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Thirsty Suitors Review - "I'm Jala Goddamn Jayaratne!"

Thu, 11/16/2023 - 07:55

At a glance, Thirsty Suitors is a game about revenge. Its story follows the recently heartbroken Jala Jayaratne, who returns to her hometown only to be relentlessly attacked by a league of evil exes. But it is also so much more than that. As the story progresses, we come to discover that none of these exes are evil per se, and Jala herself is incredibly fallible. She left scorched earth in all of her previous relationships in Timber Hills, and her only option now is to reconcile and take accountability with each of these exes. Her attempts to make good take the form of turn-based combat built upon RPG progression that has a unique flavor and is fun to engage with. There's even a surprisingly enjoyable skateboarding mechanic. In so many ways, Thirsty Suitors is unique and creative, but when all is said and done, what makes a lasting impact is a personal, vulnerable, and culturally nuanced tale about making things right.

As previously mentioned, you will be fighting each of Jala's exes throughout the game in turn-based combat, leveling up stats, learning new skills to make fights easier, and using summons that can be unlocked through sidequests or the main story. Each fight is a conversation, a puzzle, and a battle in one where the objective is to discover the weakness of an opponent through a process of trial and error. Once you've identified that weakness, you can inflict status ailments or deal additional damage to chip away at their health. The RPG mechanics and the process of exploring and exploiting weakness are presented as a back-and-forth between Jala and her interlocutor where old wounds are reopened and issues are hashed out until the dynamic between them evolves or resolves. This system manages to work in the foundational element of RPGs but cleverly rethinks it to also give it narrative weight. The trial and error process is one of picking dialogue options, and these can have an impact beyond the battle too. Make the right decisions and you'll come up with a plan that'll pinpoint the enemies' weaknesses through taunts, so you can easily trounce them with the use of the correct skills.

Jala's initial ambition and awareness of her wrongdoings are unique for the main character of an RPG, let alone one spearheaded by a queer South Asian woman. Jala conveys her self-awareness by internalizing that she is the one at fault in all of her previous relationships, which manifests in the game as a banter between herself and a narrator. The narrator is a voice she has conjured up that is reminiscent of her sister, Aruni, in looks, voice, and tone. This, it turns out, is also a way for Jala to grapple with her strained relationship with her sister while still having guidance internally. The dialogue between them had me laughing throughout the game's 17-hour runtime. The snide, direct, and reassuring nature of this narrator figure allows Jala to convey her struggles effectively by presenting these challenges to another entity in a candid way. The Narrator offers the guidance she seeks throughout the game even though her actual sister avoids confronting Jala. Each of Jala's exes also has a coping mechanism such as Irfan and what other characters call his “obsession with his cat” to the point of carrying his pet around wherever he goes.

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CoD: Modern Warfare 3 MP And Zombies Review - Selling Nostalgia

Thu, 11/16/2023 - 07:35

It's a weird year for Call of Duty, as Modern Warfare 3 arrives with mostly recycled content in a game that is looking to sell you on nostalgia. However, despite being a hodgepodge of old ideas and content from previously launched games, this continuation of the rebooted Modern Warfare series still manages to deliver lots of exciting multiplayer with fast-paced movement and an extraction-style Zombies mode that keeps you hooked on the gameplay.

On paper, Modern Warfare 3 sounds like it should be suffering from a chaotic identity crisis, as it's cobbled together with many parts of previous Call of Duty games. It's a direct sequel to 2022's Modern Warfare 2, but the standard map pool at launch exclusively consists of the full map set from 2009's original Modern Warfare 2. Additionally, the game's third game mode is a Treyarch-developed Zombies experience, which plays on Warzone's upcoming battle royale map with tons of features pulled from Black Ops Cold War.

New Call of Duty games typically launch with multiplayer maps inspired by the game's campaign locations, but other than the airport map "Terminal," most of the other multiplayer maps don't tie into the campaign settings in any way. Releasing solely with old maps doesn't really do the multiplayer any favors, as longtime players like myself don't have new areas to explore and it creates a very noticeable disconnect that reminds you what a patchwork job Modern Warfare 3 really is.

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Super Mario RPG Review - An Authentic Ode To A Classic

Thu, 11/16/2023 - 01:00

Super Mario RPG is one of the wildest games in Nintendo's catalog. Loaded with eccentric characters like a Santa-esque big bad, random bouts of dark comedy--Toad cosplayers tickle as a form of torture and a four-eyed dog swallows you whole and comments on the taste--and moment-to-moment gameplay that is as raucous as it is eclectic, Super Mario RPG memorably capped off the SNES lifecycle. Fittingly, the new Switch version is one of the weirdest remasters I've ever played. Its surface-level appearance as a modern Mario game is merely a facade. Relentlessly faithful to the original, Super Mario RPG is a bold and largely successful experiment.

In fact, it's misleading to refer to Super Mario RPG as a remake, especially in a year where numerous remakes, such as Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space, have retooled beloved classics for modern sensibilities. Heck, I'd even say Super Mario RPG is closer to Metroid Prime Remastered. Yes, the graphics here were fully remade--this isn't a touch-up; it's a complete glow-up for contemporary eyes--but everything that gave the SNES game its identity is present. Outside of a few minor quality-of-life improvements, Super Mario RPG is mostly a remastered product of its time--and an utterly fascinating one, at that. With its heartfelt humor, standout personalities, satisfyingly straightforward combat, and an expeditious mindset devoid of the bloat that regularly plagues modern RPGs, Super Mario RPG is timeless.

Almost all truly great stories transcend time. When it comes to video games from the 16-bit era, narrative was often an afterthought. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the writing in Mario's debut role-playing holds up. Endearing characterization deftly builds a world that draws you into the overarching good versus evil story.

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Persona 5 Tactica Review - Vive La Persona

Wed, 11/15/2023 - 06:20

Over the years, Atlus--the studio behind the Persona series, Catherine, and Shin Megami Tensei--has developed a reputation for the way it approaches adult themes and dark topics unabashedly. While this generally makes for an M rating and the mild discomfort that accompanies the clumsy handling of delicate situations, it also makes complete sense. Many of the studio's titles explore humanity and the human condition, both of which contain their fair share of darkness and messy situations. They're ambitious topics to explore, and for that, I've always had tremendous admiration for Atlus and its Persona series in particular. But even more important than simply starting the conversation is the way the studio frames it--how it juxtaposes the darkness against powerful messages about courage, morality, hope, and idealism to make everything more meaningful. These things combined are what make Persona so beautiful--what shapes its identity.

Persona 5 Tactica not only exemplifies that identity but revels in it. With its chibi-style art, along with situations and dialogue that, at times, feel straight out of the requisite beach episode of an anime, the game offers more levity than Persona 5 Royal. Yet at its core, it remains focused on delivering powerful messages, tackling complex themes, and encouraging those who play it to not only be more sure of themselves but aspire to be more idealistic and kind as well. Tactica does all this spectacularly, using a powerful story and two new characters you can't help but fall in love with. Together, these narrative elements draw players into the next chapter in the Phantom Thieves saga and reignite the flames of rebellion. Though I went into the game not sure if its genre shift or even the game's existence would feel truly warranted--not sure if we needed yet another 30+ hours of Joker and friends--I walked away from the game thankful for it and the comfort it gave me.

Set shortly after the events of Persona 5 Royal, Persona 5 Tactica follows the Phantom Thieves as they embark on a new adventure through familiar yet uncharted territory. The journey begins at Le Blanc's, where Joker is serving up coffee and curry to his soon-to-be-graduated friends while the group discusses their plans for the future. However, conversations come to a halt after the Thieves notice time is now standing still and the Metaverse--the cognition-constructed realm our heroes thoroughly explored in the P5--has seemingly consumed them once again. As quickly as they are pulled back into the cognitive world, however, our heroes note that something is different about the Metaverse this time. Uncovering what that difference is (and how to get back home) then becomes the group's first priority and sets everything in motion, albeit a bit slowly.

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Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2 Review - More Than A Rerun

Thu, 11/09/2023 - 08:03

Two years ago, Fair Play Labs and Ludosity entered the platform fighting game ring with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. The game was decent enough, but it was clear that the core "Smash Bros. with Nickelodeon characters" idea had more to offer than what was delivered. Now, with Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 2, the two studios are attempting to realize that potential.. However, while some welcome adjustments have been made, there are a few important flaws--and some mind-boggling subtractions--that once again keep the full potential of this idea out of reach.

The most notable improvement Nick Brawl 2 makes over other platform fighters is its control scheme, which carries over from the previous game and yet still feels genuinely innovative. Character movement, shields, and throws are all standard fare: You move your character with the stick, press a shoulder button to grab for a throw, and press a different shoulder button to bring up shields or dodge opponents' moves.

Attacking, on the other hand, uses a control scheme quite different from what you might expect from a platform fighter. Each character has three main attack buttons--light attack, charge attack, and special attack--and each button uses a different move if the joystick is held in a certain direction. Charge attacks in most other platform fighters have shared a button with light attacks, but Nick Brawl 2 separates them. This is a smart improvement, as it makes for easier combo execution in the heat of battle and allows for a few extra moves for each character. This game also made me appreciate jumping with a button instead of tilting the joystick up--by dedicating a button to jumping, using a upward charge attack becomes easier, as I don't accidentally jump instead of attacking. I never used the button option in Smash, but Nick Brawl 2 has made me come around to the idea.

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You Will Die Here Tonight Review - Empty Residence

Wed, 11/08/2023 - 11:36

In the opening of You Will Die Here Tonight (YWDHT), my Resident Evil-inspired super-cop solved a confusing book-based puzzle and ventured into a secret underground lab, where she was then met with a monologue from her ally-turned-enemy. To my surprise, this Albert Wesker-like big bad then shot my character dead--all in the first 15 minutes. It was like starting a Resident Evil game in the final scene and then getting a dark ending where the villains prevail. With a touch of meta commentary on the genre, this unconventional introduction was an intriguing start, but also the last part of the game I truly enjoyed, as the game thereafter ran through too-common horror tropes without cleverly subverting or enhancing them ever again.

In the aptly titled You Will Die Here Tonight, Resident Evil is the blueprint for a two- to four-hour-long isometric, survival-horror game with a touch of roguelite progression. That fun intro I detailed would've been a neat story track to stay on, as the big bad who seems to prevail quickly discovers there's another unseen hand, more powerful than her own, that is pulling the strings. But the game oddly drops this pretense in favor of a roguelite system whereby, when a character dies, you assume the role of another member of A.R.I.E.S. (the legally distinct and totally-not-S.T.A.R.S. division of police officers) keeping all story items with the opportunity to recover other scraps if you can find the body of your predecessor.

The dissonance between that story-heavy opening scene and what follows winds up feeling like two different games that somehow both made it into the final version. Each character plays the same but offers different text lines, with a few seeming quite serious and others offering bothersome jokes that wouldn't land at some middle school lunch tables. The mansion-like setting with secret labs, a torture dungeon, and some high-end offices and libraries is very much akin to a setting from Capcom's seminal series, and the roundabout way you navigate this space--solving convoluted puzzles and gathering various items to open doors and collect new weapons--is all meant to take you back to the late '90s, when games like this were most prevalent.

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Like A Dragon Gaiden Review - The Man Who Can't Escape The Yakuza

Tue, 11/07/2023 - 02:00

Perhaps I was naive to think that the legend of Kazuma Kiryu actually wrapped up with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and that his appearance in Yakuza: Like A Dragon was simply a nod to longtime fans such as myself. Having played through Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, I'm now convinced that leaving Kiryu to grow old in the shadows wouldn't have been the right move. Although Gaiden is a bite-sized story--noticeably shorter than previous entries--it proves that there's still so much more to Kiryu's legacy.

From the wild new Agent fighting style to the wealth of captivating side activities and tried-and-true Yakuza story drama, Gaiden is a tight package that's akin to a 'greatest hits' for the franchise. While it may feel like a retread of previous games at times, the formula is no worse for wear and continues to finds ways to surprise me with its straight-faced delivery of absurdist humor. Gaiden acts as a middle chapter that flows into the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the 2020 RPG starring Kasuga Ichiban as the protagonist, and it leads directly into the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which has Ichiban and Kiryu teaming up. It's tough to talk about this game in a vacuum, but because it so heavily targets those who've been on the Yakuza journey all this time, it hit me hard in my feelings--especially as I barreled toward its heart-rending conclusion. In that respect, it is both a typical and exceptional entry in the Yakuzaverse.

With Kiryu as the leading man, the real-time brawler combat returns, but Gaiden doesn't simply rehash the old system. The new Agent fighting style adds enough to freshen up fights by giving Kiryu some James Bond-esque gadgets to complement the melee finesse of this fighting style. As you progress in the main story, you'll gradually unlock abilities like the drones that swarm and chip away at enemies, rocket boosters on his shoes that let Kiryu jet around combat encounters and plow through bad dudes, and explosive cigarettes that act as a grenade to blast away mobs. Kiryu also channels some real Spider-Man energy with the aptly named Spider ability, where he shoots out a wire from his watch to lasso enemies, launch them across the arena, or pull in weapons from afar. And it's oh-so-satisfying to weave it in mid-combo to start juggling enemies as if you're a god-tier Tekken player. He even uses it in web-slinging fashion to swing around in action-packed cutscenes--it's absolute Yakuza nonsense, and I love it.

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Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Campaign Review - Return Of The Makarov

Sat, 11/04/2023 - 10:53

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's campaign picks up where last year's Modern Warfare 2 left off. Captain Price's iconic Task Force 141 is back in action and, as teased in the final cutscenes of Modern Warfare 2, the new threat is Vladimir Makarov, a major antagonist of the original Modern Warfare franchise. Modern Warfare 3 sparks a hot opening with an early reveal of Makarov, but the introduction of the new Open Combat missions disrupts the story's pace for a fizzled-out ending.

Modern Warfare 3 reunites Price's team with several familiar faces from the rebooted series, including Kate Laswell, Farah Karim, and Alex Keller. General Shepherd and Commander Phillip Graves of Shadow Company also return, despite their treacherous actions against Soap, Ghost, and Los Vaqueros in Modern Warfare 2. It's an all-hands-on-deck situation with Makarov in the picture.

The campaign opens with Operation 627, a mission in which you stealthily break into a gulag. This linear level sees you rappelling down into the Gulag with night vision goggles on, clearing guards level by level as you descend. Visually, this level looks cool and the gameplay is one of the more enjoyable and traditional missions you'll play in Modern Warfare 3. The gameplay and cinematics are of the bombastic quality you'd expect from Call of Duty, and right away the threat of Makarov is apparent. He gets an exciting jailbreak moment and emerges from confinement ready to cause some chaos. However, after this hyped opening mission, Modern Warfare 3 immediately stumbles as you're forced to play two of the game's new Open Combat missions back-to-back.

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Ghostrunner 2 Review - Delicate Balance

Sat, 11/04/2023 - 03:24

When it launched in 2020, Ghostrunner was quickly recognized for its slick blend of satisfying first-person parkour platforming and tough-as-nails, one-hit-kill combat. Perhaps most impressive was just how well it practiced restraint, never overstaying its welcome while also keeping the focus keenly on its engaging traversal and action. Ghostrunner II is a sequel that hasn't entirely lost the captivating nature of its core gameplay loop, but in expanding the world that you're playing in and trying to find new elements to introduce into the mix, it loses itself along the way at times before finding its feet once again.

Ghostrunner II takes place a year after the events of the first game, with cyborg assassin Jack now comfortable in his role as enforcer for the Climbers, one of many gangs trapped in the cyberpunk tower of Dharma. While the original Ghostrunner had a story, it wasn't a core focus, instead simply providing some context to keep you moving forward. In the sequel, the narrative is far more prevalent, which can make many of its opening moments confusing if you haven't brushed up on the events of the first game or the encapsulating lore of the world the game takes place in.

You'll have numerous radio conversations with a variety of characters, many of which are exposition-heavy explanations to get you up to speed as quickly as possible. It makes the opening hours feel overwhelming and disjointed, before the story eventually settles into a predictable revenge plot that leaves little room for nuanced characterization. There are some entertaining exchanges between Jack--whose blunt but self-aware responses are surprisingly hilarious for a single-purpose killing machine--and some of his handlers, but Ghostrunner 2 doesn't feature a fleshed-out cast of characters or captivating story beats that you'll likely remember by the time credits roll, and certainly not long afterwards.

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The Talos Principle 2 Review - Machine Learning

Fri, 11/03/2023 - 03:00

Video games often deal with the end of the world and thinking about how cool it might be. Like, sure, it sucks that most everyone has to die horribly for the end of the world to take place, but those of us who survive might get to shoot evil marauders or rotting mutants or giant bugs. Or maybe there are evil marauders, rotting mutants, and giant bugs who are trying to bring about the end of the world, and you can shoot them to prevent it. In any event, the idea of finding fun settings that let you dispense death without really worrying about the consequences tends to bring something of a positive spin to the apocalypse.

The Talos Principle 2 isn't just about the possibility of the end of the world, but the real, legitimate, logical fear of it--one based not on religious abstraction or a distant extrapolation, but an understanding of past mistakes. It doesn't use that possibility for a fun setting with monsters to blast or a villain to chase and instead leans into a more peaceful and serene conception of impending doom. How best to prevent bringing an end of our own making to the world, it asks, even if it's currently theoretical or decades in the future? When is it worth the risk? What values, what comforts, what aspects of ourselves are important to us, and which of them do we consider so intrinsic that to exist without them would be no existence at all?

It's also a game about puzzles. The puzzles are really good.

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RoboCop: Rogue City Review - I'd Buy That For A Dollar!

Thu, 11/02/2023 - 06:12

RoboCop: Rogue City is a love letter to the 36-year-old sci-fi franchise. Teyon, the studio behind Terminator: Resistance and Rambo: The Video Game, clearly has a soft spot for '80s action movies, and this reverence is woven into the very fabric of Rogue City's design. From the environments to the soundtrack to the satirical style, it captures the look, sound, and vibe of the first two RoboCop movies with exceptional aplomb, while also making you feel like you're fully embodying the titular supercop. Pistons whir with each heavy footstep of your titanium frame as you shrug off damage and methodically dispatch criminal scum with the lethal precision of a machine. There's something admirable about this adherence to authenticity, yet being a near-unstoppable force doesn't always make for the most compelling video game. Rogue City often appears as though it's stuck at a crossroads between being faithful to the source material and presenting an enjoyable first-person shooter, and it only sometimes strikes a satisfying balance.

Rogue City's story feels genuine by etching a brand-new tale into the series' familiar narrative framework, but this is another area where Teyon sometimes sticks too closely to the original two movies' vision. Set between the events of RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3, Rogue City sees you play as Old Detroit cop Alex Murphy--with Peter Weller reprising the famous role--who's been rebuilt as the cyborg RoboCop after being fatally wounded in the line of duty. The game opens with a satirical news segment that would feel right at home in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film, establishing the crime-riddled state of Old Detroit. Nuke, the highly addictive designer drug introduced in RoboCop 2, is still proliferating on the streets, and now there's a new crime boss in town who has the rest of the city's gangs lining up to work for him. Putting a stop to this new wave of crime is your prime directive, but the story also explores a number of sub-plots with mixed results.

At the conclusion of the game's first mission, for instance, RoboCop malfunctions in a dangerous hostage situation and begins having flashbacks to the life he used to have as a loving husband and father. Mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) is eager to fix its faulty hardware, even going as far as to hire a therapist for RoboCop to talk to. The original movies explored themes of control and free will and touched on the dichotomy of RoboCop's very existence, but these moments were often clumsily handled and never reached a particularly satisfying conclusion. Rogue City allows you to delve deeper into Murphy's psyche by choosing various dialogue options during your mandated therapy sessions. You can toe the line and say you're just a machine or that it doesn't matter either way, or you can opt to dig further and explore Murphy's relationship with his humanity and personal identity. There are some interesting moments that arise from these conversations and the way your answers influence how others perceive you, but it also doesn't say anything we haven't heard before, either within RoboCop's own fiction or in other media. As a result, Rogue City feels like it's simply retreading old ground and falling into the same pitfalls the movies once did.

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WarioWare: Move It Review - I Am Merely Okay To Move It Move It

Thu, 11/02/2023 - 01:00

WarioWare is a series built on gimmicks. The very idea of "microgames" on the Game Boy Advance was a silly, novel idea, and every iteration since then has tried to match that gonzo style. At this point, the real measure of a WarioWare game is how well the new schtick works to deliver its frenetic rapid-fire games. For WarioWare: Move It, Nintendo has repeated the pose-based games from the Wii's WarioWare: Smooth Moves. But while the games are as wacky as ever and frequently hilarious, many of the poses (or "Forms") themselves are too complex--which creates friction for the players and sometimes even for the Joy-Con controllers.

The unusual nature of the pose mechanic is apparent right away when the game asks you to acclimate yourself to holding the Joy-Con controller in a wonky sideways position: face buttons inside your palm or facing outward, controller turned to the side so that your thumb is positioned to hit the ZL or ZR button. If you imagine you're on a gameshow like Jeopardy where the contestants have buzzers, that's basically how this feels. You can't really reach the face buttons, but you don't need them. Instead, everything is controlled by motion, sometimes also involving the ZL and ZR button, and very rarely, the SL and SR buttons located on the rail.

The odd hand positioning appears to be in service of better motion sensing, allowing for a wider range of poses than we saw in Smooth Moves on the Wii. And to its credit, the gameplay does get a lot of mileage out of finding new ways to integrate these poses into different types of competitions. You might be asked to switch from holding your forearms perpendicular to your body (Choo-Choo) to putting your hands up at your cheeks (Lovestruck) to posing with one hand at your head and another at your side (Fashionista). What's most impressive about the array of poses is how often Move It makes them feel natural in the context of the microgames. The game won't know if you aren't playing along fully, but you'll naturally perform the motions better if you commit to the bit.

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Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review - Back to the Future

Wed, 11/01/2023 - 22:00

The Star Ocean franchise has been an underappreciated one within the Japanese RPG genre. Despite being around for more than 25 years, it's never had the breakout success that elevated it to new heights, as something like Persona or Tales have had in more recent years. Many longtime fans consider 1999's Star Ocean: The Second Story to be the best entry, and now Square Enix has remade it for modern consoles. Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a remake that manages to not only have the retro feel of its older PS1 and PSP incarnations, but also make it feel fresh with new battle mechanics, as well as audio and visuals updates. It may not be the big break that’ll finally make the Star Ocean franchise explode in popularity, but it’s a fine Japanese RPG on its own terms.

The Second Story's plot follows an energetic young man named Claude C. Kenny and a caring young girl named Rena Lanford. After disobeying his father's orders and touching a malfunctioning piece of teleportation equipment, Claude accidentally lands on a backwater planet called Expel, runs into Rena, and has to protect her from a monster. These two characters are the core focus of the story, and their respective motivations and situations make for great plot drivers. In an effort to find a way to return home, Claude agrees with the local village to investigate the Sorcery Globe, a mysterious meteor-like object that crashed into Expel, causing the surrounding area to be infested with monsters. As he’s from a technologically advanced society, he thinks that the object could provide clues on how to get off of Expel. Rena, meanwhile, is an orphan and hopes to uncover more of her own past, as she is the only person on Expel to be blessed with natural healing powers.

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Alan Wake 2 Review - A Miracle Illuminated

Fri, 10/27/2023 - 00:00

Calling a game ambitious can come with an implied caveat. A game with great ambition can be something that reaches high and far, but can also be one that doesn't quite get there. Alan Wake 2 is one of the most ambitious games I've ever played, but don't misconstrue that, as it doesn't fall short of its lofty goals. On the contrary, Alan Wake 2 achieves virtually everything developer Remedy Entertainment set out to do. It's a game that feels novel and risky that is executed with confidence and a clarity of vision. The end result is a one-of-a-kind sequel that redefines its series, blazes trails in video game storytelling, and stands as the monument to a studio that has unlocked its potential to the fullest.

Picking up 13 years after the original game's events, Alan Wake 2 is made with two audiences in mind: those who may be new to its mystery-laden plot and those who have been decorating figurative cork board with red strings in their minds for over a decade. This is a smart way to broaden appeal to a bigger audience that Remedy executes by splitting the game into two campaigns, both unfolding using an unconventional structure.

In one campaign, FBI special agent Saga Anderson arrives at the once-quaint Bright Falls, Washington to investigate a series of disappearances and ritualistic murders. Saga is joined by her partner, Alex Casey, and becomes the perfect proxy for the uninitiated as she is soon enveloped in the juxtaposition of Bright Falls' understated but haunting atmosphere and its quirky and often upbeat townsfolk. Turning over crime scenes in an unsettling forest rich in folklore, Saga's storyline combines the rustic foreboding feelings of The Blair Witch Project with the unflinching grit of a Fincher-esque dark crime drama. The other campaign, meanwhile, sees you play as the titular Alan Wake and picks up in a nightmare realm called the Dark Place, where Alan has been trapped since the end of the first game. This malevolent space feeds off of art and memories alike, creating a personalized prison for all who enter it.

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Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 - Kept You Waiting, Huh?

Mon, 10/23/2023 - 18:01

Metal Gear Solid and its sequels are seminal titles in the history of video games, pioneering the 3D stealth-action genre in conjunction with an ambitious approach to cinematic storytelling. Replaying them again after more than 15 years put me in a state of constant surprise as I was reminded how much each game is still ingrained in the recesses of my brain. From finishing lines of dialogue I hadn't heard since the PlayStation 2 was brand-new to being able to navigate the winding corridors, air vents, and layered depths of Shadow Moses and Big Shell like the back of my hand--it's clear how much of an impact the series had on my youth, and I know I'm not the only one. Because of this, the Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 feels important, both as a means of historical preservation and as a nostalgia-fueled time machine for one of the most influential series of all time.

Konami has certainly assembled an impressive assortment of games for this bundle, beginning where it all started for creator Hideo Kojima. The original 8-bit Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake--as well as the standalone NES version of Metal Gear and the non-canonical sequel, Snake's Revenge--are all included in the Master Collection. Having been released in 1987 and 1990 for the MSX2 computer platform, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are showing their age--though surprisingly not to the point where their archaic design renders them unplayable. Played from an overhead 2D perspective, ranged combat is inherently clunky due to your restrictive four-way movement, and any missteps are at the mercy of an unforgiving checkpoint system. Despite these flaws, however, there aren't many aspects of either game that feel so antiquated that you can't get something positive out of playing them. It helps that the controls have been updated and unified for this collection, with both triggers letting you access either the items or weapons in your inventory, much like they do in the Metal Gear Solid games. Other than this, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are unchanged from the originals.

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Payday 3 Review - Turning Up The Heat

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 10:26

The iconography behind a handful of thieves donning twisted masks during a violent heist has transcended many forms of media, but they're nowhere more recognizable through a gaming lens than in the enduring Payday series. This cooperative heist simulator borrows elements from some of the best in the genre but has consistently offered a distinct spin on the ensuing chaos by delivering memorable and elaborate jobs for you and your friends to pull off. It's been a long time since the last entry in the series, in part due to Payday 2's long-standing post-launch support, but in its third entry, wholesale overhauls to its formula are impeded by a lack of content and a baffling progression system.

Payday 3 once again rounds up the familiar band of thieves for another handful of assorted heists, this time strung together by a loose and entirely uninteresting plot about a conspiracy that takes itself far too seriously. It contrasts poorly against the absurdity of the jobs themselves, each of which takes place in a relatively grounded location but often requires absurd steps for completion. Coupled with the comical number of cops you'll face most of the time and the ridiculous gadgets you'll employ to break into vaults and locked-down crypto wallets, it makes the narrative tying everything all together feel like it's from a different game.

Thankfully, it's one of the least important aspects of this revamped cooperative shooter, which redefines what a successful heist is in the first place. All but one of the game's heists can now be completed entirely without firing a bullet, giving a savvy team of four the chance to think about circumventing security cameras or hiding from nosy guards and achieving the perfect getaway in the vein of Ocean's Eleven. Payday 2 players might recall that this was technically possible in the previous title, but it often required gear that only unlocked much later in the game to achieve the exact same objectives that going loud did anyway. Payday 3 splits the path of passive and aggressive with unique objectives for each, comfortably shifting from the former to the latter when the jig is up and you're forced to don your masks and brandish a weapon.

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Sonic Superstars Review - Reaching for Stars

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 10:04

Sonic as a franchise is notoriously inconsistent, offering up some amazing highs, some truly dire lows, and a fair few games that are forgettably mediocre. But then there's that one weird category several Sonics fall into: games that are obviously, undeniably flawed in some way, but still have that something that makes a Sonic game feel special. Maybe not everyone can feel what makes them great, but for others, those qualities will overshine all of the negatives. Sonic Superstars is one such game, one with glaring flaws that I happen to like a lot.

We all know how it goes by now: Sonic's arch-nemesis Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and he's got his eye on a new locale whose resources he can exploit for evil schemes. It's up to Sonic and his BFFs, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, to stop the Doctor, recover the Chaos Emeralds, battle the returning but obscure fan-favorite villain Fang the Sniper, and meet a brand-new buddy to save the day. Accomplishing this task involves zipping through 11 themed side-scrolling zones while collecting rings, bonking Badniks, and dealing with each area's distinct gimmicks and threats. No melodramatic story scenes, RPG or sim elements, or awkward romances here: It's pure, classic Sonic platforming.

That doesn't mean it's entirely devoid of new ideas, however. All of the zones are brand-new: Familiar elements from previous games like gimmicks and enemies might return, but every stage is an original. Collecting a Chaos Emerald now grants a special Emerald Power players can put to use at almost any time, provided they have the energy for it. And--perhaps the biggest new twist of all is that Sonic Superstars now supports four-person couch co-op multiplayer. Sure, somebody could pick up the player 2 pad and flail around as Tails in Sonic 2 and 3, but that was extremely limited; what we have here in Superstars is a unique kind of controlled chaos (pun intended).

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Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged Review - 2 Hot 2 Wheels

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 03:55

On its face, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a continuation of the original game that doesn't offer many drastic changes or additions. Underneath the surface, however, there are a ton of small improvements in both the gameplay and the content that make for a better experience overall.

The main campaign of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a collection of racing events connected via an overworld map. This time around, these events are loosely tied together by a story about massive monsters invading the city. The two main heroes must shrink these monsters down and beat them by driving Hot Wheels. The story is told through short cutscenes that feature stills of the cartoon protagonists and a Saturday-morning-cartoon-style tone. It's not particularly great--the dialogue is over the top and the jokes don't land--but these cutscenes are pretty infrequent and short, so it's a small part of the experience.

The racing itself is easily the most enjoyable part of the game, with major improvements to the feel. Each Hot Wheels vehicle is now given a class, like drifter, off-road, or rocket, which gives you a rough idea of how the vehicle controls. Drifters specialize in drifting, naturally, while rockets have the highest available speed, but lack in control. With some classes, like the Off-Road, you can tell their specialty just by looking at the vehicle; it's nice to know at a glance what a standard looking car is good at without having to find out by racing. Each racing event is labeled with the class best suited for the track, giving you an idea of the best vehicle to pick without needing to run a practice lap first. For the most part, you aren't forced to use the recommended vehicle class, so you can always pick your favorite Hot Wheel, regardless of the situation, which is a nice touch.

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Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review - A Badge Of Honor

Thu, 10/19/2023 - 00:00

Whether Nintendo intended it or not, conventional wisdom tends to sort modern Mario games into something of a mental tier list. The 3D Mario games like Galaxy and Odyssey are the flagship mascot platformers, and 2D Mario games like the New Super Mario Bros. series are somewhat lesser retro throwbacks. Still good, dependable, but less prestigious. It's after years of 2D games languishing in understudy status that Super Mario Bros. Wonder takes center stage--and it delivers such a knockout performance that it makes the argument, implicit or otherwise, that 2D Mario games can be just as vital to the medium as their 3D siblings.

In essence, the Wonder effects that lend Mario Wonder its title can be likened to the planetoids of Super Mario Galaxy--a simple, easily understood hook that gave stage designers carte blanche to be as inventive and strange as they'd like, constantly reinventing the mechanics and subverting expectations. The result once again is a game filled to the brim with delightful little surprises, like unwrapping a series of gifts made just for you, the discerning fan of Mario platforming.

Those Wonder effects extend from the story, which is loose and unobtrusive. Mario and his pals are visiting Prince Florian of the neighboring Flower Kingdom, who's keen to show off his kingdom's greatest treasure, the Wonder Flower. But Bowser crashes the diplomatic event, naturally, and steals the Wonder Flower, transforming himself into a living, floating castle that towers over the kingdom and corrupts everything inside. Premise secured, Mario and company rush to the rescue. The exact scientific effects of Wonder Flowers are never properly explained, but we get the gist well enough: It changes reality in huge, often unexpected ways.

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Marvel's Spider-Man 2 Review - Web Warriors

Tue, 10/17/2023 - 01:00

There's quite a bit of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 that can be summed up as "more of the same." Granted, that's a good thing--both the original game and the Miles Morales-focused follow-up feature fantastic reimaginings of their respective Spider-Men, exhilarating web-swinging, and superb combat mechanics. Who wouldn't just want more of that? And sure, more of what came before does mean that Spider-Man 2 retreads less successful ground, like the first game's buzz-killing science puzzles. However, the good far outweighs the bad, and a few new gameplay mechanics freshen up aspects of both traversal and combat. Altogether, it's a great game and one well worth seeing all the way through from its bombastic beginning to its emotional end.

Like the first two games, the true star of Spider-Man 2 is its story. It finally gives us the chance to jump between playing as either Peter or Miles as the two work together to protect New York City from Kraven, a fierce warrior looking to transform the city into his hunting ground. Their personal lives don't fare any less stressful--Peter and Miles are both stuck, struggling to figure out what's next for them. Peter desperately yearns to find a steady job and Miles can't quite find his place in the world while still contending with the trauma of losing both his dad and a close friend within the same year.

The crux of Spider-Man 2 is the cold isolation of loneliness and how Peter, Miles, and all those around them handle it. Both Spider-Men feel adrift at the start of the game, each lost and desperately seeking some form of respite and companionship in hopes of filling that void, but Peter can't quite convince Mary Jane to move in with him, and Miles can only watch from afar as his friends get into college and pursue their dreams while he busies himself with Spider-Man responsibilities. It's an effective draw to pull you into caring about both protagonists as the game flips between them and curates a throughline that connects all of Spider-Man 2's characters--both heroic and villainous--through an assortment of main story and side missions.

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