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Tearaway Unfolded faithfully breaks the DualShock 4th wall

Sep 02 // Steven Hansen
Tearaway used fourth-wall breaking about as much as Metal Gear Solid, which still, with the recently released Phantom Pain, has a character tell you to, "use the stance button to stand up." That you are playing a video game is addressed, here through the physicality of the thing. Your own face in the sky, representations of your fingers popping up in the world. Unfolded's entire opening is new. It plays off the home console's position as a living room box, likely hooked up to a television with some kind of cable network. The two voices that narrate the story switch through a fake cable TV guide, hastily bypassing shows called "Rubbish" and flicking through commercials before coming to the conclusion that there's nothing to watch, that there's no good story. So we'll have to make our own. Actually, it's almost like the beginning of Metal Gear Solid 4. The first new PS4 feature is light. The triggers produced a beam of light in the world that reflects the light emitted by the DualShock 4. It even keeps the same triangle shape and shows up in the world as if you were pointing to the front of the controller like a flashlight. So far it's one of the only useful reasons for that light existing, save for draining battery life and then blinding me every time I tilt the thing up to find the charge port. [embed]308798:60230:0[/embed] The You's -- that's you -- light has different effects, from simply illuminating the new, dim intro to making plants grow to scraping inky newspaper Scraps from the construction paper world to hypnotizing enemies that will follow the beam of light off a cliff. It doesn't have the same punchy feel as poking at them with giant fingers from below, but it does its job of grounding the player in both the game world and real world in a novel way. It's too hell with immersion and that's fine. Due to my lack of the PlayStation camera, I did find myself wanting with regard to my self-portrait showing up in the hole in the sky. Even if on the Vita it was grainy and always the least flattering angle (I never held my arms parallel to the ground when I played), it is missed, here. Same with the ability to, say, reupholster an elk by taking a picture of my cat. Of course, if lower case you have a camera, it's possible to sustain these touches, or if you have a mic at the ready you can record an intimidating yell for your scarecrow. A new gust of wind ability replaces your ability to physically leaf through the environment. Instead of swiping a platform down on the Vita screen, you swipe the DualShock 4 touchpad in the desired direction you want to the wind to blow. Atoi, the messenger you guide through Tearaway, can also throw enemies and items up "through" the TV screen and into your controller, and then you can aim a reticle and swipe forward on the touchpad to shoot the projectile back onto the map, whether to bash an enemy or solve a puzzle. The touchpad is also used for the paper craft segments where you're tasked with making wings for the local butterflies or snow flakes to pepper your mountain climb (I went again with some nice pink cherry blossoms). It works alright, but the lack of real estate makes precision hard. You might consider the companion app, which would give you (or a friend) a larger drawing surface, but, again, I don't want to be fiddling with three extra pieces of technological accessories just to get the same effect the Vita bundled up. Tearaway Unfolded isn't as elegant or holistic an experience as it was on Vita because of additional technical needs, but significant effort has gone to reproducing the same effects in new ways. It's pretty as hell, too, holding its own with anything on the PS4 despite its humble beginnings. New areas have been built from scratch, parts extended, others cut. No more log rolling troubles, which is the only Vita feature that bugged the hell out of me. A lot of care went into Unfolded. It may be another tacit admission that the Vita is dead, but at least this incredible, surprising game did not die with it.
Tearaway PS4 port photo
Challenging PS4 port flashes Metal Gear
Tearaway was the zenith of the PlayStation Vita. While many fine games have hit the platform since, few have been exclusive and original, and none used every inch of the Vita's additional capabilities to as good effect. That ...

Review: Mad Max

Sep 02 // Chris Carter
Mad Max (PC, PS4 [review], Xbox One)Developer: Avalanche StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: September 1, 2015MSRP: $59.99 Mad Max is, at its heart, a revenge tale. You aren't going to get much high commentary here (like Beyond Thunderdome's exemplary exploration of the power of language and speech), just a good old fashioned showdown between series protagonist Max Rockatansky, and Scabrous Scrotus (which, as silly as it is, is par for the Mad Max course), who happens to be a son of Fury Road's Immortan Joe. That's about where the link with the film series ends, though, as the game is not a direct tie-in, and mostly benefits from that fact. Max is scorned by Scrotus, who takes everything he owns and destroys his prized car. Teaming up with the psychotic, yet harmless Chumbucket, it's up to the player to hunt down Scrotus, and rebuild your ride in the form of the greatest car known to man, the Magnum Opus. What I like about this setup is that it allows Avalanche to tell a new tale of the wasteland without having to retread on certain areas. I mean yes, there are a few re-used locations like Gas Town, as well as some familiar thematic elements, but for the most part, this is an encapsulated tale. The enhanced Avalanche Engine is quite the achievement, and I can see why the developer opted to shuck the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. Screens simply don't do this game justice, especially when you're scouting out far away locations high up in a hot air balloon while the scorching sun beams down on you, or when vicious sandstorms pop up. A built-in camera capture mechanic (on top of the PS4's standard capabilities) is the cherry on top. Taking a different approach to the typical open world formula, Mad Max's core gameplay is built around driving. Any racing game fan will instantly find themselves familiar with the control scheme, and the vast majority of the vehicles operate similarly to some of the best racing titles out right now. Car combat is handled well, since your companion Chumbucket rides along with you, repairing the car and using weapons in real time -- so it's both cinematic and functional. While the "slo-mo" feature is pretty much dead at this point, it allows players to actually get some hits in while aiming vehicle-centric weaponry, and blowing out enemy tires or harpooning them right out of the driver's seat is satisfying in all the right ways. The customization aspect also feels justified here, since changing up your car will significantly alter how it functions. There's hundreds of options here, from ramming grills, to spikes that protect your car from boarders, to new paint jobs and bodies, to explosive harpoons. The way the concept of the Magnum Opus is presented actually fits inline with this bit of the game, and I never felt pressured or compelled to go out and seek other cars to use. You can basically just drive and switch up your own custom car from start to finish, and it's easy to get attached to certain elements of your ride. Where Mad Max starts to falter is the on-foot sections, or more specifically, how these areas were designed. Combat is basically a carbon copy of the Batman: Arkham games, albeit with more brutal finishers, so that works well enough, but it's the actual zones -- where you can't bring the car mind you -- that often feel uninspired and bland. Since Max can only climb on certain surfaces, and only exhibits a pathetic GTA-style "hop" when pressing the jump button, on-foot sections feel out of place and gamey. It reminds me of the Prince of Persia reboot, which gave you this awesome-looking, sprawling world, and forced you to only explore it within a rigid set of rules. There are also a few other issues I had with these sections, like collision detection problems while climbing, and annoying mechanics like the fact that Max limps for a few seconds after falling the smallest distances. Exploring these zones simply isn't as satisfying without say, the aerial prowess of Talion, or the wonderful toys of Batman, to use direct comparisons to similar open-world WB titles in recent memory. While the story is engaging enough to string you along, a lot of the other activities aren't all that intriguing. It's like the team took the typical Ubisoft blueprint and stuck with it -- radio towers (balloons), fortresses, collectibles, sidequest races, smaller towers to knock down to lower "influence" -- it's all there. That's not to say that the game is mostly boring, far from it actually, as driving around is always a joy given how great the vehicular mechanics are, and there are a lot of naturally occurring events out in the wild to keep things interesting. I went back and forth in terms of my assessment multiple times throughout my time with Mad Max. I'd be having a blast in the car, and then I'd get to a particularly samey part on foot, and so on. But ultimately, I did enjoy my time in the wasteland, even if it doesn't offer up a whole lot that we haven't seen before. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mad Max review photo
Who run Bartertown?!
I grew up with Mad Max. It was one of the first R-rated film series I viewed as a child, and naturally, I saw Fury Road, and enjoyed it like everyone else on the planet. My infatuation with the films is mostly due to George M...

Review: Super Mario Maker

Sep 02 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 4Publisher: NintendoRelease: September 11, 2015MSRP: $59.99 The core theme behind Super Mario Maker is simplicity. Opening up with a rather lovely tutorial section, you'll be introduced to the creation process, which is as simple as touching an object with your stylus, and placing it in the on-screen grid. The entire experience can be played on the GamePad without the use of a TV, and never seeks to overwhelm the player. As the famous fictional Chef Gusteau once said, "anyone can cook!" and now anyone can create a Mario level. While Super Mario Maker doesn't give you everything your heart desires, you'll find plenty of toys to screw around with, from enemies like Kuribo's Shoe (which are actually Yoshi in select themes), to Giant Goombas that split into more Goombas, that can assist you in crafting objectives like P-Switch-centric puzzles, and even shoot 'em up levels with clouds or Koopa Clown Cars. You can create pipes or doors to send players into different areas of a level, tracks to craft moving platforms -- every basic Mario concept you can think of is here. The bread and butter of Maker is themes. You'll start with the original 8-bit Mario theme as well as the New Super Mario Bros. U series, then eventually work your way up to Mario 3, and the always delightful World. Themes (which have their own unique physics and in a few cases, movesets) can be shifted at the press of a button, including the ability to jump into underground, ghost, water, airship, or castle settings in every sub-franchise. It's awesome to create a level and see it switch to an entirely new gimmick within seconds. An "undo" option, eraser (which can be toggled with quick trigger presses), and a nuke-like reset button make everything easier. Costumes, however, are probably my favorite extra in Mario Maker, which provide players with a way to morph into other characters like Sonic, Pac-Man, or Mega Man. They're unlocked by way of amiibo, or another method I'll get to shortly, and have some unique animations and sound effects in tow, like Pac-Man's shift to an 8-bit sprite when he runs. Sadly, all of these costumes are limited to the 8-bit style only. The more you play it, the more you'll realize that limitations are a recurring issue with Super Mario Maker, despite its immense charm. [embed]306729:60161:0[/embed] Not all of these objects will be available immediately, either. Instead, you'll have to wait nine days to obtain everything, including major themes like Mario 3 and World. I can confirm that players will be able to fast-forward the Wii U clock a day ahead at a time to "unlock" the next set of items. But the process is still painfully tedious, as you have to play five minutes to "allow" the unlock, then switch to the main menu, then back to the game to receive the items, then play for another five minutes, and so on. Since this method is available, the entire requirement is rendered pointless. Having said all that, it wasn't really a dealbreaker in any way for me, and didn't have any direct correlation to my assessment here. However, there are a number of shortcomings inherent to Mario Maker's toolset even after unlocking everything. For starters, there are no assets related to Mario 2 outside of a select few re-skins. Not only is the entire theme missing from the game, but unique objects and enemies such as the iconic Phanto are nowhere to be found. Additionally, there is no way to eliminate the countdown timer (the max is 500 seconds), which takes the wind out of exploration-based creation's sails considerably. There's also a severe limitation in terms of how you can build out levels. Right now you can't choose to create a vertical-themed stage -- you have to go with the same horizontal blueprint the game gives you without fail. Maker also limits the amount of enemies you can have in any given level (for instance, only three Bowsers or roughly 100 smaller enemies) even in the 8-bit theme, which is a silly design. Mario Maker does have a few modes beyond the creation realm, thankfully, including a "10 Mario Challenge" mode that tasks you with completing eight levels in 10 lives. This essentially functions as the campaign, and brings players through a variety of different themes composed by Nintendo. The reward is two-fold -- you'll experience a fun pseudo-story mode, and obtain each blueprint for use later in the game's creation mode. They're relatively easy, but some of them provide mechanics very rarely seen in a core Mario game, and are worth spending several hours on alone. The online hub (titled "Course World") is probably where players are going to spend most of their time in the coming months. Having played other creation games with online functionality for years, I have to say that this is one of the better modules. There's support for everything, from bookmarking levels (with hearts), to viewing your "played" history, to queuing up your own creations, and sorting potential levels with qualifiers like popularity and newly shared. It's crazy to see what people have come up with already in the past few weeks, like re-creations of old school Mega Man levels complete with the 8-bit costume, to the classic "music videos" we've seen for years on end in games like LittleBigPlanet. My one gripe with viewing levels online is that they are automatically "spoiled" right before you start them. Basically, by looking at a stage, it will show the entire layout by default -- there's no way to "hide" this currently, and a lot of courses I played lost their luster as a result of this snafu. As a bonus of sorts, the hub has its own version of the 10 Mario Challenge -- a 100 lives version, which basically grabs levels online and mixes them into a custom world. This is probably my favorite element of the game, as it does a good job of curating content and giving it to you in a rapid-fire format. It also rewards players with costumes upon completion, so you don't need to use amiibo to unlock them. Super Mario Maker is a charming little creation tool, and I'm sure fans will come up with some amazing levels for years to come. However, it feels a bit more constrained than it needs to be, and is in dire need of updates or DLC to keep it going long term. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Mario Maker review photo
You can be Mega Man in it
Ever since I was five years old, I've been drawing my own Mario levels on graph paper. It's a pretty common story, because when I look at a series to give me a platforming baseline, it's usually Mario. Nintendo didn't ju...

Very Quick Tips: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Sep 01 // Chris Carter
[embed]307495:60220:0[/embed] General tips: Use night vision often when you're searching for a human target, even if it's daytime. The core reason is because it's hard to see in-game models at times, especially with the dynamic lighting engine. Using night vision will highlight humanoid character models with a bright hue, allowing you to extract them with ease. Always upgrade your Fulton device as soon as you can -- it will help you for core and side ops alike. Pick a favorite weapon, upgrade it constantly, and remember it. You can use the loadout system (similar to Call of Duty) to set your preferred gear. It's easy to get overwhelmed and forget that you're using one of eight rifles, then go into battle with the wrong one. If need be, you can call for entire loadouts to be dropped in mid-mission. Once you get to R&D level 17, buy the flare grenade. It allows you to instantly call chopper support under duress, without having to use your iDroid. Since the game doesn't pause while looking at your device, it can get sticky. When you start Mission #5: Over the Fence, the wolf pup near the first objective marker on the hill is of the utmost importance. He's easy to miss, but if you tranq and Fulton it, he'll grow up to become an entirely new buddy for you to use. You can lock in your crew with the L2 button when assigning Mother Base operations. Use this method to prevent your preferred squads from down-leveling after shifting people around using the auto-sort option. As a general rule it's important to spread the wealth, but favoring R&D for tough missions so you can acquire new tools is never a bad idea. When searching for a target that has a wide circular array on the map, create multiple marks on your iDroid to set your own perimeter. In other words, "draw" bits of the outside of the circle with multiple letters, so you can clear the entire surface area. Marks will automatically erase when you reach them, so you'll know where you've been. Spend your cash upgrading the main stations of Mother Base, first and foremost. Construction takes a long time, but they pay dividends, and you'll want to start working on them as soon as possible. In the same vein, make sure you grab every resource you can on the field to ensure that you can constantly grow Mother Base -- don't just rush past open doors. Go back to the open world often! Fulton everyone you find and actually do those Side Ops. They're not necessarily required, but they'll reward you with tons of new weapons to use in the story, and your backup will be that much more advanced. As a last resort, press triangle while prone. This will bring you into a special "play dead" stealth mode, and you can even avoid being seen if the enemy is right next to you at night. This is especially useful in the "no alert" missions. You can change the type of support called with the R1 menu while using your binoculars. Along with the flare grenade mentioned above, you'll be able to instantly call in your chopper for everything but extraction. It's particularly useful during some boss fights to instantly call in a bombardment after locating an enemy. Play with headphones if possible! Listen for hit songs playing in the background, and follow the noise to the tape. Don't be ashamed of using the chicken hat sometimes if you need it. Some missions will checkpoint you right before a particularly difficult part, and there's no need to bang your head against the wall over and over. Much like The Witcher 3, calling your horse while it is not in sight will cause it to "teleport" to your side. Try to swing the camera away from it before you call it for instant access. In Side Ops #144, the target is laying on the ground in the open in the large base. This one took me forever to find, as I kept going inside, expecting it to be there. Without spoiling anything, to unlock the true ending, you'll need to complete all available main missions after the story seemingly ends abruptly -- yep, all those retread ones with higher difficulties.
Metal Gear Solid V tips photo
Kaz Be Not Proud
Metal Gear Solid V, from a gameplay standpoint, is one of the most complex titles in the series. While it was fairly easy to understand the limited amount of gear you were provided with in past entries (everything was basical...


Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Aug 31 // Chris Carter
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiRelease: September 1, 2015Price: $59.99 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360) [There will be no story spoilers here, though themes and gameplay elements will naturally be discussed in this assessment. I'll be as vague as possible.] Phantom Pain opens up with a brutal playable sequence that sets the tone for the game. Big Boss has woken up after a nine-year coma, and just in time, as an elite infantry unit has invaded his location, ready to kill anyone and everyone just to get to him. Looking back on this opening, it's amazing to see how well thought out everything is in Phantom Pain -- there is very little wasted time. This rapid fire mentality shines throughout the entire game. No longer will you spend hours listening to two portraits talk back and forth via codec. Instead, it's all done through a radio seamlessly integrated into regular play. David Hayter's endless monologues are eschewed for Kiefer Sutherland's more deliberate interjections, and as a result, the entire experience has a very different feel to it. That's not to say there aren't some classic conventions present, or that Kojima has abandoned his roots. There's still plenty of silliness that ensues, crazy mutated boss fights, tons of robots, and Easter eggs for days. It's the gameplay that feels a bit more grounded this time around -- one mission even provided me with flashes of Splinter Cell, but with the obvious Kojima flair to it. The main setup involves a timeline in 1984, 11 years before the first MSX Metal Gear, in which the Soviets invade Afghanistan. Your first job as a newly awakened Big Boss is to rescue your comrade Kazuhira Miller, and begin work on an entirely new Mother Base as the "Diamond Dogs" -- taking on Skull Face and his forces. From here, it evolves into a tale of espionage and deceit, complete with franchise-wide reveals and some breathtaking action sequences. Yep, it's still Metal Gear all right. [embed]305699:60106:0[/embed] But thanks to the advancements Kojima has made over the years refining his craft and the power of the Fox Engine, this is the biggest game yet in just about every regard. To accompany this huge shift is a suitable open-world focus, which allows you to explore a giant portion of Afghanistan, and another region I won't spoil here. It's interesting to see a mainline Metal Gear go this route, but after a few hours, I was used to it. The principle reason I was able to acclimate so quickly is Kojima and his team have made the game fun to play almost at all times. Nearly every situation can either be taken head-on by knocking down the front door, by stealth, or any combination therein. By researching different weapons and tools in Mother Base, you'll have the option to equip hundreds of different loadout variations, and face challenges in completely different ways. For instance, I later came back to one area, took an utterly new route, and used the Fulton extraction system to kidnap an entire base -- one member happened to be a translator who upped my force's efficacy considerably. What's even crazier is how deep the customization goes. You can choose from an assortment of "buddies" (which include the horse and wolf that have been previously revealed, among a few others) to accompany you on missions, all of whom have various costumes and loadouts themselves. You can also choose to alter the appearance of Big Boss, Mother Base, and even your own support Helicopter team. If you enjoyed the prospect of switching up camo suits in Snake Eater, you'll spend hours customizing all your junk here. Mother Base is a whole different animal as well. By using the Fulton system in the field you'll slowly acquire new soldiers, which you can in turn visit at your base at any time. It's similar to the Farmville-esque Garrison system from World of Warcraft, but much more rewarding. While I usually tend to ignore mechanics like this, your crew is integrated into the game in a number of ingenious ways. New weapons rely on the R&D team's efforts, for example, and the Intel team can inform you of incoming weather, as well as nearby enemy patrols if they are sufficiently staffed. The rewards are both tangible and poignant. You can also visit some more important NPCs, partake in a few target practice minigames, hit the shower to wash off the blood of your enemies, and generally just explore the base's nooks and crannies for collectibles. As I touched on a tad, the Fox Engine renders this all beautifully. It's insane to see a portion of the game and realize that it's not a cutscene, but actually done with in-game visuals. Although I've only had access to the PS4 version of Phantom Pain, it's run flawlessly, with minimal load times and no major framerate issues during my time. Another huge thing I noticed was the impeccable sound direction, which may be the best I've ever witnessed in a game to date. It's especially delightful if you're wearing headphones, as you can hear every clomp of your horse as the wind rushes behind you, bullets darting past your head. In terms of my assessment of the plot from start to finish (which all told took me roughly 40 hours to beat), it's definitely not one of my favorite entries, but it does a good job of closing a number of storylines and providing us with a few revelations of its own. As a fan it was tough to forget Hayter at first, but Sutherland really works here, especially with how different Phantom Pain is tonally. Which again, isn't to say that it's all serious all the time, as plenty of absurd characters and storylines pop up fairly quickly. For those of you who are curious, you won't be completely lost if you haven't played previous games in the series, but Snake Eater and Peace Walker knowledge will definitely up your enjoyment of the narrative. But as satisfied as I was with the story, there are a few inherent issues with the way the missions are structured. For starters, a number of levels are uninspired, and force a degree of backtracking, usually for a menial task you've already completed multiple times. This is especially evident later in the game, as it's required to redo some missions with either the "Subsistence," "Extreme," or "Full Stealth" modifiers in tow. The former drops you in with no items or assistance, Extreme ups the amount of damage you take considerably, and the latter ends a mission automatically if you're spotted. Series regulars will probably remember playing a lot of these higher difficulty levels on their third or fourth optional playthrough, but now they're incorporated into the game itself. I have a feeling these objectives are going to be incredibly polarizing, especially since a few of them took me at least 30 tries to complete. It's a level of dedication that hasn't really been seen lately in the gaming arena, but to me, it's classic Kojima. I powered through these tough and sometimes aggravating sections, and was sufficiently rewarded, both in the sense of storyline progression, and the acquisition of completely new tactics. As a note, I couldn't test the online features of the game, including the base-to-base combat sections (FOB). The story calls for at least one scripted invasion, but I was required to play the game in its entirety offline. Once Phantom Pain launches we'll provide some impressions of this feature, and we'll provide a separate review for Metal Gear Online, which has been delayed until October 6. Rest assured, the entire campaign can be played offline, beyond the reach of microtransactions or pre-order bonuses. Despite the fact that I hit a few snags along the way, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain feels like a simultaneous celebration of the series, and a decidedly new chapter. It's equal parts tough and flashy, and it's fitting that if this is Kojima's last Metal Gear, he goes out on a high note. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. We did not attend the review event.]
Metal Gear V review photo
Happy trails, Kojima
Despite the fact that most of the spinoff Metal Gear games are good in their own right, they just don't get me excited the same way the mainline console editions do. Every core Metal Gear entry has something new, and offers up some sort of revelatory storyline event that has fans talking for years on end. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is no exception.

Metal Gear Solid V photo
The first hit is free
Having obtained a retail copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I've had a chance to test out the online functionality a bit, as the servers have been switched on in preparation for the game's midnight launch. You may ...

Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3

Aug 28 // Chris Carter
One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3 (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease: August 25 2015MSRP: $59.99 Pirate Warriors 3 is a reboot of sorts (within the confines of the Pirate series that is), taking us all the way back to the beginning. Players will get a recap of Gold Roger the Pirate King, and how his death sparked the search for the great One Piece treasure, ushering in the Great Age of Pirates. After briefly showing us a Young Luffy, stoked by the fires of adventure, the game jumps 10 years into the future as our hero begins to gather his crew, starting with the ruffian Zoro. It's ambitious, starting over like this, but it's a great starting point for players who enjoy Warriors games, and have no prior knowledge of One Piece's narrative. You'll even get all caught up with the Dressrosa arc, the most recent bit of story (albeit with a different ending). With all that in mind, this is a very brief recap indeed, with entire arcs condensed to a single mission. In that way it spreads itself thin in many ways, not to mention the odd design choice of starting all over on the third game in the series. Battles still follow the same Warriors beat 'em up formula you know and love, with light and heavy attacks that can be chained into combos. What's crazy this time around though is the introduction of the Kizuna system, which lends itself well to One Piece's insane over-the-top style. Here, you'll be able to call out teammates for attacks on a constant basis, as well as unleash gigantic supers with multiple crew members, culminating in an explosion that usually kills hundreds of people at once. It's a mixed bag though, because while said explosions look really cool, they're ultimately all the same despite what crew members you have in the mix. So while it's entertaining for the first 100 times, it loses its luster eventually. Also, the regular Kizuna attacks are a bit clunky, as there's a half second delay for your party members to jump in and do their thing. It's not a huge deal, but it definitely could have been handled better. [embed]308138:60166:0[/embed] As for the rest of the combat mechanics, they're rather on point, and as usual, I like to make the point that the system is much deeper than the "button mashing" scheme non-fans accuse the Warriors series of. For instance, Luffy, your first playable character, starts with 14 combos, all of which have a purpose when you're playing on higher difficulty levels. Plus with nearly 40 playable characters in all, the amount of variety on offer is nothing to sneeze at. You'll want to play on a higher difficulty too, because without it, the actual story scenarios will likely start to wear on you. Without a local partner to play with enemies tend to blend together throughout stages, and despite the mixing up of themes (military, rural), they all function basically in the same manner, with the same types of weapons. The dialogue is also poorly written at times, and doesn't do a great job of drawing you into the world beyond the out-of-mission cutscenes. But hot damn, is that world beautiful on PS4. The only time I ever saw a framerate hit was when Kizuna moves were being done in local co-op, but other than that, it's silky smooth. No matter how many enemies are on-screen the game is relatively stable, and it's easy to dash around an entire map and lay waste to hundreds of enemies at a time. While the mission objectives aren't innovative in any way, they nailed the hectic feel of the anime. The story follows the typical Warriors format of roughly 15 hours of gameplay, with 50 or more to try to max out every character. Of course, there's more modes available, including free play, and "Dream" mode, which is basically a remixed version of the story. The latter sees you jumping from island to island, fighting off enemies in unique scenarios and gaining new characters and bonuses in the process. As a note, online play is only available for story mode, but local co-op is enabled for every game type. One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3, from a gameplay standpoint, is simply "more Pirate Warriors 2." It doesn't really do anything new outside of the slightly different Kizuna system, and veterans will likely favor the Dream mode instead of the retreading story. Despite its Frankenstein-esque shortcomings, Pirate Warriors 3 is a beautiful game, and still a lot of fun to play locally. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
One Piece review photo
From Straw Hat to Dressrosa
I haven't kept entirely up to date with One Piece, but I do read the summaries, and have caught most of the earlier arcs. It's a daunting task (the series has been running since 1997) in terms of the anime, and there's lots o...

Review: Disney Infinity 3.0

Aug 28 // Chris Carter
Disney Infinity 3.0 (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Avalance Software / Ninja Theory / Studio Gobo / Sumo Digital / United Front GamesPublisher: Disney Interactive Studios / LucasArtsRelease: August 30, 2015MSRP: $64.99 (Starter Pack) / $34.99 (Play Set) / $13.99 (Characters) As is tradition in my toy-to-life reviews, let me break down how everything works. For $64.99, you'll get the Starter Pack, which includes the Twilight of the Republic campaign Play Set, the game, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figures, and a USB base. You're basically getting the 10- to 15-hour Republic story on top of the creation-centric Toy Box feature that the series is now known for. Rise Against the Empire and Force Awakens Play Sets are going to arrive at a later date, and Inside Out's Play Set will be available at launch. This review is only assessing the Starter Pack, but look out for coverage of other Play Sets in the future. Phew! With that out of the way, let's move onto the content actually included with the base game. At this point, it's safe to say that the collective of developers involved with the project has figured out how to craft a meaningful combat system. To prevent people from mashing buttons, delayed combo attacks have been implemented, as well as mechanics like juggling, and a launcher that's initiated by holding down the attack button. You can also launch an enemy with a lightsaber and juggle them with a blaster, then when they land, use a combo. [embed]307321:60117:0[/embed] In other words, it's easy for kids and parents alike to both enjoy themselves -- the more skilled party will be able to dig deep enough into the ability system and customization elements, and the other party can mostly just wing it. It's a much better balance than the LEGO games, which tend to be just family-friendly. In Disney Infinity 3.0, "hard" mode is akin to a normal setting in most action games, and "Extreme" can be rather tough at points, though artificially so with gigantic life pools for regular enemies. The characters themselves feel fresh, especially the force-wielding ones like Yoda and Anakin, who have access to force push and pull maneuvers on top of their unique super abilities and powers. For instance, Yoda can knock an enemy up in the air, use his super to instantly dash to someone across the room, combo them, and then dash back to catch the other foe. It's not as advanced as other top-notch action games, but it does feel like a marked improvement. As for the story pack, Twilight of the Republic takes a more traditional turn, compared to the one-map sandboxes of past Play Sets. Here, you'll fly between different hubs with your ships, consisting of individual planets like Naboo, Tatooine, Geonisis, and Coruscant, as well as the vast expanse of space in Star Fox-esque sequences, complete with barrel rolls and quick turns. I really dig the variety on offer here, because while the current Star Wars characters can't move about as freely as say, Iron Man or Spider-Man, the hubs all feel unique in their own way. Additionally, Disney is boasting that all Star Wars characters are compatible with all Star Wars Play Sets, which helps (albeit partially) solve the issue of having a bunch of toys that don't work, similar to how the Marvel worlds functioned. You still have to earn tokens to unlock the use of other characters, but they're more easily accessible, and you only need to find one rather than a series of them. Having said that, it's a bummer that the base game didn't come with more than just Star Wars. It would have been great to see a fully fledged Disney property (like Mickey's Toontown) since 1.0 was heavily Pixar-infused, and 2.0 was a Marvel joint. If you're keen on playing with every toy though, the Toy Box is still available. Not only can you create levels on your own with various setups like racing, adventure, and arena action, but you can also easily find stages online to play with one of the best hubs in the business. What makes Disney Infinity so great is that Disney curates content for you in addition to all of the usual fixins, and provides easy access to top-rated creations -- so it takes very little effort to find the "good stuff." I had access to a limited amount of levels pre-launch, which includes a Gravity Falls level with a log ride and roller coaster, as well as a rhythm memorization minigame, a seek-and-find puzzle, a stealth sequence, and of course, classic platforming levels. If you pre-order the game, you'll also net the Toy Box Takeover Play Set, which really should have been included in the base package for everyone. It's essentially Diablo, Infinity style, and you can use every character in the game. It's far more fun than "Escape from the Kyln" in 2.0 as it contains a procedurally generated dungeon in it as well as a host of fixed story levels, and will last you roughly three hours. Some purists are probably seething at the idea of fighting Darth Maul to the tune of Gitchee Gitchee Goo, but I'm completely okay with it, and I assume your kids will be too. Just like its predecessor, Disney Infinity 3.0 feels a bit limited by the lack of variety in the Starter Pack, but the good news is that the studio is still on track with its core mission to create an action game for all ages. Twilight of the Republic is still a fun way to spend your time, and the Toy Box Mode should keep you busy even if you don't intend on buying any more pricey add-ons. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. All current Star Wars figures were provided as well for testing.]
Disney Infinity review photo
Use the toys, Luke
It's only been two years since the release of the first Disney Infinity, which managed to become a massive hit before venturing into Marvel territory in the second game. Now, Disney has tapped the Star Wars market, and i...

Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Aug 28 // Laura Kate Dale
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (PS Vita)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: September 1 (North America), September 4 (Europe)MSRP: $39.99 So, let's start with where Ultra Despair Girls departs from the previous Danganronpa games on Vita. Instead of investigating crimes scenes for clues, the bulk of your gameplay time in Ultra Despair Girls will be spent as Komaru Naegi shooting robot Monokuma bears with a techno-megaphone. The megaphone, which apparently acts as a "hacking gun," shoots lines of "code bullets" to effect the robots you come into contact with. Break Bullets act as standard damage dealers, but your gun also has less typical ammo types, such as Dance Bullets that cause enemies to stop on the spot and dance, allowing you to put distance between them and yourself. Much of the core gameplay loop feels like you're playing a zombie-themed third-person shooter. Enemies tend to be slow and rambling, take time to kill, and deal large amounts of damage if they reach you. While this is fine in theory, claustrophobic environments, an overly close camera, and numerous invisible walls make this core gameplay at times more frustrating than it needs to be. The idea of a code gun shooting robotic enemies is cool, but the gameplay hiccups -- as well as the infrequency of acquiring interesting new code bullet types -- meant I rarely got excited. Oh, there's also a melee sword combat-focused playable character, but their use is limited by a meter. That's a real shame, because a second gameplay style available to switch to at any time might have helped keep the mechanics from becoming stale this fast. So, does the narrative save Ultra Despair Girls from death at the hands of one of Monokuma's elaborate devices? Well, yes and no. It rescues the game from death, but still gives it a mild case of public torture. [embed]307925:60156:0[/embed] In Ultra Despair Girls, we find ourselves in a city overtaken by murderous young children bent on seeing adults torn to shreds. This gang of prepubescent killers, the Warriors of Hope, have amassed an army of youngsters to control robots that are utilised to kill from safety. Playing as the younger sister of the first game's protagonist, who has conveniently been locked away in her apartment for a year and not noticed that the world has gone to shit around her, you escape with the series running split-personality serial killer and attempt to take back control of the city. Thanks to the shift in narrative focus from confined drama to city-sprawling mission, there's a lower frequency of plot twists than in previous entries. The twists and turns in the narrative are among the strongest in the series, but they feel padded further apart. The cast of characters introduced in Ultra Despair Girls are just as over the top, memorable, and well-written as any characters introduced to date in the series, which is one of the areas the game continues to shine. General moment-to-moment dialogue and character interactions are superb and were the driving force that kept me invested through to the end. The biggest problem: narrative pacing. The game felt like it was probably five or six hours too long. It's worth noting that both the enemy designs and narrative in Ultra Despair Girls are some of the darkest, creepiest, most unsettling to date, and that says a lot for this particular series. From horrible mutated creatures to themes I would hesitate to subject adult characters to let alone children, the game gets pretty unnerving in places. That's not a complaint by any means -- Ultra Despair Girls pulls it off perfectly. Ultimately, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls just didn't click for me the same way previous games did. Sure the narrative still has some strong moments, but it's punctuated with third-person shooter gameplay that doesn't enhance my engagement with the narrative the same way the first two visual novels did. If you're a series fan, there's a good, text-heavy, hands-off narrative to be explored here, but the gameplay sections really dragged it down for me. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Danganronpa review photo
Great story, odd gameplay loop
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair have been some of my favourite Vita games in recent years. A pair of murder mystery visual novels, the games melded puzzle solving, courtroom drama, and murdered school kid...

Review: Lara Croft GO

Aug 27 // Zack Furniss
Lara Croft GO (iOS [reviewed on iPad Air], Android, Windows Phones)Developer: Square Enix MontréalPublisher: Square EnixRelease Date: August 27, 2015MSRP: $4.99 Lara Croft GO immediately establishes itself as a contemplative foray into a forgotten world. Meditative music gently ebbs and flows as Lara slowly walks up to a well-preserved ruin in one of the game's few brief cutscenes. The environments are vibrantly rendered in a simplistic yet gorgeous manner while gentle camerawork plays with the foreground, asserting a sense of depth. Lara's expedition takes you deeper into this ancient land, and before long a gargantuan serpent begins pursuing this new trespasser.  Similar to Hitman GO, you can only move along pre-carved lines on the ground and scalable walls, darting from spot to spot. Here, however, Ms. Croft is fluidly animated, doing somersaults and even her famous hand-stand ledge climb on occasion. It's initially jarring to see her do stilted little jumps between spots (there's no way to hold down a run button, as that would quickly end in death), but I stopped noticing it just a few levels in. Enemies and obstacles can only move whenever you do, so movement needs to be precise and measured. Unlike early Tomb Raider games, you'll never die due to stepping a tad too far or misjudging a jump.  Puzzles start as simplistic fare involving levers and floor panels that can only be safely crossed one time, but add elements every few levels (of which there are 40) to stave off repetition. Snakes, lizards, and giant spiders will do their best to prevent you from reaching your desired MacGuffin and each provide their own set of challenges. You'll eventually find single-use tools to combat them, such as a javelin and a torch. Then there are boulders, sawblades, and other traps that will make you doubt every step you take. Since the checkpoints are very forgiving and most levels will only take you a few minutes to complete, dying isn't discouraging. Death, more than anything, is your most reliable tool when it comes to deciphering the machinations of the deathtraps hindering your progress. You'll step on plenty of floor panels only to launch arrows into your soon-to-be lifeless body, but it's never a frustrating affair. While this is appreciated, the one and only quibble I have with Lara Croft GO is that it never quite feels like it fully ramps up to a satisfying difficulty. Despite a couple of "A-ha!" moments, the slow addition of complications and intensifying music build to a climax that doesn't deliver. It's always appreciated when a mobile game can be played in short sessions, but I wouldn't have balked at being stumped a few times. Perhaps it's my love towards past installments and the enjoyment of being utterly stonewalled by a puzzle, having to think about it even when I'm not playing. On the off-chance that you every get completely stuck, you can use microtransactions for hints (this feature was not online when I was playing for review). If you miss the older games in the series, you'll find cute references that aren't cloyingly nostalgic. The main menu is radial like it was in the olden days of yore, and that satisfyingly reverbed BRRINNGG sound effect denoting the discovery of a hidden treasure has returned. Find enough of those treasures and you'll even find costumes from the old games, like the wetsuit from Tomb Raider II. This affords Lara Croft GO some replayability (since you'll be able to finish it in around three hours depending on your skill level), but they aren't exactly well-hidden until the back half of the adventure. Though other games featuring Lara Croft have elicited a gamut of reactions such as horror and anxiety, I never expected to find spelunking so calming. The dreamlike soundscapes bring to mind a massage parlor and slowly slipping into sleep as someone caresses your tired feet. This is an easy game to fall asleep to, and I'm almost positive you'll have good dreams. I don't think Square Enix is claiming that one solely because of the lawsuits that will occur when players start rolling over and crushing their iPads. Lara Croft GO is clearly the product of a love for what the Tomb Raider series used to mean. Your pistols are more of a tool than a weapon, and you certainly won't be killing an island's worth of men. A lovely visual style and a zen-inspiring score provide backdrops to my favorite Croft adventure in some time. I'm now grateful for the delineation between the action-filled Tomb Raider and puzzle-focused Lara Croft games. Even though I enjoyed 2013's hectic reboot, sometimes you just want to stop and breathe it all in, tomb dust and all.
Lara Croft GO photo
Spa Raider
Last year, Square Enix Montréal surprised us by distilling the Hitman series into a minimalistic mobile game with a tabletop aesthetic. It was a risky move, but Hitman GO ended up a critical success that show...

Review: Mega Man Legacy Collection

Aug 25 // Chris Carter
Mega Man Legacy Collection (3DS, PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Digital Eclipse, CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: August 25, 2015 (Digital - PC, PS4, Xbox One) / TBA 2016 (3DS, physical sets)MSRP: $14.99 (Digital) / $29.99 (Physical) So what exactly is the Legacy Collection? Well, it's a package that includes the six original NES games, as well as a few other extras, and a challenge mode -- it's that simple. Every game has the option of three aspect ratios (original, wide, and full), as well as two additional visual filters meant to replicate old TVs and monitors. That's basically all you get in terms of mixing up the games from the way they were originally presented. The key mantra from Digital Eclipse is "if it ain't broke don't fix it," which is going to be a polarizing choice for many gamers out there. Personally, having grown up with the NES, I'm completely okay with things like slowdown effects and choppy, warped visuals. Yep, that's right -- the developers have opted to retain the original look and feel of the games, for better or for worse. You also won't find any quality of life improvements, such as the ability to switch between subweapons with the triggers -- a feature from the PSOne Classic re-releases a few generations ago. In case you're wondering, yes, the Elec-Man subweapon pause glitch still works. There are some nice extras though, like a music player that features every original track from all six games, and a hefty database mode, which showcases artwork and concept art for every enemy in the game. It's all old archive material that exists in some artbook somewhere, but it's still nice to be able to flip through it all in one centralized location. One really cool feature of the archive is the ability to instantly fight any Robot Master at will from the menu screen, with every weapon from that game at your disposal. [embed]304980:60114:0[/embed] Ok, so onto Mega Man 1-6 -- how do they hold up? Quite well, actually, from this gamer's point of view. You can peruse through some quick thoughts here on all six games, but I really think that each title deserves a spot in the collection. The original Mega Man is a bit rough at times with some haphazard level designs, the Blue Bomber seal of quality is immediately apparently upon progressing to the second game -- and of course, the third, which is my personal favorite of the original lineup. While I did feel the burn with Mega Man 5 due to a lack of innovation (as I always do), I enjoyed it all the same, and Mega Man 6 wowed me, again, with just how clean and interesting it is. My view on the stalwart commitment to the "originals" is mixed, but ultimately positive. While it would have been nice to possibly play a remixed edition separately with more modern options, every game is a classic in its on way, even when you're looking at it years later, free of the tint of nostalgia goggles. If you're feeling finicky and want to switch between games however, it takes seconds to do so with the highly responsive menus, and save states are available for each game (as well as old school password support, of course). So onto the big daddy feature -- 50 challenges, accessible by way of a standalone mode. This is likely the deciding factor for many of you out there, since they are technically the only thing new in Legacy Collection. While I was initially worried that they wouldn't do enough, I was pleasantly surprised after working my way through them, especially with the approach that they took. In recent years, we've seen a "remix" mentality for challenge modes, spearheaded by NES Remix. It's a trend that sees developers taking locations from multiple games and mashing them up, and it's a trend that I can get on board with. While Legacy Collection features standard challenges like timed boss rush modes, they also have remixes, which function like obstacle courses of sorts. The game will task you with getting through 15-30 second bite-sized pieces of existing levels, complete with a portal at the end, which brings you to another mini-section. It's addicting, as the game forces you to constantly rethink your strategy, and sometimes hilariously drops you into a sticky situation, like the beam section in Quick Man's stage. Even better, multi-game remixes are unlocked later on, which require you to deal with taking on successive areas from multiple games. It's crazy jumping from title to title, as I would often forget that certain experiences didn't have sliding or charged shot capabilities. Getting a respectable clear time will definitely test the mettle of even the most seasoned Mega Man vets out there. Thankfully, all of this comes complete with leaderboard support, so you can see how you rank up against your friends and the world. I've already started a friendly little competition with a few members of the press, and I think I'm going to get addicted to this feature all over again, just like I did with Mega Man 9. I'm interested to see the top times from players all around the world, and this is a truly great way to unite Mega Man fans old and new. After booting the game up I was inspired to beat all six games again and work on the challenges, so the Mega Man Legacy Collection did its job. I'd really like to see more Legacy packs down the line from Capcom -- perhaps with a bit more bravado in terms of extras and alternate modes of play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mega Man Legacy review photo
Legacy secure
If you've kept a close watch on the site for the last three years or so, you'd see that it's no secret that I love Mega Man. Despite the fact that Capcom hasn't given him any love in the past few years, it's still my favorite series, and one day, I'd like to see it return to glory. While the Mega Man Legacy Collection wasn't everything I was looking for, it'll do just fine for now.

Review: Madden 16

Aug 25 // Steven Hansen
Madden NFL 16 (PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: EA TiburonPublisher: EA SportsReleased: August 25, 2015MSRP: $59.99 Madden 16 makes an interesting opening gambit, once again going right into a game, this time a fabricated Super Bowl 50 starring the Cardinals and Steelers. No one wanted to watch that match up seven years ago (except me because of the Kurt Warner), but EA insists on framing this nostalgia-less, fake match up with Any Given Sunday editing, close ups on players, and even tepid, badly-acted football dialogue, the kind of jawing written by someone who has not played sport.  Fuck, is it boring. It introduces new (very simple) catching mechanics in painful slow motion setting up situations (oh, one of the teams is trailing!) we're supposed to have emotions in, like I have any stake in Fake Super Bowl 50, like I'm supposed to feel something when alleged rapist Ben Roethlisberger (who narrates later tutorials) tells his mates, "It's time to be the team we're supposed to be right now. Believe in the man to your left and to your right. It's our time right now" like he's reading commercial cue cards. At least the San Jose 49ers' digital Levi's Stadium field hasn't turned to pudding like the real one. This is what Madden is, though. In past years I have creatively ripped on the series for aggressive advertisements of real-world products, which this one seems to have toned down significantly (unless they're coming dynamically as updates post launch). But! Madden is a yearly advertisement for the NFL. From the start menu it encouraged me to share my information with the NFL, promising digital playing cards as a reward. This is what it means to have exclusivity rights to the only meaningful football league (because no one internationally gives a shit), the commodification of players. It is cool to see the increased likeness of Arizona's head coach whose fascinating neck folds and face-scanned pores have him looking like a corrugated version of Dana Carvey's turtliest member of the turtle club. [embed]307755:60128:0[/embed] In 2006 (that would make it Madden 07) I distinctly remember when I fell into the habit of abusing slot receivers instead of number one and number two wide receivers. This meant a lot of balls to the perfectly serviceable Kevin Curtis instead of two of the greats, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. The worst thing about those slot receiver posts, or crossing routes over the middle, has always been linebackers undercutting the passes for picks. Here is the scenario: a player looks reasonably open for a pass. It is a pass any NFL quarterback could make. It is a pass I, an idiot with bad knees, could make. You throw it with a nice arc over the front defensive layer and before the safeties. Madden has never wanted to give you that pass and it has taken near 10 years for the series to introduce "touch passing," a double tap that lets you drop balls into open zones. Ten years. Low and high throws are executed by holding L1 (high) or L2 (low) while passing. The passing game has seen the most new features added this year. Aside from the aforementioned quarterback stuff, there are three types of catches, done by holding one of three buttons while the ball is in the air en route to the receiver. The Aggressive catch (triangle) is for leaping catches and bodying cornerbacks. RAC (square) encourages the player to make a catch in motion and continue running up field, provided they're not about to be clocked. Possession catches (x) are for keeping feet in-bounds or making sure the receiver hangs on to a first down. These useful buttons encourage more user interaction during catches and also speak to a refined interplay between defensive backs and receivers. On the other side of the ball, you can have defenders play the ball (hold triangle) to go for an interception or deflection, or more conservatively play the receiver (hold x) to ensure you make a tackle and possibly knock the ball from them. There is much more realistic jockeying for body position and faithful physics so long as you don't stare too closely at the instant replays. Eventually you'll notice some similar, more dramatic catch animations (a particular one-handed one stuck out), but it is a plus on the whole for verisimilitude, for giving weight and feeling to awesome athletes interacting in a confined space. That's about it, though. There are some neat presentation additions (statistic graphics overlaid on players) and the menus are well laid out, though they are also pretty slow. Load times, too, are still a bit of a problem (and intrusive presentation elements are bothersome when running a hurry up offense). The insistence towards microtransaction-laden Ultimate Team and the new fantasy football-cribbed Draft Champions modes is useless. Throwing, catching, and defending throws have seen some welcomed, long-ignored additions that get a couple yards closer to faithful simulation. You can decide if that's enough. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Madden reviewed photo
Mildly deflated
I do feel, some, for Electronic Arts and the people responsible for making Madden every year. This is only my 4th year (out of  27 releases) covering it and I fear I may have peaked with last year's review. But like a fr...

Review: Gears of War Ultimate Edition

Aug 24 // Brett Makedonski
Gears of War Ultimate Edition (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The CoalitionPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease: August 25, 2015 (Xbox One), TBA (PC)MSRP: $39.99  The developers of Gears of War Ultimate Edition have called this "the first at its best." Turns out they aren't wrong, but they also aren't quite precise enough. This is Gears of War -- entire franchise included -- at its best. Gameplay at a steady 60 frames-per-second does wonders for the naturally clunky movement. These soldiers now feel less like the tanks they resemble. That's not exactly the case in the campaign, however. Multiplayer over Xbox Live runs at 60FPS, but solo and cooperative play is locked in at 30. Regardless, it's a vast improvement over previous installments. It's immediately noticeable as soon as you pick the controller up. The Ultimate Edition is running on a mature version of Unreal Engine 3 -- the same engine the original Gears of War was built upon -- so this improvement can likely be chalked up to optimization and more powerful hardware in the Xbox One. This newfound fluidity makes everything less frustrating. Cover-based shooting works as it always has, but moving from spot to spot isn't as likely to end up with your character stuck to a wall you didn't intend. Navigating the game's many battlefields is quicker and more enjoyable. [embed]306974:60086:0[/embed] While a slicker movement system is easy to appreciate, it's the combat -- the actual shooting of guns -- that's the real meat of Gears of War. Almost everything about it is perfectly intact. As many bullets as the enemies can soak up, there's resounding satisfaction anytime an enemy gets tagged with a torque bow or a pistol takes a head clean off. Hip-shooting with the Gnasher is still a frustratingly inaccurate prospect, as it seems like things work out in your favor about half the time. But, the greatest compliment you can give Gears of War (and it holds true in Ultimate Edition) is that it makes fighting fun. That shouldn't necessarily be the case for a game that features pop-up shooting gallery one after another, but it is. Active reload is one of the better game mechanics of the past decade in that it constantly keeps the player's attention during a process that they'd otherwise be uninvolved in. The Lancer (a/k/a "chainsaw gun") is iconic and unironically cool. It's on the back of the combat that the rest of Gears of War gets by. A lot of the level design feels dated now. Settings are distinct through the game's five acts, but they're all used the exact same way. Rarely is there clever subversion to keep the player on their toes. More often than not, it's predictable what lies just ahead. To be fair, there are attempts to break this mold; the second act holds two examples. A large swath of this part of the game asks the player to pathfind by blowing up propane tanks in order to illuminate the road. When mixed with fighting, these are some of the best moments in Gears of War, as it adds a puzzle-like element. Conversely, the end of this act dedicates a chapter to vehicle driving. It's poorly executed, and it comes off as a forced and transparent bid at shaking up monotony. Gears of War can be linear to a fault, but that's a trade-off for its cinematic nature. Chapter length is generally short, and a new cutscene is always just around the corner. Setpieces come about fairly frequently, but they're somewhat subdued when compared to other installments in the series. Rather, this Gears of War is the game that set the tone for the over-the-top action to follow. Despite all the cinematics, Gears of War is notably light on narrative. The story details the human struggle against the invading Locust on the planet of Sera. Things are bleak. Humanity has its back against the wall. Everything feels so down and out. This coalition of well-trained troops is the good guys' last chance. For those who actually care, Gears of War's plot can be effective yet simple. It lacks a lot of nuance, as does the dialogue. Most exchanges between characters are gruff one-liners, either overtly aggressive or sarcastic. To be blunt, the dialogue hasn't aged well but this was never the game's strong suit. The greatest disconnect comes from the superb gameplay and the subpar narrative. It's not only the disparity between the two that rings obvious, but also how they fail to work hand-in-hand. Gameplay often feels less like a means of accomplishing a story-specific goal, but more like a means to trigger a cutscene to advance the plot. Pacing is also an issue, as stakes are high and chaotic at all times. There are plenty of faults, but Gears of War's greatest trick is that you don't notice them while you're playing. It's just a good time from start to finish. On a personal note: my roommate and I played through the entirety of the campaign cooperatively on Insane difficulty in two sittings in one day. I couldn't tell you the last time I dedicated that much of a day to a game. That speaks volumes. For anyone looking to boil the Gears of War experience down to its purest and (arguably) most enjoyable form, competitive multiplayer again serves a big role. There are 19 maps and nine modes (including newcomers team deathmatch, king of the hill, and two-on-two with shotguns). It's undeniably quite the large offering. Again, Gears of War is fantastic when it's just unadulterated combat. By today's standards, eight-person multiplayer should seem tiny, but it really doesn't. There's always plenty of fray to be found. Maps are designed in a nice, symmetric way so that everything's balanced. Although, the majority of weapons are immediately disregarded by most people in favor of constant use of the Gnasher, which feels like the way to go at almost all times. Whether the campaign or multiplayer, Gears of War undoubtedly succeeds in constantly entertaining. The Ultimate Edition takes that to a new level through optimized gameplay, smoother controls, and updated visuals. Most importantly, it makes this classic relevant again. Microsoft has a lot riding on the continued prosperity of Gears; after all, it is one of the publisher's largest properties. Gears of War Ultimate Edition effectively reminds why that's the case, just as it reminds why this is the game that partially influenced an entire generation of gaming. It just took a makeover to help us appreciate it again. [Editor's note: At time of writing, the multiplayer component wasn't live for the general public. A handful of multiplayer games were played in a private room hosted by the developer. We'll report on the state of online play at launch and thereafter. If this aspect of the game sees significant problems in the weeks following release, we'll cover those issues.] [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Gears of War review photo
At its best
For better and for worse, Gears of War helped shape the past generation of gaming. Bursting onto the scene in 2006, it helped solidify now-common tropes like chest-high walls, brown and gray shooters, and muscle-bound sp...

Review: Until Dawn

Aug 24 // Chris Carter
Until Dawn (PS4)Developer: Supermassive GamesPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease Date: August 25, 2015MSRP: $59.99 [There will be no major spoilers in this review, but the video may contain minor event spoilers.] Our tale starts off a year before the main storyline with a prelude of sorts, in a cabin high up on an isolated Canadian mountaintop. A bunch of "teens" (I use that term lightly as they all look 30) have gathered for some weekend shenanigans, and of course, something goes awry, leading to the mysterious death of two sisters. A year later, the surviving members of the group decide to go back to the same location (I know, right?), bringing all sorts of emotional baggage with them. Most of you have probably seen this type of campy setup before, but this is exactly what Until Dawn is going for. Soon enough you'll start to see the action ratchet up a bit, as more of the mystery of the mountain is revealed, and a psycho killer shows up, creating some Saw-like situations -- real sick shit. You'll also start to learn a lot more about the characters' motivations, and their relationships with one another, which you can (minimally) influence by way of light choices. By "light," I mean typical Telltale options that don't really influence the game in any meaningful way. The main gimmick here is the "Butterfly Effect," which will branch out your personal story, complete with a butterfly icon explosion on-screen and a handy menu option that lets you view your past choices. It can range from something significant like whether or not you want to risk your life saving a friend, or what door you took in an abandoned building. When the butterflies pop up, it's basically Supermassive's way of saying "this character will remember that." Without spoiling anything, most choices don't matter until the end of the game, where character deaths start to happen more often. [embed]305560:59991:0[/embed] Outside of the choice mechanic that basically surmounts to moving an analog stick in the desired direction, there's lots of walking involved, coupled with QTEs for the action bits. It's unimaginative at times, especially in the shaky intro sections, as those long roads seems to be there mostly to pad the game. After all, there's only so many plain paths you can take in the woods before it gets boring. But after the two hours, more interesting locations start to pop up, which house interesting documents and more bits of lore for you to locate. This is where the game excels. Despite the above issues, I was inspired to play Until Dawn from start to finish in one setting. It was interesting enough where it kept me captivated throughout, and the game is exceptionally good at world-building. While I initially didn't care about the whole meta-narrative surrounding the mountain, I quickly changed my tune as I acquired more totem collectibles -- artifacts that each unlock a few seconds of a secret video that gives you a bit more background on the events of the game. Also, all the Resident Evil style letters and notes are all done very well. Where recent David Cage efforts fail for me is the over-emphasis on performances that end up wooden, and a terrible plot that begs to be taken seriously. Thankfully, while other elements of the game may not be all that riveting or new, Until Dawn dives in with both feet on the horror theme. Sure it's not an excuse for some campy performances, but you really know what you're getting here, and there's no bait and switch involved. The script is also occasionally funny, as are the performances from the (mostly) talented cast. I have to say, it's really weird seeing Brett Dalton as anything other than Grant Ward, but he's mostly enjoyable to watch. My general enjoyment of the core cast goes double for "The Analyst" sections of the game featuring the always delightful Peter Stormare. These portions are easily the best part of the experience, as a mysterious psychologist asks you series of questions (usually about your fears) in various interludes of sorts after each chapter concludes. It slowly gets darker and more twisted over time, and they really nail the tension here. So how long is the game? My playthrough took roughly seven hours, and you'll have the option to replay chapters individually to rectify past wrongs or try out new choices. There's also a few extras involved in the form of little video featurettes that you can probably watch on YouTube in a week. If you aren't keen on hunting for collectibles, you can try to change the ending into one you desire. Until Dawn knows exactly what it is, and doesn't pretend to be anything more. In that process it allows for some predictable plotlines, hammy acting, and lack of meaningful choices, but I'm glad that it exists, and every horror fan owes it to themselves to play it at some point -- especially at a price cut. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Until Dawn review photo
Spooky teen hell dream
I had a chance to play the first few chapters of Until Dawn recently, and it ended at the worst possible moment. Whereas the first hour or so is slowly setting the table for all of the craziness that is about to ensue, when e...

Pokken Tournament photo
Officially official
Pokken Tournament is the talk of the town -- the only issue is that basically everyone outside of Japan can't play it. Until 2016 that is, as Nintendo has just announced that Pokken is coming to the Wii U worldwide next...

Review: Smite (Xbox One)

Aug 19 // Chris Carter
Smite (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Hi-Rez StudiosPublisher: Hi-Rez StudiosRelease Date: March 25, 2014 (PC) / August 19, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: Free-to-play with microtransactions ($30 for all Gods until August 31) Unlike your typical MOBA experience, SMITE is framed by way of a behind-the-back camera, more akin to an action game than an RTS title. It was predicated on coming to a console day one, mostly because of how simple the control scheme was, and I'm pleased to say that the transition has been incredibly smooth, gameplay-wise. For new players looking to jump in, all you really have to do to play at a base level is understand that the right trigger initiates your auto-attack, and the face buttons correspond to specific abilities, all of which are relatively self-explanatory. Of course, there's a deeper level of understanding required when it comes to leveling up your abilities and buying items and equipment, but the former can even be implemented automatically if you wish. Where Smite really shines is with its assortment of game modes that will appeal to pretty much everyone. While MOBAs typically cycle in the same few gametypes with "guest" modes appearing sparingly, Smite goes all out with five variations available at all times. These include Arena (5v5 all-out fights without lanes), Joust (3v3 one lane), Conquest (standard MOBA 5v5 three lane), Assault (5v5 ARAM), and Siege (4v4 two lanes). You can also spring for four modes that pit you against the AI, should you need the practice. In short, the game has it all, and any one mode will keep you satisfied for quite some time. It's also great that Smite works in a lot of personality into said maps, like the fact that the final "core" is actually a boss character that players have to take down, and the last line of defense is a giant phoenix. There are 67 gods (characters) currently, all from various faiths throughout history. Characters range from well-known deities like Hades, all the way to Sun Wokong, to Guan Yu. While every god does look different enough visually, I couldn't help but realize that playing with a controller really exposes some of the monotony of Smite's gameplay. For the most part, you're going to be holding down RT, firing off a boring series of auto-attacks. Although it is easy to pickup, it's important to realize that although it may look like it, Smite isn't a full-on action game, and that abilities move rather slowly in the grand scheme of things. In a PC MOBA clicking can often keep you constantly engaged as you're always figuring out the best position possible, but Smite can feel sluggish by comparison. For those of you who don't enjoy the genre on PC, this may be the game for you. [embed]305026:59981:0[/embed] It also doesn't help that a lot of abilities tend to blend together, and in one particular session, I played three gods that basically had the exact same attacks, just with slightly different animations. Since you're leveling up the same abilities each time without an option to take new ones, you're going to want to switch gods often to keep things fresh. If you really want to go all in, you can buy the Founder's Pack for $30, which grants you access to every current and future god. It's a pretty great deal as you're essentially "buying out" the game, but unfortunately it's only available until the end of the month. Outside of that, you're left with a rather generous free rotation of 11 characters per week, and an assortment of boosters, items, skins, emotes, and icons. The game is heavily monetized and many things must be purchased with premium currency, but the Founder's Pack and most of what's on offer is fair. There's also a few issues inherent to the Xbox One version of the game. For starters, no Cross-Play capabilities with the PC edition really sucks. Also, Hi-Rez is only offering up account progress transfers for a limited time, one way to the Xbox One, and it's just that -- a progress transfer. Note that experience levels and most of your content will be ported over, but not everything (Gems, mastery levels, and any stats or activities aren't eligible). It's also unfortunate that there's no inherent keyboard support (like many PS4 games). Based on my experience, nearly every player is content on playing without any form of communication, which, as many know, can be a kiss of death in a MOBA. SMITE is a fine game and a great choice for folks who may not spend a lot of time on their PC, but there are a number of shortcomings present in both editions that prevent me from playing it as much as some of its competitors. Still, it's a perfect starting point if you're looking to get into the genre, especially with the intuitive controller scheme.
Smite Xbox One review photo
I'll be done in a minotaur two
Hi-Rez Studios has earned a rather interesting reputation in recent years. After creating Tribes: Ascend, a game heavily reliant on the free-to-play model, fans accused the studio of abandoning the game in record time (roughl...

Super Mario Maker is more fun than I initially thought it would be

Aug 18 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker starts in the best way possible -- a miniature creation tutorial featuring the first Super Mario Bros. After jumping across an impossible-to-make gap, you'll have the option to "finish the course," and bring Mario to the safety of the goal flag. Objects are located at the top, and it's very easy to use the stylus to create platforms, Question Mark Blocks, enemies, and hazards. Putting wings on enemies, piranha plants inside pipes, and items inside of blocks is also as easy as dragging it on top of said item. You can also tap or drag to clone the last-used item, which is useful for dropping tons of blocks. There's a lot of personality present, especially with the auto-tuned voice that notes item placement, cutely shouting out things like "block! block block! block block block block!" to the tune of the classic Mario theme. Maker even has its own tutorial character named "Mary O." who functions as a Power Line Expert of sorts, complete with a headset. I love little touches like this. The way amiibo support works is by adding characters to a roster with a GamePad tap, which will allow players to change into new cast members when touching a Mystery Mushroom. Each character has a special emote with the up d-pad button (for example, Pac-Man will raise a piece of fruit) -- most of the ones I've seen so far also have their own sound effects, and if you're hit, you'll transform back into Mario. Here's a full list of compatible amiibo.  Changing your "theme" (such as above or underground in the first Mario game, or even a new series entirely) is as easy as pressing a button, and only takes a few seconds. It's awesome seeing a stage change from the retro style to the "New" visuals instantly. It's also important to note that more tools only open up "over a series of days, as you continue to create in the game," and only 12 are available right away -- Nintendo notes that this is so you aren't overwhelmed but I don't really buy into it (hence my lingering issue). Expect thoughts on how this scenario plays out in the coming weeks. In terms of modes, you'll start off in the editing portion, but you can also access a challenge mode of sorts that limits your lives, and "Course World," which is a full online hub that allows you to play, star, download, and comment on levels. I love how Nintendo has this mode laid out, as you can clearly see the entire level by way of an icon in the hub menu, giving you an idea of whether or not the stage is up your alley before you even play it. You can also sort by rating and filter "up and coming" levels if you wish, and each map only takes roughly five seconds to load. There's tons of levels available right now for reviewers, so I'll be able to provide some thoughts on how the hub works at a later date. I don't want to spoil too many secrets, so expect our review in early September ahead of the September 11 launch of Super Mario Maker.
Super Mario Maker photo
First hands-on with the retail edition
Although I haven't been super excited for Super Mario Maker based on the initial pitch, we've slowly been drip-fed more and more information over the past month or so, and some of it looks intriguing. Now, I've had the chance to play the game myself, and left pretty satisfied outside of one lingering issue.

I can't keep up with all these Splatoon updates!

Aug 17 // Patrick Hancock
[embed]305716:60031:0[/embed] Patch 2.0 Heavy Splatling This is definitely one of my new go-to weapons. I still don't feel completely comfortable while using it, but I can already see its potential. The Heavy Splatling needs to spin up before firing, but does not need to be fully spun up to begin firing. The longer the player spins up, the more shots will come out before stopping.  I've been using the Splatling as a more defensive weapon, similar to a Charger-type weapon. It's natural to want to go on the offensive with it since it seems to beastly, but it's just not as effective at in-your-face killing compared to most other weapons. However, using it to hold a location? That's when it shines like a rainbow after a storm!  The Splash Wall is a great pairing for the Splatling, since it's great to use as cover while charging up. It definitely helps to have some Sub Saver abilities on hand though, since the Splash Wall takes a ton of ink to deploy. Slosher I thought the Slosher would be a new favorite of mine, considering I prefer to play up close and personal, but I just haven't jived well with it. It takes two sloshes to kill, so springing up and surprising someone isn't as effective as I'd like. Due to its solid range and accuracy, those who are effective with the Slosher are the ones who hang out at the edge of its range and are constantly moving around in squid form. I'm also not a fan of the pairing of the Slosher with Burst Bombs. I feel as if they serve the same purpose. I can't think of very many situations in which throwing a Burst Bomb would be better than just sloshing it up. Maybe one of you pro Slosher users can enlighten me... New Music [embed]305716:60005:0[/embed] First of all, let me just say how much I love the fact that the in-game music has in-game bands. It's the dedication to things like this that make Splatoon so consistently awesome. The new battle tune is great. I love the chiptune-y vibe from it. I'm also really glad to have more than one single music track for battles. The music that plays during the last 15-30 seconds of the original track was starting to make me go crazy... New Urchin Underpass So, I wasn't completely sure why Urchin Underpass needed a makeover, but after playing its new incarnation, I'm happy to never ever go back. The new map is so much more open than the original. The tree near the spawn apparently caused issue for players, so they moved them to the very center of the map. This is actually a brilliant decision, since these trees perfectly obfuscate part of the center of the map so snipers can't just sit on the elevated sides and wreak havoc.  I didn't mind the map before, but now Urchin Underpass is easily one of my favorites. I feel as if there are a lot of options at any given moment, which is really when Splatoon shines the most. Splatfest Victory Conditions So they changed how Splatfest victories are calculated, and increased the victory part of the equation to count four times. We've since had a Splatfest, which was Marshmallows VS Hot dogs in North America. Marshmallows had a huge popularity lead (64/36), and Hot Dogs had a slight victory lead (48/52). The result was a close one at 256 to 244. So, is this the solution? Personally, I think it's a good idea. I don't mind that popularity factors in to the equation.  Victories are definitely important, and now are weighted way more heavily as a result. Although the change didn't give team Hot dogs the victory, it did make it very close, which is impressive considering the population gap.  Rainmaker Mode This isn't part of the 2.0 patch, but did hit the game very recently. It's a new mode that works a lot like capture the flag. There's a weapon, called the Rainmaker, in the center of the map, and your goal is to bring it to your opponent's base. The Rainmaker acts like an Inkzooka, but can be charged for a much bigger tornado blast. It's a great addition to Ranked mode, but people clearly need some time to understand it. The weapon is enclosed within a shield when it is dropped, and the shield must be popped to pick it up. My advice to all you squidkids out there: pay attention to your surroundings before you pop the shield! I average around 15 kills in this mode, simply because people are staring with tunnel vision at the Rainmaker, ignoring everything else. Teamwork is essential, since movement speed is lowered while holding the weapon. Moving with a squad to protect the Rainmaker feels great, similar to how protecting the payload cart feels in Team Fortress 2.  Okay, I think I'm caught up now with the major Splatoon updates. Unless they just announced one while I was typing this....did they?
Splatoon updates photo
So much new content
It seems like every time I boot up Splatoon, Callie and Marie are telling me about something new added to the game. Weapon variations are added all the time, and just recently, a big 2.0 patch hit. New gear, new types of weap...

Weekend Deals: Star Wars: Battlefront and ARK Survival Evolved up to 25% off

Aug 15 // Dealzon
Top Deals Use code: SAVE23-WITHGM-GAUG15 Star Wars: Battlefront (Origin) — $46.20  (list price $60) Need for Speed — $46.20  (list price $60) Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (Steam) — $46.20  (list price $60) <- yep numero tres Fallout 4 (Steam) — $46.20  (list price $60) Civilization: Beyond Earth - Rising Tide (Steam) — $20.79  (list price $30) Celestian Tales: Old North (Steam) — $7.51  (list price $13) <- JRPG nostalgia  No code needed: ARK: Survival Evolved (Steam) — $22.49  (list price $30) Xbox One Halo Master Chief 500GB Bundle — $299.99  <- just added Sat afternoon Xbox One 1TB Console Halo: Master Chief Collection — $349.99  (list price $400) Xbox One 1TB Halo MCC + AC: Unity + Gold Live 1 Yr — $399  (list price $399) Wii U + Super Mario 3D World + Nintendo Land — $249.99  (list price $300) PlayStation Plus 12-Month Card — $39.99  (list price $50) Upcoming Releases 08/18: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (Steam) — $20.79  (list price $30) 09/03: Company of Heroes 2 - The British Forces (Steam) — $10.92  (list price $13) 09/01: Mad Max (Steam) — $27.32  (list price $60) 09/30: Might & Magic Heroes VII (Uplay) — $38.50  (list price $50) 10/13: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege Gold Edition (Uplay) — $67.49  (list price $90) 11/03: Anno 2205 (Uplay) — $48.95  (list price $60) PC Game Deals Telltale Games Collection (Steam) — $69.30  (list price $180) Game of Thrones - A Telltale Games Series — $13.86  <- Telltale DRM Mortal Kombat X (Steam) — $11.72  (list price $60) Tales from the Borderlands — $11.55  (list price $25) Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Steam) — $10.54  (list price $50) Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth2: Sisters Generation (Steam) — $9.24 <- new low! Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 (Steam) — $8.09  <- ditto The Wolf Among Us — $6.55  (list price $25) The Walking Dead: Season 1 (Steam) — $4.81  (list price $25) Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (Steam) — $3.85  (list price $20) Console Game Deals Destiny: Taken King Legendary - Requires Prime (XOne, PS4) — $49.99  (list $60) Project Cars (PS4, Xbox One) — $29.98  (list price $60) Battlefield: Hardline - Pre-owned (PS3, X360) — $14.99  (list price $60) Resident Evil: Revelations 2 - Pre-owned (XboxOne, X360) — $14.99  (list $40) Dragon Age: Inquisition - Pre-owned (Xbox One, PS3) — $14.99  (list price $40) Evolve - Pre-owned (PS4, XOne) — $9.99  (list price $40) PS4 Borderlands: The Handsome Collection (PS4) — $35.99  (list price $60) Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster (PS4) — $34.99  (list price $50) Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward (PS4) — $27.99  (list price $40) Destiny (PS4) — $17.99  (list price $40) PS3 Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward (PS3) — $24.99  (list price $40) Bound by Flame - Pre-owned (PS3) — $12.99  (list price $20) Far Cry 4 - Pre-owned (PS3) — $12.99  (list price $40) Wii U Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) — $44.99  (list price $60) Mario Party 10 (Wii U) — $34.99  (list price $50) Batman Arkham Origins (Wii U) — $9.99  (list price $20) Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge (Wii U) — $6.99  (list price $30) ZombiU (Wii U) — $6.99  (list price $30) Laptop Deals 15.6" Alienware i7-4710HQ, GTX 970M — $1,349.99  (list price $1,600) 15.6" Lenovo Y50 i7-4720HQ, 16GB, 512GB, GTX 960M — $1,299  (list 1,780) 13.3" Alienware i5-4210U, 1440p, GTX 860M, 16GB — $840.99  (list price $1,500)
Weekend Deals photo
Deals to browse, you must.
Star Wars: Battlefront, Need for Speed, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and more pre-orders are 23% off this weekend at GMG after coupon. The code has actually been available all week at GMG but only started to work on ...

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: 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.

Sam Lake explains Quantum Break's television show tie-in

Aug 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297184:59794:0[/embed] What's weird, though, is that while my suspicion and low expectations haven't changed even as the game has, there's some magic in hearing Remedy's Sam Lake tell it. Few can string together scripted nonsense like "intense story-driven action game spectacle" and still seem genuine with a kind of unassuming, unironic grin. It's adorable At one point Lake noted that the team destroyed yet another giant ship in the demo we were shown. "We are destroying another ship here as we did at last gamescom," Lake said, explaining that Remedy doesn't hate ships or the shipping industry. "We love shipping. Shipping games." Pause. "Hah hah." That was a "hah hah," not a laugh, and a perfectly delivered one. So we've seen "I'm a super badass baby-faced dubstep killer" wreck house on crews of heavily outfitted corporate military already and it's a little goofy as the guy in jeans and a Guess jacket brushes off assault rifle fire. He's aided by the time powers granted by a failed time travel experiment that is bringing about the end of time (hah). Time Rush allows Jack to run forward with time stopped, either to avoid environmental obstacles in platforming sections or to combo into running punches. Time Dodge is a quick dash out of harm's way or into an enemy to bump them a bit. Time Blast is an offensive projectile, Time Shield is a bubble shield, and Time Stop freezes time in one focused area. Some of Monarch's soldiers are outfitted with fancy backpacks that give them some of these powers, too, so you're not just up against folks shooting you. Quantum Break is "a story about warring philosophies," Lake says. The fatalist antagonist thinks the future can't be changed or fixed no matter what, the protagonist thinks that's bogus. The game focuses on the perspective of the latter, while "the show is about villains," focusing on the Wire half of the cast and what's happening at evil Monarch. So how does it work? "You first play through an act of the game, Lake says. "It culminates in a special scene that is the junction moment, where you make a choice," which opens up an episode of the show "based on the choice you make." So you get roughly 22 minutes of programming tailored to your decisions. And all of Quantum Break is "shaped by your choices." The given example of a junction moment is where evil corporate bad guy Paul Serene has to either: 1) kill a student activist who's witness to some shady things or 2) threaten to murder her family to bend her into submission. Both bad, one less bad, I suppose. Her death, should you choose, is reflected in the protest scene from last year's trailer. On the other hand, should she live, she becomes Jacks ally, helping to dig up dirt on Monarch. Sometimes these two parts of the game weave even closer. A live-action conflict between Monarch folks who've captured Jack ends at an anticlimax as their guns disappear and Jack is shown to have gotten away. On the game side, there's a cutscene of Jack waking up in the back of the van, noticing the conflict outside, and escaping (and gun jacking) during a time skip. With Xbox having killed its original programming arm, Lake also clarified that, "the game and the show ship together as one item."
Not skippable photo
'[They] ship together as one item'
It's been over two years since I first side-eyed Quantum Break, the television show and third-person shooter hybrid from Remedy (Alan Wake, Max Payne). Quantum Break finally has a release date it probably won't be delayed out...

Kamiya: Scalebound 'not a simple action game that Platinum is known for'

Aug 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297186:59795:0[/embed] Kamiya noted that Scalebound is, "a story about Drew...who has been transported from our modern world into this fantasy world," and by some held back plot point ends up in union with Thuban, the last of his kind. Very Dragonheart. Drew's devil may care attitude (and Devil May Cry Dante comparisons), "might be too early," according to Kamiya, who noted Platinum has released little information thus far. The "partnership between Thuban and Drew" is one of the many themes, both within the mysterious story and in gameplay. You're able to issue the AI-controlled Thuban basic commands which fall into 1) attack (at varying levels of scorched earth) and 2) fall back a bit. The latter is important because Thuban's stronger attacks can wipe enemies clean out of existence. If Drew downs them, he is able to crystallize them and collect the resulting red gems which can be used to customize Thuban. It's a bit weird you can actually change what kind of dragon he is, but hey, RPGs. "Pulse" drives the world of Draconis with its floating islands and colorful palette. It's also what powers Drew's Mega Man buster cannon-reminiscent pulse shot and the "colored accents on Thuban." I believe Kamiya called them green and I don't want to disagree, but they look pretty blue to me. I will ask my mother.  Aside from incentivizing you from not leaning too much on Thuban through the gem system, the demo continued past defeating the mantis boss in the trailer and into a much more narrow area where Thuban has to fly ahead and thus isn't free to use in combat. That means that, because of Thuban, "the world can't be too small," so there'll be plenty of open plains like the ones seen in the trailer. Other tidbits: Drew's transformation is "dragon mode" as it stands. Some trailer-like features montage showed off a large, NPC-filled city. There is also some sort of skill point system that seems like it's based on how well you perform combat. Drew also has access to a wide variety of weapons (halberds, enormous anime swords, etc.) that appear to be housed in a block-based inventory system (think Resident Evil 4). And, as learned yesterday, there's four-player co-op. "As kind of a policy for myself when I start creating a game, I am not creating to please everyone," Kamiya said. "My job is that you fall in love more and more with what I created." From what has been released, this feels like the most straightforward Platinum/Kamiya game. Basic action RPG stuff is appropriate for trade show reveals. Still, I think as crazy story details and mechanics are unveiled en route to the holiday 2016 launch (crossing back into the modern world? increased dragon skills and combo attacks?), I will get more and more into what is already a pretty, nice looking action game.
Scalebound at gamescom photo
Customizable dragon
First, note that I wanted to get Scalebound's Hideki Kamiya to say, "Ask your mom" on video, but gamescom meetings are too tight, too perpetually behind to get much good one on one in. Still, I got to see an extended playthro...

Dark Souls III wears its Bloodborne influences on its sleeve

Aug 05 // Chris Carter
Our demo started out in an era called the "Wall of Lodeleth," which to me, looks like a mix between the Undead Burg and Boletarian Palace. The layout was fairly linear, but offered up a ton of surprises like the standard "dragon guarding loot" offshoot, and a mini-boss of sorts. Lodeleth was multi-tiered, and featured a number of side rooms accessed by way of ladders, as well as some rooftop shenanigans. It was par for the course, but still felt right. Combat as a whole is quicker, which is likely a direct response to Bloodborne changing the game. Rolls and dodges are faster, and enemies as a whole feel faster, too. It's not quite "fighting game" fast, but it's a comfortable medium between Souls and Bloodborne, which I'm more than okay with. One big addition is "Battle Arts," which are basically super moves triggered by different equipment combinations. "Not all shields parry now," I was told by Bandai Namco producer Brandon Williams, and you can see that distinction by way of an icon on the item itself in the lower-left equipment corner. A shield icon denotes a defensive action, and a sword icon is more aggressive. In this instance, it allowed my axe to power up for a short period, granting me a damage boon, which was depicted by a glowing aura on my weapon. In essence, it's a more "on-demand" spell system for folks who prefer direct combat -- I say bring it on. My personal style for Souls games involves using the shield as blocking insurance, but not necessarily for parrying, so I'm all for this change. As a note, these are limited-use abilities, and will recharge at a bonfire much like flasks. As I made my way through the demo, I eventually encountered the only boss, the Dancer of the Frigid Valley (1:45 in the trailer). Based on my experience, it was very similar to Bloodborne's Vicar Amelia fight -- for the most part attacks are easy to dodge, but if you get caught up, you're going to get punished, and possibly one-shotted. The boss also sports a flaming sword, which produces chip damage even if you block, forcing you to be more aggressive. It was a standard but fun fight. [embed]296887:59812:0[/embed] One problem area I noticed during my hands-on session however was the frame rate. There was often times a lot of enemies on-screen, but it chugged on all of those occasions. Bloodborne was 30fps as well, but it's high-time that the series moved on without needing a re-release to bring us into higher territory -- Scholar of the First Sin is incredibly smooth at 60fps. For reference, the build we played with seemed to be PC-based, using an Xbox One controller. Another sort of more personal issue I had was the fact that it felt a little too samey. As I mentioned above, Lodeleth felt like an amalgamation of existing areas in past Souls games. Even something like Huntsman's Copse in Dark Souls II, which is for all intents and purposes a "forest area" that had been done before, felt like something completely different. Bloodborne was a breath of fresh air, providing a unique perspective with a harrowing blight and a darker tone in general. With Dark Souls III, I'm distinctly getting the feeling of "more Souls," which for the most part is a good thing, but did wear on me a bit even during my brief time with the game. It took me roughly 30 minutes to make my way through the demo area and defeat the Dancer -- of which I was the first in the group to do (though Steven beat the boss in one shot!). At the end of it all, amidst the claps from my colleagues and the Namco Bandai reps, I felt that sense of accomplishment that I've felt since downing the Phalanx boss in Demon's Souls. I think Dark Souls III will be fine. [Disclosure: Bandai Namco provided travel to the event, as well as dinner.]
Dark Souls III preview photo
I also see a few problem areas
It's crazy to think that we're on the verge of yet another Souls game right after Bloodborne and Scholar of the First Sin. From Software doesn't seem to rest, and as soon as the studio has wrapped up one project, it's on...

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: 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...

Weekend Summer Sales: GameStop, GamersGate, & PSN

Aug 02 // Dealzon
Weekend Top Picks PS4 DualShock 4 Wireless Controller + Free Charging Station — $59.99 PlayStation TV — $29.99  (list price $80) <- use code EMCAWAK35 Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel + Season Pass (PC/Mac) — $14.61  <- pick AUD as currency to get this USD price. SteamPlay key. Duke Nukem Forever (PS3) — $1.99  (list price $4) <- two bucks too many? Summer Sales GameStop Summer Sale Evolve (Steam) — $29.99 (list price $60) <- population: muy poco Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (Steam) — $19.99 (list price $50) NBA 2K15 (Steam) — $19.79 (list price $60) Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Steam) — $19.79 (list price $60) SimCity: Complete Edition (Origin) — $7.49 (list price $30) Alice: Madness Returns Complete Collection (Origin) — $7.49 (list price $30) Command and Conquer The Ultimate Collection (Origin) — $4.99 (list price $20) Mirror's Edge (Origin) — $4.99 (list price $20) Titanfall Digital Deluxe (Origin) — $4.99 (list price $20) GamersGate Summer Sale The Talos Principle (Steam) — $13.60  (list price $40) Blackguards 2 (Steam) — $12  (list price $30) Saints Row Ultimate Franchise Pack (Steam) — $11  (list price $55) Saints Row IV - Game of the Century Edition (Steam) — $7.50  (list price $30) Unity of Command Trilogy Bundle — $6  (list price $30) Saints Row IV (Steam) — $4.99  (list price $20) Dead Island GOTY Edition (Steam) — $4.99  (list price $20) The Inner World (Steam) — $3  (list price $15) Bridge Constructor (DRM-Free) — $2.50  (list price $10) PlayStation Store The Order: 1886 — $27.99 (list price $40) <- tehee? Driveclub — $24.99 (list price $40) Deadpool — $20 (list price $50) Ender of Fire — $8 (list price $20) Tetris Ultimate — $4 (list price $10) Recent Releases 07/30: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor GOTY (Steam) — $40  (list price $50) 07/29: Absolute Drift (Steam) — $8.64  (list price $12) 07/28: Kyn (Steam) — $16  (list price $20) 07/28: Legend of Kay Anniversary (Steam) — $14.40  (list price $20) 07/23: Better Late Than DEAD (Steam) — $5.60  (list price $7) 07/21: F1 2015 (Steam) — $39.49  (list price $55) Upcoming Releases 08/15: Armikrog (Steam) — $18  (list price $25) 08/18: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (Steam) — $21.60  (list price $30) 09/01: Mad Max (Steam) — $48  (list price $60) 09/02: Act of Aggression (Steam) — $30.60  (list price $45) 09/30: Blood Bowl 2 (Steam) — $36  (list price $45) Console Game Deals Dragon Ball Xenoverse (PS4, Xbox One) — $39.99  (list price $60) Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited (PS4, Xbox One) — $29.99  (list price $60) Dying Light (PS4, Xbox One) — $29.99  (list price $50) The Crew (PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360) — $19.99  (list price $40) Destiny (PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3) — $19.99  (list price $40) Far Cry 4 (PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC DVD) — $19.99  (list price $40) Laptop Deals 17.3" Asus ROG i7-4710HQ, 24GB, GTX 970M — $1,299.99  (list price $1,650) 17.3" Asus ROG i7-4720HQ, 12GB, 1TB + 256GB SSD, GTX 960M — $1,199.99 15.6" Lenovo Y50 i7-4720HQ, 16GB, GTX 860M — $949.99  (list price $1,660) 17.3" Lenovo Y70 Touch i5-4210H, 8GB, GTX 860M — $899  (list price $1,200) Game deals from Dealzon. Sales from certain retailers help support Destructoid.
Weekend deals photo
Everywhere you look
August is still summer and thus the sale train continues. EA titles were understandably missing-in-action during Steam's Summer Sale back in June - so if you want historic low prices on Titanfall Deluxe or SimCity Complete, t...

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: 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)...


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