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Death Stranding Director's Cut Review – The Limits Of The Dead

Fri, 09/24/2021 - 00:41

Just like learning how to bake bread or mastering a language, going back to Death Stranding was one of those things I had always intended to do during lockdown, but never did. Returning to a gray, hazy, hostile world of death and human misery just seemed like the worst possible choice for living through a real-world pandemic. I should never have hesitated. In the face of all of Death Stranding's violence, its dead things, its surreal horror, and the bleakest, salted-earth portrayal of the post-apocalypse, there has always been this strong mote of hope and love and bonding and connection that's never been more necessary. If nothing else, Death Stranding: Director's Cut is the best excuse to return to the valley of the shadow of death, and find the grim beauty waiting there. What the new features and content bring to the table is simply making that return easier and more welcoming than ever.

Death Stranding was originally released for the PlayStation 4 in November 2019. In our original review, which you can read here in full, Kallie Plagge awarded it a 9/10, saying that "Death Stranding is a hard game to absorb. There are many intertwining threads to its plot, and silly names, corny moments, and heavy exposition belie an otherwise very simple message. That comes through much more clearly in the game's more mundane moments, when you find a desperately-needed ladder left behind by another player or receive a letter from an NPC thanking you for your efforts. It's positive without ignoring pain; in fact, it argues in both its story and its gameplay that adversity itself is what makes things worth doing and life worth living. It's a game that requires patience, compassion, and love, and it's also one we really need right now."

More to the point, however, Director's Cut is a bit of a misnomer. Despite the appeal of an auteur like Kojima taking a more proactive approach, tweaking dialogue and text files or adding scenes, nothing terribly germane to the plot, story, character development, or the way the world is presented has been messed with here. This is still largely the same game it was in 2019: a post-apocalyptic odyssey to reconnect the disparate cities of America at all costs, with our taciturn, faithless hero, Sam Porter-Bridges, facing the literal and metaphorical ghosts of America along the way. That's just the very tip of an expansive iceberg of a plot that toys around with metaphysics, the role of politics in our lives, the inherent nihilism of fundamentalist thinking, the social contract deteriorating, and lots more. All this is held up by a primary gameplay loop that has you playing postman to the entire country--mostly on foot--and across varied, melancholy-inducing terrain. Still, all of that was in the game we got two years ago, and by and large, the Director's Cut is the same kind of enhanced experience Ghost of Tsushima's Director's Cut was.

That's not a bad thing, it's just not a big thing. Newcomers and those starting from scratch will benefit the most. The Director's Cut features a much more elegant set of introductory challenges, clearer explanations of core mechanics, and some helpful bits of gear like the Support Skeleton and the new debilitating Maser Gun are available early on, taking a lot of the aggravation out of the game's first few episodes. There is an AR firing range allowing you to test out any new weaponry you get against static targets or on bots who function like the MULE enemies, which was especially helpful in letting me finally get the timing down for parrying using the Strand rope.

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Sable Review - Sandy Pilgrimage

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 23:57

The titular Sable is part of a nomadic tribe known as the Ibexii. Like every child who comes of age on the planet of Midden, Sable must leave her clan behind and embark on a rite of passage called The Gliding. This involves venturing out into the wider world on a pilgrimage to learn more about themselves, the land they inhabit, and the people that populate Midden's sun-scorched sand dunes. Like those before her, Sable is bestowed a hoverbike and a Gliding Stone before leaving, the latter of which allows her to float through the air using an energy bubble born from ancient technology. With this, the stage is set for an open-world adventure that's equal parts relaxing and engrossing.

At its core, Sable is a game about exploration, with its mechanics and overall design all feeding into this central philosophy. Upon departing the Ibexii camp for the first time, you're free to straddle your hoverbike and venture off towards any of the four corners of Sable's vast but manageably-sized map. There are quests to complete along the way that maintain some semblance of order, but this is a freeform open-world game that disregards the genre's traditional objective structure. Generally, your compass will point you in the vague direction of your current quest, while at other times you'll be given directions that encourage you to discover locations for yourself. You can set your own waypoints by using the map or by finding a vantage point and using the Navigator to mark potential points of interest, and all of these are displayed on the compass that encircles your hoverbike. Crucially, you never have to stare at a mini-map or a big objective marker as you skim inches above the sand, and this keeps your eyes planted firmly on what's in front of you.

If you're heading towards a particular location with your eyes on the horizon, you're likely to spot other distractions along the way, whether it's a plume of smoke billowing into the sky and hinting at signs of life or the battered husk of a crashed spaceship. This kind of organic discovery is often found lacking in open-world games that rely on pre-existing points of interest and maps scattered with markers, and it sets Sable apart as you chart the world yourself by venturing towards whatever catches your eye. Midden is a fascinating world to uncover, too, with small pockets of civilization nestled in between the serene desolation of its sprawling desert. There are dilapidated temples engulfed by sand, a graveyard full of gargantuan animal bones, and an eerie forest shrouded in perpetual darkness--to name just a few of the sights you'll come across throughout your travels.

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Kena: Bridge Of Spirits Review - Don't Fear The Reaper

Tue, 09/21/2021 - 21:23

In Kena: Bridge of Spirits, everyday items are imbued with new, unseen emotional significance. A wooden mask is a link to the spirit of the person for whom it was made. Objects like a construction hammer or a box filled with food are tied to memories of people who have been lost. Locations that were once the sites of vibrant and happy times are scarred with the pain and trauma suffered within them.

Looking at common things with new eyes is a running theme of Kena, and that theme often applies to its gameplay as well. Though the game is filled with some fairly common action-adventure genre tropes--it has melee combat that feels akin to titles such as Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order or even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, climbing sections similar to Uncharted or Tomb Raider, platforming that recalls games such as Ratchet and Clank, and puzzles like what you might see in The Legend of Zelda--it manages to combine a familiar approachability with some fresh spins on the ideas. Combined with emotional, character-driven storytelling, some tough-but-excellent fights, and mechanics that make the world feel alive around you, Kena is an exciting, often heartbreaking journey that will make you want to explore every corner and crevice to see all that you can.


The story and world of Kena: Bridge of Spirits center on a village beset by tragedy. Its inhabitants are all gone, wiped out by misfortune, and their pain has physically poisoned the once-vibrant land around it. That pain has drawn Kena, a young spirit guide, to seek out the trauma at its center and heal it. Her link to the spirit realm allows her to help the ghosts of the village find peace, and in so doing, she's able to push back the corruption that has gripped the land, restoring it to its former glory.

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Lost Judgment Review -- Back To School

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 23:00

Like most good detective stories, Lost Judgment begins with the ghastly discovery of a maggot-infested corpse. A single homicide is merely the tip of the iceberg, of course, but the unusual circumstances surrounding the dead body's discovery set the stage for another compelling mystery for private investigator Takayuki Yagami to solve. The first Judgment began in a similar fashion, presenting itself as a Yakuza spin-off that was nevertheless overly familiar due to its penchant for delving into the criminal theatrics Rya ga Gotoku Studio is known for. Yagami's latest adventure still dips its feet into the deep end of the criminal underworld, but Lost Judgment distances itself from its Yakuza-flavored origins with much more regularity than its predecessor, resulting in a better and more distinct game that's still tinged with an overt sense of deja vu.

This begins right from the off, as the first hour or so is spent traversing the well-worn streets of Kamurocho. Revisiting the bustling red-light district for the umpteenth time still doesn't grow stale thanks to its lively atmosphere and intricate visual design. It's a place full of fond memories and there's a pleasant sense of comfort in its familiarity, yet it's hard not to feel relieved when Yagami's latest case takes you south of Tokyo and into the port city of Yokohama. The fictional district of Isezaki Ijincho was first introduced in last year's Yakuza: Like a Dragon and makes its return in Lost Judgment relatively untouched. Based on the real-life Yokohama district of Isezakichō, it's a bigger urban sprawl than Kamurocho but still maintains the same density, from the busy streets of Isezaki Road to the various storefronts and eateries located throughout the district.

Step through the automatic doors of a Poppo store and you'll be greeted by a short electronic tune that announces your arrival. The magazine aisle is stacked with lifestyle magazines, manga, and cookbooks, while the refrigerators at the back of the store are filled with assorted snacks, from onigiri and Bento lunch sets to a dizzying array of drinks including Suntory green tea and BOSS coffee. Elsewhere, you can head to the bar district to find each cozy hangout stocked with real-world alcohol, while passing beneath the Paifang in Chinatown will lead you to restaurants adorned with dragons and golden guardian lions, as residents converse under a baroque pavilion.

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Toem Review: Look At This Photograph

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 23:43

Toem begins when your nana gifts you a camera as you head off to see the "Toem" phenomenon. She nearly shows you her own photo from when she did the same thing at your age, but hastily hides it. Seeing the Toem phenomenon is presented as a rite of passage, and something you really just need to experience for yourself. She never describes exactly what Toem is, just that it's spectacular and life-changing. But maybe what she's really remembering is the journey to see it.

Most of Toem is essentially a series of photo puzzles. When you first journey away from home, you learn that you can collect stamps on your community card by performing acts of kindness for townspeople (which almost always involve a camera, somehow) or fulfilling photo challenges. You might be asked to find a cartoonishly shady character hanging around town, or to point a lighthouse keeper in the direction of boats that need help using your zoom lens. Collecting enough stamps gets you a free bus pass to the next area. It's a simple, clever construct that creates a broad space for different types of puzzle challenges.

All of this is presented in a stark black-and-white style that feels boldly minimalist. The view is isometric in a way that often limits your ability to see all of your surroundings, so you'll look from behind the camera lens to get a better view of things. The interplay between these views is constant, and despite a sparse visual style and monochrome presentation, it never feels confusing. Everything is perfectly readable in both views, which is a testament to the strength of the art design.

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The Artful Escape Review - Nowhere Nephew

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 00:16

The Artful Escape is a visual treat--a platforming journey that takes players on a journey from Earth to the galaxies beyond and renders every location with gorgeous care. Evoking a variety of influences, from the artist Charlie Immer to the bright aesthetics of Lisa Frank, The Artful Escape captures the sheer cinematic thrill of watching your helicopter explode in a Call of Duty mission or falling off a cliff in a Naughty Dog set-piece, but transplants the action to a voyage that goes far beyond the realm of the real. It’s gentler, too, telling a story about learning how to be who you really are, and not who someone else expects you to be. There’s no violence to be found here; just easygoing platforming, low-pressure musical riffing, and adventure gaming that goes heavy on the dialogue and omits the puzzles entirely.

As the game begins, you are Francis Vendetti, a teen in a leather jacket, chunky boots, and eyewear that could be steampunk goggles or the perfect circle glasses that John Lennon made iconic. Francis is sitting on a bench on a cliff and the first prompt we see instructs us “To strum a folk ballad about the toil of a miner’s life, hold X.” It’s immediately pretentious, and that’s intentional. Francis is the nephew of Johnson Vendetti, who is a legend in the world of The Artful Escape. In Calypso, the small town where Francis has lived his whole life, his uncle is a hometown boy who made good. But “Press X to sing about miners” is not who Francis is at all. It rings hollow (and it should) because Francis is attempting to be someone he isn’t. But his first performance as a musician is scheduled for tomorrow, and Francis will be expected to perform that false identity for everyone he knows. Francis will grow as a character over The Artful Escape’s six-hour runtime, but this gameplay will remain the same. You spend a lot of time in this game holding X to strum on your guitar.

Then Francis meets Violetta, a punky girl with a bad attitude and an Edna Mode haircut. Violetta seems to see something in Francis and tells him to seek out Lightman's--ostensibly a store in Calypso. But Francis has lived in Calypso his whole life and knows there’s no such place. Doesn’t matter--Violetta is off and Francis heads home to get some sleep before his concert the next day. It turns out Francis didn’t need to find Lightman’s. Instead, Lightman, an aging musician voiced by Carl Weathers, comes to him, taking Francis to a spaceship called The Lung and sweeping him up in an intergalactic voyage. He promises Francis will be back in time to play his concert.

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Lost in Random Review - Six Appeal

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 23:46

Lost in Random makes a poor first impression. The overly dark and dreary opening areas are disjointed, rushing through the setup in a confusing and off-putting manner. It feels like you've been dealt a dud hand. Persist, though, and the cards start falling into place. The deck-building strategic layer gradually settles until it successfully blends with the core action of the combat, and the world eventually reveals a much more interesting, brighter, more colorful and character-filled side. Lost in Random overcomes a rocky start to tell a genuinely affecting tale of friendship, sibling bonds, and the cruelty of inequality.

The world of Random is ruled by a capricious Queen who determines the fates of her subjects with a roll of the dice. Ones are left to labor in the working-class slums while Sixers are whisked off to the Queen's castle in the clouds, their newfound societal elevation relieving them of the burden of ever again interacting with the poor. Even is a young girl living in Onecroft when her older sister, Odd, rolls a six and they become separated. Even is rightly suspicious of the Queen and so sets out to rescue her sister.

Even quickly recruits a companion, Dicey, and learns how to fight by playing cards and rolling a dice--and yes, before you say anything, the game uses "dice" not as a plural but as a singular. Combat is the heart of this action-adventure, and it takes a bit of getting used to. Even can't attack enemies without first playing a card that grants her an ability, but to be able to play a card at all she must first collect enough crystals to be dealt one. When she has cards up to a full hand of five she can roll Dicey and play a number of cards equal to the number on the dice. What at first feels like a lot of unnecessary complications soon comes together to offer plenty of clever tactical and strategic choices.

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Deathloop Review: All You Need Is Kill

Mon, 09/13/2021 - 22:01

The Isle of Blackreef is a place where lawlessness and debauchery aren't just welcomed but encouraged. It's caught in a time loop, so the events of any given day have no bearing on the next. At the end of every sex, drug, and alcohol binge-fueled evening, the slate is wiped clean so it can happen all over again. Memories are lost and harm--self-inflicted or done to others--is always undone. Blackreef changed me. It made me behave in a way that's not in my nature. Whether it's Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex, Splinter Cell, or Dishonored, the role I inhabit is that of a ghost, entering a scenario to achieve an objective and leaving with clean hands and conscience. I'm the pebble thrown into water that makes no ripples.

And yet, in Deathloop, I murdered hundreds of Eternalists and I felt good about doing it. I tried to be true to myself--skulking across rooftops, hiding in dark corners, and carefully moving between people, but the allure of Blackreef's daily absolution was difficult to resist. I watched the first Eternalist I killed dissolve into nothingness, and a message written into the air in some ethereal ink assured me he'd return in the next loop, completely oblivious to what happened. Killing became second nature, and with no consequence why wouldn't it?

The rules of Deathloop's world created an intoxicating sense of liberation, but this leads to the game's central question of purpose: When nothing matters, how do you give your actions meaning? That is where developer Arkane Lyon's gameplay design comes into play, and killing with reckless abandon becomes killing for a reason: to break the loop. The mechanics that govern the world and facilitate your quest to upend it are constructed so masterfully that there's a tangible sense of growth both in-game and out of it. You begin your first day in Blackreef dazed, confused, and incredibly hungover, and end your final one as the unstoppable architect of its demise.

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Life Is Strange: True Colors Review -- More Than A Feeling

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 23:00

For six years, the Life Is Strange series has consistently told stories about the ties that bind us, between friends, families, and communities. The latest entry, True Colors, represents the first time subtext becomes not just text, but the game's core mechanic. The strength of Life Is Strange as a series is how it always seeks to answers the deeper questions about why people are the way they are, but even compared to the original Life is Strange protagonist Max Caulfield seeking to untangle her best friend's life, or Sean and Daniel Diaz of Life is Strange 2 being at the mercy of an increasingly merciless America, True Colors drills deeper. It features a new hero who can delve into peoples' lives on a level beyond the capabilities of the series' other protagonists. That ability lets the game traverse some new, fascinating territory for this series, but it’s still a bit too bashful about staying there for too long..

You play as Alex Chen, a child of the foster care system who was separated from her big brother Gabe when she was 10. She bounced from family to facility and back again for over a decade before, finally, Gabe tracked her down and invited her to his new home of Haven Springs, an idyllic little village in Colorado. While it's seemingly a peaceful-enough place to start a life, Alex is helpless when it comes to her big secret and the game's supernatural hook: Alex is a superpowered empath who is not only able to see and read peoples' emotions as giant bursts of psychedelic colors, but if the emotion is strong enough, she will actually inherit it. Unfortunately, the foster care system not exactly being the happiest place on earth means Alex finds herself consumed by crippling depressive episodes and extreme fits of rage beyond her control.

And so, as Alex begins her new life, Haven Springs starts to rub off on her, in more ways than one. When a major tragedy strikes the town, keeping the peace becomes an imperative, and it’s about protecting herself just as much as it is about protecting the town. For the most part, True Colors operates the same way as every other Life Is Strange title: As Alex, you walk around and interact with everything and everyone the game will allow you to, occasionally making crucial, life-changing choices through dialogue that affect the world and the course of the story. On the technical level, there are a few marked improvements over past games in the series, especially in terms of visuals. This is the most gorgeous and lush Life is Strange game, with a huge, impressive improvement to the character performances, though it comes at a price. The PS5 port we tested took some heavy hits in frame rate when wandering around the town and stuttered elsewhere. The PC port handled much better, but even there, keeping up with the workload isn't easy on the computer.

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Tales Of Arise Review -- Wake Me Up Inside

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 00:00

As the first major original JRPG on new consoles and the latest installment of a very long-running series, Tales of Arise comes with a lot of expectations attached. Arise sets out to refresh its visual presentation and gameplay to appeal to a new audience, but it also tries its best to retain what has made the Tales series so beloved among its longtime fans: fun characters, fast-paced combat, and an epic sense of scale. While it manages to succeed admirably at most of what it tries to do, a few shortcomings keep it from being the new standard-bearer for RPGs to come.

300 years ago, the planet Dahna was invaded by the people of their neighboring star, Rena, and crumbled beneath the might of the Renans' advanced technology and knowledge. Since their conquest, the Renans have destroyed the once-vibrant Dahnan culture and enslaved the planet's people. One day, a nameless, amnesiac slave known only as Iron Mask finds himself caught up in a supply train hijacking by rebel forces--and discovers that the freight is a Renan woman with a strange curse. As he gets swept up in a Dahnan rebellion, Iron Mask discovers new powers, his true name--Alphen--and a connection to the Renan girl, Shionne. But this tiny slave rebellion grows into something much bigger.

The beginning of Tales of Arise is a marked departure from the chipper banter and adventuring most Tales games lead off with. With heavy topics like slavery and oppression taking center stage in the narrative, the overall tone of Arise's story for the first several hours is quite dour, drilling into you the sheer misery and desperation of the Dahnan people. Fortunately, once your party fills out, the familiar Tales party dynamics come back in full force, with characters' personalities bouncing off each other in numerous entertaining dialogue exchanges. The rapport among your teammates--and watching their interactions change as they go through individual character arcs--is a major draw, and you'll find yourself eager to keep playing just to see the team react to the latest turn of events around the campfire or complain about the latest broken dungeon elevator.

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WarioWare: Get It Together Review - A Platform For Change

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 23:00

Wario has transitioned from a platformer antagonist in Super Mario Land 2 to platforming antihero in the Wario Land series to indie game developer in the WarioWare series. In WarioWare: Get It Together, the character comes full circle with a microgame collection that loosely goes back to his platforming roots and brings his own original characters along for the ride. It's a much different WarioWare experience, and the new twist is mostly for the better.

If you've played any prior WarioWare games, you have a basic idea of what to expect in Get it Together. Wario and his cadre of weirdos have created a series of "microgames" that only last a handful of seconds. You'll find yourself plopped onto a game screen with an instruction consisting of no more than a few words, meaning you have to figure out the goal and execute the right action with quick-thinking and sharp reaction times. These microgames are then thrown into a blender, demanding quick responses one after another in a gauntlet of zany action. It's a formula that has been fun since Mega Microgames on the Game Boy Advance, and it still works exceptionally well--and maybe even better--with this new take on the concept.

The twist in Get It Together is that all of the microgames involve some degree of character platforming. While previous WarioWare games might have simply had you press the A button at the right moment to manipulate an on-screen device, in Get It Together you'll always be controlling a character. Characters include Wario, complete with his Wario Land-style shoulder slam, along with all of the WarioWare-specific characters who have been introduced throughout the series' history. As a story device, they've all been sucked into their own video game which is being plagued by bugs.

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The Big Con Review -- Oceans '97

Wed, 09/01/2021 - 01:00

The Big Con is a nostalgic throwback to the 1990s that does not attempt to replicate the defining look or play of '90s games. This is a thoroughly modern adventure game, with an isometric look, hand-drawn graphics, and a resolute refusal to mine references from LucasArts point-and-clicks. The Big Con takes its cues not from what we were playing in the '90s but what we were watching.

The debut game from developer Mighty Yell reminds me a little bit of Night in the Woods, but if, instead of talking animals, Night in the Woods had starred '90s teens rendered in the Nickelodeon's Doug art style, complete with the primary and secondary color skin tones that lended characters like Mr. Dink, Skeeter Valentine, and Roger Klotz their memorable designs. In this NickToons-inspired look, and in the decade-specific trappings of its narrative, The Big Con builds a setting that feels both true to the era, and heavily influenced by the art that era produced. In translating its inspirations, though, the game brings with it a sense that you have seen this all before. It’s derivative, but going through the motions of this familiar story is still, at times, a lot of fun.

Our heroine, Ali, is a teen who works in a video rental store owned by her mother, Linda. As the story begins, we learn Linda is in deep financial trouble--to the tune of $97,000 and some change--with some very bad people. Despite Linda repeatedly telling her not to concern herself with the finances, Ali is committed to raising the money and saving the store. But coming up with close to a hundred grand the legit way proves challenging. Luckily for Ali, there's a new kid, Ted, passing through town who's happy to teach her how to pickpocket. When Ali proves to have a knack for it, Ted dangles a new possibility in front of her: Travel to Las Venganza--The Big Con's version of Sin City--and pull off one con job big enough to pay off most of the debt. They'll pick up the rest by nabbing wallets along the way.

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No More Heroes 3 Review -- Desperate Struggle

Fri, 08/27/2021 - 14:00

No More Heroes 3 asks the question, "What if E.T. came back to Earth 20 years after leaving and was an insufferable asshole?" It's the kind of offbeat set-up for a video game you would expect from the unorthodox minds of developer Grasshopper Games and game director Suda51, and this basic premise contributes to what is a strong opening for No More Heroes 3. Between its 80s anime-inspired opening, your first taste of Travis Touchdown's cathartic combat, plenty of call-backs, and a suitably inventive first boss fight, it makes it all the more surprising when this initial goodwill is gradually chipped away.

The first two games in the series were rough around the edges, but that was part of their charm. They were scrappy and stylish, both revered and derived, with a punk-rock spirit that made them cult classics. No More Heroes 3 is zany and maintains those coarse elements, but it also feels forced in a "How do you do fellow kids?" kind of way. You still have to go to the toilet to save your game and jerk off to recharge Travis' Beam Katana, so the juvenile humor remains intact--it just isn't very funny. Not because the jokes aren't landing, but because there aren't that many to speak of.

Most of the story revolves around returning alien FU; an intolerable antagonist who's prone to random outbursts of violence. There isn't much more to the character than that, and the conversations he has with his cronies are plodding and shallow, with dialogue that's often about nothing in particular--and not in the good Seinfeld way either. No More Heroes 3 still has a habit of breaking down the fourth wall to provide knowing commentary on video games and gamer culture, and there are plenty of self-deprecating lines and overt references to the likes of The X-Files, Terminator, Akira, and Rocky. But these are flimsy band-aids on a narrative that's disappointingly tedious.

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Humankind Review -- Culture War

Thu, 08/26/2021 - 03:01

Ambitious in the scope and meticulous in the detail of its genre reinvention, Humankind is a 4X strategy game that steps out from the shadow of Sid Meier's Civilization series. In parts, it does so boldly, both confident that probing questions were asked of the most tired genre assumptions and ready to respond with enlightening answers. But oftentimes it feels ill-prepared for the task at hand, and for all its spirited enthusiasm, Humankind struggles for coherence.

Departing furthest from 4X tradition is the way in which you're able to alter your empire's abilities over the course of the game rather than having them defined by a selection at the outset. Typically, in a Civ-style 4X, when you opt to play as Cleopatra, you'll be the Egyptians for the whole game, with her handful of leader abilities set in stone and providing the same bonuses whether you're in the Classical or Industrial Age. Similarly, when you encounter Teddy Roosevelt leading the neighbouring American empire, you know what to expect. It makes for a consistent, readable experience.

In Humankind, you choose a generic, blank slate leader at the start of a new game. Then, as your empire advances from one historical era to the next, you are able to pick a new culture to adopt for that era. So you might choose to be the Egyptians in the Ancient Era, switch to the Romans for the Classical Era, then the Khmer, the Ottomans, and so on. Cultures come with abilities that emphasise different play styles, allowing you a deal of flexibility to change tack mid-game as new circumstances arise. They also carry over certain legacy bonuses so that the effects of your previous cultural choices are still felt in later eras.

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Aliens: Fireteam Elite -- Suicide Squad

Tue, 08/24/2021 - 01:49

In the first real skirmish in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, you encounter more of the series' iconic Xenomorphs than in all of the films combined. This third-person shooter trades the slow tension of escaping one extraterrestrial predator for the chaos of trying to survive waves of hundreds at a time, instilling a different type of dread that the franchise has rarely balanced successfully. While not without its issues, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a strong step towards realizing the potential in that approach, with a surprisingly deep progression system, consistently entertaining firefights, and engrossing presentation that keeps the action gripping throughout.

Akin to squad-based shooters such as Left 4 Dead, Aliens: Fireteam Elite plays out over a series of acts which are part of larger chapters, and each one features new enemies and set pieces for your team of three colonial marines to tackle headfirst. The story leans heavily into iconography and tropes from classic Alien films, but its narrative is also influenced by modern entries such as Prometheus, directly referencing events from the divisive project. It doesn't add much to the overall lore of the series in its trajectory, nor does it potentially set up anything meaningful, but it is a nice touch for each chapter to feel like it has a significant place within the universe.

The third-person action is the foundation on which everything is built, though, and it's a strong one at that. Aliens: Fireteam Elite pulls generously from the pool of weapons available to Colonial Marines, with the recognizable pulse rifle just being the tip of the iceberg in terms of enjoyable weaponry you'll be able to wield. There are notable inclusions in every tier of weapon type, with powerful flamethrowers and enemy-seeking smart guns being desirable heavy weapons and a burst-shot hand cannon or sawn-off shotgun being notable in the sidearm category.

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Psychonauts 2 Review -- Mind Over Matter

Mon, 08/23/2021 - 23:00

Sixteen years ago, Psychonauts made a cartoonish, comically lopsided world feel believable and weighted thanks to its loveable characters and earnest storytelling. Now, Psychonauts 2 builds upon this foundation to reach ambitious new heights, while equally deepening its roots to impressive depths. It takes already well-realized characters and makes them more complex, even if that means traveling to the darker corners of their minds.

It's a dazzling display of Double Fine's signature humor and creativity, but underneath the whimsical, action-platformer is a game about choices and forgiveness. Psychonauts 2 does more than just fill the shoes of its beloved predecessor, it sets itself apart as a classic in its own right.

After a snappy catch-up for newcomers, the story picks up only days after the first game, and moments after the VR sequel-interlude Psychonauts in the Rhombus Of Ruin. 10-year-old psychic-prodigy Razputin Aquato (you) has saved the leader of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, from the grips of dentist/amatuer brain surgeon Dr. Loboto.

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Naraka Bladepoint Review -- House of Flying Daggers

Sat, 08/21/2021 - 06:24

If absolutely nothing else, be grateful to Naraka Bladepoint for being one of a scant few battle royale titles where getting one-shotted by someone hiding in a shrub three football fields away isn't a danger. That by itself makes it welcoming in a way the genre tends to ignore. But lurking beneath that relative ease and approachability is a shrewd game of wuxia-inspired combat that demandsfar more steelfrom its players--and we're not just talking about swords and spears.

The basic premise of Naraka Bladepoint involves a secret island where warring gods once battled to their deaths, and warriors now battle for the smallest part of the gods' power. But that story all but evaporates after the tutorial stage, aside from some skimpy lore cards for each character unlocked after reaching a certain XP level. All you really need to know is you're on an island of abandoned villages, scattered weapon caches, and an undulating purple wall of death that ushers 60 brave warriors closer and closer together. Your sole mission is to be the last person standing, by any and all means necessary.

Survival means combat, but instead of the usual pistols/shotguns/assault rifles, you're primarily looking at melee weapons. Ranged options do exist, from crossbows and slow-firing muskets to environmental hazards that can be triggered by the right slice or shot at the right time. You also have a grappling hook that not only allows you to zip across the map and onto higher ground, but also harpoon and fly at opponents Attack on Titan-style.Aside from the hook, each ranged option exists to merely soften up opponents from a distance as they close in. Getting the big fat kill involves getting up close and personal with something sharp, and here, showdowns with opponents have more in common with Dynasty Warriors and SoulCalibur than Fortnite.

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Madden NFL 22 Review -- Momentum Shift

Sat, 08/21/2021 - 00:35

Seattle Seahawks fans have caused minor earthquakes in the past, such is the raucousness of the aptly named 12th Man. The crowd at CenturyLink Field has also earned two Guinness World Records for the loudest roar recorded at a sports stadium, once registering a deafening 137.6 decibels back in 2014. Of course, Seattle isn't the only city known for its boisterous fans and intimidating atmosphere, and this is reflected throughout the various stadiums in Madden NFL 22. After criticism that last year's game was light on new content--particularly as it relates to Franchise mode--developer EA Tiburon has introduced a number of sweeping changes this time around, with the crowd being the most prominent right out of the gate.

The new Gameday Atmosphere feature brings crowds to life with new animations and remastered fan recordings that more accurately replicate what you're likely to see and hear on any given Sunday. It also extends beyond the cosmetic side, too, as the ball will fly further in Denver's high altitude, while the wind will play havoc with your field goal team in Chicago. On top of this, the intensity of the home fans will have an impact on the way games can play out. This feature is called Gameday Momentum, and it introduces a momentum meter to the top of the screen that will shift back and forth like a tug-of-war depending on the performance of each team. If momentum is on your side--because of a big sack or crucial touchdown, for instance--you'll gain access to various bonuses (called M-Factors) that give your team an edge in certain situations. This works in tandem with Gameday Atmosphere to ratchet up the significance of home field advantage, especially when playing in front of crowds known for their vociferousness.


The aforementioned 12th Man of the Seattle Seahawks will cause the opposing team's pre-snap play art to be distorted on 3rd and 4th down, turning each receiver's route into a squiggly mess. Elsewhere, Vikings players will gain a small speed boost in the red zone when the "Skol" chant reverberates around the U.S. Bank Stadium. It looks and sounds a tad gamified on the surface, but Gameday Momentum and Atmosphere are crucial additions that capture the unique fandom of each team and accurately reflect the wild swings in momentum that can occur during the course of a heated football game. It gives rivalries that big game feel and intensifies those drives where the home fans are fervently working against you. The impact of home field advantage in the NFL is tangible, and can often be the difference between winning and losing, yet Madden 22 marks the first time the series has truly emulated such an integral part of the sport.

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Ghost Of Tsushima Iki Island Expansion Review - Sins Of The Father

Thu, 08/19/2021 - 22:00

Rather than being shoehorned into an already complete experience, Ghost of Tsushima's Iki Island expansion feels remarkably integral to Sucker Punch's open-world action game; it might be something newly added to the game, but it feels like it could have been there all along. Its inclusion brings new depth to protagonist Jin Sakai, while providing even more of what made the vanilla game fun and compelling.

If Ghost of Tsushima was about Jin failing to live up to the expectations of his father figure, Lord Shimura, his adventure to Iki Island is about Jin's biological father, Kasumasa Sakai, failing to live up to his son's expectations. The vanilla game dedicated a lot of time in Jin's character arc to his feelings and regrets about his father's death, and with Iki Island, Sucker Punch finds ways to explore that event and their relationship in a lot more depth. Whether you're playing the expansion after having finished Ghost of Tsushima when it launched on PS4, or you're venturing to the island midway through a full playthrough of the game, it's notable how much the Iki Island diversion feels like an important part of Jin's journey.


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12 Minutes Review -- Loop Anti-Heroes

Thu, 08/19/2021 - 02:00

12 Minutes is the time-loop story reduced to its very essence. It is spare in length and small in scope, taking place almost entirely within a one-bedroom apartment. But that smallness contains narrative and mechanical multitudes that pay off consistently over the course of 12 Minutes' six-hour runtime.

I say "almost entirely" because, as the game begins, its unnamed protagonist (voiced by James McAvoy) rides the elevator up to that apartment. The hallway between the elevator and the apartment door--eerily carpeted with the autumnal pattern from The Shining's Overlook Hotel--serves as a brief tutorial: learn to navigate from the game's top-down perspective, find a fake rock in the potted plant outside the apartment, use the fake rock to find the key within, take that key and use it on the door. It's a short but effective introduction to the point-and-click-style mechanics on display here. 12 Minutes is mechanically rich because it leans into this old school kind of adventuring that encourages creative thinking. There aren't many objects in the apartment, but those that are there can often be combined in fun and surprising ways.

Once inside the apartment, our protagonist is greeted by his wife (Daisy Ridley), who has set out some fake candles, prepared dessert, and wrapped a present. It's a romantic evening, but there's a storm brewing just outside. That weather event--which your character will take note of if you interact with any of the windows in the apartment--is a fitting metaphor for the turn your pleasant evening is about to take. Midway through dinner, a mysterious man (Willem Dafoe) shows up at the door, claiming to be police. You can let him in, or wait for him to kick down the door. No matter what you do, he will enter your apartment, bind you both with flex cuffs, and kill you. Then, the loop restarts and you're stumbling into your apartment, warmly lit for that romantic dinner you'll never get to finish.

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