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Hellboy: Web Of Wyrd Review - A Way With Wyrds

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 05:45

With his giant red fist, oversized pistol, iconic character design, and a menagerie of mythical foes, it's surprising there haven't been more Hellboy games. The two that exist aren't remembered fondly (and that's putting it lightly,) but it's still somewhat shocking that it's taken 15 years for a new game starring Big Red to show up. Enter Hellboy: Web of Wyrd, a game that's surprising even beyond its mere existence. Rather than taking what might be considered the "safe" route and developing a simple action-adventure game, British studio Upstream Arcade has instead created a roguelite built on a foundation of weighty, methodical combat. The risk doesn't entirely pay off, resulting in a slightly uneven experience. Yet for anyone clamoring for a decent Hellboy at the very least, Web of Wyrd ticks most of the right boxes.

This all begins with the game's visuals, which successfully emulate Mike Mignola's art style in stunning cel-shaded 3D. It's so faithful to the original comics, in fact, that each frame could be a panel in itself. Striking colors contrast against deep black shadows, where characters and environments appear as though they've been boldly sculpted by thickly painted outlines, achieving the comic book's signature look. When squaring up against a salivating werewolf, it's as if Hellboy's battle with William Grenier in The Wolves of Saint August has leapt off the page. Every moment of Web of Wyrd is a Mignola art piece brought to life, and it's evident Upstream Arcade has a lot of reverence for the source material--a feeling that also extends to the rest of the game.

Take Web of Wyrd's roguelite structure as an example--a decision informed by Hellboy's near-invulnerability. It takes an awful lot to kill Hellboy, so when your health reaches zero, rather than dying and resetting at the start of the game for some contrived reason, this snaps the tether connecting you to the Wyrd, sending Hellboy hurtling back into the real world. The Wyrd is a nightmarish dimension that can only be accessed via the mysterious Butterfly House. When this titular dimension starts impacting our reality in locations across the globe, Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence utilize the Butterfly House as a staging ground before embarking on missions within the procedurally generated realms of the Wyrd. From this outpost, you're able to talk to other B.P.R.D. agents, gear up for your next descent, and spend resources on various upgrades to either improve your equipment or Hellboy's physical attributes.

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Lords Of The Fallen Review - Dark Slog

Fri, 10/13/2023 - 07:21

There are a lot of elements that might be said to define Souls-like games, but high on the list has to be the genre’s particular approach to pacing. As a group of action-RPGs, they’re defined first by periods of growing, ratcheting tension. You fight through long areas filled with tough enemies, with each one dropping "souls" that you can spend to level up your character, which you risk losing if you die before you reach a safe place where you're able to spend them.

Following the build of tension is the release, when you finally make it to the safety of a checkpoint, stopping to refill your health, enhance your character, and catch your breath before setting out into danger again. You're constantly making the same difficult decision: Do you risk going forward for greater rewards, or return to safety and grow your strength, knowing you'll have to fight through all the dangers you just faced once again?

Though Lords of the Fallen ticks off many items from the list of things that Souls-like games are known for, it's the ebb-and-flow pacing, or rather the lack of it, that vexes the most. There's a combination of elements at play--the game's meandering level design, the spongy enemies you face as you progress, the uneven checkpoint and death systems--that creates a series of long and frustrating slogs. Lords of the Fallen is a game that has all the right Souls-like elements on-hand, but never quite gets the proportions right.

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Baldur's Gate 3 Review - Let Freedom Reign

Thu, 10/12/2023 - 04:33

Baldur's Gate 3 pushes player freedom to the absolute limit. That unparalleled level of freedom can be found in nearly every aspect of the game, from its character creation to combat, and after two full playthroughs and a dozen ongoing campaigns, I've still barely scratched the surface. No two experiences are alike, and every character I've created feels unique. While the game can't always keep up with the spontaneity of a real-life Dungeon Master, it manages to offer plenty of agency while also ensuring that its vast, web-like narrative is compelling from start to finish.

Baldur's Gate 3 begins in the belly of a Nautiloid, a Lovecraftian spaceship piloted by a squid-like race known as illithids. After you create your avatar and pick a class, you are infected with a parasite that slowly (and painfully) turns its host into a tentacle-adorned mind flayer. You and the other affected members of your party must find a way to remove the parasites before the transformation is complete. It's a wonderfully dark setup that allows Larian Studios to pull together an eclectic batch of characters with a wide array of beliefs, dispositions, and backgrounds and give them a common goal. These characters aren't adventuring together out of friendship (for the most part), but necessity. In many cases it's an uneasy allyship rife with internal drama and conflict.

Baldur's Gate 3 regularly puts its characters first, and it's better for it. While the narrative isn't all that interesting on its own and basically amounts to "purge the parasite and save the world," the diverse cast of characters makes it so much more memorable by creating an extra layer of nuance that grounds the entire experience with more personal stakes. Karlach is a hot-headed tiefling barbarian with a heart of gold, Astarion is a pompous and flamboyant rogue with just enough charm to win you over, and Lae'zel is a battle-hardened warrior that puts an interesting spin on the fish-out-of-water archetype. There are 10 potential party members in total, and each one is backed by sharp writing, impeccable acting, and spirited animations.

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Wild Card Football Review - Undrafted

Thu, 10/12/2023 - 03:56

In the US, autumn belongs to football. The sport takes over pop culture in a way no other can match, and after decades of growth, it seems to still be getting more popular. So surely there's room for a second licensed football game on the market, especially when the industry leader is itself so polarizing. That's where Wild Card Football hopes to exist: in the abundant space devoted to football fandom that could host either a Madden alternative, or more likely, a side attraction. Unfortunately, this much more cartoonish take on the sport doesn't quite make the roster, though it's not without a few highlights.

Wild Card Football is an arcade-style football game in the vein of NBA Playgrounds and WWE 2K Battlegrounds. In fact, it comes from the same studio, Saber Interactive, and is billed as part of the broader Playground Sports brand. Somewhere between the enjoyable basketball game and the severely lacking pro wrestling game sits this third take on the format.

Wild Card Football is played in teams of seven, and though it doesn't have a licensing deal with the NFL, it does have one with the NFLPA, meaning current players from every team make up the game's complete roster. Jerseys and team names are legally distinct, but a football fan can easily deduce that Team Mahomes is the Chiefs, Team Hurts is the Eagles, and so on.

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EA Sports FC 24 Review - New Name, Same Game

Thu, 10/05/2023 - 09:08

Aside from the new name and logo being emblazoned on almost every menu screen in sight, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish EA Sports FC 24 from the latest FIFA game. In short, EA's latest football sim introduces a number of subtle improvements to its on-pitch action while sprinkling in some incremental additions to long-standing game modes like Ultimate Team and Career. It still offers an exciting, albeit familiar, game of back-and-forth football, but the demanding yearly release schedule isn't doing the series any favors. Even with the fancy new rebrand, EA FC is an expected follow-up to FIFA 23, offering a slight evolution rather than anything revelatory.

As is often the case from one game to the next, the pace of play in EA FC 24 feels a tad slower compared to last year. If history repeats itself, this is likely to change in the coming weeks--particularly once superpowered cards are more prevalent in Ultimate Team--but creating openings via slick passing moves is currently the best way to break down a stubborn defense. It helps that player movement is ultra-responsive, to the point where it's possible to wiggle out of danger without needing to utilize the game's agile dribbling mechanic. This is easier to do with a diminutive and agile player as opposed to someone like cover star Erling Haaland, but he excels in other areas, often bulldozing right through defenses. Either way, the movement of players--and their noticeable differences--looks much smoother than in the past; the connective animations between disparate movements flow together seamlessly. EA adds a deluge of new animations every year, but those in EA FC 24 lend the game a more natural look and feel that's immediately palpable in the way you move across the pitch.

Unfortunately, other areas of the game remain unchanged, much to the game's detriment. Goalkeepers occasionally try to save shots by diving sideways into the goal, which usually results in them either punching the ball into their own net or letting it sail over their heads. Passes will sometimes veer wildly off target, and defending can be frustrating when successful tackles regularly bounce back to attackers, especially when it puts them in a much more advantageous position than they were in before. It doesn't help that off-the-ball AI still has trouble tracking runs, and referees are wildly inconsistent in regards to what is and isn't a foul. I've already encountered a few baffling red-card decisions--although one could argue this is sadly authentic. The removal of driven lobbed-through passes also takes some getting used to, but this seems to have been done in service of EA FC 24's new PlayStyles mechanic.

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Detective Pikachu Returns Review - Soft-Boiled

Thu, 10/05/2023 - 08:43

Pokemon has flourished as a series in part because it crosses generations. The main series of creature-collecting RPGs and popular TCG are simple enough for children just starting to learn about role-playing-game mechanics, but with enough complexity and depth to support a flourishing competitive scene for adults. Pokemon's spin-offs, on the other hand, are usually more narrowly targeted, and that's the case for Detective Pikachu Returns. The narrative-heavy adventure game certainly has its charms, but it's so gentle and simplistic that only younger pocket monster fans need apply.

Like the first Detective Pikachu, you play primarily as Tim Goodman, the college-aged son of renowned detective Harry Goodman, who has gone missing since before the first game. You're accompanied by Harry's partner, a Pikachu in a deerstalker cap who considers himself a great detective. Tim is the only human who can communicate with Pikachu, and while neither of them are officially part of any police force, they find themselves embroiled in investigations surrounding strange happenings in Ryme City. And naturally, Tim is still searching for answers about what happened to his father.

In classic adventure-game style, most of your investigations revolve around searching around environments for evidence, talking to witnesses, and ultimately reaching a conclusion based on what you found. The crimes here are relatively low-stakes and child-friendly--a jewel heist, wrongful arrests of innocent Pokemon, and so on. For a series that has built its name on battling, there's shockingly little violence between Pokemon themselves. If two Pokemon are coming to blows, or even threatening to do so, it's treated like an emergency. That's because in Ryme City, Pokemon are treated like fellow citizens, and the city prides itself on peaceful coexistence between humans and the creatures.

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Assassin's Creed Mirage Review - Back To Basics

Wed, 10/04/2023 - 22:00

Back in 2020 when I reviewed Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I talked about how much that game's story had a real sense of finality to it, bringing together and concluding dozens of narrative threads from across the franchise. Although it serves as somewhat of a prequel for Valhalla, Assassin's Creed Mirage doesn't push the series' story in new directions, opting instead for a narrative that is heavily dependent on you already knowing Basim's story in Valhalla. Mirage does get back to the basics that first defined the series by refocusing on social stealth and making it fun to learn about a city's history, but a weak cast of characters keeps it from reaching the same heights as some of its earliest predecessors.

Ubisoft Bordeaux's vision of ninth-century Baghdad stands out as the most compelling part of Mirage. While I can't speak to its authenticity, Baghdad's colorful, multi-layered architecture creates a playground of possibilities, offering numerous avenues for navigating the city, sneaking past guards, and reaching your objective. Freerunning is intuitive, though occasionally clumsy in its design, with Basim sometimes getting snagged on corners or leaping off rooftops in a way I didn't intend. These mishaps are thankfully not very common, allowing you to focus on strategizing how you want to get from one building to the next.

But most of all, Baghdad feels alive in its history, incorporating pinnacles of the city--like the House of Wisdom--into main story missions and highlighting every discovery and fresh face with new pages in an expansive codex that details the history, culture, and importance of the setting. In the earliest days of the franchise, Assassin's Creed helped me pass my History classes by making European history fun to learn about, and Mirage does the same here for Baghdad, highlighting the golden age of a city and culture not often touched on in world history and certainly not in modern media.

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Forza Motorsport Review-in-Progress - Hitting The Apex

Wed, 10/04/2023 - 18:01

Forza Motorsport is nearly as old as the Xbox brand itself, but it's had a surprisingly extended absence since its last entry in 2017. In its place, the less simulation-focused, open-world Forza Horizon series has flourished, despite not offering the technical track racing that the core series of the franchise once excelled in delivering. Forza Motorsport is a reset of sorts for the series, with the time away from the track used to refine its scintillating racing and fine-tune its progression system. The result is a streamlined simulation racer that puts all of its focus toward on-track action, delivering one of the most exhilarating racing experiences you can find on any platform.

Forza Motorsport wastes no time getting you on the track, throwing you behind the wheel of its cover car, the 2024 Corvette E-Ray, on the tarmac of the Maple Valley Raceway, a throwback to the series' oldest fictional track. This short showcase, somewhat similar in presentation (but not tone) to the openings found in Forza Horizon, makes it immediately clear how much work has been put into Forza Motorsport's visuals. The golden sunset lighting and autumnal colors around the track contrast beautifully against the glinting blue metal of the roaring hypercar at your fingertips, with the subsequent race at a cherry-blossom-laden track in Japan showcasing gorgeous nighttime lighting as dozens of polished liveries careen around corners. Each one of Forza Motorsport's faithfully recreated cars is a treat to behold when out on the track, while equally standing up to scrutiny when you take the time to investigate their intricately recreated interiors. If you obsess over the finer details of exceptional automotive engineering, Forza Motorsport raises the bar for what you will now expect from other games in this genre.

Both in the showroom and on the track, Forza Motorsport is accentuated by an attractive implementation of ray tracing, which is even featured in one of the game's performance modes to mitigate any feelings of compromise to enjoy the game looking its finest. While it's difficult to appreciate accurate reflections at breakneck speeds, the collective effect helps to ground each car to the track in a way that makes previous iterations seem a bit strange by comparison. It's not a faultless implementation--there were numerous instances in rain-soaked conditions where reflections would routinely break when ray tracing was enabled--but there's no question it's a transformative change that elevates Forza Motorsport's presentation to new visually pleasing heights.

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Cocoon Review - A Bug's Strife

Fri, 09/29/2023 - 09:35

I've always been equal parts fascinated and terrified by bugs. These seemingly contradictory sentiments most likely stem from them being a bit contradictory themselves. They are everywhere yet feel foreign, vital to our world's operations yet seemingly insignificant, and small yet capable of improbable feats, whether that be carrying objects 50 times their weight or rendering homes inhospitable. They are disarmingly complex creatures--and it makes them the perfect subject for a game just as intricate as they are.

Cocoon, the debut game from Geometric Interactive, is a surreal and intimate puzzle game that is also beautifully complex. Considering the pedigree of its gameplay designer--Jeppe Carlsen of Limbo and Inside fame--perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising, but it didn't stop me from continuously being in awe of just how tight and intelligent the overall experience was. This, paired with fantastic sound design and art, both synthetic and organic--lush yet scarce--makes for a memorable experience.

Cocoon sees you take on the role of a cicada-like creature moments after it emerges from a womb of petals. Without fanfare, exposition, or any guidance, this creature is thrust into an orange, arid, and largely desolate world. There are few enemies to be found in Cocoon, to be sure, but all of them are relegated to closed off arenas, where you must use quick thinking and evasion to get the best of them. While some of these boss battles are incredibly engaging (and others, not quite as much), combat is not the focus in Cocoon--it's exploration.

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Resident Evil 4: Separate Ways DLC Review - Where Does She Get Those Wonderful Toys?

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 07:31

Capcom's Resident Evil 4 remake takes one of the greatest games of all time and rebuilds it into a masterpiece that stands right alongside the original. Helpfully, Capcom had excellent source material to work from, which isn't the case for the original's add-on, Separate Ways. Don't get me wrong, Ada Wong's solo outing was a fun excuse to re-enter the dilapidated world of RE4, but the original add-on did little to differentiate its gameplay from the main campaign and didn't make itself essential to the overall experience from a narrative perspective either. The remake of Separate Ways, however, is the opposite, adding several new tools to its core gameplay, shaking up familiar environments with completely new set pieces, and fleshing out the story. Far from being a throwaway add-on, Resident Evil 4 remake's version of Separate Ways makes an already phenomenal game feel even more complete.

The foundation of Separate Ways' premise remains the same as in the original: You step into the high heels of antiheroine Ada Wong and act as a spy to hunt down a biological weapon for longtime Resident Evil antagonist Albert Wesker. Her allegiances, however, are ambiguous, with Ada playing multiple sides in the story, sometimes working against Wesker and assisting Leon on his mission to save the president's daughter Ashley Graham or partnering up with suave biologist Luis Sera. She has a dual motive for nearly everything she does. But this time around, the stakes have been turned up a notch, as Ada is also infected with plagas--the same parasitic disease that's infected the villagers, Leon, and Ashley in the main story. This additional layer gives Ada a stronger motive for working alongside Luis, who is the answer to finding a cure. This, in turn, merits a whole lot more welcomed screen time for our charismatic and ever-charming Spanish biologist too.

As a spy, Ada is equipped with many gadgets that transform the core gameplay, most prominently her grappling hook, which she can use to zipline to higher ground and over obstacles, or to pull herself toward enemies to deliver a badass swirling kick. Additionally, she has access to an augmented-reality implant that allows her to see footsteps or fingerprints, both of which are used to track characters like Luis or reveal button presses, acting as mini-puzzles to bypass locked doors. It's a bespoke gameplay system for Ada that adds an extra wrinkle to her campaign and emphasizes a detective-like quality that we haven't seen in any previous Resident Evil. The inclusion of these mechanics adds much-needed texture to Ada, painting her as the capable and resourceful spy we've always been told she is, but have never seen firsthand. Usually, she appears at the most convenient moments to help another character out or provide a weapon, but now we get to see how she uses her own skills to track characters down and complete missions from the shadows.

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El Paso, Elsewhere Review - You Keep Going

Wed, 09/27/2023 - 00:00

The idea of a vampire fighting against its base nature to uphold modern morals is one that has been explored before, but not exactly through the same lens as in El Paso, Elsewhere. This third-person shooter takes inspiration from some of the best in the genre but eschews expectations with a thrilling love story between a vampire and vampire hunter, exploring the complexities of the pairing as the world is crumbling around them.

You play as James Savage, a pill-addicted monster hunter living in a secluded hotel in El Paso and on a mission to save the world from his ex-girlfriend, Draculae. This version of the famed vampire has enacted a ritual that brings about the end times. More specifically for Savage, it means a rip through the fabric of reality that sends him from the stained carpets of the motel down a warped void filled with visually diverse levels. At first, El Paso, Elsewhere focuses on Savage, delving into his destructive personality and vices, whether it's popping pain pills or relishing the violence he's engaged in. It takes a while, but eventually the true scope of the story comes into view, with new locales and fourth-wall breaking narration exposing this game's novel take on the mythology behind vampires, and how the relationship between Savage and Janet Drake, known later as Draculae, fits into that.

The voice acting for both Savage and Draculae is exceptionally captivating. Their blossoming love is thoughtfully conveyed through audio logs you find throughout your journey, with playful exchanges (like a conversation about how Transformers procreate) doing an excellent job at establishing a relationship you never get to see. Later, when the two characters exchange words directly, the absence of this warmth is noticeable. There's clearly still love between the two, but it's separated by a gap in morality that neither can compromise on. These exchanges are short but sharp, each word a stake one is trying to lay in the other, all the while Savage barely maintains a grip on the enormity of the task waiting for him at the end. It's a compelling dynamic that gets an equally satisfying conclusion, but it is a pity it takes a handful of hours for it to really get going.

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Pokemon Scarlet And Violet - The Hidden Treasure Of Area Zero Review In Progress

Fri, 09/22/2023 - 08:12

Editor's Note: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet's expansion comes in two parts and can't be purchased individually. Because of this, we've decided to share our impressions of Part One and will update it with a full review of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero when both parts are available. The score attached to this review is subject to change based on this.

The fan reception to Scarlet and Violet's launch varied wildly within the community. Every Pokemon fan seems to know what's best for the series, and they were happy to share their opinions on Scarlet and Violet with anyone who would listen. Some fans decried the bugs, the struggling frame rate, and other technical problems, while others appreciated the new mechanics, open world, and story enough to make peace with these issues. Whichever side you fell on, the community was split as always.

However, the further we get away from release, the more the community cools off. And those who've stuck around for the long-term, namely competitive players, have dug their claws deep into the meta. This is where Pokemon is at its best, and The Teal Mask bolsters that side of the series through new and returning Pokemon, more TMs and moves, and some welcome quality-of-life changes. This is all wrapped up in a rich new region with a heartfelt story. While The Teal Mask doesn't do much to address Scarlet and Violet's poor technical performance, its changes and additions offer an exciting first part in a larger expansion.

The Teal Mask is billed as a class field trip. A handful of students are randomly selected to study abroad in a new rural Japan-inspired region called Kitakami. Your character is among the lucky few, and you're whisked away to the countryside. It's a punchy introduction that gets you to the new area quickly and has you catching new and returning Pokemon right away.

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NBA 2K24 Review - Breaking Ankles, Breaking Banks

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 03:18

Some sports game franchises often have their problems attributed to a lack of competition in their respective genres. Fans will proclaim that certain sports sim series would be better if only they were up against a similar product when players went looking to buy one. NBA 2K hasn't had a consistent competitor for most of the last decade, and it's been a reliably fun simulation of basketball regardless. That is still largely the case in NBA 2K24, but the eminently enjoyable on-court sim is hampered more than ever by the game's pay-to-win economy.

In NBA 2K24, the mainstays of MyCareer, MyTeam, and MyNBA return, and even last year's Jordan Challenge gets a pseudo-sequel in Mamba Moments, shifting the spotlight from the GOAT to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. But Mamba Moments winds up emblematic of some of 2K24's issues: It's noticeably less interesting and less involved than that which came before it. Maybe some of that is owed to the fact that Bryant's career achievements can't quite stack up to Jordan's, so the figurative ceiling for a mode that lets you recreate some of his greatest career moments isn't going to be nearly as mesmerizing.

Mamba Moments is a fun addition to the game, but it can't stack up to last year's Jordan Challenge.

But even then, Mamba Moments lacks some of the attention and care this studio normally pours into its new toys. Unlike Jordan Challenge, Mamba Moments doesn't feature interview segments with players, coaches, and broadcasters who were pivotal to each chapter of the Jordan Challenge's story. Bryant's legacy mode doesn't get the same documentary-style treatment, and only about half as many games--seven--are playable this time. That makes it a shorter and less robust mode, though other fun details like era-appropriate presentation and well-researched in-game commentary remain. I was impressed when the color commentators started talking about a travel delay the Lakers suffered due to inclement weather some 20 years ago. As ever, this studio has done its homework, and it shows.

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Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review - The Songbird Sings

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 01:00

The appeal of Night City was in its impressive scope and dazzling visuals, which painted a bleak neon-lit future dictated by technological exploitation and unfettered capitalism. Within that were tragic, human stories to pull at your heartstrings and a whole lot of violent action often perpetuated by its gameplay systems. But what if you took the best parts of Cyberpunk 2077 and condensed them into a tight, cohesive package for a heart-wrenching political action thriller? That's what Phantom Liberty does in an expansion that seamlessly fits into the original game.

Phantom Liberty showcases the full potential of Cyberpunk 2077 with a new, captivating story about the faults of loyalty, reckoning with your past and its consequences, and self-preservation in a tech-fueled dystopia. These are familiar themes, for sure, but Phantom Liberty is intimate, raw, and earnest--all told through the lens of a strong cast of characters elevated by poignant writing and delivered through sharp performances. It's able to execute on these narrative ambitions because, more often than not, the missions that drive the plot feature top-tier action set pieces that let the revamped RPG mechanics sing, then break the pace with a variety of tense and well-crafted non-combat scenarios, which gives the experience a constant and steady momentum.

More than anything, Phantom Liberty goes above and beyond with not one, but two finales that are wildly different yet equally stunning--hell, you could even argue it's three when counting the added ending for the original story. It's a fantastic mix of nearly everything you could ask of Cyberpunk. And after taking 30 hours to experience all of its content--both main story routes, the new ending, all the side missions and gigs, and more--I can't imagine Cyberpunk 2077 without Phantom Liberty.

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Mortal Kombat 1 Review - New Era, Familiar Kombat

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 04:39

NetherRealm Studios had a tall order to fill with Mortal Kombat 1. As the game is positioned as the franchise's second lore restart in 12 years, the team had to find ways to make this new era of Mortal Kombat feel as fresh and new as the storyline demanded, all while maintaining the high bar of quality the fanbase has come to expect over the series' 30-year lifespan. Mortal Kombat 1 mostly accomplishes this goal through fun new mechanics and an unpredictable storyline, but the overall package lacks the depth needed to make this a masterpiece.

Mortal Kombat 1 picks up right where MK11 Aftermath left off, with Liu Kang ascending to godhood. As the Keeper Of Time, he is able to create a new universe as he sees fit, and his creation puts familiar faces on new and interesting paths. Raiden, for instance, is no longer the all-powerful Thunder God; instead, he is a simple farmer from a small village. Every character sees some kind of fundamental change, though some are less noticeable than others.

This results in a playable roster that features only returning characters from the series' past; there's not a single brand-new fighter to be seen. However, because of the game's narrative focus, each character feels like they're new--or at the very least has some new elements to their style--which creates the sense of discovery normally reserved for brand-new faces. MK1 takes existing names and reinvents them and it's a novel idea that works really well across the majority of the characters, though some don't feel as revolutionary as they could have.

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Lies Of P Review - No Strings Attached

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 01:00

There's no shortage of Souls-likes vying for our attention, but only one can claim to put a dark and twisted spin on the everlasting story of Pinocchio. Developed by South Korean studio Neowiz Games, Lies of P presents a very loose retelling of Italian author Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. This grim reimagining, combined with a striking Belle Epoque-infused setting, ensures that Lies of P's aesthetic stands apart from other Souls-likes, including From Software's own. Bloodborne is still a clear inspiration, as its tonal atmosphere and combat design call to mind the cosmic horror masterpiece, leading to it feeling overly derivative at times. Still, Neowiz also implements just enough originality for Lies of P to eke out its own identity, even if it's as thin as a puppet string.

The story sees you take on the role of P, a lifelike puppet who wakes up amidst the carnage of a puppet-led invasion of the fictional city of Krat. If you're familiar with Pinocchio, you'll likely recognize character names such as the puppet-maker Geppetto and the talking cricket Gemini. Their names are usually where the similarities end, however--either in relation to the book or any Disney-produced retellings. For one, Gemini isn't an anthropomorphic insect but rather a tiny puppet caged in a lantern on P's belt, acting as both a guide and source of light. Similarly, characters like the Fox, Cat, and Alidoro are reimagined as common criminals and thieves, who don their respective animal masks in order to achieve both anonymity and infamy.

It's this unique take on a familiar tale that makes Lies of P such an intriguing proposition, so it's hard not to feel disappointed when the story doesn't kick into gear until close to its final act. For the most part, you're tasked with visiting various locations where you'll need to either rescue someone or defeat a specific enemy before returning to the game's central hub. Without an overarching goal to propel you forward, it feels unfocused and only attains a sense of momentum in its final few hours once the antagonist reveals themself. There's very little to latch onto before this point, outside of a curiosity to see where the narrative could potentially go. It's not a case where the game is holding back and being intentionally opaque either. The story is predominantly told via expositional dumps and there's little sense of mystery as a result. There are interesting moments dotted throughout but they're fleeting, and I don't think it's too harsh to expect more considering the source material.

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Sea Of Stars Review - Playing With Power

Sat, 09/09/2023 - 05:55

At the risk of sounding cliche, Sea Of Stars made me feel like a kid again. And I really mean that; while playing this game, I warped back to an era where I'd turn the TV to channel 4 to get my Nintendo games to appear on the screen before I'd dive into games like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. Developer Sabotage Studio's ability to conjure the feelings of the past in a modern game astounds me, but it's obvious a lot of hard work and due diligence has paid off here. Sea Of Stars reflects the best of a bygone era, and it does so with a quality that makes it stand out not only among the giants of the past, but also among those in the present day.

Sea Of Stars is a turn-based RPG and a prequel to The Messenger, Sabotage Studio's other retro-tinged romp that focused on 2D Metroidvania elements. The story follows Zale and Valere, two children of destiny who train to become Solstice Warriors, aka mighty fighters who wield the power of the sun and moon. Zale represents the sun, while Valere takes on the powers of the moon. Right away, the game establishes that these two will be inseparable for the entire adventure, but it allows players to choose which of the two party members they want to take the lead, though the choice only affects which character is at the front of the line during the adventure. I like this flexibility, as it gives the player a small bit of agency in an otherwise linear story experience.

Zale and Valere take on a years-long struggle between the Solstice Warriors and The Fleshmancer, a standard RPG villain who wants to take the world for themselves by any means necessary, which for them means summoning powerful demons and unleashing them on the innocent. The villains are a colorful bunch, ranging from a shadowy quartet named One, Two, Three, and Four who are pulling strings behind the scenes, to a necromancer named Romaya who makes creatures from spare bones and flesh piles during our battle. While the story does take some turns I didn't see coming, for the most part I was able to call out story beats before they happened. I still enjoyed seeing them play out, but the predictability dulled their impact.

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Starfield Review - To Infinity, But Not Beyond

Fri, 09/01/2023 - 02:00

It's hard to ponder the infinite possibilities of space and not get romantic about it. Our imagination of the cosmos has taken many artistic forms, and the hard science behind the greatest discoveries on the final frontier has been just as enthralling. It's this sense of wonder that makes the prospect of Starfield so intriguing--even more so than if it were just Bethesda Game Studios' next major RPG. However, it's best to cast aside that love and fascination with space because, at its core, Starfield follows a very familiar formula without meaningfully engaging with its setting or the gameplay systems therein.

Starfield is undoubtedly impressive in scale, from the sheer number of star systems and planets you can explore to the multitude of gameplay mechanics that tie the experience together. But once you start to see how all these big ideas are interconnected from a narrative perspective and technical standpoint, the illusion of a grand cosmic voyage shatters and the veneer starts to wear thin. And so, somewhere along my 55 or so hours spent playing Starfield, I dropped the notion of finding that wondrous space adventure and accepted Starfield for what it is: a shooter-focused RPG in the traditional Bethesda framework that has its wild and fun moments but one that's ultimately a mile wide and an inch deep.

Starfield's main quest is the most emblematic of the game's shortcomings. Despite romanticizing the idea of taking to the stars to explore the great unknown, these narrative ambitions fall into shallow stories that undersell the spacefaring premise. You start as a lowly miner extracting resources for a faceless corporation and within minutes, come in contact with an "Artifact" that activates mysterious visions of something bigger out in the galaxy--a sort of leaving-the-vault moment like in Fallout. You're then shuffled into the ranks of a small organization called Constellation, whose sole purpose is to chase these Artifacts and uncover their purpose. With the handful of characters who make up the group, Starfield tries to instill personality into its story, but consistently weak writing and generic dialogue means these characters--who do have a few interesting moments along the way--largely fall flat.

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Armored Core 6: Fires Of Rubicon Review - Mechlike

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 01:00

Rubicon 3, the setting for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, is a far cry from the likes of Lordran and The Lands Between, immediately establishing a striking sci-fi aesthetic that's unlike anything From Software has created in the past decade. Lessons learned from the studio's most recent output are evident in Armored Core VI, but don't go in expecting this to be Dark Souls with mechs. The sixth numbered entry in the series is a decidedly Armored Core game, meshing exciting mech-on-mech action with the highly customizable assembly of your giant robot. It's a game for the die-hards but also represents the most approachable game in the series thus far--one that sees From Software return to its roots in triumphant fashion.

Though Rubicon 3 might be able to sustain human life, it's still an incredibly hostile place. Occupying corporations wage war against each other, local resistance fighters, and a governmental space force, for control of the planet and its valuable resources. Dilapidated cities, arid deserts, and frozen wastelands serve as the battlefields for mechanized warfare, as missiles, bullets, and laser cannons frequently collide with steel. Even the planet itself is imposing. Giant metallic structures stretch thousands of feet into the sky and then spread outwards like branches, each one carpeted in blinking lights that replace the stars they're obscuring. When you do catch a glimpse of the sky, you'll notice pockets of the planet's atmosphere burning red like fire.

The reason Rubicon 3 is such a hotbed of action is because it's home to Coral. This mysterious substance is immensely valuable, causing a number of extraplanetary corporations to descend upon the planet in an all-out war to harness it. You enter the fray as an independent mercenary employed by the enigmatic Handler Walker, who orders you to complete jobs on behalf of whichever faction is willing to pay. Referred to only as 621 or your callsign, Raven, the story in Armored Core VI has an oddly impersonal feel. Much of the narrative is delivered through audio on a static screen, with nary a human face in sight. Being a silent protagonist also makes it difficult to escape the feeling that you're a puppet for those pulling the strings. This is seemingly intentional, although the story never quite delves deep enough into this feeling of detachment to say anything meaningful. Most of the characters are fairly cliched, even if the voice acting is generally entertaining, and while there are interesting aspects to the lore, the story is ultimately disappointing without ever being particularly bad.

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Fort Solis Review - Strife On Mars

Wed, 08/23/2023 - 04:00

Put a few humans in outer space for a story set in the future and the result always seems to be that nothing will go their way. That's once again the broad strokes of this latest space thriller, Fort Solis, but the intrigue, as ever, is in the details. Developer Fallen Leaf does a good job of hiding the satisfying answers to its central mysteries up to the very end, which makes its story consistently absorbing even as some of its gameplay elements betray its own Hollywood-inspired intentions.

Fort Solis is a third-person adventure game that tells a story reminiscent of Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's slow, sometimes to a fault, and more concerned with its message and themes than action set-pieces. That doesn't mean it's a low-stakes tale. On the contrary, the secrets tucked away in Fort Solis are existential, but it's expressed through the eyes of a small cast of interesting characters whom you'll get to know over the game's five-hour story.

Fort Solis has AAA aspirations, and it shows quite clearly in a few ways. For one, the game looks gorgeous. Built in Unreal Engine and presenting gameplay in an over-the-shoulder style, it would be easy to mistake this indie for the next big-budget cinematic thriller. That's further solidified by its exceptional cast headlined by Roger Clark and Troy Baker, but the complete cast of about 10 or so people is just as well-written and with great performances to match. Clark's Leary and Julia Brown's Jessica Appleton do well to color in the world in the first hour, including their own characters who would otherwise be amorphous Mars transplants in drab uniforms.

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