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Review: Toy Soldiers: War Chest

Aug 11 // Chris Carter
Toy Soldiers: War Chest (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Signal StudiosPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: August 11, 2015MSRP: $14.99 (base game), $4.99 (premium armies), $14.99 (all four armies) The gist of Toy Soldiers is that it melds together elements of RTS and action gameplay, with both a top-down camera and the ability to jump into turrets and control infantry units. You'll start off with an empty battlefield and a base (much like tower defense), with specific plots in which to build turrets. These range from anti-infantry guns to satellite-based artillery, depending on which army you choose. All of them have upgradable capabilities like more range or more damage, but at a cost of cash, which you'll slowly accrue during each round. In short, there's a decent amount of strategy involved despite the fact that the flow is rather fast-paced. You can jump into any turret at any time, and easily switch between them by way of the d-pad. Once you've earned a super by killing enough enemies, you'll be able to take control of your hero unit, or do something flashy like call a bomb strike. The campaign is really fun, and that's mostly due to the amount of variety packed into it. You'll have the option of controlling four base armies -- the World War-themed Kaiser, the sci-fi Phantom, the My Little Pony-like StarBright, and the fantasy-based Dark Lord. Everyone has their own themed units, levels, and turrets, and again, they all have different functionality. It's especially fun to take control of a hero unit while your turrets do their thing automatically, sprinting about the battlefield, throwing grenades, dodging, and sniping enemies at will. While this is a timed ability, you can gather battery pickups to increase said timer, before you're taken back to the RTS and turret viewpoint. [embed]302923:59932:0[/embed] The campaign is meaty enough to justify the purchase of the base game (more on that later), but there's also two-player local co-op, and a four-player online mode, which can be both public and private. Local play was pretty flawless in my testing sessions, but online games took a little while to populate, likely due to the fact that the game only launched today. While the core experience is great, I have an issue with the way it's packaged, namely by Ubisoft. For one, the frame rate, even on a current-gen system like the Xbox One, can drop a bit during heavy waves. It's not a game-breaking drop, but it's annoying all the same, especially since Toy Soldiers isn't all that demanding visually. Another issue is the inclusion of microtransactions. Now, like most Ubisoft games, they aren't required and the game doesn't feel weighted towards them specifically, but the fact that they're there for in-game currency feels odd. To top things off, Uplay is crammed in there as well. This is further exacerbated by the premium army pricing scheme. While the base game with the four aforementioned themes is $15, you'll need to pay $15 more (or $5 per) to net all of the new armies -- you know, the exciting ones -- G.I. Joe, Cobra Commander, Ezio, and He-Man. This brings the price up to $30, which doesn't feel quite right. The good news is that these guest stars are worth it; they look and feel differently enough compared to the vanilla forces, complete with their own signature looks and sound effects. They also play in a unique way, as He-Man and Ezio focus on melee damage, and the G.I. Joe duo are ranged. While I won't begrudge the inclusion of an Assassin's Creed character (it makes perfect sense), two G.I. Joe additions feel like a wasted slot -- imagine instead if there was a Transformers army (foiled again by Activision!), or even something wild like Swat Kats. I have problems with the way Toy Soldiers: War Chest is packaged, but thankfully it does uphold the same classic focus on strategy and action. You'll have to foot the bill for those costly licenses, but it's mostly worth it, warts and all. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Toy Soldiers review photo
I...have..the power! (of DLC)
Over the years, I haven't really paid that much attention to the Toy Soldiers series. I mean, I played them a bit, but never truly gave the games their due. With War Chest however, the crazy injection of nostalgic I...

Review: Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon

Aug 08 // Ben Davis
Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon (PC [reviewed], PS4, Vita, iOS, Android)Developer: Tiger StylePublisher: Tiger StyleRelease Date: August 6, 2015 (PC, iOS) / TBA (PS4, Vita, Android)MSRP: $12.99 Spider is primarily about eating insects and getting high scores. You play as the titular character in a large, seemingly abandoned estate, and come equipped with all of the skills a real spider would have. It can cling to almost any surface, move around very quickly, jump incredible distances, and spin webs to trap prey. Playing as a speedy, acrobatic hunter feels really great, and the controls are very responsive and precise. But on top of the slick web-slinging gameplay, there's also an underlying puzzle game hidden in the recesses of the estate for players who want to delve a bit deeper. The core gameplay is simple enough to learn the basics very quickly. Basically, jump from one surface to another while spinning a web to start building, and try to create geometric shapes which will be filled in automatically once completed. These webs will trap passing insects, which can then be eaten for points and more silk to spin more webs. Eating multiple insects without leaving the web will increase a combo meter, but the combo will reset to zero once the spider touches any other surface. [embed]297461:59879:0[/embed] Gameplay leaves plenty of room to develop new skills and strategies to maximize your score. Combos remain as long as the spider is touching a web, so you can try building multiple webs to jump between to keep the combo going. More points are earned by eating smaller insects first and saving the larger and rarer ones until the combo meter has built up a bit, so figuring out which insects to catch and eat in which order can drastically alter your score. Different insects require different strategies to eat them. Most have to be caught in a web, but some will need to be led into the web somehow and some can only be caught in strong webs. These strong insects might destroy webs that are too weak, releasing any other captured insects in the process. Other insects can only be killed by being tackled, such as hornets and ants. These have a separate combo meter which runs out in ten seconds unless the spider tackles another insect to keep it going. Just jump into them to eat them. No webs necessary! But be careful, because some of them can fight back. Spider also has an interesting time and weather mechanic. The game detects your location and mimics the current time and weather in-game, between four different scenarios (clear day, rainy day, clear night, and rainy night). You can choose to opt out of the location services as well, in which case it just uses the developer's location. It also tracks the current phase of the moon if it's a clear night. The time, weather, and moon phases all affect gameplay in different ways. Certain insects only come out when it's daytime or while it's raining, and some areas can only be accessed during certain weather conditions. Sometimes, the level will feel completely different between night and day. For example, one level in the barn is filled with a normal variety of flying insects during the day, but at night it becomes infested with hornet nests, totally changing the way you play it. My only complaint is that I felt some of the levels could have used more obvious differences between the various time and weather scenarios, but for the most part there was a good variety. Then there are the moon phases, and this is where the underlying puzzle game comes in. While roaming the estate as a spider, you'll come across secret areas and clues pertaining to certain mysteries. Many of these clues can only be found and solved if special requirements are met, such as playing during a new moon or at night while it's raining, although some of them can also be completed whenever. Solving mysteries will unlock more areas to play, and the game cannot be truly beaten until all clues are found and the final mystery is solved. While time traveling and altering weather mechanics is an option for those less patient players, Spider is really meant to be played slowly over a period of time. Try playing at different times of the day to find new stuff. Or if it starts to rain one day, then try to find some time to jump into the game and see what all has changed with the gloomy weather. Once you start finding clues, you can begin to synchronize your gaming schedule with the phases of the moon and plan out certain nights to return to the game to check on something. Eventually, as the month goes on, you'll start to unravel the mysteries of the estate. Or, if you don't care about all that, there's still the incredibly fun web-slinging, insect-catching action to focus on, which should be more than enough to keep you engaged. I'm sure some players will be more involved with achieving high scores and climbing up the leaderboards than trying to solve riddles and look for clues. Either way you choose to play, it's still a great game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Spider review photo
Strong web
I will take any opportunity to play as an animal in a video game. Let me control a dolphin, a wolf, a shark, or even a tiny little mosquito and I'm happy. As you surely already guessed, Rite of the Shrouded Moon puts the...

Review: Astral Breakers

Aug 06 // Chris Carter
Astral Breakers (PC, Wii U [reviewed])Developer: Intropy GamesPublisher: Intropy GamesRelease Date: August 6, 2015MSRP: $4.99 The gist of the story is that a Big Bang-style event creates "Astral Spheres," which the 12 Zodiac constellations then fight over as they vie for power over the universe. Kira, a helpful star, has tasked you with restoring order. It's cute but shallow, with very little in the way of world-building or exposition. It also doesn't help that the sidebar dialogue consists of uninspired meme-filled jokes. By the time you actually start up the game though, things get much more exciting. In essence, you're dropping orbs down in a straight line, trying to connect as many like-colored ones as possible. After dropping several orbs your cursor at the top of the screen will start glowing, which allows you to press a button to drop a "breaker," which will blow up any connecting orbs of that color. Think Puzzle Fighter, but you get to choose when to drop breakers. What's really cool about this system is that you control your destiny. Players can set up chains by preloading breakers at all sides of structures, all of which are easy to see due to their bold color schemes. It's fun to take risks and build massive combos (here's an example), which will in turn drop more trash (the puzzle term for orbs dumped on the opposing side's screen) on your enemy, screwing up their board. It's fast, and the controls are responsive. There's also another layer of complexity involved with said trash drops, as each character has a different style denoted by an "intensity" rating. High intensity characters will drop easy to solve trash but at a faster rate, changing up the way you approach the game, and forcing players to act quickly and make lots of smaller moves. On the flipside, low intensity players will rely on meticulous big combos. After playing for a bit, you'll also have the opportunity to design your own sign and style, which is neat. [embed]297134:59784:0[/embed] Solo mode is very limited, because after you've defeated all the opposing zodiac signs in combat, it ends. Naturally the difficulty ramps up towards the end where the AI will start putting up more of a fight, but since it only takes roughly 30 minutes to complete, the good stuff is over before it starts. Thankfully there is a versus AI mode on top of the campaign, but it also has the same crescendoing difficulty scheme which can get boring during that initial climb. To really enjoy Astral Breakers to the fullest, you'll need a friend, especially since there's no online play. To augment your standard versus mode there's also a co-op setting, which can get really fun as you attempt to score as many points as possible. Like most versus puzzlers, if you can find someone to share it with, you'll get a ton of leeway, especially given the strong foundation. I wish Astral Breakers had a more involved single player component and a smoother visual style, but for the most part, there's a serviceable core experience here. Just don't dive in alone. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Astral Breakers review photo
Gemini Man
I'm lucky that I've had a number of friends to play games with growing up. Before the dawn of online play (I didn't leave the house for a week when I discovered dial-up Diablo and Xbox Live), the only option was to pull ...

Review: Galak-Z: The Dimensional

Aug 05 // Chris Carter
Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: 17-BitPublisher: 17-BitRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (PS4) / TBA (PC)MSRP: $19.99 The way Galak-Z presents itself is by way of "seasons," which are supposed to be set up in a way that mirrors a television show of sorts. Players must complete five missions per season without dying, otherwise they'll be forced to start over from the beginning of that season. It's a way to justify the roguelike elements of the game (notably permadeath) and provide players with some respite for failure. While the idea actually works from a narrative standpoint, I found this style to be a bit more frustrating than it should be. Rogue Legacy handled progression brilliantly, allowing players to slowly accrue upgrades and "lock" maps into place when they wished. Similarly, Spelunky's shortcuts felt organic, like you were exploring a giant labyrinthine maze that was seemingly connected. Here, seasons feel isolated and disconnected -- you're essentially just completing randomly generated levels one after another. This is easier to swallow because of the endearing anime style of the game. It's a love letter to classic franchises like Gundam, but it manages to pack in a ton of 17-bit's signature look, from the decals plastered on the ships to the delightful VCR-styled menu screens. I also love the minimalist approach to storytelling, as each level may provide you with unique tidbits on the game's world, which are remixed, so to speak, after death. Having said that, I think the voice acting is dreadful, and not in a "so bad it's good way." Thankfully there isn't a whole lot of it. In terms of gameplay, this isn't a standard twin-stick shooter -- it's much deeper than that. After a quick tutorial, it's fairly easy to get the hang of the forward and reverse thrusters, the latter of which allow you to moonwalk (moonboost?) backwards to continue engagement. Pressing both of them allows you to brake, which provides pinpoint movement, as well as the ability to thrust cancel whenever you feel like it. Oh, and you can also press square to "juke," which has a little effect of your ship coming out of the screen and dodging bullets. It's really cool. Check out the full control scheme here. [embed]297236:59841:0[/embed] Sound plays a factor in the game as well, as a blue ring around your ship displays how far enemy units can hear you. Yep, your goal is going to actually be avoiding combat as often as you can, because again, death is a big deal in Galak-Z, and it sort of plays into the Last Starfighter vibe that the story is going for. It's also good then that shields can withstand environmental impacts for the most part and regenerate after a few seconds, so you won't have too many frustrating deaths. While permadeath is hard-hitting, you can earn temporary upgrades that will help you avoid your demise, exchange "Crash Coins" for instant upgrades, and locate blueprints, which grant the in-game shop permanent fixtures for future playthroughs. Note that while that blueprints are stocked for every session, you will still have to buy them with scrap (currency you'll find in the world), so you truly are restarting with nothing to your name most of the time. That right there is probably going to scare a lot of people away. While I generally don't mind a learning curve, there is some tedium involved -- more-so than most roguelikes. While many games don't have clear "objectives," and would rather see you explore at your own pace, the chopped-up level scheme doesn't always gel in terms of pacing. For some missions, I was able to fly right into a really unique area like a lava cave, blow up some bugs, and escape with a jump point relatively close to the objective. For others, I had to fly through a long network of caverns, find a boring box, blow it up, and then fly back for upwards of five minutes just to complete that stage. But for every randomly generated disappointment, there's an array of fun moments. Since multiple factions will attack each other in-game, it's a joy to pit them against one another, and slowly reap the benefits from afar with your missiles and all of the wonderful toys you've acquired through your current season. I don't want to spoil the transforming mech bit too much, but suffice to say it adds yet another layer on top of everything, and is just as satisfying as it sounds. Getting through a season and learning all of the tricks involved over time provides a clear sense of accomplishment, and you'll need to put in some work to reap those benefits. I wish Galak-Z: The Dimensional wasn't so fragmented, because the core experience is a treat for roguelike and space combat fans alike. Even 15 hours through I was still seeing new items and upgrades, which is a testament to its lasting power, warts and all -- I just need to take breaks from the tedium every so often. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Galak-Z review photo
Amuro Blu-ray
There aren't enough mech games out there. I mean sure, I grew up with Mechwarrior, G-Nome, Armored Core, and Heavy Gear, among countless others over the years, but it's still not enough. It's never enough. While Galak-Z does have some issues, it does manage to keep the dream mostly alive.

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Reckoning

Aug 04 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Reckoning DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen) / Raven Software (Zombies)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: August 4, 2015MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) Let's kick things off with Overload, the sexiest map in Reckoning. Taking place in a giant Middle Eastern hotel complex, it has all of the pizazz you'd expect, and more. It's a great mix of indoor and outdoor environments, with a layout that keeps you in the action while allowing you to have condensed firefights. It allows the Exo movement and jetpack mechanic to really breathe without confining it like some maps in the past have. It also has these little tesla coil things littered about, which are basic in their functionality (an area-of-effect jolt when shot), but very cool aesthetically -- plus, they sound really neat. Next up is Swarm, a map set in a ruined Korean city. It's nice to see the series return to a setting like this, as I enjoyed "Magma" in Black Ops II. There's plenty of windows to boost into and buildings to hide in, and the map lends itself to vertical movement well. They really go with the destruction theme, and there's a ton of detail present that I wasn't expecting. It's another great showing for Reckoning. Fracture is an ice level that reminds me of The Thing, in a good way. The backgrounds are very detailed, and the smaller, more intimate theme works to its advantage. It's basically all outdoors, which gives it a distinct feel compared to the rest of the DLC. Although Array from the original Black Ops is probably my favorite snow map in Call of Duty history, Fracture does the frozen sub-genre proud. Quarantine, the last of the four core maps in Reckoning, gives off a distinct Walking Dead TV series vibe, which I dig. It also feels like it has a Call of Duty 4 theme with its simplicity, but it's not as vertical as I hoped it would be. The general gist is that the arena is a testing site for experiments on primates, complete with tons of banana boxes and even a room full of live test subjects. It's a rather generic theme, but it must be said that I do enjoy playing it in the rotation. I wouldn't consider it a wasted slot. [embed]297123:59780:0[/embed] Now, onto the best part -- the zombie level. Following along with the narrative that saw the demise of John Malkovich's character (and the debut of Bruce Campbell), and his ascension into zombie-hood, Descent is one of the most unique zombie stages in the entire series (the one that featured mafia ghosts withstanding). It straight-up feels like you're in a Bond villain base, which is partially true as Malkovich is there to taunt you every step of the way as you navigate your path through an underwater testing site. As you make your way through each wave, various power-ups will start to appear at the top of the deck, which you can periodically gather. These range from standard stuff like turrets, to more interesting mechanisms like defensive AI robots that float around your character. Everything feels much more action-packed and desperate, with more firepower and abilities to match the more aggressive enemies. At times, Malkovich will teleport you to a room for a boss fight session of sorts, with different hazards to avoid (like laser grids above you, preventing double-jumps) and a variety of enemies to best in close-quarters. It's a sight to behold with four players, as power-ups are constantly appearing in this secluded room while you fight for your life. Again, intensity is what they're going for here, and it really works. I'd have to think about it for a while, but it may be the most fun I've had with zombies since first playing World at War. I mean, Malkovich actually says the line "The teleporters are mine now, bitch," to give you an idea of what I'm talking about here. At the end of the day, I'm happy with what Sledgehammer Games (and Raven) brought to the table with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as a whole. Though it'll be tough to dethrone the current kings of the franchise (Treyarch), I have more confidence in their follow-up than before, and I'm eager to see what they can come up with next. At this point Infinity Ward is a lame duck, and the odd developer out. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Did John Malkovich just call me a bitch?
So here we are with the Reckoning DLC pack, the last add-on for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare after Havoc, Ascendance, and Supremacy. All in all, it's been a great ride, and slowly but surely, each map pack has improved upon the last. It's great then that Advanced Warfare is going out with a bang with its best DLC yet.

Review: Submerged

Aug 03 // Jed Whitaker
Submerged (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: Uppercut Games Pty LtdPublisher: Uppercut Games Pty LtdRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (PC / PS4 NA), August 5, 2015 (PS4 EU), August 7, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: $19.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, with 32GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit An immobile young boy with a gash on his abdomen and a young girl arrive on a boat to what looks to be a very tall church surrounded by water and the peaks of skyscrapers; the girl spots a parachute on the top of a skyscraper in the distance and decides to investigate. Upon hopping back in the boat and making her way to the structure without issue she slowly climbs to the top and finds an emergency ration that conveniently has just what she needs to help her brother.  Instead of scaling back down the skyscraper a cutscene plays showing the girl arriving back at the church and standing over her brother applying bandages. She then takes a nap before waking up and spouting off some random thing she needs to find to help her brother recover from his ailment, and sets off to scale another skyscraper. This cycle happens nine more times over the course of around four hours before a very predictable ending as unceremonious as the beginning. Maneuvering the boat between the top most portions of skyscrapers through the glistening ocean underneath you as dolphins, whales, stingrays and other wildlife make themselves known is awe-inspiring at first; then you realize everything kind of looks the same. The main buildings where rations are located have their own unique architecture from afar, but when scaling up them they all seem rather similar. [embed]297002:59765:0[/embed] Driving the boat isn't exactly thrilling and at times can feel rather clunky especially when trying to fit through tight spaces and bouncing off surroundings. A boost button gives one a bit of extra speed at the cost of making it even harder to control, but it isn't that useful as the game is open and exploration of basically the entire world is necessary. A map and periscope are provided to make exploration a bit easier; the map fills itself in while exploring, and the periscope can be used to locate rations, drawings and boost upgrades. Any items spotted with the periscope are marked on the map for easy locating. These tools combined make finding most everything rather easy, though they aren't exactly hard to locate to begin with. Climbing up buildings is the other main activity in Submerged, and it couldn't be more dull. Close-up views of cement walls of the girl shimmying along randomly placed ledges just to climb up and find another ledge to shimmy and climb; it is one of the utmost boring gameplay mechanics in any game ever, and it makes up a majority of time spent in Submerged. Occasionally there will be a drain pipe to climb while enduring an extremely annoying clunk sound each time the character's hands hit it, as if she were holding stones in her palms; luckily a minute climb up a ladder on the side of a crane at one point is more bearable. There are branching paths while ascending buildings where 60 collectable drawings can be found that tell the story of how the city came to it's watery demise. Each building that houses a ration will have a few of drawings, mostly on their own little side paths that are easy to spot. If a drawing is passed while ascending and the ration box is located you'll have to make the call whether or not it would be worth it to backtrack, as grabbing the ration will take you back to your brother automatically and  you'll have to re-scale the building otherwise. Since there are no fast travel points and the ration boxes can't be reused to go back to your brother it leads to tedious backtracking no matter which option is chosen, there just may be more or less of a trek.  The rest of the city story drawings can be spotted in small buildings tucked around the city. These small buildings are nearly identical to each other and just require climbing up one or two easy to spot ledges to get to drawings, and have clearly been used as an excuse to extend the length of a still short game.  Overall collecting all the drawings easily took more time than gathering all ten rations, and those who don't care about the story of the city will surely be able to complete the game in around two hours or less. I personally collected all the drawings and I still don't know exactly what happened to the city; the drawings equate to colorful cave paintings and leave a lot to interpretation. In hindsight, I'd recommend not fretting too much about collecting them at all. The main story is also told through similar drawings displayed with no real contextual in-game reason after collecting rations and going back to your brother. What little story here is so predictable and trope-ridden that it was hard to care about; a troubled family with an alcoholic adult and a protective older sister. I'm all for playing as a female character, but a girl in a post-apocalyptic world whose only trait is that she takes care of her younger male sibling just isn't interesting or original. The story has been done a million times over, and really the only thing original Submerged has going for it is the setting.  Within under ten minutes time you'll have experienced all the game has to offer; boring boating, equally dull scaling of buildings and peering out a periscope to find the next white and green building to climb. There is no failstate, no urgency, no combat, just moving from point to point and monotonously collecting shit. The story isn't interesting, the gameplay is boring, everything looks the same aside from a few landmarks, and the whole ordeal is over in no time. You're better off saving your money instead of sinking it on the titanic failure that is Submerged. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Submerged review photo
Drowning in monotony
Sometimes games take concepts from other popular titles and combine them into a beautiful mix -- this is not one of those games.  Was boating your favorite part of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? Do you play Unchart...

Review: World of Tanks

Aug 03 // Brett Makedonski
World of Tanks (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WargamingPublisher: WargamingRelease Date: July 28, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions) Really, World of Tanks treads the line uneasily that all massively multiplayer online titles do: How do you make a game like this rewarding and nuanced for experienced players, yet inviting and engaging enough for a new audience? Extrapolating from that (and more importantly): How do you convert both Group A and Group B into dollar signs? Wargaming doesn't always do a great job of it, as its intentions often seem paper-thin. That aforesaid selfishness is where the moneymaking lies though, and it can come at the expense of the experience. World of Tanks on Xbox One gives people no reason to press forward except for personal gain. Being killed in a match means it's the end of that match as far as you're concerned. Sure, one could theoretically watch the rest of the round through the cameras of other players, but literally no one will do that. Instead, they'll head back to the garage, hop into another tank, and try again in a different match. This was my exact experience for much of my time with World of Tanks. After several hours of playing (but possibly more spent in loading screens), I checked my stats to see that I had a victory rate of just about 50 percent. That's not bad at all, but I had no idea. Worse yet, I didn't really care. I only cared about the currency dripfeeding into my account at the conclusion of each match. That's all World of Tanks wants us to care about. [embed]296821:59762:0[/embed] The last statement is made obvious by the way which Wargaming organically introduces players to some later-game content. During matches, it's not completely uncommon to come up against an opponent that seems literally invincible. Your ammunition will do next to nothing to it; it will dispose of you with the disdain of a Midwesterner swatting one of a thousand mosquitoes on a humid July night. That is your goal -- you want to be that guy. Make no mistake about it: World of Tanks is a continual left-to-right surge through a spiderweb of tanks you don't yet have, but might have very soon. Those first few come relatively quickly and the progression feels real. After that, everything gets slower. Each match contributes, but less so than before. Looking ahead through that web, some of it seems unattainable (or at the very least, extremely far off). World of Tanks wants your time or your wallet -- pick your poison. Fortunately, giving it your time isn't the worst option. World of Tanks can be rewarding. Every hit landed on another player is satisfying. Blowing them up is exponentially better than just damaging them. Surviving the entire match, destroying several on the other team, and/or capturing a base might just make you feel like you're General Patton. You start to think "I'm getting better. If I keep playing like this, those end-game tanks will be mine in no time!" These are the immutable highs of World of Tanks. It's simply enthralling when you set off on a literal warpath and cut down everything in your way. This is the meat of the game, and it's a prime cut. Excelling at tank-play against other humans feels very, very good. At this point, imminent defeat in the next match is all but assured. That's where World of Tanks is at its worst. Barring the progression frustrations, it's all too often that you'll feel like your opponents know something you don't. Their death machines are probably superior to yours, sure. Still, they'll angle their tanks in such a way that they never expose the weak part of the armor that you didn't even know was weak. They're really good, and you're not sure how to get to that level. The game doesn't teach you, and it doesn't seem like you'll ever learn on your own. It's very unintuitive. For everything that might appear impossible, what you do pick up on your own is invaluable. It isn't long before rushing in looks like a fool's game. Flank, hide, proceed with caution. These vehicles may be harbingers of destruction, but you can't treat them as such. Each minute movement actually means something when you're in the thick of it. These are the times when you'll feel a strategic sense in World of Tanks. Suddenly, things aren't so bad again. Everything seems possible, at least. And, that's what World of Tanks thrives on -- a cyclical mindset between frustration, slight progression, and back to frustration. There are intermittent spurts of elation peppered in occasionally in the event of an outstanding performance. Otherwise, it's right back to not quite understanding why others know more than you do. Which poison did they pick? Time or wallet? Or, heaven forbid, both? Anyone who truly appreciates World of Tanks won't need a review to guide them. They're already well beyond the long barrier to entry. Everyone else will likely find themselves similarly on the outside looking in. There might be something special to World of Tanks, but it's not something that's immediately apparent; it's something that only shows itself after a significant investment. The gameplay can be rewarding at times, but most won't have the patience (or the money) to ever get to that point. Thus, World of Tanks won't ever be more than a quick detour on the way to something that's easier to comprehend. [This review is based on a retail build of the free game downloaded by the reviewer.]
World of Tanks review photo
Pick your poison
World of Tanks is a selfish game. It acts selfishly in that it hides information from its players, expecting them to figure out any and all intricacies on their own. Similarly, it asks its userbase to roll into combat as...

Review: Rare Replay

Aug 03 // Chris Carter
Rare Replay (Xbox One)Developer: RarePublisher: Microsoft StudiosReleased: August 4, 2015MSRP: $29.99 From the moment I booted it up, Rare Replay was not only charming, but welcoming as well. I love the carnival style menus with old timey posters, as it's a nice little touch that clues us in on how much work went into it. The menu is very clearly defined and every game is detailed in a straightforward way, from the number of players to the release year. In addition to 10,000 achievements, there's also a "stamp" system that works as an internal record keeper of sorts, which unlocks various video extras. Said videos are basically miniature documentaries, ranging from takedowns of Rare, to existing games, to cancelled projects, and are very well done. I was really surprised by how interesting these clips were; even the more drab ones are filled with lots of new information. The menus are responsive as well, and after clicking a game, it takes roughly five seconds to load. It's crazy how much Rare thought of, as Replay includes built-in instruction manuals, auto-save functionality, and three save slots per game. There's also emulator-esque tools at your disposal, like quick saving in older games, cheats like instant rewinding (conveniently mapped to the left trigger), a toggle for infinite lives, and even a CRT monitor filter. All in all, it's a wonderful package presentation-wise. As for the games themselves there are 30 in all, 15 of which can probably be considered "retro" even by older gamers' standards, dating before 1994. That includes staples like the incredible Battletoads and Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, as well as a handful of more obscure games like Gunfright and Underwurlde. My time with a lot of these titles has been rather mixed, as some of them are too dated for their own good, but most of them absolutely hold up as arcade-like experiences. [embed]296727:59711:0[/embed] Having said that, the "Snapshots" mode (basically a challenge gametype with bits and pieces of select titles) is an excellent way to become acclimated to some of these games. Tasks range from typical score attack sessions to beating specific areas with specific limitations, to survival challenges. The best part? You can score over the goal and test your might by way of leaderboards. There are 16 games in all with Snapshots, and six more challenging multi-game playlists. As you start to move into the mid-'90s, more of the "classic" Rare fare starts to shine, like Blast Corps., Banjo Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Jet Force Gemini. All of the games that had multiplayer enabled still have it within the ports themselves, and it was incredibly easy to just turn on another Xbox One controller and go at it with another player. One game I didn't expect to love was Battletoads Arcade, which was never released on a home console before Rare Replay. On the other hand, if I had to pick the worst game in the package it would probably be Killer Instinct Gold, which is a bare-bones version of the second game. It kind of makes sense though, as Killer Instinct 1 and 2 already exist on the Xbox One in the form of Killer Instinct 2013 bonuses, so Gold's inclusion is still unique. The modern games are pretty much all great, including Viva Piñata, one of the best zen garden simulators to date, and Jetpac Refuelled, a standout game on the Xbox Live Arcade, even today. Kameo, which was not a great full retail price launch title all the way back in 2005, is a great little extra in Replay, and is worth playing. At the end of the day the selection of games is superb, and one of the only missing games I wanted was GoldenEye. In case you're wondering, yes, every game that supported online play still does so in Rare Replay, though I wasn't able to test out this extensively before launch -- we'll provide updates if there are any issues after launch. For clarity on a few technical things, all of the Xbox 360 games are provided as separate installs by way of the disc (Banjo Kazooie, Tooie, Nuts & Bolts, Perfect Dark, Zero, Viva Piñata, Trouble in Paradise, Jetpac Refuelled, Kameo), but have full Rare Replay's features, and holding the start button still conveniently brings you back to the core menu. There's a wonky little first-time setup on the Xbox 360 side of things, but once it finishes you're all good. Since a lot of these games are still at least $10 on the Xbox Live Arcade, $30 for the lot (and more) is a great deal. Rare Replay is a new milestone for compilations. A great deal of care was put into the project, and 30 games is enough meat to ensure that everyone will really enjoy at least half of them. I sincerely hope this is the start of a revival of the classic Rare we know and love. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Rare Replay review photo
From the Stamper garage to Microsoft
The first Rare game I ever played was Snake Rattle 'n' Roll in 1990, but the company has been around for quite some time. Vs. Slalom was technically Rare's first title. Tim and Chris Stamper, the heart and soul...

Review: Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight

Jul 31 // Chris Carter
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: Curve DigitalRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (US) / February 12, 2016 (Europe)MSRP: $49.99 (Atlus tax) For those unaware, the Untold portion of the moniker denotes the inclusion of an all-new story mode, complete with preset characters and a new narrative. It sounds weird, but any Etrian fan knows that the series started off with dungeon-crawler roots, and thus, allowed players to basically create and customize whoever they wanted --with a loose story binding it all together. Thankfully, The Fafnir Knight includes both gametypes and multiple difficulty options for players of all backgrounds If you spring for the new setup, the tale starts off with low-key princess protection duty with your childhood friend Flavio, but quickly evolves into a grand tale of adventure to seek out the city at the bottom of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Early into the fray, your hero awakens their true power -- the Fafnir Knight class, capable of transformation. While the story itself isn't as memorable as a lot of recent JRPGs, it's still a fun enough narrative with a cast of likable characters. The dialog in particular isn't riveting stuff, nor is it laugh-out-loud funny; it's serviceable, which is essentially how I feel about Etrian in general. Dungeon crawling is basically the same as always (now with the enhanced 3D style), and with Fafnir Knight, you'll have the ability to manually map out your findings on the bottom screen. Or, if you're feeling a bit more conservative, it can automatically populate. FOEs have returned, which are basically giant superbosses present throughout the game. [embed]296957:59744:0[/embed] Like many JRPG superbosses, they aren't easy to best. You'll generally have to avoid them early on or risk instant death. Since they're visible on the screen, it's easy to see where they're coming from however, and you'll have to either deduce their patterns or use trap items to fool them. It's a nice little diversion, and returning later on to defeat a pesky FOE is a great feeling. Don't think that a more concise campaign implies that the formula has been dumbed down, as players will still be able to create an initial avatar and customize the classes of story characters. There is a caveat: you'll need to sacrifice five levels to switch classes. Additionally, you can't just call upon the guild to create new characters at will. To further muddy the waters, the Grimoire system seeks to mix things up a bit, as you can now equip party members with items that allow them to tap into additional classes. However, it feels extremely limited in nature, as most of them are a random drop, and it took me hours to find the few specific tomes I really wanted. It's an odd gambit by Atlus even in the confines of the Fafnir story, as the Etrian series has always prided itself on full customization. It's a bit easier to forgive once you dig into the new cooking mechanic, which has been expanded in an unprecedented manner. Now, you can customize ingredients and discover new recipes to craft as you cook your way to statistical bonuses for your adventures. Eventually, this diversion works its way more and more into the story. The Duke of the main town allows you to potentially earn a profit from the restaurant as you expand and re-invest in the town. It's a nice little meta-narrative and adds some lightheartedness to the game. Classic mode is of course, utterly different. It's a less limited tale featuring a mysterious labyrinth, and the experience is more about the journey than a real story. You can register new party members at will, and you're free to choose from over 10 classes at the start. It's very intimidating for non-RPG fans, so I recommend trying out story mode first. And really, that's what's so great about the Untold series -- it allows new players to acclimate without holding their hand too often, and still provides a way for hardcore fans to create limitless combinations of parties to their heart's content. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a remake that's perfectly timed and well crafted, despite the fact that the formula isn't quite as fresh as the wholly new Etrian IV (I really miss the more open-ended maps). Now all Atlus needs to do is remaster Etrian III, and it'll have all four core entries ready to play on the 3DS. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Etrian Odyssey 2 review photo
A worthwhile update
It sounds crazy, but 2008 was a long time ago. That's when Etrian Odyssey II was first released for the Nintendo DS, and seven years later, Atlus has decided to bring it to a new audience with The Fafnir Knight. While a few of the advancements from later games don't translate perfectly, it's still a worthwhile dungeon romp, and another great entry in this storied series.

Review: Magic Duels: Origins

Jul 31 // Caitlin Cooke
Magic Duels: Origins (PC [reviewed], iOS)Developer: Stainless Games Ltd.Publisher: Wizards of the Coast LLCReleased: July 29, 2015MSRP: Free As its name implies, the story mode within Magic Duels: Origins centers on the early lives of well-known Planeswalkers in the series -- including Jace, Chandra, and Liliana. Each backstory is broken down into five chapters, which detail coming-of-age moments in their lives before becoming full-fledged Planeswalkers. Chapters begin with a short prologue and art piece which set the stage for the upcoming duel, and upon completion end in a similar vein. Battle Mode is the main attraction, containing the normal modes you’d find in any Magic game -- Versus battle (vs Human), Solo battle (vs AI), and Two-headed Giant (2v2). Solo battles come in three flavors -- easy, medium, hard -- however, you’re not able to select your AI opponent (the deck is random). It’s also unclear how the matching system works for the Versus battle system, since the servers were down the majority of the time and I wasn’t able to test it out. I also found it unfortunate that there are no extra fun modes present, as was common in the DoTP series (like Planechase or Archenemy), which I personally miss. In Origin’s free-to-play model, players collect coins via completion of Story and Battle duels or by shelling out cash. Coins are then used to trade in for booster packs, which are added to your overall collection. A single booster pack runs for 150 coins, which equals roughly $2.00 if you were to purchase the coins yourself. You can also buy coins in bulk at a discount, going all the way up to 7,500 coins for $39.99. Origins makes it surprisingly easy to collect coins -- completing a Planeswalker’s story (5 duels) is enough to get you a pack, or dueling a random human roughly 7 times could net the same amount. Quests, which are essentially achievements, rotate in and out and dish out coins when certain stipulations are met (for example: win two duels with a forest/mountain combo deck, put 20 +1/+1 counters on a creature, et cetera). After only a few hours of playing through some of the story, a few battles, and earning Quest achievements, I had enough coins to unlock 3 or 4 packs. I was surprised that the built-in cards were fairly solid (and a lot of new ones, to boot). Origins also features Planeswalker cards, an added layer of challenge which is also a first for Magic’s online games. It didn’t take me long to build some decent decks after opening a few booster packs, although with 251 total cards and only 6 cards in a pack collecting them all seems daunting. Deck-building has come a long way since the Duels of the Planeswalkers series was first introduced. In Origins, the two options are to build everything from scratch or to use the deck wizard. Building a deck from scratch gives players pretty much any freedom they need when building a deck -- it even has a nice filter system, allowing players to sort by parameters including rarity, type, and cost. Swapping cards in and out is pretty seamless, and I like that I could go through my booster cards to pick out the ones I want and have the game do the math and complete the rest of the deck for me. The deck wizard is much more restrictive, but probably the best option for brand new players. After selecting mana types, it walks players through three steps and explains which cards to choose along the way. Being a casual player who doesn’t really enjoy building decks, I actually found the deck wizard to be even more overwhelming than the “build from scratch” option. It’s oddly restrictive, as it doesn’t really give you much room to look at your available cards -- each step only displays a handful of cards to choose from at any given time. Although Origins has a number of viable options for deck-building, there were a few strange occurrences I noticed when building decks. When using autocomplete in the deck-builder, sometimes odd choices would be made -- for example, a lone forest land card would be slotted in when no forest mana was needed, or a card that calls for enchantments when none were found in the deck. Origins also makes it difficult to rebuild a deck if it was originally made with the wizard, as you’re not able to switch freely between modes. This means that if you get new cards in your booster pack that you want to add to your decks built with the wizard, you’re pretty much out of luck. My attempts to join a multiplayer duel over the course of two days were pretty much thwarted with network errors, which is a real bummer seeing how playing with actual people is the crux of playing Magic. I also found that occasionally the game would boot me out of the server entirely, rendering my account virtually useless. Hopefully Stainless will be able to sort out the server issues, as the game does not allow you to collect or spend coins, even in Story mode or AI battles. This is quite frustrating since the main purpose of the game is to collect these coins to spend them on booster packs and improve your deck. I also found it disappointing that you’re not able to earn coins via playing with friends. I’m assuming this is because it would be much easier to cheat the system, however, even giving small rewards via Quests, or a small amount of coins seems like it would encourage more friendly duels versus people taking advantage. Despite their servers not being ready, I feel Magic Duels: Origins brings the best of both worlds together, finally: a fun way to learn and play Magic with the competitiveness of collecting and putting together strong decks for duels in a fairly balanced system. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the server issues improve with time, but in the meantime playing through the story and battling AI is still entertaining. Those new to Magic will find it easy to dive in and learn the intricacies of deck-building, while more experienced players should finally have the customization and card variety they’ve been asking for. Nothing beats the real thing (playing in person) for a lot of expert Magic players; however, I feel like this is a big step in the right direction. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Magic Duels: Origins photo
Free-to-play done right
My addiction to Magic began with the first Duels of the Planeswalkers game for the 360 back in 2009. Although it had its shortcomings (mana tapping, anyone?), the DoTP series created an accessible way for new (or rusty) playe...

Review: The Swindle

Jul 31 // Zack Furniss
The Swindle (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Size Five GamesPublisher: Curve DigitalRelease Date: July 28, 2015 (PC, PS3, PS4, Vita) / July 31 (Xbox One) / TBD (Wii U)MSRP: $14.99 I'll be honest, this review didn't come out on release day because I couldn't beat the fucking game in time. The Swindle starts off simply enough: the robotic police force that defends all of that sweet future funding projects a light in front of them indicating their line of sight. If you take a second to observe most obstacles and enemies, chances are you'll understand how they'll react in any given situation. That's the beauty of Size Five Games' newest creation: through its hand-drawn art and deft understanding of visual cues, a glance at your surroundings is usually enough to convey all of the information regardless of your location. With a general lack of tutorials, it's appreciated that there was a strong knowledge of mise-en-scène (ha! I've justified taking that one directing class now) involved in The Swindle's creation. A successful robbery goes as follows: from a side-scrolling perspective, your scoundrel will arrive at a procedurally-generated location ripe for the plucking. With a combination of climbing, sneaking, and watching, you just might be able to walk away with a considerable sum of money. Small vaults/chests/containers are strewn about, but aren't worth much. Computers (which are hacked through deliciously tense QTEs) are where you'll want to focus your efforts, as they offer the best payday. If you're spotted, you run the risk of dying and losing your character, though your purchased abilities are universal. The police will send increasingly deadly forces at you, but you can still get away if you reach your escape pod without dying. For the first 40 days or so, I felt like I was building a slow, subtle mastery over my surroundings. Though I started by robbing the poor to work my way up, the ramshackle security systems were enough to keep me vigilant. The intricacies of wall-climbing became more familiar to me, and various upgrades to my thieves expanded the possible approaches available at each newly-generated building. I watched many of these swindlers embrace sweet death via bullets, failed hacking attempts on explosives, and oh-so-many plunges off of tiled roofs. Each time, a new one rose with a new outfit and name: Lafeyette Weedbruiser lasted six successful heists before a wheelchair-clad robot shot her down from a magnificent double-jump. I eventually earned enough money to move onto the warehouse districts and the mansions. Each area was progressively more difficult but offered more lucrative lucre. I bought bombs, money-accruing bugs, and the ability to hack doors and security systems, feeling as though the Devil's Basilisk would be mine with days to spare. It wasn't until I purchased the right to try to pilfer from the casinos and banks that I hit an iron wall of challenge. Instead of skulking into buildings with multiple access points and hacking easily-reached computers for big bucks, I was relegated to picking up chump change and scrambling back to my escape pod before the tenacious security bots spotted me during one of my many slip-ups. The titular swindle is actually the final stage, where you attempt to steal the AI device. You need to be prepared for the big event by having the right tools and upgraded thieves, but you also need to pay for entry. Saving up £400,000 is already hard enough; however, failure requires you to pay the whole amount for each successive attempt. Since you'll be spending your hard-earned money on necessary upgrades like teleportation, triple-jumps, and being able to stop in the middle of a wall slide (seriously, buy this), that buy-in price makes an already difficult game feel ludicrously unfair. There are ways to buy extra days towards the end, but the price goes up each time. That's the game over screen, which I saw at the end of multiple attempts at all 100 days. I'm not one to balk at a challenge, but the finite lives combined with the money requirement of the last level feel like an artificial attempt to gate willing players away from the ending. I have no doubt that somebody is on Twitch at this very moment, controlling The Swindle with Donkey Konga drums ghosting through the final stage, but the vast majority of players will mostly find the latter half of the game frustrating. I think it's telling that most of the coverage I've read has only shown screenshots of the first few stages.  There's also the weird bloom effect that permeates some of your jaunt through London. While it makes sense to have your vision obscured when the alarms are blaring and the lights are flashing red, occasionally the screen is bloomed beyond belief and you can't discern the minutiae on the screen. I've committed almost-perfect crimes, hacking security systems and clearing out guards, only to land on an explosive I could barely see. Get used to seeing starbursts of paper money explode from your fresh corpses for the slightest of transgressions. The collision on spike pits also is a bit wonky, and I've died a fair few times just for standing close to one. Depending on the kind of player you are, you might just start finding exploits to accelerate your progress. I'm not all that ashamed to admit that I took advantage of bugs, which seem to go against the whole risk/reward theme of The Swindle. If you get close to a computer, you can place a bug that will siphon cash to your account at a rate of £/second. This goes directly to your account, so you can avoid having to run back to the escape pod to keep whatever you earn. The thrill of sneaking off with a sack full of cash is somewhat diminished when you can place a bunch of bugs and wait by the exit, but I found myself relying on this method in order to actually reach the Devil's Basilisk. Since hacking is accomplished via directional QTEs, you can just spin the stick in a circle without punishment (unless it's a mine, which will explode upon an incorrect input). I only did this once out of curiosity, but it feels like an unnoticed exploit. Hacking is my favorite part of the game, so I couldn't cheat myself out of that experience without feeling like a sad sack. For the record, I played on a gamepad, which was much more comfortable than the keyboard layout. The Swindle is nowhere near an entirely negative experience. It's a festival of moments, of anecdotes filled with failures and smiles. I found myself holding my breath as I hacked a computer with just enough time to dodge three heavy guards coming my way, jumped over two electricity traps, clung to a wall to let a patrol pass, and bombed myself a new escape route. These pockets of perfection kept me hooked, and made me boot up The Swindle again and again in order to preserve this world of rogues. That, and my dedication to you guys. Now, the Devil's Basilisk is for all of us to share. You're goddamned welcome. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
The Swindle photo
Steal shit, get hit
A band of thieves in Steampunk Victorian London has been tasked with preventing Scotland Yard's creation of the ultimate surveillance device: The Devil's Basilisk. If they fail to swindle said device in 100 days (read: lives)...

Review: Angry Birds 2

Jul 31 // Chris Carter
Angry Birds 2 (Android, iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 6])Developer: Rovio EntertainmentPublisher: Rovio EntertainmentRelease Date: July 30, 2015MSRP: Free-to-play Yes, it's still the same concept as before -- you'll take a handful of birds, and with the help of a slingshot, fire them into the path of evil pigs. Just like before, it's still really fun to unwind and fling things around, and actual designs of some of these forts and contraptions hasn't gotten stale. Sure it's mostly mindless, but there's a great degree of skill involved with Angry Birds as well, like identifying specific objects like TNT, and certain degrees of structural integrity to do the most damage. This depth is aided by the fact that like in Angry Birds Star Wars II, you can choose individual birds to use in each level. Levels are much more interesting as you can now approach them multiple ways, not only in terms of figuring out solutions, but different methodologies in which to reach your end goal. It's also a beautiful game, and Rovio has mastered their craft to the point where it has production values much like a fully-fledged Disney experience. I love how bright everything is, and how charming the character designs are even to this day. Now here comes the bad news -- Rovio got greedy. Unfortunately, it has heavily incorporated free-to-play elements into the game in just about every way possible. There's an energy meter, there are in-app-purchases (IAP), and it constantly nags you to connect to Facebook. Let me break it down though so you better understand exactly what went wrong. In terms of energy, players can thankfully continue to play levels without using up your stock of five "hearts," but if you fail a level once, you'll need to use some stock. This is an issue after level 20 or so, as stages become so complex that you'll often need to give them a go a few times. [embed]296952:59745:0[/embed] It also exposes the "multi-tier" format of Angry Birds 2's stage design. In short, each individual world map level can have multiple arenas within it, so if you fail on a later tier, you'll fail the whole thing. It's actually a cool idea in theory, as you have to play conservatively and try to earn more lives constantly, but it all falls apart when you add in an energy scheme. IAP feels wholly unnecessary, as the game charges a ton of "gems" to continue mid-level after failing to come back to life. Gems are earned at a rate of roughly one continue per 45 minutes, lest you opt to buy them. The sad part is that unlike most of the iterations in the past, there's no option for a premium version. Say what you will about the franchise, but Rovio has generally done pretty well in a sea of freemium-fests over the years, providing fans with a way to buy a game outright. But with Angry Birds 2, you'll have to suffer through all of the fixin's that Rovio forced into the game. Angry Birds 2 proves that the Angry formula is still fun, but Rovio isn't doing itself any favors by gating that fun left and right. Angry Birds is supposed to be a series you can just pick up and play, and I have no idea what they were thinking here -- other than "more money."
Angry Birds 2 review photo
I'm the angry one
As I've said a million times in the past, I have no real problem with the original Angry Birds and the initial string of sequels. Yes, it was a derivative of Crush the Castle, but Banjo-Kazooie was a derivative of M...

Review: Blues and Bullets - Episode 1

Jul 29 // Laura Kate Dale
Blues and Bullets - Episode 1 (Xbox One, PC [Reviewed])Developer: A Crowd of MonstersPublisher: A Crowd of MonstersReleased: July 23, 2015MSRP: $4.99Rig: Intel Core i5-4690K @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, Windows 8 64-bit The first episode of Blues and Bullets does a really good job of setting up an incredibly creepy mystery right off the bat. A child locked in an underground cell, a creepy scraping sound that chills the bones, and an attempt to escape an inhuman beast. The opening minutes of the game are decidedly unsettling and, when juxtaposed with the ensuing grounded crime noir elements, really serve to give a narrative hook to work toward.  From there, we jump straight into some of the more mixed elements of Blues and Bullets' design. The initial noir crime elements of the game are painfully slow. From the walk speed which never increases above an infuriating crawl to the automatic camera whose angles often won't allow you to see where you're heading, you'll spend a lot of time guessing which way to go, being wrong, and having to achingly slowly trek back until you find where you're going. On the topic of speed, the dialogue in the game, while well written and performed, is also poorly paced. While the characters' lines are delivered well, there are often awkward gaps between lines of speech, or between a sentence and a reply. While the dialogue is well written, these pacing issues really detract from the flow of tension-filled scenes. [embed]296832:59723:0[/embed] The combination of awkward camera, dreadfully low walking speed, and stilted dialogue pacing made the first half of the narrative at times a chore to play, in spite of how much I wanted to enjoy it. That was a huge barrier, and one that would have turned me off if I were playing this for pleasure. Still, there were things in the opening act of Blues and Bullets that were pretty noteworthy, namely the inclusion of third-person shooter segments. The inclusion of sections that required ducking between cover, taking shots, switching out weapons, and planning an assault on a heavily guarded mob boss's home were particularly enjoyable. It's nice to see a point-and-click adventure game have more of these traditional gameplay elements, even if the aiming was, once again, painfully slow. While the black and white aesthetic of the world is generally striking, I was shocked at how poorly the game ran on a  decent spec gaming PC. For a game as visibly indie as Blues and Bullets, my PC frequently chugged, stuttered and flickered far more than I would have expected. In short, the PC version is horribly optimized. At this point, around half way through Blues and Bullets first episode, I was about ready to give up. Then, it finally started to catch my interest with a visually captivating, highly abstracted visual design segment. Narration became paired with giant looming words jutting from the ground, the word "hell" came accompanied by walls of flame and discussions of gunshots game paired with third person shooter sections darting back and forth between giant letters for cover. Suddenly, Blues and Bullets was doing something visually arresting. It didn't last long, but it caught my attention far better than the general tones of grey the world had been painted in. Following this, the narrative finally picked up by introducing a handful of those creepy occult horror themes from the introduction of the game. Walking around deathly slow is boring. Walking slowly around a room with a gruesomely mutilated human corpse feels far more tonally appropriate. Ultimately, Blues and Bullets shows a lot of promise, but this first episode alone is very hard to recommend. In its latter half it really starts to shine, with third person gameplay, creepy crime solving, and an intriguing cast of characters. It's just a shame so much of the early game was so painful to get through. The first episode ended on a truly gripping exchange that sold me on trying the second episode, but the first episode in a vacuum is at times more painful to play through that any new IP can afford to be. Definitely keep an eye on Blues and Bullets. If Episode 2 can start off with the same pacing and tone that Episode 1 ended on, we might have a really strong point and click adventure series on our hands. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Blues and Bullets photo
A mix of fantastic and insufferable
Blues and Bullets is a crime noir episodic adventure game that jumps back and forth between artistically stunning and unplayably dreary more times than I care to count. Over the course of a few short hours the first episode h...

Review: Life is Strange: Dark Room

Jul 28 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Dark Room (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: July 28, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Interestingly enough, Dark Room largely betrays the pacing set forth by the previous three installments. Those chapters had a tendency to meander as Dontnod built the world and its characters. There wasn't anything inherently bad about that. Actually, now that the game's nearing its conclusion, it's paying dividends. We're invested in the story surrounding Arcadia Bay. Still, Dark Room is always tugging at your sleeves, trying to guide you somewhere. The stakes in this episode have been raised to a degree that doesn't lend itself to killing time. Urgency permeates the entirety of Dark Room. Rushing from one location to another advances the plot as things escalate steadily, and there's not always a chair handy to take a mental breather. As quickly as things move, a lot of the brilliance behind this episode comes in the form of finally tying together past events and seeing how they cause everything to shake out. There's some resolution, even if it's not full resolution. Dontnod has proven that it expertly laid the framework to affect future encounters. One particular instance comes in the form of another spat with a familiar antagonist. The branching paths can lead to several outcomes, none necessarily more optimal than the next. [embed]296752:59714:0[/embed] Another prime example is very un-Life is Strange, and maybe the only time Dark Room just sat still for a minute. Max has a board of clues that she must use to put together some damning evidence against someone. Putting on Max's sleuthing hat, the puzzle requires carefully finding related documents and grouping them in a sensible way. Odd as it may have seemed, this section nicely conveyed a sense of inter-connectivity and broke up the episode's breakneck speed. The rest of Dark Room's high points were the bleakest moments the game has seen, none of which should be discussed here. This episode doubled down on grim material and somber social issues. The absolute best thing Dark Room does is that it still somehow manages to present most of this (and the characters tied to it) from a complex perspective. It's not dealing in blacks and whites -- even though it's completely expected by now, given the nature of the subjects. The more time spent in Life is Strange, the more obvious it is that this isn't the game we may have originally thought. The supernatural won't overshadow the social issues. The rewind mechanic often doesn't feel like an option because you want to live with your decisions. Somehow, Dontnod resisted the urge to lean on these aspects, even though they'd be the easiest to lean on. The game's immeasurably better off for it. So, after another cliffhanger ending, we're left awaiting the conclusion and with no real idea where the narrative might go. Dark Room has been the most masterful installment in Life is Strange thus far, and it sets us hurtling toward the finish line. If the first 80 percent is any indication, it probably won't be a "happily ever after" ending. Only one thing's certain, though: that ever-present throat lump will be along for the ride.
Life is Strange review photo
Super Max
I played the fourth episode of Life is Strange with a lump in my throat. You know, the sort of uneasiness that puts a slight pressure behind your ears. The lump waned and grew with the chapter's crescendos and decrescend...

Review: King's Quest: A Knight To Remember

Jul 28 // Chris Carter
King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The Odd GentlemenPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: July 28, 2015MSRP: $9.99 per episode / $40 for the "Complete Collection" To be clear, this isn't a true continuation of the series, but rather, a "re-imagining" with the same characters, and some of the same events. For the most part, this new rendition is going to tell side stories that happened between the games over the course of five episodes -- A Knight to Remember is the first. There's plenty of fanservice scattered about to keep old fans happy, but newcomers won't be lost in the slightest in their first foray into Daventry -- it's a great balancing act. When I first booted up the game, it was seemingly taking a low-key Ico-like approach, which I really dug. The protagonist didn't talk much initially, and you're thrown into an unknown situation that sets up the rest of the tale. It immediately reminded me of a Don Bluth project, with beautiful scenery and interesting character designs. There are a few areas I encountered that had some screen tearing issues, but nothing that affected my enjoyment significantly, or crashed the game in any way on Xbox One. Slowly but surely the game opened up and started to become more talkative, at which point I immediately fell in love with it. The way the game is framed is through the narration of King Graham, who is telling his granddaughter the tales of his youth. Christopher Lloyd plays an older Graham to perfection, with plenty of "grandpa puns" and lots of heart. You can tell he's really enjoying it and isn't phoning it in like some stars might (Destiny), and in fact, the entire cast is one of the most organic collective of characters I've ever seen in a game. There's tons of great references to classic films like The Princess Bride with a welcome appearance from Wallace Shawn, and even direct references to characters like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. While I don't want to spoil the surprises, they're done with the utmost respect to the source material, and never approach the level of an annoying forced meme. It helps that the game's animations are incredible, and it's hard to not laugh out loud when you see Graham frantically running with his arms flailing about like Disney's Ichabod Crane. In fact, I've never laughed so hard at a game in my life -- trust me when I say that's not an exaggeration. I particularly like how the game handles death with the Grandpa Graham narration mechanism, which even makes failure funny. There's also a few hilarious references to characters "remembering that" from Telltale games, and a clever use of the narration technique in other ways. For instance, there's one part where you're walking on a log, and after going over it again, Graham mentions that it would be repetitive if he had to explain that bit over and over to his granddaughter, so it transports you to the other side. It's convenient and charming in the same breath. One thing I need to mention is that the game is not as hardcore as past King's Quest titles, which is to be expected. The narration element sort of clues you in sometimes to the solution (which again, is done very well), and I really like how the game focuses in on objects you are currently trying to use a piece of equipment on, to eliminate any nasty instances of pixel-hunting. There's also plenty of choices to be had that change the story in smaller ways, like leaving tips in a collection plate in any empty store, or bigger conundrums that promise more of an impact in future episodes (stay tuned to future reviews to see how this plays out). While the first hour or so of the roughly five hour adventure is rather linear, the game opens up significantly after that, with a large sandbox that isn't as massive as a classic adventure game, but big enough to roam around in. There's also some third-person obstacle dodging, mild on-rails platforming, and several first-person aiming sequences. There's a few quick-time events but they are very few and far between, which is a nice touch, as modern adventure games use them as a crutch far too often. Of course, A Knight to Remember also has several puzzles as well as some memory work involved, which are well executed. So yes, it's much more involved than your average Telltale game. I wish King's Quest: A Knight to Remember was a bit more taxing, but I loved everything about it. If this series does well I hope we get to see the adventures of other family members like Alexander, and additional areas like the Land of the Green Isles. Right now though, I'm going through withdraws for the second episode already. Move over Telltale, there's a new adventure king in town. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
King’s Quest review photo
A kingly modern classic
Not all revivals or remakes instill a sense of nostalgia within me. For instance, if we ever got that sequel to Kabuki Quantum Fighter we were promised in the original's credits, I wouldn't be all that excited. But King'...

Review: N++

Jul 28 // Chris Carter
N++ (PS4)Developer: Metanet SoftwarePublisher: Metanet SoftwareReleased: July 28, 2015MSRP: $19.99 If you haven't played N+ before, you're in for a treat. This series is predicated on tough jumps, pinpoint controls, and a physics system that's built on momentum. All you can really do with your ninja avatar is jump, but you'll be able to use acceleration and specific leaps to your advantage. It's a platforming fan's dream, as nearly every level presents a unique challenge that will force you to master every facet of the control scheme. The general layout of the game is also dead simple. You have 90 seconds to complete each level, and picking up gold along the way increases your timer. On every stage you'll need to brush against a switch to open up the exit door, then make your way to said door. It's cleverly paced, as you can choose to go for as little or as much gold as you want -- though hardcore players will likely want the clear bonus earned for picking it all up.N++ is massive in size, and to properly convey just how big it is, let me just give you a concise breakdown: Solo:600 new N++ levels125 Intro 600 Legacy Co-op: 300 N++ 50 Intro 120 Legacy Race: 300 N++ 25 Intro 120 Legacy Yeah, that's a lot of levels right? What I really like about the campaign in particular this time around is that it does a better job of acclimating players to the game, and all of the different concepts within. These arenas are short enough where you won't get bored learning the basics, but you'll be adequately prepared for what's next. While I finished most of the solo stages, I wasn't able to complete them all, and I played for roughly 30 hours. Co-op is particularly fun (with up to four players), as some stages specifically require people to suicide into hazards to let the other player complete the level. Races are also a rush, requiring one player to get to the goal first, and while they operate similarly to the solo sets (they can even be played by yourself), they can get crazy with multiple people, and if you really want, you can play the solo stages with friends. Sadly, there's no online play to be found for any mode, which is a disappointment. In terms of extras, I like how the game keeps track of crazy stats like how much of your time was spent in the air, on the ground, and on the wall, and there's a ton of really cool UI and visual filters to unlock and test out.  If you're so inclined you can also create levels with all of the available tools used to develop the game, and share it online. Even pre-launch there's already over 100 levels up, and the coolest one I found automatically takes you through a giant level without pressing anything. Others are more artsy, with messages and poetry that gradually appear on-screen. N++ might lack online play and feel like more of the same, but it's pretty much everything a platformer fan could want out of a sequel. It's still challenging, it has a boatload of levels, and it's a hell of a lot of fun to play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
N++ review photo
Go ninja go, again
I don't think anyone could have predicted to success of the original N+. I was sitting around my dorm, playing Devil May Cry 3 for the billionth time, and my friend came in and said "dude, you have to play this game." It...

Review: Niko: Through The Dream

Jul 27 // Jed Whitaker
Niko: Through The Dream (PC)Developer: Studio Paint Publisher: Studio Paint MSRP: $9.99Released: July 10, 2015  A girl named Niko wearing wild face paint visits the grave of a passed loved one. She lays down and drifts asleep, when a tiny cute black creature with big bright white eyes sneaks into her mind and influences her dreams; or at least that is how I interpreted the opening pencil-drawn anime cinematic of Niko. The story is told subtly from then on via drawings found in-game and a post-credits cinematic, most of which lets you interpret it as you will instead of outright telling you what you just experienced, something I wish more games did.  Niko's minimalistic style makes beautiful use of the Unreal Engine. Most early levels are white and almost canvas-like other than shadows and a few a colorful pieces, and later on things get a bit more dark and eery. The soundtrack evolves alongside levels, starting bright and charming and eventually becoming chilling and tense. Rarely do game soundtracks feel so on point with what is on the screen and as memorable as Niko's, especially for a team's first game. Each level of Niko features a unique puzzle based on colors, shapes, platforming and even sounds. Most puzzles can be solved without much fuss, particularly for observant players as clues are usually hidden somewhere not far from the puzzles themselves. I'd be here all day if I described each type of puzzle, so just know the variety is enough to keep the whole adventure interesting.  [embed]296684:59697:0[/embed] Platforming puzzles aren't frequent, but when they do occur be ready to die a few times. Luckily, the checkpoints are really frequent and loading them is instantaneous, keeping frustration near non-existent. Niko aims to provide an enjoyable experience over one that tests your skills, and it certainly delivers. Nothing ever felt too difficult. Puzzles are mostly easy to figure out once you've got the logic down, though one of hardest puzzles is a platforming section where you turn into a ball. In ball form, the control scheme is vastly different: the view is top down, and if you're using a gamepad, the left stick moves the ball while the right stick decides the trajectory. Once I finally mastered the controls, I was able to finish the puzzles without much fuss, but it felt out of place in an otherwise beautifully-crafted game. Along the journey a few different characters come into contact with Niko such as cute black fuzzballs with eyes, and a giant white-masked black figure, both of which would feel right at home in a Studio Ghibli film. There is no dialogue in-game, but rest assured the characters are anything but flat. Over the course of the story, you'll see the masked figure evolve and convey emotions all without a single word of speech.  Niko only takes around five hours to complete, but those hours are time well spent. Completionists can seek out hidden collectable teddy bears that unlock Steam achievements, and a few other secrets along the way that will help extend the playtime a bit. The bears are often hidden behind some of the more difficult and rewarding puzzles, or just out of sight.  Beautiful levels with equally beautiful story, characters, and music come together to form one amazing puzzle adventure. Niko: Through The Dream is easily one of the best first-person puzzle games I've played, and a strong contender for my game of the year. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Niko Review photo
When Portal met Ghibli
First-person puzzle adventure gaming was reinvigorated with the release of Portal, and the genre has since become one of my favorites. The surreal Antichamber showed us how to think outside the box. The Unfinished Swan&n...

Review: Adventure Time Puzzle Quest

Jul 27 // Chris Carter
Adventure Time Puzzle Quest (Android, iOS [reviewed])Developer: WayForward, Cartoon NetworkPublisher: D3 Go!Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) If you've never played a Puzzle Quest game before, the concept is fairly easy to grasp -- it's a match-three. All you have to do is switch tiles to create matches of at least three of a certain color, and you'll do a certain amount of damage to enemy forces, which you'll do battle with in an RPG-like format. That's basically it, as the series is a bit more active than a lot of other puzzlers in the same subgenre. Except with Adventure Time, a few extra cogs have been thrown into the machine to spice things up a bit. Enemy mice tiles will slowly make their way to the top of the screen, worms will periodically lower your health if they aren't dealt with, and other tiles may explode after a certain amount of time. It's up to you to manage offense and defense, alongside of your party abilities (such as Jake's taunt) to clear out your foes as quickly as possible. On paper, it actually sounds pretty cool. You'll start with Finn and Jake on a fun little adventure to rescue Ice King's drumset, and go from there to other quest-givers like Princess Bubblegum and Flame Princess. The animations for attacks are neat, especially Jake, who transforms into giant boots and jackhammers to smite baddies. But as time goes on, you'll start to understand more of how the freemium nature of the game spills into every facet of the experience, which significantly sours things. For one, combat is painfully slow. Even on the fifth mission of the game, damage starts to become woefully low, both on your side and with the enemy forces. There were times were I was doing 5% damage to one enemy with a multi-combo attack, and sometimes it takes up to 10 seconds for the matches and your attack animation to play. These aren't epic boss fights with villains like Hunson Abadeer or the Earl of Lemongrab either -- they're mere skirmishes with rats. This all plays into the in-app purchase (IAP) scheme. Multiple confusing currencies can be used to heal or revive characters (a soft energy system), buy them equipment, and buy temporary "recruits." Almost everything ties into IAP, to the point where after only an hour the game tempts you to constantly replenish your party and buy new items to make battles go faster. It's just too much, and even though there is a tournament mode that hosts different daily events, it all feels like a slog. If you've never played the series before and the concept sounds interesting, just go with the original game (which has hit multiple platforms at this point), the legion of other match-threes that spawned after it, or the superior Marvel Puzzle Quest, which is a much more respectable mobile rendition. Cartoon Network really needs to re-evaluate the developers it chooses for the Adventure Time license, because this series deserves better, and has performed poorly for far too long. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game.]
Puzzle Quest review photo
Vengeance for Orgalorg
I have a love-hate relationship with Adventure Time. In recent years, there hasn't been much in the way of consistent character development or advancement of the core plot, outside of a select few instances per season. Yet, I...

Review: Lost Dimension

Jul 27 // Kyle MacGregor
Lost Dimension (PS3, PS Vita [reviewed], PS TV compatible)Developer: LancarsePublisher: Atlus USA (NA), NIS America (EU)Released: July 28, 2015 (NA), August 28, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 The story begins with a man who calls himself "The End" authoring a string of deadly terror attacks and threatening to destroy the planet in 13 days unless someone can stop him. To do just that, the United Nations dispatches S.E.A.L.E.D., an elite team of teenage warriors with psychic powers. But before the final showdown, the kids must climb the villain's mysterious spire, where he awaits their arrival. The task is easier said than done, though, as the group soon discovers. During the ascent the team is locked in a room, where they learn there is a traitor in their midst whom they will need to "erase" before moving on to the next level. The task falls on central protagonist Sho Kasugai to use his visions and deductive skills to root out the traitors. When they're not pointing fingers at one another, the squad of psychics will need to work together to defeat an army of enigmatic robots that stand between them and their main objective. While the ensuing battles have been compared to those of Valkyria Chronicles, the resemblance isn't overly deep. Lost Dimension is indeed a tactical role-playing game with a similar aesthetic, but the combat here is entirely turn-based and has enough distinctive features to make it feel unique.  All of the characters have unique psychic abilities, ranging from offensive powers like telekinesis and pyrokinesis to defensive powers like healing and buffs. Using these abilities is tied to a pair of gauges, one of which is a sanity meter. In addition to managing what is essentially a mana bar, players will need to be mindful of the sanity meter, as depleting it can turn the tide of battle. Should a character run out of sanity, they will go berserk. In this state, players lose control over the character, who no longer differentiate friend from foe. It sounds bad at first, but berserk characters are extremely powerful, and utilizing them effectively is an essential strategy. Another great tactic at players' disposal in Lost Dimension is deferring, which, at the cost of a little sanity, can allow allied units to have multiple turns. This is great for taking advantage of enemy weaknesses with a powerful attacker or moving your forces across the battlefield quickly to close distance or retreat to a more defensible position. Since nearby units will assist their buddies in battle, stacking assists is another important part of the equation, netting you extra attacks for every ally in range. Of course, enemies can pull off this maneuver just as well, which can be pretty devastating. Missions are usually quick affairs, lasting around 10 minutes or so on average, which was ideal for playing the game on Vita. After they're finished, Sho will have a vision where he'll see brief glimpses into what his teammates are thinking -- which might help players identify traitors. There's another ability that should help you do this as well, which allows you to go into someone's subconscious mind and tell for sure if they're the traitor or not. Thing is, you can only use this ability three times per floor, so it's best to narrow down suspects before firing your silver bullets. Since the traitors are randomized, each experience with the game will be somewhat unique, ensuring someone's first run through the game will be different than the second. But it might be a tough sell for most to invest a couple more dozen hours in the game after seeing the credits roll. When a character is erased, they become Materia, which allows other characters to use the abilities they learned before their untimely demise. It's little things like this, and the whole tension surrounding judgement and betrayal that made Lost Dimension an enjoyable experience for me. Knowing I made a blunder early on and would have to watch one of my favorite characters betray me was something I dreaded throughout the journey. It was a huge source of dissonance, enjoying my interactions with someone that I knew was playing me and would ultimately make the final showdown with The End all the more difficult. Lost Dimension isn't particularly exceptional at anything it does, but I still really enjoyed the overall experience. It's a genuinely satisfying and memorable tactical RPG that I won't soon forget. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]  
Review: Lost Dimension photo
Keep your friends close, then kill them
It wasn't long before I realized my adventure in Lost Dimension wasn't going to end terribly well. My comrades and I were turning on one another, agreeing to sacrifice a teammate at the behest of our sworn enemy. None of...

Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 4

Jul 24 // Nic Rowen
Five Nights at Freddy's 4 (PC)Developer: Scott Cawthon Publisher: Scott Cawthon Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: $8.00 The setup of Five Nights 4 intentionally replicates the design of the first game. The original cast is back, their avenues of attack directly mimic their first outing, and the general layout of your besieged room is the same, making this entry feel like closing a loop. But, this time instead of haunting a creepy knock-off Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, they're spooking up your home instead. There are no more security cameras to monitor, no more batteries to fuss over. You're just a little kid with a flashlight, scampering between the two doors into his room and whatever might be lurking in his closet (or right behind him). The type of sense you rely on has been inverted: instead of keeping an eye on things, this time you'll be listening for whatever is out there. When you creep up to a door you have to pause, wait a moment, and listen for any kind of breathing or noise in the darkened hallway. If you hear something, you need to shut the door as fast as you possibly can. If it's clear, shining your flashlight down the hall will ward off anything stalking towards you. If you're wrong though, and the monster is right there, and you shine your flashlight right into its toothy mechanical face, well, it's is the last thing you'll ever do. What this means mechanically, is that you need to absolutely crank up the volume to reliably hear things. Headphones are nearly required. Of course, the jump scare death animations are as loud as ever. Do you see where this is going? Sonic fucking boom. If you want to know if this game made me yelp, or jump, or spill my coffee and send me trudging to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels while I swore angrily under my breath -- yes, it did. Of course it did. It's a cycle of protracted periods of peering into the darkness and intensely listening to absolutely nothing interrupted with SUDDEN. LOUD. JUMP. SCARES.   [embed]296612:59683:0[/embed] It's an easy, dull, and obvious trick. The final refuge for a game that has run out of any other ways to scare people. Don't think of anything new and clever, forget introducing any kind of gameplay twist, or carefully establishing tension or mood. Just take the basic components, crank up the contrast, pump up the volume, and jam the severity. It's trite, lazy even. I'm not sure how the inevitable Five Nights at Freddy's 5 will be able to top this kind of “subtlety.” Maybe it will come with a pair of electrodes you attach to your testicles, so it can administer 5,000 volts of spookiness every time something goes “boo.” *BZZZZZT* What, did that make you jump? Sissy. There are a few other tricks. Monsters introduced in later nights operate with slightly different rules, and by the time the fifth night rolls around, you'll be sprinting all over the bedroom trying to keep things locked down. Unlike previous games though, the rules don't feel tight. Things are sloppier, with more guesswork and chance baked into the experience. When I died, I often had no idea what I did wrong. And if I'm being honest, when I succeeded I wasn't always sure why. Frustrating deaths and unearned victories are equally unsatisfying in their own way. The animatronics' logic was never clear enough to me to come up with a reliable strategy to keep them at bay. I supposed that could be intentional, a way of always keeping even seasoned players on their toes, but I think that's giving the design credit it doesn't deserve. More than any other Freddy game so far, I just felt exasperated and annoyed playing through Five Nights 4.   The emphasis on carefully listening for every creak and groan in the darkness isn't just a lame way to manufacture easy scares. It's also a way to ruin one of the greatest pleasures I've had with the series, namely playing the game with an audience. While others sneer at Freddy's for being pure Twitch/YouTube bait, I've always understood it. I get why these games are fun to watch because I know how well they play in the living room with a couple of spectators and rotating victims. There is a real joy in playing these games with someone else or two in the room to watch you screw up. To have a small chorus whispering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...” behind your shoulder as the tension mounts. Of having someone to exchange nervous glances with when the doors stop working and it's 5 AM going on 6 AM and there is just the tiniest chance that you might roll over to the next day before Freddy pops out and – “OH GOD HE'S IN THE ROOM!” Those were moments I missed while I played Five Nights 4. What I'd think about while I was all hunched up in my chair with a pair of headphones clamped on tight. The memories that made me feel like a traitor whenever I violently shushed anyone in the room who made even the slightest distracting peep. However you played the previous games, know that this Five Nights is purely for the lone wolves and streamers out there who don't mind strapping on their pair of overly-expensive, sound-canceling Beats By Dre. But enough about how I resent the bargain-basement scares and penny-ante tricks the game uses to provoke a response from you. Enough about how this game is profoundly annoying and deeply unimaginative on a mechanical level. As a person who has followed the series since its start, the most damning part of this boondoggle of a game is how it absolutely folds under the pressure of its own established narrative. After all the teasing and hints, the essay-length forum posts and amazing fan-made theory videos that manage to be more entertaining than the games themselves, the promise that THIS Freddy's will be the one to finally answer the series long-standing questions -- it completely flubs the landing. All of the world building and story momentum generated by the first three games lurches to a disappointing stop, like a wind-up car gummed up with carpet lint. Yes, the infamous “bite of '87” is finally addressed in Five Nights 4. But like so many smoke monsters and Cylon replicants, the mystery was always better than any answer the series could reasonably provide. You see it, say “meh” to yourself, and retroactively wonder what the big deal was in the first place. The fact that this kind of anti-climax is common doesn't excuse Five Nights 4 of its wet noodle narrative and limp “reveals.” If anything, all of those previous failures should have been taken as cautionary tales, the value of mystery should be known and respected by now. Some questions are better left unanswered. It doesn't help that the way the game wraps up heavily implies that the events it depicts should not be taken literally. Yes, the tired old “it was all a dream/nightmare, or maybe a metaphor, or like a weird trippy memory, I don't know” trope is dusted off once again, so nothing is particularly clear. That's without getting into how the chaotic mass of prequels, reveals, and reinterpretations the games have constructed now threatens to collapse into a superdense black hole of no-longer-giving-a-shit at this point. I almost broke out a whiteboard trying to figure out the series' mythology at this point. “Okay, so this game is set in '87 to see the infamous 'bite,' around the same time as the prequel events in Five Nights 2. But it's also BEFORE the murders of the children that haunt Five Nights 1 and what you find out happens with Springtrap in Five Nights 3. The Purpleman doesn't really have a role, but he does show up in a cameo. Wait, are the kids in the last cutscene the eventual murder victims? Oh god, I'm seeing spots. Is this a migraine, or am I having a stroke? Do I need to call 911? If I die, are they going to find my body splayed out in front of a computer with a bunch of crazy notes about Five Nights at Freddy's? Am I going to end up as some shitty urban myth about how Five Nights totally killed a reviewer?” This game is stressful in all the wrong ways. The now familiar Atari-esque mini-games appear between chapters to deliver their payload of exposition and spooks, but all the menace of those scenes has been lanced and drained by repetition. There is a new sort of mini-game between nights where you play Weeping Angel stop-'n'-go with an animated plush doll. Stop him on a specific mark and you can knock two hours off the next night. Let him get too close or run out of time and, you guessed it, JUMP SCARE! It's the one new addition Five Nights 4 brings to the table, and it feels like the shadow of a reflection of an afterthought. You don't need to play this game. Even if you've been invested in the series up till now, it's just going to disappoint you and rankle your nerves. The interesting gimmicks have been completely rung out of the franchise; this game is imaginatively bone dry. The louder, nastier jump scares that are left are just a crass attempt to try and distract you from the lack of innovation. The story, the ongoing mystery of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria, and the strange goings-on surrounding it are best left to your personal headcanon or favorite fan theory. You'd be better served experiencing Five Nights at Freddy's 4 the way it was obviously intended to be enjoyed. By going on YouTube and watching some twenty-five-year-old, dressed like a fourteen-year-old, scream and cry his way through the game like a seven-year-old. The game truly has come full circle. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Five Nights 4 Review photo
This guest has overstayed its welcome
Well, it's been a few months, time for another Five Night at Freddy's game I suppose. I don't like to be cynical. I don't volunteer to review games, and pay for them out of my own pocket, hoping that they'll disappoint me and...

Review: Divide by Sheep

Jul 24 // Darren Nakamura
Divide by Sheep (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Victor Solodilov and Denis NovikovPublisher: tinyBuildReleased: July 2, 2015MSRP: $2.99 (Android, iOS), $4.99 (Mac, PC)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Like many well-designed puzzle games, Divide by Sheep starts out with a simple premise, which it builds upon as the player progresses. Groups of sheep in numbers ranging from one to nine are spread across platforms whose sizes can vary within that same range. Sheep can be moved between adjacent platforms, but if a group size ever exceeds the destination platform size then the excess sheep are thrown into the water and drowned. The goal is to load life rafts with sheep, but only in specified numbers. Too few and the raft won't launch, too many and the raft will spring a leak and sink. Hitting one numerical goal for a level will unlock the next, but mastering a level requires three quotas to be met in a specific order. In the beginning, there isn't a lot to think about. The options for adding and subtracting sheep from a group are small: combine two groups together to increase the number or throw more sheep than a platform can hold to decrease. It might sound complex in writing, but it's an easy concept to pick up after a few minutes of play. [embed]296494:59650:0[/embed] Not far in, Divide by Sheep introduces new elements to use toward the end of filling up life rafts. Fences block movement between adjacent platforms. Dynamite platforms explode and disappear if they have no occupants. Laser fields will slice sheep in half so one divided sheep takes up two spots on a platform. (This is where the name of the game comes in.) The first major change comes with the introduction of wolves. If a wolf and a sheep share the same platform, the wolf will eat the sheep and become so obese it cannot be moved or fed again. Wolves have their own life rafts and the two species can never commingle on rafts. It almost reminds me of the old fox/rabbit/cabbage puzzle; there are constant calculations for when and how to feed the wolves in order to get the right number of animals to safety. A wolf can be fed to completion on half a sheep, so one sheep sent through a laser can feed two wolves. With all of the mechanics put together, there are several ways to add and subtract from groups of sheep and wolves. What I like about the setup is that even though there is often only one three-star solution to a puzzle, there are several different avenues to mentally attack it from. In some levels when the quotas are high, it's important to note exactly how many animals can be safely sacrificed. Others require a different kind of foresight, forcing one initial move since all others would lead to failure. Still more are so complex that a sort of trial-and-error can reveal the path to the best answer. The next big wrinkle comes in the Dark World, where Death finally shows up. He has rafts of his own, and he is collecting souls. It doesn't matter how the animals die; they can be drowned, sliced, eaten, or burned and he will take them. It eventually gets to a point where sheep can do double duty in terms of raft occupancy. The sheep can be cut in half to fill Death's raft, then duct taped back together to fill a sheep raft. That highlights the odd tone of Divide by Sheep. At a glance, it looks like an average cartoony mobile title. The soundtrack is bouncy and upbeat. So the juxtaposition of that G-rated presentation and the graphic slaughter with copious amounts of blood is funny in the same way the fictional cartoon The Itchy & Scratchy Show is. It would be disturbing if it weren't also adorable. Divide by Sheep hits the perfect level of difficulty, where every stage makes me think for at least a few seconds (and often for several minutes), but each one is also small and self-contained enough that persistence and critical thinking can always lead to victory. It has never felt too easy nor have I ever been permanently stumped. It's smart, it's pretty, and it never dwells on any one idea for too long. At its heart is a quality math puzzler, but what makes it shine is the dark comedy found in killing cartoon animals just to satisfy some arbitrary numerical requirements. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Divide by Sheep review photo
Not baaad
Death is lonely. Death wants some company. So naturally he would flood a plain filled with sheep and wolves, then float rafts requiring very specific numbers of dead creature souls at a time. Obviously. Divide by Sheep is a math-based puzzle game and to that end it works well. What makes it noteworthy is the window dressing, a whimsical cartoon presentation of fairly morbid subject matter.

Review: F1 2015

Jul 23 // Brett Makedonski
F1 2015 (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Codemasters BirminghamPublisher: Bandai NamcoMSRP: $54.99 (PC), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)Released: July 10, 2015 (Europe), July 21, 2015 (North America) Most of F1 2015's missing horsepower comes in the form of features. Only the barest of essentials are to be found, and even those feel further stripped-down. The mode that everyone will get the most mileage out of is a single season of play (either 2014 or 2015). Pick a driver from the pre-set list of real racers, practice, qualify, and race. Repeat 18 more times, and F1 2015's longest goal has been completed. There's no career mode, creation tools, or management simulator present, so season play has to carry a strong sense of progression. Unfortunately, that's almost completely absent apart from watching you and your teammate earn points after each race. There are no contracts to chase or sponsors to keep happy. Your crew assigns goals, but they are absolutely pointless. After they're achieved or failed, they're never spoken of again and they don't affect anything. There isn't even a calendar to keep track of how many races are left; I had to look it up on F1's official site. [embed]296540:59670:0[/embed] Compounding matters is the race length. The shortest possible race in season mode is 25 percent of a real race. This usually works out to about half an hour. If you add in practice and qualifying, it's upward of an hour. That's quite the time commitment to a game that doesn't adequately reward you for playing. It becomes a slog before long. Other modes offer little reprieve from the tedium. Time trial puts you on a track alone. Quick race is a better suit for seeing the different tracks than anything else. Multiplayer is plagued by a litany of bugs -- one of my first races there saw a player finish last by more than 30 seconds only for the game to award him first place by more than a minute, with a best lap time of 457 minutes. This lack of polish isn't isolated to the netcode. F1 2015 is an uninspired-looking game. Driver models are almost offensively bland. Several of the tracks are adorned by blocky, blurry backdrops. Crowds are completely static. The screen tears regularly, which thankfully isn't always easily noticed due to concentrating on racing. There are exceptions to this, though. Codemasters put in care in the most obvious spots -- where it knew players would look for it. Iconic courses in Monaco, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi are absolutely fantastic. The claustrophobic streets of Monaco almost feel like an entirely different game given the attention to detail on all the close-quarters buildings. And, like in real life, it's where F1 is at its most exciting. Strangely, for a title that's supposed to simulate the highest tier of performance racing, F1 2015's cars handle remarkably easily. There's a disconcerting disconnect to the road. The pavement offers little in the way of challenge, as simply steering in the correct direction at full throttle works flawlessly. Brake for those tight corners and then slam the gas back down. It's nowhere near as nuanced as one would expect, and it takes a lot of skill out of what should be the most skilled driving in the world. The saving grace for the driving mechanics -- and I say this without an iota of sarcasm or irony -- is the tire wear. Over the course of a race, the tires degrade to the point of being nearly useless. The turns you once took efficiently suddenly have you pointing in the wrong direction. It adds a sense of tension around the midway point and final laps. You'll know that you have to pit as you're losing time on each circuit, but when's the best time? Have your opponents pitted yet? Can you squeeze out one more lap? Similarly, rain adds a lot to the driving. While it's visually unimpressive, it certainly negates the problem of cars being too easy to steer. All of a sudden, these vehicles might as well be on ice. If it starts pouring, it's paramount to tell the crew to switch to a different style of tire and hit the pits as soon as possible. Otherwise, drivers who have already adjusted will overtake you in no time at all. One last mode in F1 2015 also takes care of the "too easy to drive" issue. Pro Season is the most simulation-like the game has to offer, and it's only for the most hardcore of players. It ramps the difficulty up to the highest degree, turns off all assists, locks the view to cockpit, and sets everything to full length. It's intense. Realistically, only a small percentage of people will care enough to attempt this, and those are the ones dedicated enough to the genre that they have much better offerings with way more options in several other games. But, it's not only those racing enthusiasts who will see F1 2015 as lacking. Everyone who tries it will. Its development was short-sighted, and its appeal is thusly short-lived. This is a game that excels in a very small handful of areas -- imagine how thrilling it is when your tires wear away in Monaco! -- but is mediocre or bad almost everywhere else. As centuries of racing have taught us, no one remembers the guy who finishes toward the back of the pack. That will be F1 2015's legacy: a forgotten one.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
F1 review photo
Caution's out
No matter the length of race chosen, F1 2015 mandates at least one pit stop per outing. When pulling into the pits, control of the car is seized from the player and the steering wheel displays the words "pit limiter." Th...

Review: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos

Jul 22 // Kyle MacGregor
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos (PlayStation 4)Developer: Tamsoft CorporationPublisher: XSEED GamesMSRP: $39.99 (digital), $49.99 (retail)Released: July 22, 2015  Onechanbara Z2: Chaos, being the direct sequel to a game that never released on western shores, has a story that isn't easy to follow. Jumping into the adventure essentially in media res, you have to play a bit of catch-up, piecing together morsels of dialogue with information from loading screens and the accompanying art book to really get a good feel for what's going on here. In short, familiar faces Aya and Saki aren't exactly the best of friends with newcomers Kagura and Saaya. Coming from rival clans, Banefuls and Vampirics, the duos crossed swords in the prequel, but now find themselves forging an unlikely alliance to stem a worldwide zombie outbreak. The ensuing adventure isn't exactly riveting, but the localization team at XSEED did its best to ham up an otherwise banal scenario. Combat is clearly the main attraction here, which is an area where the series has made some progress since its last appearance in the West. The combat system is straightforward, but has a few wrinkles to it. In the beginning, the game essentially instructs the player to button mash, suggesting you hammer on the square and triangle buttons and see what works. A full list of attacks and combos can be found in the menus, more of which can be unlocked between missions and mastered in practice mode. Of course, the series' trademark blood meter returns. As you dispatch zombies, weapons will get progressively more crimson, necessitating periodic cleaning to remain effective. On the other side of the coin, enough carnage will send characters into a frenzy, causing a spike in offensive power at the cost of gradually diminishing health. You need to pay attention, lest suffer the consequences. The four protagonists can be tagged in and out of battle anytime, which players can use to their advantage in a number of ways. One character can set up a combo for another, and since all of them have vastly different movesets, this freedom opens up a lot of possibilities. For example, one of my favorite things to do was lock a group of enemies in one of Saaya's lengthy chainsaw attacks, then bring in another character to perform a devastating double team maneuver. Sadly, the solid mechanics are wasted on an ecosystem that isn't treated with anywhere near the same level of care. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos has a linear and repetitive mission structure that funnels players through corridors and locks them into arenas at regular intervals. In these arenas you'll need to kill every last zombie, as they respawn ad nauseam, until you're allowed to pass. Most of the enemies don't pose a threat on their own, but instead rely on sheer numbers to impose any sort of challenge. A lone zombie often won't attack for seconds at a time. They can also get hung up on terrain or spawn outside the combat zone, which leads to a frustrating mini-game of sorts where you're forced to play hide and seek with stragglers in order to proceed. This is exacerbated by the fact that basic grunts can blend in with their environments. The visuals are all over the place, ranging from pretty decent to downright abysmal, with the zombie hordes and background graphics obviously falling on the low end of the totem pole. The character designs and accompanying sexual fan service are on the other end of the spectrum. There are a variety of lewd outfits players can unlock, or purchase in the case of the shameless "Strawberries & Banana DLC costume," in which the heroines might as well be nude. It's pretty disheartening this is where Tamsoft decided to focus its efforts, rather than to improve the core game. This game feels like it has tunnel vision; it's a product where some aspects of the experience are given incredible attention to detail, while others feel like they were lifted from something found in a PS2-era bargain bin. Just as often as I found myself enjoying Z2:Chaos for its pulsing soundtrack or slick combat, there were times where it embarrassed, aggravated, or bored me to tears. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos could have been decent, but it seems content to revel in mediocrity. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Onechanbara Z2 photo
Flirting with progress
Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a game that wraps its identity around sex and violence like few others. This is, of course, nothing new for the series. Styling itself after exploitation films, Onechanbara has survived for over a dec...

Review: Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max

Jul 21 // Jordan Devore
Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: RedLynxPublisher: UbisoftReleased: July 14, 2015MSRP: $9.99 (DLC) / $39.99 (Full game, Season Pass DLC, and Awesome Level Max) While Ubisoft has spent much of its time talking up "The Awesome Adventure," the group of levels centered on the unlikely duo, that content makes up the minority of Awesome Level Max. It's only short eight levels, one of which is an even-shorter FMX course that has players performing tricks as they fall from space. The other twenty-two levels are a mix of developer and player-made creations. They're far more varied and come packaged under the "RedLynx vs. All-Stars" banner. But back to that unicorn -- it's meant to be ridiculous, silly fun. That may seem obvious, but some people take Trials leaderboards very seriously. Think of this set as something you'll go through once -- maybe a few times more, tops, to get better medals -- and never touch again. The scenery is a change of pace, especially from the core game's offerings. Level layouts aren't particularly memorable or challenging, and I suspect most dedicated players will be able to breeze past them, crashing only because the path ahead wasn't clear enough the first time through. The seventh track culminates in a boss battle, if you can even call it that, against a penguin inside a mech. There are pixelated cats, for some reason. You literally win the fight by balancing on the machine's helmet. I didn't know what to expect for the conclusion, but it sure wasn't that. Weird stuff. It's also worth noting that the unicorn and cat are locked out of other tracks aside from Supercross. [embed]296414:59632:0[/embed] The RedLynx vs. All-Stars side of the DLC is far more fulfilling. For one, it represents a better range of difficulty. Clearing the first checkpoint in the two new Extreme tracks felt like an accomplishment, as it should. I haven't managed to finish either of them yet, and that pleases me. One concern going in was that there would be an inconsistency between the player-created courses and the ones RedLynx designed. I didn't find that to be the case at all. If they weren't labeled separately, I'm not certain I'd be able to tell the levels apart. One takes place in a computer. Another is reminiscent of Limbo's shadowy, saw-filled world. Too many tracks employ lava but, on the whole, this bundle has exactly the variety I missed in the often bland base version of Trials Fusion. Folks who skipped the season pass but want more Trials in the vein of Trials HD and Evolution should consider downloading Awesome Level Max. It's a little on the easy side, but I appreciate RedLynx for trying new ideas and bringing back more of its unusual personality. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Trials Fusion DLC review photo
Just go with it
Why would Trials Fusion drop its motorbikes for a gun-toting cat on a unicorn? Because it's funny. The touchy controls transfer to your new ride, so when you inevitably lose balance, the quadruped will start hoofing it on two legs. If you're anything like me, you'll burst out in laughter.

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: A Nest of Vipers

Jul 21 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: A Nest of Vipers (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: July 21, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] Throughout the series, Asher and Mira have been the more interesting characters to follow, the former for his action and wit and the latter for her suspense and guile. Ethan and Rodrik at Ironrath have been fine as central characters, but haven't stood out. Gared's exploits at The Wall and beyond have easily been the least exciting thus far. A Nest of Vipers shakes up that split, if only a little. Asher still stands at the top with scenes dense with action and dialogue choices that feel important. He and his partner Beskha find themselves in a fighting pit in Meereen, seeking combatants to follow them back to Westeros. During this sequence, the stakes are high and it genuinely seems like failure is possible, forcing Asher to return home without any extra aid. One other point for Asher is Telltale's injection of humor into his lines. Though Game of Thrones takes an entirely different tack than Tales from the Borderlands, the little pockets of comedy help to break up the oppressively somber tone of the episode. One line in particular had me audibly chuckling, which I think is a first for this series. [embed]296123:59553:0[/embed] Mira's sections, on the other hand, lacked a lot of the punch they have had in past episodes. Where the coronation ceremony scene in Sons of Winter left me feeling smart for having successfully navigated and manipulated King's Landing politics, both of Mira's major scenes here just had me along for the ride. The first scene is one with Cersei and the second features Tyrion in his cell, locked up and awaiting trial for the incident at Joffrey's wedding. Perhaps because she was playing opposite two of the strongest personalities in Westeros, Mira didn't seem to do anything important or have much of an impact. This episode does set up for one final showdown with Cersei, in what sounds like it might be a life-or-death situation. Gared's journey toward the nebulous North Grove continues, and how it can possibly help House Forrester so many miles south is still a mystery. That said, it's finally getting to the point where Gared feels important again. The first four episodes were spent putting him in place, first getting him to The Wall, then getting him north of it. Now he actually gets to do something. Of all the intertwined stories, Gared's feels the most hopeful at this point. He's in a pretty sticky situation, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn't make it out to at least play his part in the grand scheme during the finale. Everybody else in House Forrester might die and the clan might be wiped from the map, but he's going to get to the dang North Grove. Next time. The crux of the story still lies in Ironrath, with Rodrik dealing with the fallout from the last episode. It's a little disappointing; all of the clever politicking from Episode Four is essentially nullified by the traitor. Where it previously seemed like a peaceful resolution could be possible, it's now clear that this story can only end with bloodshed. That isn't to say Rodrik's sections were bad; there were still plenty of interesting decisions to make along the way. They may not all have a major effect on where things end up, but a few appeared to have serious immediate consequences and a few others appeared to affect how the final episode will shake out. This episode culminates with a particularly emotionally impactful finale, the kind Telltale has steeled us for with series like The Walking Dead. It's difficult to discuss without going too far into spoiler territory, but I can say that I was thinking about the last scene hours after I played through it the first time. It could go down as the most memorable section for the entire series. It's strange. Detailing all of A Nest of Vipers' parts makes it sound about average, if not even a little disappointing compared to the previous episode. But this one ends up working well as a cohesive unit, even if some pieces fall flat. This episode has its highs and its lows, but it still leaves an unforgettable impression. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Now we're getting somewhere
Anyone following my exploits as House Forrester in Telltale's slice of A Song of Ice and Fire will know that the first four episodes have been a lot of setup for the main event. While only one episode felt like filler (The Lo...

Review: The Magic Circle

Jul 20 // Nic Rowen
The Magic Circle (PC)Developer: QuestionPublisher: QuestionMSRP: $19.99Released: July 9, 2015  The Magic Circle (the aforementioned meta-game inside of this real life title) is Ishmael “Starfather” Gilder's brainchild. The long awaited sequel to his beloved fantasy game 20 years in the making, mocked as vaporware by detractors and seen as the holy grail by his fans. A monochromatic fantasy world (that was a Doom-like sci-fi game for the first ten years of development) and probably the worst game ever made. Until you come along that is. Inserted into the game as a nameless play-tester, you see the drama play out in front of you. A world made of patchwork fixes and temporary assets while the developers, represented as giant floating eyes, loom overhead, changing things by whim. If the project wasn't already doomed by constant redesigns, oversized egos, and feature-creep, things take a surreal turn when something reaches out to you. Something that lives inside the game. Something that seems vaguely sinister, with its own agenda, an axe to grind against “the gods” as he calls the developers. What is it? A rampant A.I. that's somehow grown deep inside the mess of code? A machine spirit? You don't find out its exact nature until fairly deep into the game, and even then there is room for interpretation. What's important is what it shows you, how to get elbow deep into the guts of the code and rewrite it to your liking. How to use a simple but powerful editor to take the legs off one creature and stick them onto another. How to turn an enemy into a friend into an enemy of your other enemies. How to remake the world to your design. Then he sets you loose, a poltergeist in the programming, hacking in features, resurrecting cut content. Sometimes you play the part of a technological necromancer, finding content in the limbo of vaporware and dragging it back into the game. More often, you're Dr. Frankenstein, ripping bits and pieces off of creatures and stitching them back together to make your own beautiful little monster babies. The result has a pleasing effect, satellite dishes and broken bits of star ships poking out of the cliched castle walls of Ishmeal's would-be opus, an army of weaponized mushroom men following at your heel. Once the tutorials are over and the rather unorthodox premise established, the middle chunk of the game opens up into a sandbox that has you solving puzzles and indirectly slaying monsters by breaking all the rules. The flexibility of the editor, what you can do with a few swapped abilities here, a slight behavioral shift there, is astounding. Many of the puzzles (such as they are) can be solved in so many ways that I was almost always unsure if I did it the “right” way, or if I just bent and broke things until the pieces all fell where I hoped they would. I love that feeling, it's beautiful when games that are confident enough in themselves to not only let that happen, but applaud the player for doing so. There is a light tone to the whole affair. The various developers are chatty, with some great performances turned in from James Urbaniak (better known as Dr. Venture from the Venture Bros.), Ashley Burch, and others. There are audio diaries to discover, developer commentaries from a defunct version of the game to collect, and change logs detailing the carnage of the development process scattered around, all of which reveal not only what a comedy of errors The Magic Circle has become, but also the various neurosis and flaws of the team members. The comedic tone of the writing and performances feed right back into the gameplay. Silly decisions abound, like the developers (the real ones) always went with the fun idea rather than the easy or clear one. For example, there is no upper limit on how many creatures you can have following around you at once, so things can, and likely will, easily devolve into chaos as you walk around with a fire-spewing zoo trailing behind you. Similarly, there are no limits on how you can swap abilities so it's easy to make truly ridiculous creatures, like a flying demon puppy with a railgun mouth. But aside from the obvious circus-show of zaniness, there are tons of small jokes and clever winks. Little details like picking up copies of your own avatar to increase your health (represented by placeholder art that looks like a cylinder with arms). Being able to re-name every creature you hack so you can make your own fun. At one point I ended up changing the name of the game to “Duke Nukem Presents The Magic Circle” and I giggled at my handiwork off and on for the rest of the night. It's just fun to tinker around in. The objectives of the game are purposely vague -- you need to wrest control of the title away from its current creators, how you're supposed to accomplish that as a disembodied phantom inside the game isn't clearly laid out – but they don't have to be. Exploring the half-built world of The Magic Circle, this pitiful thing, marked with the visible scars of development notes, vestigial remains of deleted content still clinging to it, concept art hastily plastered over the seams, is the meat of the experience. One you wouldn't want to rush through even if you knew exactly what you were supposed to do. And one, that even with a healthy amount of goofing around and experimentation, is over too soon. The sandbox is tiny, and once the game enters its final chapters there is no coming back to it. While The Magic Circle has a compelling third act and some neat surprises to throw at the player (sometimes with the intent of harm), it's hard not to feel like the game is a little thin on the whole. While the central conceit is fun, you don't spend as much time playing with it as you'd hope. The runtime is already short, and a good chunk of it is taken up with monologues that occasionally veer into full on lectures as well as multiple epilogues. For a game that is about grand ideas betrayed by shaky execution, it's tempting to explain the lack of substantive content as more sneaky meta-commentary, but while the idea makes me smirk, I don't think it's good enough to give the game a free-pass. But The Magic Circle isn't just about the gameplay, it has a message. A whole lot to say about what it's like to make games in the modern video game industry. The stresses it places on people, the incorrect assumptions creators have about their work, and the untamed expectations of a judgmental audience. Despite being a commentary on the industry, The Magic Circle isn't gauche enough to single out a specific target. Ishmeal is a composite of several flawed, egotistical developers who are big on hype, hazy on details, and always ready to blame someone else for their shortcomings. There are shades of Molyneux in the mix, flickers of Cage, a sprinkling of Garriot, and a heady musk of Romero to round it out. Coda, an ardent fan of Ishmeal's former works who worms her way onto the team, represents the new era of the participant fan; The streamer, the wiki editor, the super-secret pre-beta fan tester, and all the good and ill that's come along with that shift. Her passion and reverence for the virtual worlds she's dedicated her life to is engaging and even a little familiar -- we're all enthusiasts around here. But, her obsessiveness and the sheer gall of her skewed priorities quickly become unsettling. Beneath all the fan-girl glee is a shrewd, nasty sense of undeserved entitlement and ownership, the sort of overly-invested fan that will send shamelessly ego-stroking love letters to a developer one day and thinly veiled death threats the next. Less well defined is Evelyn Maze, a former eSports celebrity who is unwillingly tied to Ishmeal's sinking boat through contractual chains (a clumsy way of explaining her combativeness while dodging the question of “why doesn't she just quit?”). She represents the “games are for playing” kind of gamer who has no patience for cut-scenes and a thirst for competition. A philosophy which directly collides with the “Starfather's” vision of a story-heavy RPG yarn with no combat. As Maze is the unofficial second-in-command of the studio's disorganized hierarchy (that seems to work like a hippie-commune as run by Joseph Stalin) her and Ishmeal's constant bickering results in a lot of flushed efforts and confusion on the part of the team, right in line with some of the horror stories we've heard about the industry the real world. And somewhere in there is you, simultaneously gawking at the car crash while pouring more gasoline on it. Are you just another player in this world? A different sort of creator? Are you sabotaging this whole thing, or just giving it the sharp kick it needs? The problem with talking about a game that aims to surprise is it's hard to get specific without ruining the experience. But I guarantee, in the near future a lot of ink is going to be spilled about The Magic Circle. The final third of the game goes to some weird places that demand to be dissected. The message is a little muddled, with so many accusing fingers thrust in so many directions that I'm sure different people will come to radically different conclusions of what it all means. But it's a message worth hearing, and a world worth exploring, if you care about video games and the people that make them. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Magic Circle Review photo
The medium is the message
The Magic Circle is a game set inside of a game, where you bend and break the rules to make it another game entirely. This is all in service of makings a meta-contextual statement about the game making industry and the tension between the creator and the audience. Still with me after that? Then you're probably The Magic Circle's target audience.

Review: Tembo the Badass Elephant

Jul 20 // Chris Carter
Tembo the Badass Elephant (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Game FreakPublisher: SegaReleased: July 21, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Tembo has a rather short little setup, and from there, doesn't really give you any further exposition until the very end. What you see is what you get in essence, which is a Rambo-inspired elephant laying waste to an enemy dictator, who controls the Phantom Force army. It sports a charming little visual style that reminds me of Regular Show and a few other Cartoon Network properties. It even has effects like a literal "BADA BADA" phrase appearing while dashing about, and despite the low key setup it's a very bright and loud game, mostly in an endearing way. The basic gist is that you'll be able to jump, dash, and float in the air momentarily like Yoshi, with the added ability to shoot water from your trunk. More advanced moves involve uppercuts, slides, butt stomps, and a cannonball dive spin with a bounce. As you progress you'll start to learn more nuances, almost like you're fitting Tembo through various keyholes with your moveset. There are no real explicit puzzles, but it sure feels puzzle-esque if you're going for flawless runs. For instance, select levels can be completed without losing any momentum whatsoever, and it's a blast to dash, dive-kick, and slide your way through the entire thing. There's even a modified charge that you can utilize by holding down the water button, which can put out flames while running. It's pretty much the perfect amount of depth, allowing newcomers to pick up and play Tembo while giving hardcore platforming fans room to experiment a bit. [embed]296063:59600:0[/embed] The level design is fairly open-ended, tasking you with finding hidden civilizations scattered across the map, and killing as many enemies as possible -- both of which have separate goals that are tracked. Mini-bosses and a few full-on Big Bads are peppered into progression, but I would consider it more of a traditional platformer than a real action game -- especially with how muted and easy these encounters are. There's many more instances of timing and running than fighting, which is something you mostly happen to do while jumping around. Game Freak keeps things exciting with hazards, well-placed enemies, and lots of explosions, which will keep you on your toes constantly. Tembo has 17 stages, which last a few hours -- if you play very well, that is. Now, here's where my big holdup is with Tembo -- gating. In order to progress past certain stages, you need to kill a certain amount of enemies. Each stage has a death counter of sorts, which requires you to rescue most of the civilians trapped within a level, as well as actually seek out and defeat most of the enemy forces. It incentivizes actually killing foes, which is neat, but it ultimately ends up causing frustration and forcing players to replay levels over and over. While it is cool that levels do split off into branching paths, several of them have points of no return. If you happen to just choose a particular path, you may be locked out of say, 50 kill points or so -- which can easily be the difference between unlocking new levels and being forced to replay. It's maddening in some cases, and at one point I was held back by six points. Now, I did like returning to some levels to try to "master" them per se, but that should be a player choice -- not something that gates main story progression. Tembo the Badass Elephant is a really enjoyable game at its core, but it can get tiring to replay the same stage five times over just to grind out a few kills to see the next set of levels. It's an odd design choice for sure, but most of you will probably enjoy dashing through unsuspecting Phantom Soldiers and butt stomping them into oblivion regardless. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Badass Elephant review photo
They drew first blood
When someone told me that the developer of Pokemon was creating an action platformer called Tembo the Badass Elephant, I knew I had to give it a shot. While a few of the design choices are a bit odd, they don't overshadow the sum of its parts.

Review: SlashDash

Jul 17 // Patrick Hancock
SlashDash (Xbox One)Developer: Nevernaut GamesPublisher: Nevernaut GamesMSRP: $9.99Released: July 17, 2015  SlashDash is a local-multiplayer only game. There is no one-player mode, no bots, no challenges, nothing. If there are not at least two players, it's impossible to play any mode. I just wanted to make that perfectly clear before anyone reads further. It uses a simple control scheme, but that doesn't make it a simple game. Players can slash with their sword, perform a small teleport forward, or throw a weapon forward. Hitting an enemy with a thrown weapon like a kunai will stun them for a brief moment of time, but slashing them will kill them, forcing them to respawn. It takes less than a single round of play for players to fully comprehend the controls, but the feeling of mastery is still a long ways off.  The biggest quirk is that players cannot slash and move at the same time. It may sound like a non-issue, but in a fast-paced game like SlashDash, it makes a world of difference. It forces players to really think about their attacks, because a single missed attack might be the difference between victory and defeat. Everyone moves at the same default speed, so missing an attack and stopping is a huge setback. There are four modes available: Capture the Flag, Assassination, Deathrace, and Mirror Match. Capture the Flag (CTF) is easily the best mode available. It doesn't deviate far from what players would expect from a CTF variant. It's 2v2 only, and one player must grab the opponent's flag and return it to their base to score a point. The player carrying the flag is slowed, but their teammate can slash them and give them an extra boost of speed. It's incredibly important to master this skill, and forces players to think about what move would be better: boosting your flag carrier, defending them, or attacking the opponent who has your flag. Other than simply outplaying an opponent, mind games are a huge part of CTF. There's a deceivingly large amount of options at any given time, regardless of which role a player is filling. Of course, all of this happening with friends nearby or on the same couch is what really pumps the excitement into SlashDash. [embed]295953:59548:0[/embed] Assassination gives each team a Shogun to protect. The Shogun will blindly follow one player, and slashing your own Shogun will make it run to your teammate. It's important to know that the Shogun will run in a straight line to your teammate, and will get caught on any pieces of environment that are in the way. It's hard to find a good Shogun these days. The Shogun variant is interesting, but doesn't tend to provide the same amount of excitement as CTF. Having the Shogun generally forces the player to run away, and these matches can easily devolve into very defensive matches from both teams. Deathrace is a fancy way to say Deathmatch, with a slight twist on the formula. This is a free-for-all mode where each player has a bar that fills as long as they are alive. If a player is stunned or killed, the bar is slowed. The first player to fill their bar wins. The leader has a ring around them to indicate they are in first, but it's really hard to see by how much. The bar that fills for each player is a circle in the middle of the stage, and makes it near-impossible to see how close players are to one another. Mirror Match is the worst of the bunch. In this mode, every player gets five ninjas to control, each acting at the same time. It's possible to separate them by using the environment, but this mode is basically just chaos. There wouldn't be much wrong with this, except that the frame rate drops heavily while playing, even with just two people. I've even had the game crash on me on this mode. If it didn't struggle to run, Mirror Match could be a chaotic distraction from the other modes, but as it stands, it is unplayable. There are nine maps, and each of them are quite unique from one another. One map is made of ice with less friction, while another has spikes that rise from the ground that will kill anyone who steps on them. Map knowledge is an important skill, since it is crucial to know what the ninjas can and cannot teleport over. Being chased by an opponent and failing to teleport over a gap because it was too far can lead to some quick deaths.  New throwing weapons can be unlocked, seemingly through games played. This is never made very clear, but considering all I have done is play matches, I think it's safe to say that playing more matches unlocks more throwing weapons. It's a shame, though, because there will be people who download the game to play with friends and only have a single throwing weapon, the Kunai, to use. It takes some decent playtime to unlock them, too, which seems counter-intuitive to the design of the game as a whole. The different weapons all have very different effects, and cater to multiple different playstyles. The smoke bomb, for example, creates a big puff of smoke around the ninja, making them impossible to see for a moment (warning: do NOT use in Mirror Match, for the love of frame rate). The Poison Kunai, on the other hand, stuns for a very small amount of time, but prevents the enemy from teleporting for a short time instead. Playing around with the throwing weapons is a blast, once they're all unlocked. One huge issue is the rematch button. Opting to rematch restarts the match, but every player is reverted back to the Kunai for a throwing weapon, regardless of what they picked. Originally this is fine, since it's the only weapon unlocked, but as people start to select different weapons, the button becomes useless. Despite incredibly polished visuals with a true homage to Japanese culture, there's a ton of gameplay hiccups, After playing a game and going back to the main menu, the "Instructions" option becomes invisible. It's still there, just invisible until the player selects it. Selecting rematch after "Random" is chosen for the stage brings players to the same level, instead of a new random one. I've encountered freezes multiple times, even outside of Mirror Match. And after a match, the options for rematch, mode select, and stage select can block a player's statistics if they accidentally hit a button too early, which is common when the end of a match is intense. I really do love SlashDash, but only when playing with four people. Currently, there's a lot of blemishes on the product as a whole, most of which seem like glaring oversights. There's also not a lot going on for people who don't regularly have friends over at their house to play multiplayer games. With no single-player and even lackluster two-player options, SlashDash exists for a certain kind of player. Hopefully all of the bugs can be fixed, because playing Capture the Flag with three friends is easily one of the best local multiplayer experiences out there. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SlashDash review photo
Bring your friends...or else
SlashDash first grabbed my attention at PAX East, where it easily soaked up a good amount of my time on the show floor. Also, I'm pretty sure Dylan Sprouse was working the booth. Or maybe it was Cole? I guess it could ha...

Review: Odallus: The Dark Call

Jul 16 // Jed Whitaker
Odallus: The Dark Call (PC)Developer: JoyMasherPublisher: JoyMasherMSRP: $14.99Released: July 15, 2015 Haggis's son has been taken by darkness, his village has been set ablaze, and his Gods have abandoned him, so he does what any father would do in this situation, brandish a sword and go on a killing spree. Along the way Haggis picks up axes, spears and torches to add to his arsenal of demon-dispatching weaponry; axes go in a straight line and torches ignite the ground much like throwing knives and holy water from Castlevania respectively. These sub weapons can be found and replenished via various chests along the way or at shops set up throughout the land in exchange for orbs enemies drop. Knowing when to use these sub weapons are key to success in Odallus, especially at the start of the journey as your sword is rather weak in comparison. Certain enemies and obstacles fall faster to sub weapons.  A weapon bag dictates how many of each weapon can be carried, luckily it can be upgraded by finding upgrades hidden throughout the landscape. Health, sword, and armor upgrades can also be found hidden in hard to reach places. Odallus is anything but hard as I was able to breeze through it in just over four hours. Health is carried over between levels, only being refreshed by finding health pickups in chests or by purchasing them at shops. Lives can be purchased at shops but there is little reason to as running out only causes you to restart the current level at the beginning instead of the latest checkpoint. The only real difficult part of the game is the final boss whose attack pattern was seemingly random and extremely cheap: the only way I was able to defeat him was to be equally cheap and abuse the final armor upgrades and their ability to make myself invulnerable for a brief moment while spamming attacks. Bosses in general are pretty easy, having predictable patterns and falling quickly to sub weapons or upgraded swords which is a shame because they all look so cool, mostly like hellish H. R. Giger creations. I found myself purposefully not being aggressive in boss fights just so I could see what attacks the bosses had in their arsenals. Like the bosses, many of the levels look awesome, even if some of them rely on Castlevania tropes such as a burning village or a dark forest. Graphically Odallus looks like an NES game, which isn't a bad thing, as the game honestly feels like a spiritual successor to the NES Castlevania games. While there are some commonplace level locations for this type of game, there are also some that mix up the formula a bit such as underwater levels and even a mine cart level. Riding in a mine cart, ducking stalactites, and jumping over other mine carts and gaps in the track are just as fun as they were in Donkey Kong Country, albeit a bit easier. The underwater levels play generally the same as the other levels, though jumping gets a bit of additional height. Jumping higher underwater when wearing armor may not make much sense, but it doesn't take away from the experience.  Each level has multiple paths to progression, though a lot of times they end up looping back to where they started in clever ways that prevent the need for backtracking. If you're like me and you always wonder which path you should go and worry about missing something, Odallus is pretty good about making sure you end up back in that area for one reason or another.   One thing I've never liked about metroidvania style games is the tedious, boring backtracking that is forced upon you if you're a completionist. Luckily here you're able to use a Ghosts 'n Goblins-esque map to jump between levels. The level selection screen also provides details on how many secrets are left to collect, if the boss is alive, and if you've unlocked the alternate routes. No levels are really secret as they are marked on the map when you unlock the levels that they can be accessed from. I had to repeat a couple of levels maybe two times to clean up on some secrets I'd missed, but for the most part your time isn't wasted to try to artificially extend the playtime.  Traversing levels at first feel mostly like a classic platformer; You have one jump, and getting hit knocks you back a bit, but unlike those games of old there are no bottomless instant-kill pits to be found. While cheap deaths plagued classic Castlevania games making them "NES hard," I was very pleased Odallus didn't follow in their footsteps. Another nice feature is the ability to grab ledges and pull yourself up; this leads to some interesting platforming and puzzles that I won't spoil here. Eventually you'll gain the ability to double jump, dash, and perform other actions to help you blaze through levels, though this is late into the game. Typically I'm team whip, but Odallus goes team sword and it feels great. Slicing enemies into pieces doesn't feel much different than using a whip, what is different though is the ability to parry an enemy's projectiles. Hitting a fireball or other projectile out of the air with a sword just feels awesome, Odallus definitely rewards aggressive play.  The entirety of the story plays out in an opening cutscene, hidden collectible runes, boss dialogue, and an ending cutscene. There are a few instances where the localization seemed a bit off on grammar, but it wasn't unintelligible. Just like the visuals, the music is very much NES-inspired. While the chiptune music is all right it certainly isn't as catchy as the music found in actual games available for the NES. Sound effects are seemingly more Genesis-influenced, as they sound more realistic and are often times brief voice clips much like Splatterhouse's effects. Odallus does nothing extraordinary in the audio department but what it does do works well enough. Only lasting four easy-to-complete hours and having a few minor localization issues are really the only hangups I had with Odallus, which aren't all that bad. Though JoyMasher has promised that a harder veteran mode will be made available in a few weeks, I just wish it were included at launch as this was a rare case of game being a bit too easy. Regardless of a few minor gripes, Odallus: The Dark Call is a worthy addition to any metroidvania fan's library and is worth the asking price. Do yourself a favor and play it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Odallus Review photo
The best Castlevania game in years
JoyMasher, the Brazilian team behind Odallus: The Dark Call doesn't have a ton of games under its belt, but that doesn't mean it can't produce quality content. Somehow the developer has done something Konami hasn't ...

Review: Worms World Party Remastered

Jul 16 // Darren Nakamura
Worms World Party Remastered (PC)Developer: Team17 Digital Ltd.Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd.Released: July 16, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The trailer below does a good job summarizing what is new in this remastered version. Resolution can now go as high as 1920x1080. Sound effects have been updated. Controller support is in for those who are more familiar with the console versions. Steam features like leaderboards, achievements, and trading cards are all here. While those are all welcome additions, some feel half-baked or manifest in unexpected ways. The Steam integration is a little wonky, since the default screenshot button is F12, which is used in game to select the "Skip Go" and "Surrender" actions. These don't come up frequently and there are ways around it, but I have already taken a few errant screenshots because of it. It goes the other way too; intentionally taking a screenshot will inadvertently bring up the actions. When it happens (or when any Steam notification comes up), the notification window covers a good chunk of the bottom right corner of the screen, where wind velocity and weapon information live. More jarring is the visual upgrade. While the battles (the parts that matter most) can now be viewed in 1080p, the title screen and menus are still their old, fuzzy, 4:3 selves. It isn't a huge problem, but it's a strange first impression to go into a game expecting a clean presentation and be met with pixelated opening screens pulled straight from the year 2001. [embed]295986:59506:0[/embed] In battle, the resolution increase works as it always had: instead of sharpening up the graphics and textures it presents a larger field of view. In other words, each worm, sheep, and banana bomb maintains the same sprites and animations, but the camera is zoomed out so everything appears smaller. Functionally, this is a welcome improvement. Taking long shots and planning big moves (especially the twitch action of the Ninja Rope) are easier with the entire level in view. Calling down an Armageddon and seeing every meteorite hit is a delight. Aesthetically, it doesn't feel like a remaster at all. Eschewing the 3D elements found in Worms Revolution, the looks of these worms and environments are the classic 2D versions, unchanged since 1997's Worms 2, only now we can see more of them at a time. By and large, this is the same game that released in 2001. Play as a team of well-armed worms. Use an array of conventional (bazooka, grenade, shotgun) and unconventional (banana bomb, flying sheep, old woman) weapons to blow up, maim, drown, and otherwise murder the other team. Part turn-based strategy, part action platforming, part artillery game. For many, just being the same game as before is enough. After all, Worms is an institution in gaming for a reason. Still, there are some design elements that betray how dated Worms World Party is. In addition to being ugly, the menus aren't intuitive. Some require a single click to enter, others a double click. Most are represented by images that aren't self-explanatory. After setting up a custom game type so I could practice with the Ninja Rope, I couldn't figure out how to set indestructible terrain. The campaign is a collection of unconnected scenarios. Some are clever and some teach players a new technique or idea, but there isn't much of an impetus to do any of them. Worse, the mission descriptions are often obtuse or incomplete, forcing players to play and replay missions just to understand them or to know what "surprise" pops up halfway through. This is exacerbated by a lack of a way to quickly restart; a failed attempt results in players being kicked back to the menu, forced to click through a text box and to restart the mission, and made to wait for it to load up again. At the very least, load times are quick now that the game isn't disc-based. The merit system is also never explicitly explained, so new players might be confused why a sloppy, "by the skin of their teeth" run might net a gold medal and an expert, no damage run might only be worth a bronze. It's a simple system once you know (it has to do with the number of attempts since the last victory), but it isn't ever spelled out. Worms World Party does this a lot. It assumes players already know what they're doing, which made sense when it first released on the heels of Armageddon but is less welcoming today for new players (or rusty ones like me). Of course, the main selling point of a Worms game is the multiplayer. With six-team local or online action and a bevy of options to tinker with, this does what it needs to do. I did log onto WormNET prior to launch and found exactly zero others online. This will live and die with its community, so we'll keep watching post-launch to see if it's thriving or withering. Worms World Party Remastered might be the go-to PC Worms experience for hardcore fans of the series with a taste for nostalgia. It definitely doesn't serve as a good place to get started for those who might want to try the series out. While it looks a little shinier than it used to, it still doesn't look new, and it certainly doesn't play like a modern game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Worms World Party review photo
Dig in
Worms World Party has always been a divisive entry in the long-running series. Released as a followup to the almost universally lauded Worms Armageddon, some viewed it as a welcome refinement to a great game while others saw ...


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