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Pupperazzi Review - More Rough Than Ruff

Sat, 01/22/2022 - 07:51

Dogs are one of the few remaining precious things in life. Dogs are good--providing the world with ceaselessly comforting and fiercely loyal companions. Truth be told, we've reached a point where not liking dogs just feels a bit, well, wrong--like admitting you hate sweets or can't stand the feeling of a freshly made bed. Or, more relevantly, that you just weren't a fan of the cute n' cozy indie game you had hoped you would love.

Sundae Month's Pupperazzi is, conceptually, adorable. Set in a world almost entirely inhabited by playful pooches, the first-person photography game perfectly aligns with a growing desire for more peaceful experiences, making it ideal for those looking for cozy games. However, all these warm fuzzy feelings and vibrant world aren't enough to make up for Pupperazzi's frustrating lack of variety when it comes to things to do, which ultimately leads to a repetitive gameplay loop.

In Pupperazzi, you play a living camera, equipped with stringy limbs and hands perfectly crafted for giving pets and throwing frisbees. Your photo-filled adventure begins in a small cove beside a lighthouse, where an endearing "sea dog" clad in a yellow fisherman's jacket greets you with a simple request: Take a picture of him.

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Windjammers 2 Review - Spin To Win

Thu, 01/20/2022 - 20:00

The competitive disc-flinging of Windjammers is uniquely appealing. I've long heard of its majesty from the anime/alt-fighting game community (and particular game media figures). and a few heated sessions of high-speed dashing, tossing, and lobbing was all it took to be won over. Over the decades, this once-obscure arcade game has gained a reputation and a devoted competitive scene. And now, almost 30 years after the original game's debut, Windjammers 2 has emerged to show why old and new players alike should explode with excitement over the prospect of throwing a virtual frisbee.

The core concepts of Windjammers 2 are the same as its much-loved predecessor: Take the basics of Pong (throw the disc into an opponent’s goal space to win as they attempt to block and launch it back), add an international cast of characters with unique abilities, throw in a bunch of offensive and defensive options, then toss them all in one of several varied arenas to fight in the most intense, high-powered disc-tossing competition you've ever seen. The combination of skills, quick reactions, mind games, and clever movement make for a fast-paced experience with a broad appeal and surprisingly high skill ceiling.

It's not all the same as before, however. Windjammers 2 adds four new selectable characters to the cast, ranging from the super-speedy Jao Raposa to the hulking disc-chucking powerhouse Max Hurricane. Each character comes with unique super shots to dazzle and confuse opponents. New offensive and defensive maneuvers have been added, such as a button that immediately smashes a disc back at the opponent at high speed, and the ability to jump, intercept, and counter-throw a high-flying lobbed disc. These skills, combined with the unique characteristics and special attacks of each character, add a satisfying new layer of competitive depth and strategy to an already intense competitive game.

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Rainbow Six Extraction Review - Get In, Get Out

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 22:01

I couldn't help but pump my arm and mutter a "hell yes" as my squad finished up our first successful incursion in Rainbow Six Extraction. Even on the easier difficulties, missions had proven to be brutal. And yet, we'd cleared an incursion without a single operator going down, playing a mission that just an hour before had been too challenging for us to even get a third of the way through. But we persevered after our initial failure. We discussed the pros and cons of our operators' unique gadgets, made plans to take subsequent incursions at a more careful pace, and promised to stick together until the mission was finished. Teamwork won the day for us--and that satisfying sense of camaraderie is Extraction's greatest hook.

A spin-off of Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft Montreal's team-based first-person shooter Extraction doesn't initially present as your typical Rainbow Six game. In Extraction, select members of international counter-terrorism unit Rainbow are called in to form REACT, a team tasked with studying and fighting against parasitic aliens called Archaeans. This is a bit more otherworldly in comparison to the more earthly concerns that Rainbow usually fights against, but the core gameplay tenets that define the Rainbow Six games are present in Extraction. Yeah, you're fighting aliens, but a successful mission is still entirely dependent on teamwork, communication, and your ability to adapt to difficult situations. It's a compelling gameplay loop, one made far more fun if you have two friends to jump into the fray with you.

As opposed to the player-vs.-player engagements of Siege, Extraction is entirely player-vs.-environment. In Extraction, squads of three are sent into "incursions." Each incursion, a mission into an area infested by the Archaeans, is divided into three sub-zones, with your objective changing zone to zone. As you progress, the difficulty of each zone increases, adding more enemy Archaeans and better rewards for completing objectives. It's up to you and your team to decide whether you go for broke and complete all three zones in a single incursion, or choose to extract from the mission early.

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Nobody Saves The World Review - Creature Comforts

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 00:00

About midway through Nobody Saves the World, I was getting wrecked. I had bashed my head against a dungeon using my best and strongest forms--switching my shapeshifting hero between forms like the burly Knight and the nimble Ranger--but none of them had Light-based abilities necessary for countering the dungeon's monsters. The Light abilities I could import from other forms were close-range and I was getting overwhelmed in the scrum. On a lark, I decided to switch to the Snail form, which had a signature Light ability. The humble, unassuming Snail was a form I hadn't really tried, figuring it was more or less a joke. Friend, let me tell you: That snail ripped through the dungeon like it was wet paper. I was a tiny gastropod avenger, cackling as I choreographed a ballet of monster carnage the likes of which had never been seen. And as I collected my reward, the experience made me appreciate how meticulously developer Drinkbox designed every form, every combat encounter, every moment of Nobody Saves the World to feel great.

The attention to detail in Drinkbox's take on the dungeon-crawler action-RPG is a quality that becomes apparent from the outset, when you skitter through a dungeon in the form of a Mouse, using your little chompers to shred through enemies. The combat feels fine-tuned and satisfying right from the start, and then builds from there with a host of options and impactful decisions that add layers of complexity while remaining perfectly understandable.

You become a scurrying little mouse after a run-in with Randy the Rad, the cocky apprentice of the powerful wizard Nostramagus. After waking up in a dingy shack with no memory or personality, you visit the Nostramagus' house for help. He's gone, but when his magic wand attaches itself to you, Randy takes it as a personal affront and locks you in the dungeon. Hijinks ensue.

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Monster Hunter Rise Review - Standing Tall

Wed, 01/12/2022 - 04:36

The locations you explore in Monster Hunter Rise have already felt the delicate touch of humanity's hand. Traditional Japanese torii can be found weaving through mountainside paths, leading to sacred shrines, while decaying temples have been reclaimed by nature as local plant life envelops the aging architecture. Signs of human life can even be found at the base of a raging volcano and in the midst of a flooded forest, where a Mesoamerican-style pyramid dominates the landscape.

If 2018's Monster Hunter World was all about unearthing a new continent as an intrepid frontiersman, then Rise is a triumphant return to the Old World with valuable lessons learned. An enhanced port of the 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate may have already graced the Nintendo Switch, but Rise is the first game in the series built from the ground up for Nintendo's latest console. As such, Rise closely follows in the footsteps of World while reneging on some of its changes and introducing plenty of new impactful ideas that excellently shift the focus towards the series' heart-pumping action.

The core Monster Hunter gameplay loop has remained relatively unchanged as you hunt down gargantuan monsters, harvest their materials to craft new weapons and armor, and tackle increasingly tougher foes. World coalesced both the single and multiplayer parts of the experience into one cohesive whole, but Rise reverts back to the old ways by splitting them into disparate Village and Hub quests. Village quests can only be played alone, while Hub quests can still be tackled solo but are designed with multiple players in mind. This isn't the most welcome setup for newcomers since it isn't immediately clear which quests progress the story, nor is there any indication of whether or not you should be alternating between both paths. The impact this structure has on the game isn't as substantial as it initially seems, though. Hunting the same monster multiple times has always been a part of Monster Hunter's DNA, so repeating the same mission as both a Village and Hub quest is something you would typically seek out anyway.

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Rocket League Sideswipe Review — Pocket Rocket

Fri, 01/07/2022 - 09:38

Rocket League is a perfect combination of calculated action and unexpected chaos. The idea of playing soccer with cars is itself a good one, but it's the way that Rocket League feels that makes it so much fun to play. Ludicrous speed, perfectly controlled cars, and goofy, floaty physics interactions turn every play into a melding of intelligent execution and unpredictable luck. Any version of Rocket League on a mobile device would have to capture that same feeling, and it's remarkable how much Rocket League Sideswipe--a scaled-down, super-quick mobile take on the Rocket League concept--captures exactly what makes its full-sized counterpart so enjoyable.

Sideswipe succeeds in creating a conception of Rocket League that caters to mobile play. This is a platform where time is spent in short bursts and where the best games are those that find a sweet spot between solid control and decreased complexity. For developer Psyonix, that sweet spot is found by taking the fundamentals of Rocket League and flattening them into a 2D version of the 3D game. This is still soccer with cars (or basketball with cars, depending on the playlist you choose), but instead of covering a whole 3D soccer field, you instead only have to deal with all the action on a single plane.

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The side-on view of the field means that a few elements of Rocket League work differently in the mobile version. You can't crash into other cars, for instance--only the ball, the floors, and the wall affect your vehicle in motion. And since goals can't be horizontal, they instead extend vertically into the air with a lip at top and bottom, requiring you to give your shots a little lift in order to score.

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The Gunk Review - All Gunked Up

Thu, 12/23/2021 - 08:15

For some reason, the act of cleaning in video games is oddly satisfying. Tidying up might be a monotonous chore in everyday life, yet games like Viscera Cleanup Detail, PowerWash Simulator, and Unpacking turn cleaning into a surprisingly engaging activity. Maybe gamifying burdensome housework with rewards and goals is enough, or perhaps it boils down to the fact that these games can make you feel productive even when you're procrastinating. Either way, The Gunk takes this formula and applies it to an alien planet in the far reaches of space. There's more to developer Image and Form Games' first 3D title than simply cleaning, but for all of the other ideas it brings together, ridding the planet of its titular mess is its most enjoyable.

Upon discovering that black malevolent goo is sapping the planet of its lifeforce, protagonist Rani goes about removing the Gunk to restore the world to its former beauty. This is achieved with an arm attachment she affectionately calls "Pumpkin" which acts like a heavy-duty vacuum, allowing you to inhale the Gunk's globular masses until there isn't so much as a speck left. Hoovering up the planet is The Gunk's central tenet, while simple third-person platforming and puzzle-solving encompass the rest of your adventure. There are rare moments of combat, too, but cleaning the Gunk takes precedence. Each time you clear an area of the debilitating sludge, the planet bursts back to life as the flora and fauna emerge from their goopy prison. Watching a cold, gray, lifeless area suddenly exude color and wildlife is reminiscent of similar mechanics in games such as Okami and provides The Gunk with an inherently satisfying loop. Maybe if the game were longer than a brief three hours, the rather workmanlike act of cleaning the planet would eventually grow stale. Instead, it's the rest of the game that suffers this fate.

Freeing the planet from the Gunk's clutches isn't the objective when you first land on this peculiar alien world. As Rani--together with her partner Becks--you touch down on this uncharted world to scavenge a potential energy source that might be valuable enough to pay off your mountainous debt. Rani is the adventurous type, impulsive and eager to explore every nook and cranny of this unfamiliar land, even if it means being reckless at times. Becks, on the other hand, is more practical and goal-oriented. She's overprotective of Rani and averse to her risk-taking, reluctantly adopting a maternal role as she remains with the ship and stays in contact with Rani via radio. The relationship between the pair carries what is otherwise a fairly routine story about uncovering the planet's mysterious past. Rani and Becks' inevitable conflict is predictable, but the combination of believable dialogue and accomplished voice acting makes for an interesting relationship, albeit one that feels overly familiar.

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Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker Review - That, I Can't Deny

Wed, 12/22/2021 - 06:56

This review features spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Read at your own peril!

Endwalker had a tall order: It needed to satisfactorily end an eight-year running storyline and put the final touches on the narratives woven in A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, and Shadowbringers. It also needed to wrap up the Scions' stories, the organization as a whole and even more--nine individual members' character arcs. In other words, Endwalker needed to do a lot in one expansion--and this ambition both propels it to its best moments, but also strains the expansion's seams.

When Endwalker soars, it leaps up into the heavens to deliver incredible, startling fights that feel truly exhilarating. In the last trial of the expansion, you--the Warrior of Light--get to battle against the cosmic embodiment of despair, Meteion--who is the vessel-like cause of the Final Days--while on the back of your archenemy, Zenos. It's surreal, fun, and an incredible final exclamation point. A hero's tale for the ages, especially for those who started so humbly with slaying defiant wharf rats.

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Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story Review -- We Are The Champions

Wed, 12/15/2021 - 09:36

With Ruined King: A League of Legends Story, developer Airship Syndicate finds itself in an unenviable position. The studio behind 2018's Battle Chasers: Nightwar has been tasked with taking its critically-acclaimed approach to the JRPG format from that game and adapting it for League of Legends (LoL), one of the most popular video game brands in the world. Battle Chasers proves the developer can make a solid JRPG out of a short-run comic book, but League is in a different, uh, league thanks to featuring more than 150 champions and having a decade's worth of lore and worldbuilding to reference. Conjuring a story worthy of the name sounds like a monumental task, but not only did Airship Syndicate do LoL justice with Ruined King, the JRPG mechanics bring the LoL experience to a whole new genre in an engaging and unique way.

Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story takes us to the pirate city of Bilgewater, a sprawling behemoth of wood and salt occupied by swashbucklers and sea dogs. Sarah Fortune--Miss Fortune to the LoL savvy--has recently taken over from the villainous Gangplank when the town is besieged by a black mist containing horrible monsters. Her story is then intertwined with five other champions--Illaoi, Braum, Yasuo, Pyke, and Ahri--as they journey to find the source of the Black Mist and contain it once and for all.

The first thing to appreciate about Ruined King is the bustling metropolis that is Bilgewater. Wooden paths curve and twist around each other as you journey through it, with branching paths leading to all sorts of discoveries. There are harbors, posh estates, rough and tumble watering holes, and more to find throughout this city of the sea. As you progress through the game, you'll find other locales that are also neat--a few late-game dungeon designs still stick out in my head--but nothing compares to the majesty of Bilgewater, which is a good thing, considering you'll spend nearly half the game there.

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Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon Review -- Dig Deep

Wed, 12/15/2021 - 03:23

For a character with only one official game release, Shovel Knight has certainly gotten around. The hero from Yacht Club's retro adventure has appeared in countless other games, has been immortalized as an Amiibo, and enjoyed a healthy stream of DLC. Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon marks the first completely new game for the character since his debut. And though it's a huge departure from the original action game, it expands on the franchise's range with a clever blend of puzzle and rogue-lite mechanics. The result is one of the most inventive puzzle games I've played in years.

Right from the start, Pocket Dungeon's core mechanics defy easy categorization. It's a tile-matching puzzle game, but rather than a cursor, your character is its own tile on the board. You ram yourself into enemies to eliminate them, which means your own movement around the grid is a large part of the strategy. You're often looking to eliminate large groups of enemies at a time, but you can just as easily take out single enemies to clear a path or create space for a larger clump. Enemies move whenever you move, but a timer ticks down and then they'll move independently as well. Both you and your enemies have a series of tick-marks to signify your HP. Essentially, it's a puzzle game that feels like an action game.

If all that makes Pocket Dungeon sound overwhelming, don't worry; in practice it's anything but. Yacht Club and Vine have done a masterful job of meticulously introducing how all of the pieces fit together so naturally that you hardly notice how much you've learned after the first handful of times playing. The fiendish simplicity of the mechanics starts to iterate on itself as you encounter new enemy types with special properties, like growing much stronger in groups or vanishing after the first strike until you hit something else. When you find items lying around the world, they're immediately recognizable with short, pithy descriptions to cue you in on their functions.

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Halo Infinite Campaign Review - What If Master Chief Was Daddy

Mon, 12/06/2021 - 19:01

The complex relationship between Halo protagonist Master Chief and his AI partner Cortana has always been one of the strongest driving forces for the franchise--it's a genuine bond, but one born out of manipulation, as Cortana (an AI based on the mind of the woman who kidnapped Chief as a child) is gifted to Chief as a perfect companion to ensure he maintains peak efficiency as a super-soldier. In this way, Cortana has always been the more dominant voice in the partnership. She tells Chief where to go and what to do, and Chief's single-mindedness coupled with the ability to solely rely on her means he never has to develop emotionally healthy bonds with normal human beings.

Halo Infinite is the first time we've seen that kind of relationship dynamic flipped. Paired with a new AI, simply named "the Weapon," Chief takes on a more fatherly figure in Infinite. Where Cortana was assertive, quick-witted, and mature, the Weapon is awkward, overly trusting, and silly. She sounds and acts like a child-like version of Cortana, pushing Chief into taking on a more domineering role that has far greater control over her. This opens some intriguing new opportunities for a Halo story--in a franchise that has long had an undercurrent theme of familial connection and motherhood, Infinite is the first in the series to focus its narrative around familial responsibility and fatherhood. The strength of that narrative, alongside the open world and new traversal mechanics, delivers a welcoming freshness to the two-decade-old series.

Other than Chief, Halo Infinite doesn't have much in the way of familiar faces. Very early into the campaign, you're confronted with the startling reveal that a lot of the folks you've come to know over Halo 4, Halo 5: Guardians, and Halo Wars 2 are dead or missing in action. Chief finds himself on a new Halo ring named Zeta Halo, which has been partially destroyed. The Banished, an independent army of multiple alien species that splintered off the Covenant, want the ring for some unknown purpose, and Chief vows to stop them. Without any of his usual allies to turn to, Chief ropes two unwitting companions into his fight--the aforementioned Weapon, who was supposed to delete herself following completion of her purpose, and the Pilot, a man desperately trying to just get home to United Nations Space Command (UNSC) space after being stranded all alone for months.

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Solar Ash Review - Ash Wins-day

Thu, 12/02/2021 - 04:00

Solar Ash is built like a skatepark in a lucid dream. The ground you skate across looks and acts like an ocean-sized mattress pad--blue and bumpy and bouncing as you pass. Floating islands are connected by grind pipes, which only emerge after you transport glowing spores from one mushroom to another. Red, bulging eyeballs act as the locks on gates made of black ooze, which you slash to gain passage. Much of what you see in Solar Ash makes little sense, but you move through it so quickly, the boss battles you fight are so exhilarating, and the puzzles you solve to reach them are so satisfying, that the dream logic of this world's construction feels like the necessarily slight distance to keep the good times rolling as you move from Point A to Point B.

The second game from Heart Machine, the developer of 2016 indie gem Hyper Light Drifter, retains that game’s color palette--expect plenty of pastel blues, pinks, and purples, with the occasional threatening red--but changes just about everything else. Hyper Light Drifter was a blisteringly difficult Zelda-like which presented its glitching neon overworld from a top-down 2D perspective. Solar Ash, meanwhile, is a 3D action-platformer in which you traverse its world on some futuristic version of inline skates, cutting up enemies with ease. Solar Ash presents its dreamlike world and asks you to explore it by jumping, skating, and grinding along pipes. What the two games share is a structure that, while fairly open, is constantly funneling you toward show-stopping boss battles. In Hyper Light Drifter, that open-ended structure applied to the entire map, with four sections that could be tackled in any order. Solar Ash adopts a more traditional linear structure, unveiling six increasingly wide levels one at a time. In each, you must hunt down multiple puzzles that, upon completion, let loose a massive boss. In each, there are plenty of audio logs and armor pieces waiting to be found if you take some time to explore.

As you set out on this quest, you take control of Rei, a "Voidrunner" who has traveled into the "Ultravoid"--a massive, world-destroying black hole--in an attempt to activate the "Starseed," a device the Voidrunners have created in an attempt to destroy the Ultravoid. When she arrives, her home planet is in the Ultravoid's grasp, but Rei hopes that if she can restore power to the Starseed, she can save her home planet. The game sets up too many Proper Nouns early on--all those terms are hurled at you by way of an introductory slide--and it struggles to communicate what exactly the stakes are and why we should care. But the basics are simple enough and will be familiar to the denizens of an Earth currently staring down the barrel of climate emergency: The planet is in imminent danger, the people in charge have squandered every opportunity to fix the problem, and, though it may be futile, our hopeful character is trying to do what she can to undo the damage the ruling classes have done. Where Rei's path diverges from climate change efforts in our world is that her quest involves fighting screen-filling boss monsters called "Anomalies."

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Big Brain Academy: Brain Vs. Brain Review

Thu, 12/02/2021 - 01:00

In the heyday of the DS and 3DS, Nintendo dedicated itself to a "blue ocean" strategy of attracting a wider audience than traditional gamers. Headlining this effort were games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, puzzle games targeted toward non-gamers that promised regular mental exercises to stay sharp and enhance your focus. More than a decade later, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain recenters itself around Nintendo's new strategic priority: social features and competition. And while the puzzles in Brain vs. Brain work just as well as ever, the competition aspect is an awkward fit that runs counter to a game series that has always been friendly and non-judgmental.

The main appeal of these brain-training games has always been to run your own race. Chipping away at daily exercises with Big Brain Academy's fictional Dr. Lobe lets you see the progression of slow, steady improvement as you sharpen your mental acuity. In previous games, over the course of a week or a month or even several months, the improvement would get more consistent and you could see yourself getting smarter, or at least better at these particular gamified skills. Brain vs. Brain is centered around competition, and feels a little less approachable for it.

That's not to say the game itself shames you. Dr. Lobe is as positive and encouraging as ever, always couching weak spots in gentle terms and nudging you to spend some more time practicing any fields where you didn't excel. But when you create a puzzle game ostensibly about measuring intelligence, and then pit a player against both friends and a worldwide gaming audience, it's going to be fertile ground for planting self-doubt.

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Halo Infinite Multiplayer Review In Progress - I Need A Weapon

Tue, 11/23/2021 - 06:00

I could spend all day talking about what makes Halo Infinite great but not necessarily superb, but, when you're in the thick of it, the faults that create that distinction are hard to notice because it's just really fun. While playing, I found myself giggling with murderous glee after successfully wiping an enemy team all on my own; laughing as I nonchalantly chucked a fusion coil and accidentally splattered an unseen player; and roaring support for an ally as they successfully held the line long enough for our team to secure an objective and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The experience of playing Halo Infinite is joyful, and what more can you ask for when it comes to a free-to-play online multiplayer shooter?

But, to reiterate, Halo Infinite isn't without its flaws. Most notably, its challenge-based progression system feels unrewarding and keeps the game's coolest-looking cosmetics locked behind dozens of hours of an unfulfilling grind. But 343 Industries has stuck the landing on what matters the most, as Halo Infinite feels good. Firearms shoot with a nice punch, and your Spartan's movements are smooth. And although not every map at launch feels like they're going down in Halo's hall of fame as all-time favorites, there's a welcome variety to them, allowing the seven currently available game types to play out in wildly different ways depending on which map you're playing on.

Similar to Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the narrative basis for Halo Infinite's multiplayer is a Spartan training program. With both Master Chief and the UNSC Infinity marked as missing in action, and the threat of Cortana still at large, Spartan Commander Agryna leaves you behind at a secure facility that's tasked with training the next generation of Spartan IVs. It's up to you to work hard and grow stronger in preparation for the coming fight.

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Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One Review - Murder In The Mediterranean

Sat, 11/20/2021 - 09:29

The cobblestone streets of Victorian London are as synonymous with Sherlock Holmes as his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, particularly as they pertain to developer Frogwares’ long-running game series. The Ukrainian studio's latest entry, Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, ditches both the dreary, smog-filled setting, and the good doctor, by presenting an origin story for the titular sleuth. It's a bold move that unshackles Chapter One from many of the familiar conventions of Arthur Conan Doyle's novels, allowing for some surprising and frankly absurd moments as you try to uncover the truth behind Sherlock's troubled childhood.

The fictional Mediterranean island of Cordona provides the new sun-swept backdrop for Sherlock's not-so-humble beginnings as a near-superpowered detective. The Londoner has returned to his idyllic childhood home to visit his mother's grave, but he soon learns that there may have been more to her death than he was initially told. This sets in motion a sprawling mystery that covers the breadth of the picturesque island, albeit one that struggles to latch on and retain your investment. The plethora of cases you're asked to investigate along the way are oftentimes fantastic and suitably intriguing--from solving a murder involving a rampaging elephant, to infiltrating a high society sex cult--but the central focus of uncovering what exactly happened to Sherlock's mother lacks the same captivation.

This is mostly due to the fact you're only privy to brief glimpses of Mrs. Holmes, resulting in her feeling less like a character and more like a contrived plot device. This makes it difficult to care about the details of her tragic fate either way, especially when there are more interesting story threads surrounding it. As a way to inform Sherlock's character development, the central mystery also falters in this regard, too. The young 20-something Sherlock is presented as a novice, yet his supernatural powers of deduction are still in full force from the very outset. He can surmise a character's entire backstory by glancing at the threads on their clothes or the bags under their eyes, so you never get the feeling that he's coming into his own and finding what works when he already begins the game as a fully formed super detective. He might not always be as aloof or refined as older incarnations of the character, but Chapter One never gives the impression that Sherlock was significantly different in his younger years, or that the events of the game informed his future self in any way--aside from what occurs in the final few scenes.

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Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy: Definitive Edition Review – Wasted

Fri, 11/19/2021 - 08:59

There is a strong argument to be made that Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas are the three most influential games of the 21st century. You can see their DNA floating around just about every open-world title made since and pretty much anyone making in-engine cutscenes owes a debt to Rockstar going fully Hollywood early on. There is an entire generation whose only exposure to various genres of music come from the soundtracks of these three games. Naturally, parts of them have aged better than others, but in the context of the early-to-mid 2000s, these games broke serious ground.

These are all facts set in stone by this point, of course. But it's worth seeing it all written down one more time so it's abundantly clear just how utterly bewildering it is that Rockstar let GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas get as absolutely mangled as they have been with these so-called Definitive Editions. Somehow, the studio that was so meticulous about making sure the poop leaving the back end of a horse was as lovingly rendered as a cowboy's sickly, grizzled face has approved a remaster bearing its name that turns its most iconic games into app store shovelware.

That isn't hyperbole, either. Having played virtually every major version of these games in some form over the years, it's glaringly obvious these remasters were built on the bones of the already-disfigured mobile ports of each game. As weak as those were, there were certain things you can forgive just by nature of the platform. Rampant bugs, stripped-down animations, frame rate instability? These are the prices you pay for portability. Those excuses vanish into thin air with the Definitive Editions having all the horsepower of current-gen consoles and PCs to utilize. Now, all the problems of the mobile ports have been blown up to 4K resolution. Now, the neglect feels less like a bug and more like a feature.

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Pokemon Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl Review-In-Progress

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 01:00

Even in the context of a series that regularly receives criticism for feeling formulaic, Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are particularly familiar. As remakes of the fourth-gen titles Diamond and Pearl, these are homages to an era of Pokemon when the series was just starting to settle into a comfortable niche. Not only that, but these are extremely faithful remakes, right down to the visual style and classic combat mechanics. That makes the experience feel downright homey, if not a little deja vu-inducing.

Diamond and Pearl, and therefore Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, are from a simpler era of Pokemon, before full 3D became the norm. Instead, they harkened back to the series' roots as an overhead, sprite-based RPG. There would be clear delineation between a grass "tile" and a town "tile" and you would move from one to another as if on a checkerboard. You can see some of those roots at work in the remakes too. While your character has a full range of movement in the world and the geometry isn't terribly blocky, there are some obvious anachronisms--how NPCs always move at right angles, for example, or how floor tiles are sized to fit your character perfectly. It's only mildly distracting and, for the most part, is just charming.

Equally charming is the art style itself, especially in the overworld. While the more recent Sword and Shield have adopted a more lithe, elongated style that looks similar to the various Pokemon animated series, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl have translated the squat pixel art of the originals into an equally squat and adorable animated chibi style. Your character looks appropriately retro while simply exploring in the tall grass or walking around town, but the style looks especially great when the camera zooms in closer during dialogue sequences. At those points, the artwork really shines because you get to see the depth and vibrancy of the characters. They look almost like living vinyl dolls.

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Inscryption Review - House of Cards

Tue, 11/16/2021 - 08:48

Inscryption is an outstanding deck-building card game--until it isn't. At around the halfway mark, the compelling, run-based structure of its core card battles and the intriguingly sinister atmosphere both transform into less interesting versions of themselves. In a sense, Inscryption falls victim to its own hype. So strong are its opening moves that you can't shake the disappointment that much of what follows is merely quite good.

The basics don't change. Throughout, Inscryption pits you against AI opponents in a series of card battles. Individual cards have attack and defense ratings and, often, a special ability. You play them, one at a time, into a slot on your row of the arena. Each turn, your played cards will either attack the opponent's played cards or, if the slot opposite is empty, land a direct hit on the opponent themselves, scoring for each point of damage inflicted. Battles are resolved when you or your opponent gain a five-point advantage in damage over the other, a state typically met within a handful of minutes.

The core card combat is solid. But what sets it apart from countless other similar deck-builders is how those basic card mechanics are recontextualized across three formats. As you progress through the three distinct acts of its story, Inscryption stops each time to overhaul its card battle system. In doing so, it's able to thoroughly explore different aspects and possible permutations of those basic mechanics. Such tweaks to the rules deliver new challenges that remain interesting, even if they're not an improvement. While the reconfigurations of Acts 2 and 3 over the back half of the game carry plenty of merit, the first iteration you encounter in Act 1 is ultimately the best.

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Bright Memory: Infinite Review - Finite Would Be More Appropriate

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 02:00

Beginning a review with a history lesson is usually a bit of a faux pas, but in this case it's integral to understanding what exactly Bright Memory: Infinite is. The original game--simply titled Bright Memory--gained some traction when it launched on Steam Early Access in 2019 for having flashy visuals that rivaled triple-A games in graphical fidelity, despite the fact that it was the work of a single developer. Zeng Xiancheng created Bright Memory in their spare time, and considering what a huge undertaking that is, it wasn't too surprising when the game clocked in at around 40 minutes in length. A sequel was due to follow, but these plans were scrapped when Xiancheng opted instead to remake the original game and expand on both its gameplay and story.

That's where Bright Memory: Infinite comes in, and it's a vastly different game from the 2019 original. Only tangential elements like character and organization names remain; the rest may as well be an entirely new project--which can only be a good thing. Gone are the Devil May Cry-esque style ratings and blatant allusions to Dark Souls. Instead, Bright Memory: Infinite feels less like a derivative fan game and more like something entirely its own; a frenetic FPS with satisfyingly punchy combat that mixes both gunplay and melee abilities into one audacious whole. It's still a fairly short experience with some glaring caveats, but the journey to its conclusion is more enjoyable than the original game.

The reworked story revolves around a strange phenomenon occurring in the skies around the world that has scientists baffled. You play as Shelia, an agent for the Supernatural Science Research Organisation, who's sent in to investigate. It doesn't take long for Shelia to discover that this strange phenomenon is also connected to some mysterious history between two interconnected worlds. If this sounds like complete nonsense, it's worth noting that the only way I know all of this is because I looked up the game's synopsis. Trying to glean any of this information from the opaque narrative is an impossible task. Whether this is intentional or due to something being lost in translation is unclear, but it's difficult to care about anything that's happening either way. Thankfully, keeping track of all this sci-fi gibberish isn't entirely necessary.

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Battlefield 2042 Review-In-Progress — Character Development

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 22:03

Sometimes, everything in Battlefield 2042 just clicks. Playing the new Hazard Zone mode, my squad entered the frightfully dangerous shipping yard on Manifest, a map defined by a big port. The stacks of shipping containers lining the sides of the area can create a lethal bottleneck, and as we approached the objective ahead, we spotted another squad converging on the location as well.

As the recon fighter Mackay, I pulled out my Batman-like grapple gun and zipped up to the top of the container stack--which suddenly turned the cover-less kill zone of an alley into a perfect ambush location. One of my teammates threw down deployable cover for the group below, giving them a good spot to avoid incoming fire where none previously existed. While my squad on the ground distracted the enemies, I crawled to the edge of the container above them and started picking the enemy squad off. Another teammate deployed a scanner that let them see nearby enemies through walls, putting a stop to the last opponent before they could flank our team. Working in concert, we wiped the enemy squad in seconds, before they even knew what they were dealing with.

Battlefield 2042 is at its most fun when it brings new ideas together with the franchise's traditional feel. And although many of its elements work well together-- there's not always harmony between the old and the new. Battlefield 2042 distinguishes itself from past games in the franchise by offering you the opportunity to play specific "specialists"--each with their own unique abilities and gadgets--rather than choosing from broader, more generic character classes. Not all of those specialists feel like they work in every match, though. Mackay is essential on Manifest, where he can take advantage of the map's verticality in a way other specialists can't, but he feels close to useless on Hourglass, where half the map is flat, open desert, and the other half is a cityscape littered with massive skyscrapers. Similarly, with high takeoff points, wingsuit-sporting Sundance is highly effective on Hourglass, but not especially helpful on Renewal, where there are far fewer places to take to the air.

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