets caught up in a mass-hypnosis scheme, thwarting various enemies on their way to finally facing the season's big bad during the finale. While Telltale would eventually become known for its choice-focused narrative experiences like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Sam & Max Save the World is a far more traditional point-and-click adventure game--you talk to people, gather items, and then use those items in clever ways to progress through the story.

Sam & Max Save the World Remastered on Nintendo Switch

Each episode of Save the World follows roughly the same pattern: Sam and Max get a call about a new case in the opening cutscene, and they head out to start asking questions. Each episode is compact, running about two hours and featuring, at most, three locations. Over time, recurring themes and characters emerge, and before long the pair realize that there's some nefarious connective tissue running throughout all of their cases.

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Sakuna: Of Rice And Ruin Review

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 12:11

The farming/life-sim genre is an increasingly crowded field these days. There is no shortage of games that offer the experience of building a small farm, raising crops and livestock, and making friends and relationships along the way. But every so often, a game in this genre comes along that really turns things on their head, taking well-worn tropes and expectations and making them feel fresh and new. Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is such a game. It combines an in-depth rice-farming simulation with excellent 2D platforming action and a wonderful atmosphere to make a delightful, fulfilling experience.

Sakuna is a haughty, bratty harvest goddess of the old-timey Japan-inspired world of Yanato. She lives comfortably with her divine peers in the Lofty Realm away from the suffering of mortals below. When a group of hungry mortals stumble into the Lofty Realm looking for food on her watch, she discovers to her horror that they've destroyed the offering to the great deity Lady Kamuhitsuki. As punishment, she and the mortals are banished to the Isle of Demons, where she is tasked with cleansing the land of evil forces while eking out a meager subsistence living with her newfound companions. Now, the goddess Sakuna needs to get her hands dirty--and bond with the humans that have lived beneath her--in order to survive.

Gallery

The base gameplay of Sakuna is split into two parts: exploration and simulation. The exploration sections have you traversing 2D environments to hunt enemies, collect materials needed for combat and survival, and discover new areas for gathering. The simulation sections task Sakuna with managing the day-to-day labor involved in harvesting a rice crop needed to sustain a family. Engaging in both of these activities is necessary for progress, but you need to decide how to best invest your time. A day-and-night cycle means there's a constant march onwards through the quite truncated seasons, which affect many things, such as when collected materials spoil, enemies' strength, which materials can be gathered, what farmwork can be done, and so on. The need to balance activities and manage both item and time resources makes for a gameplay loop that's interesting and challenging without being too punishing. It also allows for the gradual introduction of new elements as you progress, like additional farming tools and more exploration abilities.

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Twin Mirror Review

Wed, 12/02/2020 - 10:12

With Twin Mirror, Dontnod abandons the episodic model it has experimented with since 2015's Life is Strange in favor of a six-hour standalone release. The result is a focused crime thriller with some great character work. However, Twin Mirror's exploration of its story and mechanics suffers somewhat from its brevity, relative to Dontnod’s recent work. It's longer than an episode of Dontnod's serialized games but still shorter than what it needed to be to explore characters with depth and tackle the heavier subject matter and themes its narrative alludes to. Twin Mirror comes to a conclusion just as the plot and gameplay are really beginning to gain momentum.

In Twin Mirror, players take on the role of Sam Higgs, a tenacious investigative reporter returning to his hometown of Basswood, West Virginia, after a period of self-imposed exile. Two years prior, Sam published a damning investigative piece on unsafe practices at the Basswood mine, which employed a huge portion of the town. As a result, the mine closed, putting a huge swath of Basswood out of work and pushing the town into an economic depression. In the midst of this firestorm, Sam proposed to his girlfriend Anna, another writer at the paper. She turned him down and, struggling with the personal and professional devastation, Sam left town without a word. In the time since, Anna has started dating Sam’s longtime best friend, Nick.

Gallery

The pain of all this is still fresh for Sam. But, when Nick dies in a car accident, he finally feels he must return to Basswood. Though the local police have ruled the death an accident, Nick's preteen daughter, Bug, suspects foul play, and Sam agrees to investigate. In classic Dontnod fashion, that investigation mostly plays out via dialogue with the locals--some of whom hate Sam for the problems his reporting caused, and some of whom are old friends. You'll investigate densely packed areas, read documents, and analyze objects to get to know the cast of characters and uncover clues to the cause of Nick’s death. Dontnod is great at this kind of environmental storytelling, and Twin Mirror is no exception. Discovering objects evoke memories of Sam's past, and hearing his thoughts on the people that he once called neighbors is especially enjoyable. There’s even some fun Bandai Namco brand synergy in Sam recalling his and Nick’s childhood Pac Man competitions.

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Tetris Effect: Connected Review

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 11:58

In 2018, Tetris Effect's mesmerizing sounds and sights heightened the classic game's aesthetically pleasing properties and its ability to consume our attention to almost therapeutic levels, reinvigorating our appreciation for one of gaming's oldest obsessions. But even as former GameSpot editor Peter Brown proclaimed Tetris "better than ever" in Tetris Effect, he noted it "sadly" did not apply its wondrous approach to multiplayer. Two years later, Tetris Effect: Connected--an updated re-release for Xbox consoles and PC--fills that gap. Just as the original did for the classic version of the game, Connected reimagines Tetris multiplayer with flair and vision. It also loses a major component, VR support, which delivers the most intense version of the experience. While I'm of two minds on that tradeoff, the soothing intensity of Tetris Effect hasn't lost any potency. On the contrary, it feels more vital than ever in 2020.

Though it adds and removes modes whole cloth, the core of Tetris Effect remains unchanged. Despite the fact that Journey mode hasn't been touched, its shifting, syncopated themes enraptured me level by level, even on my second time through. Tetris Effect is a significant challenge to average Tetris players like myself. Each level revs the speed up to push you just up to the edge of what you can handle. Even as you improve--and you are getting better, whether you see it or not--the levels scale to demand your full focus. It sounds unapproachable, but there's something about the combination of the way your brain looks for patterns, combined with the rhythmic sensory elements and this challenge, that lets you give yourself over to the game, almost trance-like, without even trying.

You'll need that focus in multiplayer. Whether you're playing cooperatively with other players or competing against them, the multiplayer modes in Connected ratchet up the intensity found in the original. Connected features four multiplayer modes--three competitive, one co-op. As in most games, other players will push you in ways a single-player campaign will not.

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Immortals Fenyx Rising Review

Tue, 12/01/2020 - 04:00

Immortals Fenyx Rising knows perfect is the enemy of good. Typhon, its big bad, is obsessed with perfection; as he overthrows the gods of Mount Olympus and strands them on the Golden Isle, he strips them of their essences, and with those essences, the flaws that made them legend. Aphrodite loses her passion, pettiness, and jealousy; Ares his rage; Hephaistos his suffering; Athena her self-righteousness. In their quest to reclaim those essences, Fenyx, a lowly soldier in search of their brother Ligryon, argues those flaws should be celebrated, not forgotten. Their tale doesn't always impart that lesson, but it's able to deftly take its own flaws in stride and, while not reaching the highs of the gods it worships, earn its own praise.

Fenyx Rising sets the bar high for itself by borrowing heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can climb your way up just about any solid surface if you have enough stamina; one of your four major abilities lets you magically float objects above your head and move them around to solve puzzles; the Golden Isle is littered with vaults, one-off puzzles that take place in self-contained parts of Tartaros. The list runs deep.

Despite all the borrowed elements, Fenyx Rising hews closely to Ubisoft's flavor of open world. At first, it was hard not to treat every similarity I spotted as a point of comparison. Fenyx Rising, for example, lacks a real sense of exploration. You're rarely lost, since the first thing you do in every region is head to the nearest vantage point, scout the area to reveal it on your map, then mark a bevy of collectibles and activities to chase. I never got the sense I was "exploring" the Golden Isle so much as I was beelining it to all the icons I'd already marked, which told me exactly what I would find when I reached them. I wasn't paying much attention to the world around me because nothing is really "hidden," which is disappointing only because in its early hours, Fenyx Rising did remind me of the spacious Hyrule of Breath of the Wild, where every rock formation or tree stump hinted at some surprise worth telling someone else about.

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Destiny 2 Beyond Light Review - Time Loop

Wed, 11/25/2020 - 12:16

My six-player Destiny 2 fireteam fired away as the Deep Stone Crypt raid boss, the toughest enemy of the Beyond Light expansion, teleported around the arena and roared with rage. We threw everything we had left at the flying monster in a desperate attempt to stave off defeat. Bullets and grenades filled the air as chunks of orbital debris slammed down onto the landscape, threatening to crush us as we scrambled for cover. It was now or never--if we didn't manage to kill this thing immediately, it would kill us, and we'd be back to the start of the lengthy fight. And we'd sunk more than 12 hours into the raid over the past two days already.

But then: an explosion. The boss twisted in pain and a cheer went up from our crew. Finally, we'd bested the greatest challenge of the new expansion, after hours of struggling to work out the mechanics and suffering death after death to its powerful enemies. It's moments like this one that keep me coming back to Destiny 2. There's nothing quite like powering through a Destiny raid, relying on teammates to handle complex roles and cooperate through some of the game's most creative designs.

Beyond Light provides more of what Destiny 2 is good at: satisfying first-person shooting, a great raid, fascinating places to explore, and a whole lot of punchy guns to try out. It also maintains some of the game's lingering problems though, like a reliance on repetitive content and time-sucking grinds to arbitrarily raise numbers. To put it simply, Beyond Light is largely more Destiny--if that's a thing you like, you'll enjoy it, and if it's a thing you complain about, you probably won't.

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Mortal Kombat 11 Review

Wed, 11/25/2020 - 10:40

Editor's note: In November 2020, NetherRealm patched Mortal Kombat 11, adding next-gen optimized technical upgrades for the Xbox Series X, Series S, and PlayStation 5. Below are our impressions of how the game runs on Series X and PlayStation 5, written by Mike Epstein. Continue after the break for the original Mortal Kombat 11 review.

Mortal Kombat 11 is a snappier, sharper-looking game on next-gen consoles. On both Xbox Series X and PS5, the incredibly (and sometimes disturbingly) detailed fighter has received a minor technical facelift and one or two new features that will ultimately make the game better for everyone. Though NetherRealm released a new version of the game, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, to coincide with the next-gen launches, all MK11 players receive access to the next-gen versions of the game and their benefits. On Xbox Series X/S, you simply need to download the game. On PS5, you will need to download the separate PS5 version of MK11, which you can grab free of charge if you own the PS4 version. (This means that you need to have a PS5 with a disc drive to get the upgrade if you bought a physical copy on PS4.)

MK11 sees similar improvements on both platforms. The next-gen versions run at a "dynamic 4K resolution," which means it runs in 4K under ideal circumstances but will change resolutions on the fly to maintain smooth performance. According to NetherRealm, it's also received a general tune-up, visually. As with most last-gen games, the next-gen consoles cut down MK11's load times dramatically. The menus, which once took 5-10 seconds to load on Xbox One and PS4, load almost instantly on the Series X and PS5.

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Fuser Review

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 12:57

I've never really been a musician. When I was in middle school, I took the trumpet. In high school, I took guitar lessons. But I was never dedicated enough to the craft and I dropped both after a couple of years. Making music, even just for fun, was a prospect I left behind a long time ago. So I'm surprised by how inspired I was by Fuser, Harmonix' new musical mash-up making game. While it has a score-based story mode similar to the studio's past games, Fuser actually empowers you to be creative and make music from parts of songs you may already know. The core mechanic, switching tracks in and out to make music, is easy to use and wonderful to play with. The game Harmonix built on top of that core idea, however, doesn't always take advantage of it effectively. As a result, Fuser is better at spurring you to be creative than it is at challenging you. That may sound like a daunting, niche experience, but no game's made it easier to feel good about getting creative.

Fuser rides a vanishing line between music game and music-making toolkit. As a mash-up DJ, you create music by blending (or fusing) parts of songs together to make a new and often dancier version of your own. Each of the 80-plus songs in the base game's library, plus a growing supplemental library of DLC songs, is broken down into four color-coded instrumental tracks, which you can switch in and out on the fly, changing the song as you go. You can play the drums from "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against The Machine, the guitar from "Jolene" by Dolly Parton, the trumpets from "Bring ‘Em Out" by T.I., and the lyrics of Sean Paul's "Temperature," and they'll all cohere into one brand new sample. Your set is an evolving compilation of combinations.

The music you use spans decades and genres far beyond what you might expect from a game about DJing at a music festival. The tracklist spans pop, rock, country, dance, hip-hop, R&B, and Latin/Caribbe music from the 1960s through 2020. As with Rock Band, there's a nostalgia that draws you in, but you quickly cultivate a new and surprisingly deep relationship with specific tracks that you may not have had before. I found myself growing to enjoy songs I knew but didn't really love before, and staying away from some songs I like, but don't fit in with the songs I like using most. Everybody I know Guitar Hero or Rock Band has a song they know and like from playing those games. The same thing happens here.

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Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity Review

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 01:00

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity occasionally lets you take control of a Divine Beast. It's a moment that should carry some weight for Zelda fans. The Beasts are colossal machines crucial to the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and while they're cumbersome to control, the levels in which you play as them effectively communicate their destructive power. If you've played Breath of the Wild, these moments take on a portentous air; the power fantasy of using lasers, bursts of lightning, and volleys of magma to level mountains and rack up thousands of Bokoblin, Moblin, and Lizalfos kills is undercut when you remember how the people who're using them can't fully control them, and that these tools of destruction will turn on their masters when they're needed most and destroy them.

That sense of impending doom is what I came to Age of Calamity for, but that's where it blunders hardest. It constantly encourages you to set aside that feeling of dread, avoid coming to terms with the consequences of its apocalyptic premise, and instead just kill a bunch of baddies and think the Divine Beasts are cool. Doing that is fun for a while, but it couldn't stop me from being enormously let down by that choice.

Age of Calamity's narrative failure is especially frustrating because the disappointing turns it takes to get there seem so clear, and because it does so much right until then. The campaign begins with a small, white Guardian-like robot seeing the Calamity caused by Ganon in Breath of the Wild and traveling back in time to before it ever happened, when Link is still a royal knight and Zelda is working to unlock her potential and stop the Calamity from happening.

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Ori And The Will Of The Wisps Xbox Series X Review

Wed, 11/18/2020 - 12:11

Eight months after its initial release, Ori and the Will of the Wisps received some impressive technical upgrades on the Xbox Series X and Series S. The optimized version of the game hits an ultra-smooth 60-120 frames per second on both next-gen consoles at varying resolutions. It's a huge comeback for a game that was initially subject to wonky technical issues. In the next generation, Ori sheds its graphical hangups and becomes more impressive for it.

Both consoles have frame rate-prioritizing "performance" and visually minded "fidelity" modes, but neither one feels like a compromise. On the Series S, you get to choose between 1080p with HDR at 120fps, or an upscaled 4K at 60fps. On the Series X, you can choose to play the game in 4K with HDR at a performance-focused 120fps, or goose the graphics in a supersampled 6K resolution, running at 60fps with HDR. Regardless of your settings, Will of the Wisps also benefits from enhanced load times and improved audio fidelity.

Supersampling, for anyone perplexed by the idea of playing an Xbox One-era game in 6K, processes an image at a higher resolution, then compresses it down to your TV or monitor's resolution. You know how a screenshot gets blurry when you make it ten times larger? It's kind of like the opposite of that… But happening in real-time because it's a video game and not a static image. The thing you need to know is, when using 6K mode in Will of the Wisps, you aren't actually playing in 6K, but what you are playing does get a nice visual boost over the standard 4K setting.

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Godfall Review

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:45

Godfall makes a good first impression. Even if you're playing on a moderately powerful PC, as I did, it's clear from the opening moments that developer Counterplay Games has endeavored to show off advancements in visual fidelity, no doubt in light of new hardware such as the PlayStation 5. From the way sparks fly to the myriad particles that coat every inch of its action and the reflectiveness of its gaudy gold and marble halls, Godfall wants you to know that next gen is here. Beyond the visual spectacle, however, lies a game that's immediately familiar and over-reliant on an amalgamation of loot-driven games from the past eight years or so.

Godfall's mixture of loot progression and third-person melee combat has been described by Counterplay Games as a new type of genre: the looter-slasher. The name holds up insofar as you loot and slash things, but there's nothing about Godfall that feels intrinsically new. Diablo, Monster Hunter, and Warframe make up a portion of its overt inspirations, but it manages to avoid feeling completely derivative by pulling from so many different influences at once. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, especially since it mixes in a few of its own ideas as well. The issues Godfall faces occur outside of combat, where its structure and gameplay loop are decidedly uninspired.

The whole game takes place across three distinct realms: Earth, Water, and Air. Upon entering each biome, you're given a brief tour of the area before being tasked with finding some kind of door that's locked by a specific number of MacGuffins. From here, you have to return to previously visited locations and defeat a number of mid-bosses--some of which are unique, but most of which are repeats of fights you've already had. Once you've slain each of these enemies and acquired the requisite amount of MacGuffins, you can open the door and fight that realm's boss. Then you simply ascend an elevator and repeat the whole process again in the next realm.

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