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Ex Quantica photo
New game from Heavy Rain dev
The robot learns the world fucking sucks. Emotions! David Cage has finally figured out what happens to his android, Kara, who started life as a short story/tech demo years ago. And it turns out she's in Detroit! Sorry, lady. But a fun play on the motor city once so prized for its vehicle manufacturing, now just sad about its sports teams and public officials cutting off water to residents.

Review: The Park

Oct 27 // Chris Carter
The Park (PC)Developer: FuncomPublisher: FuncomRelease:  October 27, 2015MSRP: $12.99 At a base level, The Park seems to be about a mother and her lost child, but it crescendos into much more than that. Yes, this is a walking simulator alright, with limited amounts of items to inspect, and no inventory management. You'll traipse around, hear some monologues, learn more about the characters and the park itself, and essentially watch a film play out with some degree of interactivity. It's more involved than your average title, as you can ride the rides in the park (a Ferris wheel, rollercoaster, and the like), and look around at your surroundings while doing so. There's also a decent amount of lore-building involved, and not just because of the Lovecraftian themes that are intertwined with the Funcom-verse. I actually enjoyed reading tidbits about various incidents at the park, and how they involve the cast. While the park itself is cool, the exposition starts off a little stilted. The script is incredibly flowery with its opening monologues, and doesn't give you any real reason to care about the cast. It's almost like watching an amateur poetry hour at times, and there was a point where I rolled my mind's eye at some of the lines. Slowly but surely though, The Park spirals into a tale of depression, with some light adult themes. It gets better, darker, and examines mental illness in a rather unique way. [embed]317523:60854:0[/embed] As far as the presentation goes, in some ways, it would have been better as a short film. The Park might feature a sprawling setting, but a lot of it consists of filler. There are long paths that essentially function as loading screens. The Park isn't going to wow anyone from a visual standpoint, but the effects involved are cool-looking, invoking a perspective that is slowly losing grip on reality. Without spoiling anything, it kind of reminded me of the film The Babadook. If you're looking for pure horror, maybe go elsewhere. The Park isn't a "survival" game nor is it going for scares -- there's only one portion that provides that feeling, in fact. Instead, the narrative attempts a more disturbing tone, with realistic and relatable problems told through the veil of a creepy theme park. I don't want to give away too much as The Park is only an hour long, but I admire Funcom's effort with this experimental take on the genre. It really does try something different, even if you can feel the core themes sneaking up on you a mile away.
The Park review photo
Dunwich horror
The "walking simulator" genre has thrived in recent years. With titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home hitting it off with audiences, it's no wonder the "adventure lite" (as I call it) market is influencing new exper...

Review: Halo 5: Guardians

Oct 26 // Chris Carter
Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One)Developer: 343 IndustriesPublisher: Microsoft StudiosReleased: October 27, 2015MSRP: $59.99 While Guardians may have a no-nonsense intro that places you immediately into the fray, it already assumes that you know a ton of the franchise's backstory. There's so much lore at this point, spanning comics, web series, and other shows, that it's hard to keep up. The basic gist this time around is Master Chief is missing, Jameson Locke is sent to find him, and the Forerunners are still the big bad of the franchise. Everything else in-between is kind of a blur. The campaign features 15 missions in all, and is heavily built around the concept of fireteams -- which means you'll have three other characters following you around at all times, ready to take orders by way of AI constructs, or as player characters. If you're going the solo route, you can order your team to move to certain locations, or attack specific targets. It's rudimentary at best, as the only command you have is a single d-pad stroke that does either of those two options, but it's very cool to see your team banter and blow enemies away by your side. Your teammates can also revive you if you're down (though there are still insta-kill mechanics and pitfall deaths), getting you back into the action faster. [embed]315608:60816:0[/embed] Halo 5 features linear, more Call of Duty-style levels, with the occasional miniature sandbox or mid-sized arenas distractions. What I like about the campaign mechanically is it's always forcing you to switch weapons (between the human, Covenant, and Forerunner variety), which constantly puts you out of your comfort zone. There are a ton of weapons in the franchise at this point, and it feels like 343 didn't skimp out or remove any -- so you expect somewhat of a learning curve. When it comes to the campaign though, nothing blew me away outside of a few select missions. The first five are table-setting affairs, as it stands, but even after you progress through those, the narrative  never really goes anywhere. The story is rather annoying in a way, as it relies heavily on past games to a fault. I really enjoyed the original tale of Halo: Combat Evolved, with the simplistic story of the conflict between Covenant and humans, with the Flood in the middle, but this "new" trilogy isn't really doing it for me. Sure, the action is spot-on, but the Forerunners aren't a compelling enemy, as far too much of their history is billed with mystique, and I couldn't be bothered to care about any of the cast members outside of a light amount of nostalgia for Chief.  I also had a few technical issues during my playthrough. There were some weird instances where progression didn't trigger and a door didn't open because there was an enemy stuck in a far corner somewhere. Also, on a few occasions my team didn't revive me even though they were right there, or outright refused to move or take orders. Guardians features drop-in drop-out multiplayer, which is great because the four-person campaign component never feels forced, but the lack of split-screen is an utter shame. For reference, it took me roughly six hours to finish the story on the standard difficulty setting. How does it play? So well that you'll often forget about how mediocre the campaign is. The gameplay has changed significantly, mostly due to new mobility options and the power to aim down the sights of your gun (also known as ADS or Iron Sights). Players can also press a button to boost, which works both on land and in the air, and hold the melee button to slam down to the ground, or press it while running to trigger a dash attack. It feels like a quicker, hybrid arena shooter now with all these changes. Warzone, however, is leaps and bounds more fun than the story. It's billed as a 12v12 mode that features a massive base tug-of-war, with enemy AI meddling on the side. In short, it feels like a bite-sized story mixed with multiplayer, and accomplishes most of the goals it sets out to achieve. For example, at the start of a match, you'll have to clear out your own base -- there's no downtime involved. From there, Warzone constantly throws things at you, from sub-objectives to boss fights, with plenty of PVP action injected for good measure. 12v12 is by no means a massive amount of players, but it gets the job done, especially when coupled with the aforementioned PVE mechanics. There's always something to do, and always players to kill. The large map size also brings something to Halo that really hasn't been done before, as they're roughly three times bigger than past locations in the series. Because of my time with Warzone, I've felt inspired to find a group of people to play with down the line. I think this mode has potential for some really memorable matches. There's a straight non-AI variation available as well, if you prefer that. So that's Warzone. On the other end of Halo 5's PVP component, you have Arena -- traditional deathmatch game-types across a handful of different modes. There's Team Arena (with CTF, deathmatch, and Stronghold variants), Slayer (FFA), Breakout (one life), free-for-all, and the classic SWAT mode (no shields, no radar), with promises of more playlists post launch. You can also create custom games online if you wish, with specific rule sets. Once you acclimate to ADS, it's basically the same Halo you've played many times before, for better or worse. The levels in Guardians are decently balanced, though. There's 15 at launch, and the pool is admirable, consisting of several different locations and layouts. "Plaza" is one of my standout favorites, as it's an entropic map that's vertically inclined, and both stylish and practical. There isn't one map that I've groaned at (outside of the Midship remake, which is a good arena, but one I've played constantly for over a decade), and if I was ever bored of the small to mid-sized layouts, I just went back to Warzone. As for the multiplayer experience as a whole, there's a strong emphasis on dedicated servers, which the game prominently informs you it's using during every matchmaking sequence. It's been smooth sailing so far, but if there's any changes we'll provide an update after launch. This doesn't factor into the review, but all Halo 5: Guardians maps (15 planned so far) will also be provided for free, presumably due to the sustainable funds generated from the microtransactions. Additionally, Forge mode will be released sometime in December. So how about those "REQ" microtransactions? They're pretty painless, actually. While they provide power-ups, such as single-use vehicles or weapons for Warzone play, they're entirely optional in Arena, and provide cosmetic upgrades (skins, and animations) or experience boosts -- think Mass Effect 3. You can basically choose to ignore the system entirely and still excel, or slowly accrue in-game currency to buy them. Either way, it doesn't really impact the experience as a whole. If it weren't for Warzone, Halo 5: Guardians would probably be somewhere on the lower end of the franchise spectrum for me. It's still a fantastic and well-oiled machine, but the story falls flat, and the shift in gameplay mechanics result in the loss of some elements that made the series so unique in the first place. Still, if you're looking to shoot some dudes online, Guardians is your huckleberry. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Halo 5 review photo
Master Chef vs. Locke from Lost
Halo really grabbed me back in 2001. I had just won an Xbox from a Taco Bell contest (no joke), and I was getting ready to sell it when a friend told me about a little old sci-fi shooter from Bungie. After playing H...

Review: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller

Oct 22 // Chris Carter
$150? What is this, the controller for the original Steel Battalion? Well, not quite, as the Elite will work with every game on the Xbox One (and on PC), but it's still one hell of an expensive proposition.  For the most part though, I can easily recommend it to those of you who game on your Xbox One or PC more than any other platform. For starters, it feels like a quality piece of hardware just putting it in your hands. The make is sturdy, the rubber grips are comfortable, and the entire build all the way down to each individual pad and button is higher in quality than any other competitor on the market. Everything feels like it was built for the long haul, but then again, my original Xbox One controllers have been rock solid for nearly two years now without any issues; meanwhile, two of my DualShock 4s have had their analog stick rubber completely deteriorate, and another one of my Glacier White models is starting to show wear. So what makes the Elite so special? Well, you have the interchangeable parts (six sticks, two d-pads, and four paddles), hair triggers, multiple profiles, and completely customizable buttons and sensitivity settings. The latter feature is actually coming to every controller "soon," but the rest are exclusive to the Elite. It also comes with a nifty carrying case, which is crafted to perfectly fit each piece without having anything roll around. Just be sure you keep it in a safe place. [embed]316388:60809:0[/embed] The amazing thing about said swappable parts is how easily they switch out. They were snug enough to never come off during my 50+ hours of testing, but if you grip them and pull ever so slightly upwards, they'll come right off -- they're magnetized. You don't need any tools. I wasn't a fan of the other four analog sticks (they're too high up for my tastes), but the two d-pads are both excellent, as are the paddles (more on that later). That "discus" d-pad? It works way better than you'd think. I tested it on nearly 30 games, and although I didn't notice the benefits immediately from a lot of titles, it worked perfectly with all of them. For shooters like Destiny, being able to switch between the hair trigger mechanic at will depending on my gun was a great feature. In Killer Instinct, I noticed a stark surge in performance, mostly based off of the enhanced d-pad. Likewise, the d-pad comes in handy for retro games like Mega Man Legacy Collection and Shovel Knight. Where it really shines however is shooters. I had the chance to play tons of Halo 5: Guardians with the Elite controller, and the paddles are a game-changer. Initially mapped to the face buttons, they allow you to instantly jump, reload, melee, or switch weapons without having to take your fingers off the thumbsticks. I quickly got used to them after about 30 minutes of play, and going back to shooters without them feels jarring. This principle of added control also applies to racing games, and I could really feel the difference when using the paddles to shift gears for manual cars. While I would normally spring for a wheel, the Elite does make these titles feel better if you're going for a standard controller setup. The only hangup I had with the paddles is that if you don't rest your Elite on a flat surface, the paddles will constantly trigger, causing your game to unpause. The Xbox Accessories App that hit the marketplace this week allows players to fine-tune multiple setups, which is useful if multiple members of a household are using the same Elite. Here you'll be able to switch up all of your settings and save any number of profiles -- two of which can be mapped and synced to the controller itself, accessed by way of a toggle in the center. So for instance, I created a more sensitive aiming profile for Destiny's gunplay, and a custom style for when I'm using the melee sword weapon. The app also works for the PC, but it isn't getting a Windows 10-centric version until October 27. If you primarily game on the Xbox One or PC and experience a lot of different genres, I'd recommend picking up an Elite controller. Heck, even if you just play lots of shooters on the Xbox platform, you'll notice a difference in quality in the first day of play. For those of you who split your time between multiple systems though, $150 is probably going to be too rich for what you get. [This review is based on a retail build of the unit provided by the publisher.]
Xbox One Elite photo
You have a pricey decision to make
At this point in time, I've had a full week to experiment with the Xbox One Elite controller, and I'm still at a crossroads. On one hand, it's likely the best controller of this generation, and one of the best of all time. On the other, it's $150.

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)Developer: Nintendo EPD, GrezzoPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: October 23, 2015 This time around, Tri Force takes place in the kingdom of Hytopia, bordering the desolate Drablands, home of an evil witch. Said witch is jealous of the princess' beauty, so she casts a spell on her to hide it forever, with a skin-tight suit that won't come off. Only chosen heroes can enter the Drablands and break the curse, which is obviously where you come in. It's not the most original setup, but I like it. The new setting and cast of characters (including the depressed king) help make Tri Force more interesting. Although the general setup of the game involves level-based dungeon crawling for loot, there is a hub world, and bits of story woven in along the way. The town hosts a costume shop (more on that later), a daily chest-picking minigame, a Miiverse gallery, and a few extra NPCs to talk to as well as several secrets. It will only take you a few minutes to trod through, but it has enough character to get by. Link (or more appropriately, the "hero") has a few abilities at his disposal right away -- dashing, swordplay, and picking up items. The rest will have to be acquired by way of dungeon items (such as traditional arrows and bombs) or costumes. The latter will grant you special abilities, mostly in the form of boosting items or powers, and can be crafted at the aforementioned shop. It's important to note that this is the basis for the entire game, which is provided in a Skinner box fashion similar to MMOs or other dungeon crawlers. The multiplayer element adds new mechanics entirely, most notably the "totem" system. Here, you'll be able to pick up one or two Links (or in turn, get picked up), which will allow players to access greater heights, or slash their sword and use items at the top. Often times you'll have to create a stack of just two Links while the other player hits a switch, and so on, leading to some interesting puzzles that have the mark of a classic Zelda game, with the obvious Tri Force teamwork twist. [embed]315403:60732:0[/embed] Your loop will consist of entering dungeons, besting them, and then choosing from a selection of chests at the end. You'll be granted materials, which can be pieced together to create new costumes, and thus, a new strategy with which to approach each level. You can of course "beat the game" straight through and not experiment, but the spirit of Tri Force is decidedly Diablo-like in nature, leading players to return to levels constantly -- if you dislike that type of gameplay, I'm warning you now. Strangely, the online component is very advanced for a Nintendo game. Online play is available with full matchmaking capabilities, as well as friend-specific lobbies, and a robust offline component that allows for download play. Hell, there's even a blacklist function so you can block people online who ruin games. There's no voice chat of course, but the emote system and intuitive nature of the dungeons don't require it in the slightest. In fact I actually prefer some of the cuter emotes, like the cheerleader dance that gets progressively larger on-screen the faster you tap it. I had the chance to play online numerous times with strangers, and it was a pleasurable experience to say the least. The game often allows players to shine individually, but divvies out unique items to everyone, forcing all members to work in tandem. For instance, one game I was the only person with a bow, so I had to hit far away switches and enemies while my teammates carried me to the appropriate height. Meanwhile, they had to clear blocks with bombs so I could reach those switches and back them up with my sword. It was a rush, and that feeling didn't really let up through the entire campaign as I played through it with teammates. Bosses are even more fun, as they provide for an array of different strategies that involve anything from splitting up to working as a totemic unit. Each zone mixes up the theme and new mechanics just enough to keep you interested, especially if you're learning all of these concepts for the very first time with two other people. Plus, it feels good to save the day with a new costume you just picked up earlier that afternoon. Solo play however isn't nearly as fun. Whereas Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures had plenty of concessions for those who decided to play by themselves, Tri Force Heroes is the exact opposite. Here, you'll have to deal with "Doppels," which are copies of your character -- they emulate the other two players. To transfer your essence into another Doppel, you'll have to tap their portrait on the touch screen. It's not only a pain to have to do this manually without a button shortcut, but it essentially amounts to doing each level three times over as you'll have to get to a location, select another Doppel, and repeat. Very early on you'll learn that picking up Doppels in a totem formation and moving as a group is a way to go, but puzzles are often so complex that you need to break up frequently, and thus, control the Doppels individually again. It's puzzling why Nintendo didn't create a new campaign just for single-player folk. I mean, to play by yourself you have to enter a completely different room in the castle, so it already had the groundwork to be its own game type. I would outright suggest that you avoid Tri Force Heroes if you plan on going at it alone. The good news is that the online portion works wonderfully, and with download play, you can get a local three-person game running up in no time. If you don't fit that criteria though, you can probably pass on Link's newest adventure. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Zelda review photo
It's dangerous to go alone
People often say Zelda never innovates, but I'd argue that they haven't been paying attention to the many unique games in the series. Titles like Minish Cap feel completely different while maintaining the class...

Review: Downwell

Oct 20 // Steven Hansen
Downwell (PC [reviewed], Android, iOS)Developer: MoppinPublisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: October 15, 2015MSRP: $2.99 Downwell asks you to learn with it, explaining nothing outside of the control scheme (move with directional pad or analog, jump and shoot with one button) and the upgrades between levels. Initial expeditions down the well are clumsy. Your Gunboots start with limited charge (think: ammo) and you have to refill them by touching solid ground. Or -- wait, they refill when you stomp on an enemies' head, too? -- and, oh no, don't try and stomp on an enemy that is an angry bright red. These are the kind of things you learn as you delve deeper and deeper into Downwell's four worlds (three levels each) and they are presented intelligently. For example, the first spat of blood red enemies that you shouldn't be jumping on all have spikes, video game shorthand for danger. Later ones won't warn you so nicely. And of course there's trial and error, too, like touching a hot stove, for those who don't get it. Level randomization requires you stay engaged. Different power up offerings between levels will change how you play. Dimension-shattering time voids are occasionally cut into the well walls and host a treasure trove of gems or different ammunition. The latter is where the Super Crate Box comparison is obvious. [embed]316411:60790:0[/embed] Changing ammo isn't a strict necessity, but it practically is, given that picking up a new ammo types will often come with a heart or some battery charge for the Gunboots (more ammunition between reloads), but different ammo types function in drastically different ways. Shooting is actually more useful in fighting gravity and keeping yourself from falling too quickly into unseen trouble than it is for killing enemies; they should typically be bopped. Especially since bopping enemies fills your Gunboots and stringing together kills without touching down gives you rewards. It's best to stomp out enemies, using your ammo stores to occasionally slow your descent or send you across the screen to stomp something else. Aside from the constantly changing levels, ammo types, and upgrades, new "styles" are unlocked over time, like the "Boulder style," which features a much fatter boy who starts with six HP instead of four, but only gets to choose from two between-level upgrades instead of three. Then of course there are dozens of Palette options that change the colors of the game, though I have only found a handful I like as much as the default black, white and red. The variety makes the frequent deaths more palatable and I would probably buy a custom dedicated handheld that just played this game. Because death comes so quickly, health is at a premium. If you slowly inch your way down the well, stopping at every platform and dutifully eliminating enemies, you'll take forever and likely not rack up enough gems to clear out shops, which are operated by the the most adorable timeline version of a snowman (who gives a good disapproving face when you jump behind the counter). But as you get better and can chain combos, netting gem, battery (ammo) and health bonuses, you can stay in the black, even increase your max HP. It's all about building a better, more equipped you while you play. It's always fraught, mind. You are working against gravity and your stabilizing shots will sometimes rip the ground from under you as you destroy blocks on the way down that might have offered reprieve. Or you accidentally shoot an enemy you're coming up on, losing a chance to replenish your ammo, and end up in a dangerous free fall. My 15-hour transition from inelegant tank (Boulder style) laboring down the well to eyes-closed, 25-kill-combo (Levitate) falling with style has been a flurry of close calls, of "one more run," of consistently dying to the boss despite doubling my starting health. The knees-braced bullet pounding side winding across the screen to slow my descent, the meaty pop of brain stomping and the brief upward moment it grants before gravity yanks me down again. And for such a noble reason. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Downwell review photo
Falling with style
Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I'm only falling down wells. Downwell is a game about getting down a well, but the only way to get down the well is to learn how to get down the well well. Because this Game Boy thr...

Review: Pulse

Oct 20 // Jed Whitaker
Pulse (PC)Developer: Pixel Pi GamesPublisher: Pixel Pi GamesReleased: October 20, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Eva's story isn't exactly original as it is essentially a mashup of a Disney cartoon and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. Pulse centers around Eva, a girl blinded at a young age, who defies her parents and attempts a dangerous pilgrimage using only echolocation and her imagination to visualize the world around her. What motivated Eva to embark on this journey is never explained, though the results of her actions are evident by the time credits roll in around an hour and a half later. That's right, an hour and a half for a penny shy of 15 dollars, which means you're paying over 16 cents per minute of gameplay. On top of that, there is a Steam achievement for beating the game under 30 minutes, so it clearly can be done faster. Whether or not the cost of entry is worth it depends on how much you value the artistic style of Pulse, because the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. That isn't to say that it's bad, just that it doesn't really go anywhere. From the moment the game starts and you take your first few steps, you'll have grasped everything it has to offer. [embed]316434:60795:0[/embed] Walking causes colorful rippling sound waves to trace the world hidden within the black void that is Eva's vision. Following the paths as they are revealed in the darkness, you'll come across Mokos, which are round, Furby-like critters with giant puppy dog eyes. Mokos can be picked up and thrown to cause sound in the distance -- giving Eva a brief glimpse at the level ahead -- and can be placed in giant hamster wheels to open closed doors.  The only area where Pulse really deviates the gameplay is one requiring Eva to walk slowly across a frozen lake, taking care to pay attention to where the ice is cracking beneath her feet thus allowing a safe passage. Aside from that, you'll come across a couple of areas of simple platforming, and not much more, which is honestly a shame for how great the game looks. Unity isn't exactly known for having the best-looking games, but Pulse proves that the engine isn't the problem by having one of the most gorgeous presentations this year; from a vibrant forest, to a tundra, to a living cave, Pulse is stunning. Due to the way Eva is imagining how the world around her looks, the world is brightly colored in a minimalist way, meaning each level only has a few colors total. One level is mostly blue, while another is mostly shades of orange, which sounds like it would hard to navigate, but the creators made it work and I never found myself lost a single time.  Pixel Pi Games managed to take the concept of a blind heroine and create something beautiful around it, but considering the game took less time to complete than this review and costs 15 dollars, it is hard to recommend to anyone but those thirsty for an artistic game or a unique character. If Pulse had a longer, more in-depth story with evolving gameplay, it would be easily recommendable. As it stands now, it feels more like a proof-of-concept than a full-fledged game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Pulse photo
Expensive art without vision
While having a blind protagonist isn't exactly a brand new idea, Pulse tackles the subject in a unique way that proves that video games are indeed art by being one of the most colorful experiences I've played to date.  Unfortunately art sometimes comes with a high price and ends up not only lacking vision, but being a bit short-sighted.

Review: Tales of Zestiria

Oct 20 // Chris Carter
Tales of Zestiria (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Bandai Namco Studios, tri-CrescendoPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentMSRP: $49.99 (PC, PS3), $59.99 (PS4)Released: January 22, 2015 (JP), October 16, 2015 (EU) October 20, 2015 (US) If you've played a Tales game before, you pretty much know what to expect. This is still very much a hero's journey affair, with the main character Sorey embarking upon an epic quest to become a Shepard and save the world. This is complicated by two warring nations, the evil Heldaf, and the Hellion -- monsters created out of pure evil energy. Along the way Sorey will conscript new companions into his crew, including his childhood friend Mikleo. For the most part, the story stays on point and doesn't stray from its primary goal of a fantasy epic. Just when you think it's starting to get crazy with the juxtaposition of humans and the heavenly Seraphim race, Zestiria quickly grounds things with Sorey as a tether, who was raised by the latter but is still a human. It's all very straight-forward, partially to a fault, and is easy to follow. Zestiria houses a stable of interesting, memorable characters, but they don't necessarily grow over time. Sorey also sports a bit of a drab persona, but again, it helps that he's at least likable. As you may have heard, Zestiria has generated a fair bit of controversy over in Japan when it was released earlier this year. The crux of the issue stems from a character named Alisha, who was heavily promoted before the game's release, and then relegated to a side character that wasn't in most of the game -- and later sold as DLC. The games producer even apologized for it. This in no way effects the review, but it's something to be aware of in case you might have heard something negative about Zestiria in the past. Ultimately, I'm ok with this being Sorey's tale. When it comes to exploration, Zestiria walks a fine line between open environments and too many linear dungeon-like settings. It's actually more open than both Xillia games, but don't get the impression that they're as sprawling as say, Xenoblade Chronicles. I'm ok with this compromise though, as the developers have stuffed a ton of secrets into the game's universe, including monoliths that grant you information, and cute hidden creatures called Normin that grant you rewards the the effort of finding them. The concise focus also helps make the dungeons less of a slog, and allows them focus more on a centralized theme or puzzle element. [embed]316377:60788:0[/embed] Combat is easily the most meaningful advancement Zestiria has made, however. It's now a lot more action-oriented, and relies on SC (spirit chain) energy, which adds a new strategic element to the mix. At first players will start off with just 4-hit combos, which are essentially a mash session, but the game quickly ramps up into something much more interesting. For starters, your attacks get stronger as you expend SC, but unloading all of it will leave you vulnerable. To recharge SC you'll have to guard or stay idle, leaving you open to attack. It's interesting, as sometimes you'll want to go all out on a foe if they're stunned or if you're attempting to finish them off, but it can completely backfire. It's a nice risk-reward system that's present in every fight, not just boss encounters. Other advanced arts like quickstepping (dodging) come into play on a constant basis. Oh, and certain characters can actually fuse, Dragon Ball style, with Seraphim companions to supercharge their abilities, which is just as fun as it sounds. Everything having to do with character customization is supercharged this time around, actually. Players can stack skills for each party member to make them stronger, or diversify their elemental loadouts to create new skills. There's also a host of meta-abilities like snack preparation and discovery, which recharge party member's health bars and present icons on the minimap respectively. You can even further augment characters with abilities like auto-guard, and alter your AI's strategic tendencies when you're not in control. They really went all-out when it comes to the game's core mechanics. Like most Tales games, Zestiria has a beautiful art style in tow, with plenty of bright colors and endearing character designs. It has its limitations however, as it is a PS3 game at heart, and longshots typically don't have the same impact. Also, the camera angle is insufferable at times, especially indoors, and can't be easily manipulated. Thankfully dual audio comes standard with the western release, and both the dub and sub are well done. You can also alter the battle difficulty at any time, lengthy combo input windows, utilize fast-travel, skip cutscenes, and even skip individual lines of dialogue. Oh, and players can save anywhere with a quick save system, which is convenient. Tales of Zestiria plays by the book in a lot of ways, particularly when it comes to its cast and narrative. But it's still a great entry into the series, and a welcome return for old fans, especially as far as the battle system is concerned. In fact, it's even inspired me to go back and finish both Xillia titles -- that's the magic of the Tales series at work. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tales of Zestiria review photo
A tale of two Shepherds
My history with the Tales series is sort of akin to an on again, off again relationship. I was introduced to Phantasia by way of a friend's import copy, and immediately fell in love. After that I only dabbled in a f...

Review: Guitar Hero Live

Oct 20 // Chris Carter
Guitar Hero Live (PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: FreeStyleGamesPublisher: ActivisionMSRP: $99.99 (Game + guitar), $149.99 (Game + two guitars)Released: October 23, 2015 The first thing you'll notice about Guitar Hero Live is that the controller itself has been reworked. Now, instead of the typical color-coded five button setup, you'll find two rows of three buttons -- one row is white, and the other, black. I didn't realize this until later on, but it's actually easier for newcomers to pick up since you don't have to use your pinky finger at all, but tougher for veterans who are used to a 10-year institution of the same old setup. Honestly, I loved having to relearn everything I knew. While I was rocking it out to expert-level songs in Rock Band 4 immediately after years of retirement, it took me multiple days to get a basic grasp on Guitar Hero Live. It recreated that unique feeling of picking up a plastic guitar for the first time. It also helps that Live has five difficulty levels (basic, casual, regular, advanced, and expert), that all ramp up perfectly depending on your skillset. It's especially important to note that the former settings only require you to use one row of buttons, which will help you slowly acclimate to the new setup. As time went on and I started jacking up the difficulty, the game gets crazy tough. There's a major focus on one-finger vertical cords, as well as split cords with multiple combinations, and open strumming cues with no buttons. It's far from a realistic guitar simulator, but I really dug the increased emphasis on chords and fancy finger-work. It may feel like a step down at first glance, but there's a lot of depth found in these six buttons. The chief reason why FreeStyleGames was able to seemingly perfect this aspect of the game is because Live is guitar-centric again. Yep, there's no drums, no keyboard, no "bass" ensemble -- both players play lead guitar. There is the option to hook up a USB microphone to sing vocals, but they are absolutely ancillary to the experience, and I wouldn't recommend picking up the game for singing in the slightest. Technically, vocals add in support for the third player, but Live is definitely focused on the same one or two-person jam session that the original brought to the table in 2005. Again, I'm totally okay with this, as the series started to get stale when it tried to be too much like Rock Band. [embed]315533:60780:0[/embed] There's also a fundamental shift with the story mode, which no longer displays lifeless uncanny valley avatars strumming along to the song. Instead, the developers have recorded live footage with real bands playing each song with a live crowd, and strapped a camera to the lead guitarist to simulate a first-person view. Yes, it's FMV, but the end result is done so well that it blows past the Mad Dog McCrees of old. For each set (three songs), your character will start backstage. Here you'll get a bit of setup, perhaps some light drama, a quick chat with a stagehand, and on occasion, a visit from a makeup artist. It helps set the scene and gives you the basic gist of what it feels like to walk out onto a stage in front of thousands of people. As the song progresses, the camera will dip and dive across the stage with your character. Now here's the neat part -- depending on how well you play, the FMV will shift in a surrealist fashion to suit the situation. For instance, playing well will net you a cheering crowd and lots of smiles from your fellow bandmates. Playing poorly will shift the FMV into a negative state, with shaking heads and plenty of boos from the audience. It's such a little thing, but the band itself will start giving you a hard time vocally as well, which is jarring and motivating at the same time. I'm not going to act like this system elicits any kind of actual emotional response, but it's very cool to watch and it's seamlessly done. I'm genuinely surprised they went through the effort of essentially recording two entire concerts for each set of songs. The included setlist itself is rather diverse, consisting of classic rock songs from Queen, The Who, and The Rolling Stones, alongside of more modern groups like Green Day and Fall Out Boy, all the way up to Skrillex ("Bangarang" works better than you'd think) and a recent Eminem song ("Berzerk"). It has something for everyone, with a good spread of indie hits, folk music, and top 100 joints. While the actual story mode is only playable solo, there is a freeplay mode with all 42 on-disc tracks that you can enjoy with a partner, which also features the FMV setup. So that's the first half of Guitar Hero. Next up is the other half: Guitar Hero TV (GHTV). As you may have heard, this concept is going to be rather controversial in nature, as it features microtransactions, and a "stream-centric" DLC model where you can't actually buy songs, but play them on-demand. I fully expected to hate it based on concept alone, but to my surprise, it's probably one of my favorite modes in any rhythm game to date. Let me explain a bit -- GHTV is a multi-faceted affair. At its core is the "channel" system, which currently hosts two playlists. These shift every half hour with new tracks and genres, and quite literally follow the traditional television model, where everyone is playing the exact same thing at the same time, complete with leaderboards. In other words, if you boot it up, you may be jumping in mid-song into a competition. This aspect of Live is devoid of microtransactions. You can play both channels for free without paying Tokens (more on that later) as long as you want. And that's just what I did for days on end. During one of my testing sessions, I played the channel system for three hours straight, earning Tokens for on-demand plays along the way. Since this system is curated, I stepped out of my comfort zone, and discovered new bands, or played songs that I wouldn't normally play from bands I already knew about. It broke the typical rhythm rut where I'd only play my favorite tracks, and it's a really cool feeling. GHTV also has the added benefit of hosting music videos for every single available song. As someone who grew up with MTV, it was a joy to watch them all over again, especially classics like Tenacious D's "Tribute." It's also a lot more fun to watch music videos as a spectator compared to the aforementioned uncanny avatars. Since the channels are going to be constantly updated over time, I'm excited to see what the future holds.  The other side of GHTV is on-demand and features microtransactions. Here's how it works: for each track played, you'll earn Tokens. If you do poorly, you'll earn roughly 100-130 Tokens on average. If you do well, you'll net close to 200. You can also earn daily rewards for logging into the game and bonuses for ranking up. One on-demand play is about 600 Tokens, and there's also the option to buy cosmetic bits like new note highways and player cards. Finally, there's a "Party Pass" for $5.99 that grants you access to the entire TV catalog (hundreds of songs) for 24 hours. Here's the good news -- you can basically ignore all of this nonsense if you play the channels. Personally, I put in over 20 hours into GHTV and haven't felt compelled to spend a cent, with 70 spare freeplay sessions banked. You might not feel the same if you hate the principle of not owning content, but as a regular subscriber to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, it's not a difficult concept to grasp. While GHTV has the potential to turn a lot of people off, I would be satisfied just playing channels for the immediate future. Both the channels and on-demand support two players. Guitar Hero Live completely took me be surprise. I love the new controller design, the FMV portions work far better than they should, and Guitar Hero TV hooked me with its channel concept. Going forward, I'm hoping that the model further reinvents itself by introducing the world to new music. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher, specifically, the dual guitar package.]
Guitar Hero Live photo
An axe to grind
As I've said many times in the past, I was a Guitar Hero man all the way up until I first laid eyes on that beautiful keyboard for Rock Band 3. The Hero series was stale, iterating annually (sometimes multiple times...

Extreme! photo
I wonder if Sony will scoop him up
Konami used to be mon ami but now? More like non ami. Does French use "non" or is that just Italian? I don't know any more French, let alone something that rhymes with Konami. Anyways a recent New Yorker piece has pinned down...

Review: Yoshi's Woolly World

Oct 16 // Laura Kate Dale
Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)Developer: Good-FeelPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $49.99Release Date: June 26 (EU) / October 16 (NA) Sitting at around 10 hours to complete, Yoshi's Woolly World is a delightful journey through a world full of pleasantly enjoyable surprises. Colours are bright, wool textures are detailed, and animations are always fluid. The game's world is polished where it needs to be, but isn't afraid to have the kind of natural rough edges present in a game about thread and sewing materials. From loose threads that unravel when pulled to fabrics that fold in asymmetrical ways, the game world just feels like an incredibly tangible physical space. Woolly World really shines when it takes advantage of the design aesthetic. From Shy Guys brandishing crochet hooks threateningly to fish spitting out water that, thanks to being made of wool, can be run along, the game excels when it fully commits to its core design concept. Mechanically, Woolly World is at its best and most challenging when it pushes Yoshi out of his comfort zone. Yoshi's abilities are all designed to keep him out of harm, from eggs that can dispatch enemies at a distance to a very forgiving and lengthy jump arc. The times when Yoshi's Woolly World forces you to take a leap of faith that pushes that jump to its limits, requires you to fight enemies in close quarters and experiments with the characters weaknesses are some of the best moments of Yoshi gameplay out there. It's just a shame those moments are few and far between. [embed]295585:59414:0[/embed] The vast majority of Yoshi's Woolly World doesn't push the titular hero's moveset in ways that really challenge the player. While levels frequently throw minor new gimmicks in that freshen up the feel of progression, they rarely have any real effect on the challenge of playing the game. It's not necessarily a problem; if you're looking for a calm and relaxed exploration of new mechanics in a colourful world then this certainly delivers that in spades. But yeah, be aware that the challenges are often spread out for the player. There are a bunch of collectibles to go after in the game, most of which are monotonous to collect and offer very little reward. The main exception to this is collectibles that allow you to re-skin your Yoshi, which are pretty enjoyable to seek out. The game's co-op mode does give you the benefit of being able to use your partner as a source of wool if you run low, but the levels in the game were very clearly designed to be played single player and more often than not, your secondary player will feel like they're hindering progression rather than helping with it. Yoshi's Woolly World is best described as easy, beautiful, and inventive. While the times it offers challenge are a little too spread out for my liking, the game looks and sounds stunning, and offers players a variety of new sights to experience along their journey. If you're looking for something to play to unwind, something pleasant and positive, this would be a pretty darn solid choice to go with. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer].
Yoshi's Woolly World photo
Pleasantly fluffy
Yoshi's Woolly World is the epitome of adorable. From Yoshi's cute, easily read facial expressions to the bright colourful world he inhabits, the intricate minor details to the tactile physicality of the world, this game took...

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Oct 15 // Laura Kate Dale
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS)Developer: Arc System WorksPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: October 16, 2015 (Europe), October 20, 2015 (North America)MSRP: £22.99 / $29.99 So, let’s get the core info out the way. Extreme Butoden is a 2D sprite brawler for 3DS set in the world of Dragon Ball Z. All playable characters have the same core controls, similar to games like Smash Bros. where the inputs don’t vary, but the moves produced do. Dashes double as teleports into counter positions if timed correctly, while characters string together basic combo strings, ranged projectiles, and launchers. You fight each match with a team of characters, built up of mains and non-playable assists, with the player able to switch between team fighters at any time. Characters mainly vary in terms of plot-specific special attacks, power, and speed. If all this sounds a bit dry and by the numbers, it’s because that’s how it feels in game. It’s by no means an incompetent fighting game, far from it, but it just plays everything too close to the chest. There’s nothing about the combat that feels particularly new for fighting game fans, or particularly exciting for Dragon Ball Z fans. Visually, Extreme Butoden has turned out pretty nicely. While not the peak of 2D sprite work, they certainly hold their own with some of the better examples of 2D sprites on the system. Sprites are crisp, expressive, and fluid in their animations, which leaves little room for complaint. It is worth noting that with 3D on the system switched on, some of the special attacks do look rather spectacular, with a lot of work clearly put into effective 3D layering. In terms of a story mode, Extreme Butoden’s initially available story mode sees you playing through a truncated version of the events of Dragon Ball Z. Events are skipped over and dialogue is shortened in such a way that a lot of the drama, emotion, and investment is stripped away. Much of the engagement with Dragon Ball comes from the long, drawn-out exposition screams, and that isn’t really replicated here. Imagine the plot, heavily abridged, and told through mostly still character portraits, lifeless dialogue text, and the occasional brief plot-related battle that doesn’t go on nearly long enough to justify its build up. It’s a bit of a disappointment. After completing the main story, you do unlock some alternative storylines to play through that offer interesting spins on the narrative, as well as an additional adventure mode that sees Goku face off against many of the enemies from the main story in a slightly contrived narrative. It’s fun to do fight bosses in new combinations, but the overarching story attempting to string that together feels like an afterthought developed to excuse the gameplay content. One of the more disappointing aspects for me was the limited playable roster. While many of your bigger-name characters are playable, most of the supporting cast of fighters is relegated to support assist roles. Past Dragon Ball Z games have allowed a very wide selection of characters, down to some of the most useless, to be playable, so this feels like an unfortunate step back. Unlocking these additional assist characters is also a bit of a lengthy chore, as they have to be unlocked by attaining high ranks throughout other modes. Many of these character unlock requirements do not feel like the reward unlocked is really worth the effort put in. Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden does feature a local multiplayer mode, but unfortunately no online multiplayer. If you couldn’t tell from my less-than-enthused review, I really couldn’t muster up feelings either way on this game. It’s a competent fighter with nice sprite work, but it also does very little interesting with narrative presentation, combat mechanics, or gameplay modes. It all feels very safe, and I didn’t really feel much by the time I was done. Time to scratch my Dragon Ball Z itch with some Budokai Tenkaichi 3. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon Ball Z photo
Competent, but not excitingly so
When it comes to Dragon Ball Z fighting games, I am one of those people who loves them for the over-the-top spectacle more than the technical fighting specifics involved. I know when a fighting game feels responsive and plays...

Very Quick Tips: Destiny's King's Fall raid

Oct 15 // Chris Carter
Getting a group: This can be the toughest part. I personally use /r/fireteams, and if that fails, Destiny Tracker or DestinyLFG. There's also niche sites like The 100 if you want a more personal feel. Yes, it sucks that Bungie hasn't added in any sort of concession, even party finders, but I use these tools on a near-daily basis with almost no issues. If the group lists a "Sherpa" or "newcomers welcome" party, odds are they'll be patient with you and teach you the ins and outs of King's Fall. The raid itself: When starting off, you'll need to split into two groups, left and right. Two designated runners will grab the relics displayed on the map and slam them into the center where indicated with an orb in the statue. You'll need to slam less than five seconds apart. Repeat this process on both sides six times, with the relics getting farther away each time. I've found that it's best to send two players each into each side, with two in the center, clearing adds, shooting down the doors that block both sides. For the ship-based jumping puzzle, you'll want to follow the group closely if you're playing it coy, like you've done it before. This ensures that you'll get on the first ship out, and you can just follow the pack from ship to ship. When it comes to the toughest bit roughly three-fourths through, you'll want to crouch at the back left to avoid getting knocked off, and then jump from the top left if you're a Hunter. After you pass through the wall in the next portion, look for a fragment before you go up the teleporter. The totem section can be approached the exact same way as the first segment. Split into groups of three, and have two on each side immediately run towards the relic and totem. Have a third player hang back to clear adds, and once the first player runs back, run in and relieve the second player from totem duty. In essence, you'll need to keep a shield on each side's totem, which shifts every 30 seconds. When you're playing middle (step on the trigger until your entire Deathsinger debuff is off), try to use supers as much as possible to drop orbs for your team, and kill the Knights and Wizards as soon as possible, or they'll cause trouble for everyone else. At the start on the front-most pillar to the right, you can pick up a fragment. The Warpriest is actually a rather easy fight. Split up into the following groups -- two up on top on the left, two middle, and two right. Designate one person from any side to run forward and look at the incoming glyph order -- this explains when players will need to step onto their panel. The last player will always get the shield buff. I've found that it's easy to just meet in the middle twice, as it's a perfect range for Touch of Malice and other guns. Usually groups at this point can smoke him in two rounds of shields. If not, you'll want to go middle, right, middle. To get the next fragment hang a left in the dark hallway, then another left -- it's at the end of the line near the door on the right. On Golgoroth, there's a unique strategy that works quite well at the start, especially with at least one Titan. You'll want to gather everyone in the back, and pop a shield where the rocks open up to prevent Golgoroth from firing in. Since all party members will likely have their supers charged (since the preceding maze is quite lengthy), blow them all, and create a cache of orbs for everyone. You can nab another fragment by heading left and jumping up on the first ledge after Golgoroth. For this jumping puzzle, you'll want to look straight down right away, and head to the right-most platform. The last fragment is there. After that, you can start making your way left and onto the first pressure plate. If you want to cheat the puzzle you can pull out your sword (legendary or exotic, it doesn't even matter if you have ammo actually) and sword-jump horizontally or vertically across. Just jump, sword, jump, sword, and rinse and repeat until you've climbed to your desired location. Practice the timing at the start if you like. If you're a Hunter, try to save your triple or double-jump for the last moment of impact, otherwise your momentum will be too great and you'll fly off the edge. On the witch encounter, my groups have found that the best spot to shoot them from is the middle, right underneath the opposite witch. It allows for the best Touch of Malice damage. If you find yourself running the relic too often and you don't have a lot of experience, you can kill yourself (and optionally self-res) to rid yourself of the responsibility. I don't recommend doing this though unless you are short on time, as everyone has to learn eventually. For Oryx, you'll need to shoot him constantly to keep his chest open while you detonate orbs -- keep this in mind in case it doesn't look like you're doing a lot of damage. Also, feel free to pop your Three of Coins before you fight the Shade.
Destiny raid tips photo
Give it a go, it's fun
As previously mentioned, I think the King's Fall raid in Destiny is the best offering yet. It's clean, doesn't have very many bugs, and has a lot of variety within its walls. At this point I'm sitting on 15 clears, some for gear, some for fun, and others for quests and fragments (a collectible questline). Whatever your reason is, here are some tips to help you through.

Review: Metal Gear Online

Oct 09 // Chris Carter
Metal Gear Online (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiRelease: October 6, 2015 (Consoles), TBA 2016 (PC)MSRP: $59.99 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360) / Included with MGSV As previously mentioned, Metal Gear Online only has three modes currently. There's a decent amount of variety within those gametypes, but the issue is how everything is playing out right now in the game's meta. In essence, players often aren't using any form of stealth (outside of Cloak and Dagger, which forces one team to do it), or aren't going for the objectives in general. Instead, most games end up being slugfests and devolve into team deathmatch situations. That's not to say that these basic strategies aren't handily countered by players who have the know-how, it's just what's happening. While it's not wholly the fault of the designers, Metal Gear Online doesn't do a great job of facilitating objective play, as the whole thing is kind of a laissez faire situation. That both excites and concerns me. On one hand, I love that MGO is just as vague as Phantom Pain. Instead of spelling out every facet for players, you'll have to just figure out everything on your own, from advanced tactics to the best way to counter enemies. On the other, I'm not confident in Konami's ability to effectively police and update the game in the slightest. It's very possible that there could be a ton of content from Kojima's team waiting to be pushed out in waves over the course of the next year. But since this is all speculation, we only have what's currently in MGO to assess, and it's lacking in areas, chiefly how servers are handled -- or, I should actually note, a lack of servers. It seems as if the game is P2P based, which creates all sorts of issues for players. First off, hosts can remove people from the game, and if they disconnect, everyone gets booted with no XP or rewards. It's egregious to say the least, and not something you really see in a major shooter in 2015. [embed]314621:60673:0[/embed] Then you have issues like the party system not actually placing you on the same team as your party constantly, or the basic inability to join a friend's game in progress through a quick menu option. Thankfully the microtransaction element hasn't bled through for MGO (yet?), but cosmetic equipment is too expensive currently, as it would take hundreds of games to earn some of the higher-up rewards. I would be more okay with the expensive price of gear if the aforementioned booting issues were rectified with dedicated servers. Now, the gameplay is still superb. That's due in part to the fact that it's literally Phantom Pain, online, which is completely fine by me. Every movement is fluid, gunplay handles like a dream, and the sheer flexibility of the engine makes for some breathtaking moments. Aiming, running, and dolphin diving feels better than pretty much every shooter on the market right now. It's crazy how it feels like a natural extension of my adventures with Venom Snake, and how all of my training instantly pays off online. When you distill it down to individual matches, Metal Gear Online is just fun to play. You can boot up a session, and provided that you don't have any connection issues, generally enjoy yourself, even if a lot of people are ignoring objectives. It's a rush to use stealth effectively and have an enemy run by your prone body completely, then dash up to them, choke them out, and Fulton them. Getting to use the Snake and Ocelot special loadouts from time to time is a joy as well, as are all of the little Easter eggs and details locked within MGO. I've seen a lot of complaints that the Walkers are overpowered, but I've found them easy to deal with. Not only are they incredibly easy to spot (and show up on the radar), but they can be swiftly taken out with a quick sniper shot or a few well-placed bullets. Plus, both sides get them, so it's not like one team is at a disadvantage -- people just need to learn how to counter them. For the most part I don't think balance is an issue for MGO -- it's the technical side that drags things down. Even though we don't review what might be (could you imagine how cool it would be to see co-op Metal Gear missions? Now we may never see the day), I'm still torn with the current state of Metal Gear Online. I wouldn't necessarily recommend picking up the entire Metal Gear Solid V package just for online play, as it still has a lot to prove. I'm pulling for it to get better, but I don't trust Konami. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Metal Gear Online photo
It's not over yet, Snake
I've spent a considerable amount of time this week with Metal Gear Online, and despite my initial positive impressions, I'm having some big-picture issues. In short, I'm not sure how long this train is going to be chugging along, especially when you take Konami's recent history into account.

Review: Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash

Oct 08 // Ben Davis
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoReleased: October 9, 2015MSRP: $29.99 In Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, pint-sized aliens have invaded Earth, stealing resources along with everyone's favorite snacks, and it's up to Chibi-Robo and his partner Telly (who is now shaped like a computer) to save the day. Chibi-Robo will travel the globe, putting a stop to the aliens' plans and rescuing any snacks he might come across (all based on real name-brand snacks and candies from around the world). To navigate the areas around him, Chibi-Robo uses his plug as a whip to destroy enemies, collect items, grapple onto certain surfaces, or helicopter across pits. The plug can ricochet off of walls as well, opening up a lot of possibilities for interesting platforming as the player tries to angle the perfect shot in order to reach distant objects. The cord starts off rather short at a measly 6 inches at the beginning of each level, but it can be lengthened up to 120 inches by collecting blue orbs. [embed]314129:60631:0[/embed] Aside from the plug mechanics, there are plenty of jumping sections, puzzles to solve, enemy hordes to destroy, items to collect, and even a few levels which have Chibi-Robo skateboarding, wakeboarding, and traveling by balloon to reach the end. There are also some pretty cool boss fights to round out each world. Just looking at the platforming mechanics alone, Zip Lash is a perfectly competent entry to the genre. Each world changes things up with new ideas and interesting layouts, so that the gameplay doesn't become stale too quickly. Once again, Chibi-Robo's health is indicated by his power supply, which slowly depletes as he's moving around and decreases significantly if he falls into a pit or gets hit by an enemy. He can recharge at any outlet by inserting his plug, which will cost a few watts (watts are earned by recycling trash). He can also buy spare batteries as a backup. For the completionist gamers out there, each level is filled with several hidden collectibles to find, including the aforementioned name-brand snacks, special medallions, Chibi-Tots playing hide-and-seek, toys to talk to, and trash to clean up and convert into energy. If something is missed the first time through, levels can be replayed in order to search more thoroughly, but only after certain conditions are met. Which brings me to my least favorite aspect of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. Most platforming games like this feature a map with each level laid out on a path, which are then played sequentially. Zip Lash tries to subvert this common feature by implementing the "Destination Wheel." After each level, Chibi-Robo will spin the wheel to select a number. This number determines the amount of spaces he'll move on the map, which in turn determines the next level to play even if it's not the next level in the sequence. Once every level on a map has been discovered and beaten, the player can then proceed to the next map. Basically, this means that most people will be playing the levels out of order, which could have been a neat idea. The problem, however, is that maps are laid out in a circle, and if the player loops around and lands on a level they have already played, they will be forced to play it over again in order to proceed and pick another level. Because of this, this one simple idea of the Destination Wheel single-handedly demolished my excitement for Zip Lash. Being forced to replay levels due to bad luck is not a fun mechanic. The only reason I can think of for this to exist in its current state would be to artificially extend the game's length, and that's not something I can get behind. They even included a separate wheel to spin for boss levels, which is completely pointless and a waste of time as there's only one space on the entire wheel. The Boss Wheel might have been a funny joke if the Destination Wheel wasn't already such an annoyance. Granted, there are ways to sort of bypass the wheel. Wheel numbers can be purchased with moolah (the in-game currency) so that the player will be more likely to land on a number they want. It's also possible to get more than one spin, assuming the player was skilled enough to hit the gold or silver flying saucers at the end of the last level. Finally, once every level has been beaten and the world has been cleared, players will no longer have to spin the wheel for that world and can freely select whichever level they wish. If only it were possible to do that from the start... Unfortunately, the Destination Wheel wasn't the only problem I had with Zip Lash. As if being forced to replay levels due to poor spinning wasn't enough, certain areas of each level will only become accessible after the levels have been completed. These areas are totally optional and are only used for the chance to obtain costumes for Chibi-Robo (which can also be obtained by finding codes posted on Miiverse), but it still sucks to have to replay every level again, possibly for a third time or more if the player is really unlucky, just to find everything. I also had some problems with the lack of checkpoints during the skateboard/wakeboard segments, but that seems like a comparatively small issue next to everything else. All that wheel nonsense sadly soured Zip Lash for me, which is a huge shame because almost everything else about the game is fun and charming. The new platforming mechanics work well, the boss fights are exciting, and Chibi-Robo himself is as cute as always. I would have been content with this game had it not been for the awful Destination Wheel. If you're a die-hard Chibi-Robo! fan, or if the possibility of having to replay the same levels over and over again doesn't bother you too much, then Zip Lash might be for you. Unfortunately, it's tough for me to give this game a good recommendation after the frustrating time I had with it. I still love you, Chibi-Robo, but this was not your best effort! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chibi-Robo review photo
Poor little robot...
I've been a fan of Chibi-Robo! ever since the original was released for the GameCube back in 2006. It was a weird, adorable adventure game with a tiny robot who was tasked with cleaning up an enormous house, with happy musica...

Destiny's Taken King expansion alienates casual fans more than Year One did

Oct 07 // Chris Carter
People often note that "I haven't given Destiny a chance" when I talk about its shortcomings, and I kind of die on the inside hearing that. I have every Year One Exotic, every piece of raid gear (both armor and weapons, including primaries) for all three classes, and I've completed all of the Year One Moments of Triumph. As of this week, I'm working on my third Exotic sword and fourth Oryx clear. Let me explain my situation a bit. I have a group of MMO friends that I move from game to game with. When we settle on a title, we go in, and surgically crush its PvE content into oblivion. Sometimes we splinter off and try different games, but after each expansion, people usually move back to Destiny for a while. Destiny isn't an MMO by any stretch of the imagination, but other dungeon crawlers like Diablo fall into our purview too, so it's fair game. Yes, it is fun to play with friends, despite its many, many shortcomings. But thankfully, The Taken King, along with the drip feed of Year One quality-of-life updates, has made Destiny much more enjoyable. But I say that with the perspective of a hardcore raider. A lot of my casual friends are not having a good time. Let's look at why. End-game content still doesn't have matchmaking After taking an impromptu Twitter poll earlier this week, I saw that many players still hadn't partaken in a lot of endgame activities, mostly because they couldn't find anyone to play with. Raids, Nightfalls, and all of the post-game quests do not have any matchmaking capabilities. Instead, they're left to try their luck on sites like or reddit Fireteams. As an outgoing person, I'm completely okay with filling out a team member or two using these tools, but most people want an in-game solution. Bungie could address this in a ton of different ways. Yes, endgame content is by definition tough, so matchmaking may be hard to do, but what about actually making the game Open up the Tower to more players, and have the lounge area actually do something. Make it a hangout for players "looking for groups," complete with billboards and a full-on LFG system built in. Players could look at terminals, post what activities they want to do along with their Light level and class, and it could automatch accordingly. This would alleviate the issue of matchmaking in one fell swoop. Raids are still the only way to max out your character Certain players don't want to raid because they aren't comfortable, and I don't blame them. Bungie doesn't make anything clear for newer players in terms of what to expect from raids, or how to acclimate to the pressures of a six-man group. Many of those issues could be solved by a training session of raid mechanics, on top of a "Sherpa" system that could be built into the Tower groups idea. Because in the end, players will need to best King's Fall to get the good stuff -- the post-level-300 items, which will be necessary for the presumed Hard Mode version. Some 310 Exotics can be picked up here and there from bonkers questlines (more on that later), but for the most part, players will find themselves stuck teetering below 300 without going to face Oryx. I definitely think, as a raider myself, that raid gear should be special, but many multiplayer games out there have equivalent gear that can be earned with enough tokens. Right now, the vendor gear only goes up to 280. It could stand for an increase. The new Light system that takes weapons into account encourages dishonesty With Year One, players had a Light level that was indicative of the armor they wore. It was simple to understand after a few hours of max-level play, and you only needed to manage four pieces of gear to maintain it. Now, Destiny has three more equipment slots with Light on them (Ghosts, class items, and Artifacts) and weapons also play into your Light ranking. Things can get real confusing real fast, but I'm noticing a trend where players "fake" their Light and switch back to their weapons of choice. For instance, some people might have a Light 280 shotgun, but a particular mission almost exclusively calls for sniping. Since players only have a 220 sniper and would "look bad," they equip the shotgun, pass for 280 Light, and switch back once the mission starts. Now, the old way wasn't perfect either -- armor was limited in that you could only wear pieces that had higher Light ratings on them. This has been alleviated by the ascension mechanic, which lets you rank up gear of your choice by sacrificing other items to it. But tying that same principle to weapons has had mixed results. Since Light influences how much damage you do and how much you take, even just a few points can make a mission that much tougher. By limiting players who may not be comfortable with certain loadouts, Bungie is forcing people to use specific pieces of gear, and that changes the entire way the game is played. It's the same problem, amplified. All the new system has done is made the game more elitist by adopting a Gearscore mentality. Having played MMOs since Ultima Online, I'm used to it, but many people are turned off by it. Allowing more flexibility with the weapon side of things would help. Some of these new quests are off-the-wall hardcore Now, this is actually my favorite aspect of The Taken King. There is so much more end-game content now, with hidden tidbits like the Black Spindle quest or the aforementioned Exotic sword questline. But all of those come with a price -- extreme amounts of grinding or crazy-high difficulty ceilings, both of which aren't viable options for casual fans. Take the Exotic sword mission. After completing a bunch of busywork, players will eventually come to an impasse -- the grinding step. Here, they'll have to down over 500 enemies with abilities in line with the element of their sword of choice, and attain 10 special resources, hidden within drops of Helium Filaments, Spinmetal, or Relic Iron. Oh, 10 resources, that's not bad, right? Well, it really is. For this particular quest, you'll have to acquire resources within resources, which are said to drop at a roughly 5% rate. For my first sword, it took me over two hours straight of grinding, and I knew the routes from playing so much of Year One. For my second sword, it took five hours. Then you have to do a Strike that requires everyone to be roughly 300 Light (20 more than raid-ready). If my group wasn't so hardcore, I wouldn't even go for the third. Bungie has claimed in the past that it doesn't want to make players grind, but it has introduced such a boring task here that so many people won't do it out of principle. Which is weird, because the Exotic sword is an essential item for a number of reasons and completely changes the way you approach most content (I highly recommend getting one for the Court of Oryx -- to quote a great 20th century philosopher, "it is... so choice"). The Black Spindle isn't easy for casual players to get, either -- the quest nearly requires a full three-person fireteam of raid-ready team members. And forget doing the Court of Oryx's third tier by yourself, or even with a public group. Destiny is still growing as a game, and it's not quite there yet It's clear that Bungie still doesn't know what to do with Destiny. On one hand, the developers claim "they don't want to revisit legacy content," but many of the old Strikes have been re-done with a Taken flair. To go ever further, these select Strikes have been hand-picked for a zombification of sorts, while others are eliminated entirely lest you play the useless, no-incentive legacy playlist. Bungie also notes that it wants to be welcoming to new players, but gates most of its meaningful content behind a lack of matchmaking services and grindy, exclusive questlines. The game is much better than it was, but it has a ways to go. In some ways, the entire Destiny experience feels like a beta test for the sequel, which is reportedly going to drop next year.
Thoughts on Destiny photo
There's more dependency on groups now
Destiny has noticeably improved since The Taken King dropped. This is partly because there's a lot more to do than just grind the awful Prison of Elders activity from the last bad expansion, but additionally, the game has gotten much more hardcore. It's great news for me and my group of comrades, but I've been seeing a lot of people cut back on their playtime lately.

Review in Progress: Metal Gear Online

Oct 07 // Chris Carter
Metal Gear Online (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiRelease: October 6, 2015 (Consoles), TBA 2016 (PC)MSRP: $59.99 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360) / Included with MGSV After downloading the free add-on (if you own the original game), players will be greeted with a whole new main menu. That's because it's a completely new title, and in no way feels tacked-on to the core Phantom Pain experience. In fact, there's very little in the way of interaction between the campaign and MGO. You'll start off within the character creation module, which takes the shape of your avatar from the core game, and a choice -- players can adopt the scout, enforcer, or infiltrator class (standard, heavy, and light, essentially). Your first character is locked in after your choice, but after a few hours of play you'll unlock two new loadout slots and plenty of cosmetic pieces of gear, including goofy hats. There's also a really cool freeplay mode that allows you to try out your loadout and equipment at will, which has plenty of ground to cover, featuring a diverse jungle location. I wish more games had this feature, as it's incredibly easy to tweak a loadout, go into freeplay, try it out, and tweak it some more. Online play itself provides you with a few options, including automatch (traditional matchmaking), "select" (filter any map or mode), and "create" (complete with a password feature for private games). It's a pretty open-ended system with plenty of choice, but it seems to be P2P-based, so expect online issues depending on the connection on top of any problems Konami has with the servers. For the most part, my time with the game in the past day or so has been rather smooth. You're only getting three gametypes currently, including a ticket-based mode (read: lives), a data theft variant, and capture the point. It's all stuff you've seen before, but the deciding difference is the Metal Gear charm that injects itself throughout MGO. For instance, killing enemies will reduce the opposing team's ticket count, but Fultoning them after using non-lethal force will net you more points. Making lots of noise will also show up on the radar, so it's up to players to use stealth as much as possible to maximize their kills. [embed]314102:60630:0[/embed] After a few hours, I really started to pick up on quite a few new tactics, which is very similar to how Phantom Pain plays out. MGO really is a skill-based game, with plenty of nuances to learn, and an emphasis on stealth prowess. Bounties for more points even show up on players who do well, and I've seen many matches where top people complete entire rounds with no deaths -- hell, without even being seen, really. There's also a lot of little touches, like the "Team Liquid" and "Team Solid" monikers, and the power to change the soundtrack to legacy Metal Gear music.  But there's one major shortcoming that I can see rather clearly right now -- a lack of diverse modes. It's very easy to feel isolated after going back into freeplay mode, and the three gametypes do tend to blend together at times. In short, you're really going to get as much out of MGO as you put in, and the skill of the enemy team definitely plays a factor in terms of how much fun you're going to have -- think of them almost as mini-Metal Gear boss fights. I need some more time, but my initial impressions of Metal Gear Online are positive. It really feels like a Metal Gear Without the complete mess of the Guns of the Patriots Konami login scheme, of course, and with its own issues to boot. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Metal Gear Online photo
It's not over yet, Snake
Kojima's departure from Konami has left me all sorts of worried for the future of Metal Gear Solid -- a series that I've enjoyed ever since I laid eyes on the first NES game over 20 years ago. For now though his legacy i...

Review: Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

Oct 07 // Chris Carter
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developers: Omega ForcePublisher: Square EnixReleased: October 13, 2015 (US), February 26, 2015 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 Following a very cool opening cinematic, you're greeted with the same iconic designs from Akira Toriyama that we've all come to love over the years -- yes, this might be an Omega Force game, but it's still a Dragon Quest joint. The visual style has translated excellently to this new endeavor, and although I'm sure some will find the realistic regalia meshed with bright goofy enemies jarring at times, it looks even better in action. It's great to see the timeless designs for enemies like the skeletons and slimes still hold up. There's also a lot of detail present, such as the aforementioned skeletons taking off their heads, or golems losing their bricks at times. The writing and story however, are very basic and not indicative of the typical Dragon Quest experience. There's plenty of fun puns (a slime says things like "Goo and help him" a lot) so it is charming, but the dialogue itself never really has any chance to evolve from start to finish. What you see in the first 30 minutes or so is what you get, and it follows the same sort of heroes' "ragtag band" journey schematic throughout. It is a hack and slash game after all, but I expected a bit more. Getting right into the action, players are presented with two control schemes -- one is a standard Warriors setup, and the other literally allows players to mash one-button combos with ease. Given that you can choose between these and a male or female main character to start, new players will relish how easy it is to acclimate. Said combo system takes its cue from Warriors in that specific rotations of light and heavy will lead into new moves (such as a wave-clearing area-of-effect or a vertical launcher), but there's more variance here than meets the eye when it comes to weapon nuance. For instance, swords can parry, staffs impact a wide area, and then there's all sorts of outliers like boomerangs, fisticuffs, whips, axes, bows, deadly fans, and magic. If you're curious, yes some fan favorite characters pop up, ranging from heroes who appeared in Dragon Quest IV through VIII. Players can also block, make use of a fully-featured jump (not just a useless hop), and utilize a rather generous dodge in addition to the classic Musuo power mode after charging up. [embed]312829:60648:0[/embed] Due to the exaggerated nature of the dodge, it makes the proceedings a bit more action-oriented than a lot of games in the past, and leads to a less rigid style of gameplay. Plus, using Musuo mode when combined with Toriyama's designs basically turns you into a Super Saiyan. You can also get more advanced with air dashing, double-jumping, summoning minions (which can go into offensive or defensive mode), party member toggling, and queuing up spells both in combat and in non-action sequences. As for the AI who follows you into battle (there's a real-time party switching element with L2), not enough work was done considering that it's a rather essential element. The AI is mostly involved with the battles at hand, sure, but they tend to loiter far too often, and it can take you out of the game. Maybe it's to actually entice you to switch more often to fire them up, but I wish there were a Gambit system of some sort that allowed you to control their general actions. It's not just the party system that makes Heroes feel like a real RPG though, as the game sports a world map, a pretty deep stat and customization mechanic, skill trees, and shops. You're free to upgrade your armor, magic, and items, and visit the alchemist to create and synthesize new gear. Players can also chat with their party at the bar, use the church to pray and save the game, and eventually get an airship. The sidequests feel right at home and like an authentic Dragon Quest game, and trophies reward players directly -- a system more developers should implement. But while sidequests are generally fun, missions are shorter battles that are often a bit too linear. In other Warriors games you're usually completing multiple objectives on large, sprawling maps with plenty of side areas, but here in Heroes they feel more like arenas that sometimes only span a few screens. Thankfully the bosses are more involved as a result, sometimes featuring flying enemies or multi-foe fights. I won't spoil them here but suffice to say they all have strategies and weak points to discover, and are sufficiently formidable. You'll need to actually switch between party members and think tactically. Alongside of the more bite-sized quest structure though is a complete lack of multiplayer. Yep, that's right -- there's no split-screen or online play of any kind. Whereas it was easy to introduce people into the world of Zelda with some co-op Hyrule Warriors sessions, Heroes is definitely a tougher sell, as the vast majority of Warriors games are shipped with heavy multiplayer elements for a reason. It does have all of the current DLC from Japan bundled in though, which is a plus. Dragon Quest Heroes almost feels like a fully-fledged action RPG, but there are a few things holding it back from greatness. In the end though it still has its charms, alongside of a beautiful art style and a buttery smooth framerate. If you really dig Warriors games and can go at it solo, you'll likely enjoy it.
Dragon Quest review photo
That name though
Close your eyes. Imagine you're stuck on a deserted island for a year -- yes, in this situation, a year is a certainty. If you could only have one game with you for that entire period (and have a working power source, bear wi...

I'm not too impressed by the Star Wars Battlefront beta

Oct 06 // Chris Carter
Today, I had the chance to play the beta on PS4, and I came away with some mixed thoughts. Right now in the beta there are three modes available: Drop Zone, which supports 16 players, Walker Assault, which supports 40, and Survival (a two-player gametype that can be played offline or online). The former is a gametype that sees two teams of eight battling it out for pods, which randomly drop from the sky and inhabit the battlefield one at a time. It's up to each side to locate the pod, capture it, and maintain ownership until a timer runs out. Once it's done, power-ups will pop out, and it's onto the next one. I actually liked the objective-based feel of Drop Zone quite a bit, and the timers feel spot-on to add some form of tactical depth to each match without feeling like a slog. Walker Assault might be 40 players, but it will allow 10 in a lobby to initiate a match. It's here that I witnessed a fairly keen matchmaking system, which drew in players gradually and located games that were mostly full first before dropping me into an empty lobby. This asymmetrical mode sees rebels defending Uplink objectives to call in Y-Bombers from imperials. It has more of a classic Star Wars feel to it, most notably due to the inclusion of AT-ATs, AT-STs, and Tie Fighters (which are essentially killstreak power-ups now, picked up on the battlefield) into the proceedings. Although we only started with 10, it gradually escalated to a crazy 20-on-20 match, and that glorious Battlefront entropy was in full force. As for the gameplay, again, there are no microtransactions, and you'll have to unlock everything through credits. There is some rank-gating involved, but not nearly as bad as other online shooters (at least, so far), and the credit system allows you to buy, for the most part, the exact equipment you want -- from rifles, to thermal detonators. The game uses a card system for equipment (which isn't nearly as kooky as Titanfall's Burn Cards) that lets you customize which slot each piece of gear falls into (L1/LB or R1/RB, with an additional slot for Triangle/Y). I really dig the option to default to first- or third-person at any point as well. I don't miss classes or squads. [embed]314178:60645:0[/embed] The game feels...a bit cheap at times in terms of its gunplay. It looks beautiful (it can go 4K on PC) and runs smoothly, especially when you're gazing up at the sky and watching ship battles take place before your eyes, but there's a certain clunky feel to combat. Weapons really lack impact or "oomph" all around, and I experienced a bit of lag at times. You can chalk part of that up to being a beta, but the game is right around the corner after all. Survival mode lists four potential locations on the menu (Hoth, Sullust, Endor, and Tatooine), but only the latter is playable the moment. AI battles are also shown, but aren't active in the beta as well. It's horde mode, in essence, with a gradual ramping up in difficulty with each wave. It's here that I was able to experience most of the perks (which are unlocked from the start), such as a vertical jetpack boost, grenade launcher, and a temporary boost for your primary, all of which have cooldowns involved. To be blunt, without a second player, this mode gets old quick. After just three waves I wasn't really feeling it, as there isn't a whole lot of deviation from the horde formula, and the fact that you're a grunt rather than a hero character really puts a damper on things. I don't expect to get much play out of this outside of the occasional session with a friend or my wife by way of local co-op. For diehards, though, you'll probably enjoy tackling the various challenges like "no death" runs. So there's the Star Wars: Battlefront beta so far. It's not bad by any means, but I'm not sure it's worth the full asking price. When the actual game launches next month we'll have a better idea of all of the different modes involved, but again, solo players will probably want to wait for a price cut straight out of the gate.
Star Wars Battlefront photo
But I'm not disappointed either
There seems to be a healthy amount of skepticism surrounding the upcoming release of Star Wars Battlefront, and I don't blame people. After all, EA is involved -- always lurking in the shadows, ready to strike at consumers. T...

Review: Transformers Devastation

Oct 06 // Chris Carter
Transformers Devastation (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developers: Platinum GamesPublisher: ActivisionReleased: October 6, 2015 MSRP: $49.99 So let's get right into the thick of it -- the action. As you'd expect from Platinum Games, Devastation has a sound bedrock, with a combination of ranged and close-combat maneuvers. Basic abilities include trigger-based aiming, a combo system with light and heavy attacks, a super button, and of course, the power to transformer at will into various vehicles. Combos can even involve transformations on the fly (signified by a blue light with a short window), a slam move can be initiated by transforming mid-air, ranged attacks are capable of headshots, and attacking at top speed breaks enemy shields. As you can see, there's a lot of advanced mechanics at work here. The most technical of all abilities includes the addition of Witch Time (frame-perfect dodging that slows time), a concept taken wholesale from Platinum's own Bayonetta, which I'm totally okay with. Everything feels incredibly smooth. The combos available are just enough to keep action veterans interested without overwhelming newer players. With three difficulty levels to choose from (appropriately balanced, mind -- with three at the start, and two more later), there's something for everyone. Other small touches like NPCs frequently fighting alongside of the player character, 2D sections, and vehicular-based chases or race segments help break up the combat a bit. There's a light amount of exploration involved within Devastation's mission-based structure, similar to most of Platinum's previous work. It's mostly linear, but at various points spokes of that linear wheel will break off, allowing for some form of deviation. That includes conspicuous gates that lead to new chests, or short twitch-based puzzles that provide a reward at the end. I actually really dig this flow, as you can skip a lot of combat sequences if you wish -- just note that many zones will wall off areas until you defeat all the foes within, so you can't just rush through the whole game. [embed]314115:60629:0[/embed] Much to my surprise, all of the playable characters have different styles. Grimlock is more of a grappler, Bumblebee is quicker and doesn't pack a punch, Sideswipe has access to a quicker dash, and so on. They're not wildly different to the point where you'll have to relearn every single facet of the game, but they're nuanced enough that there's actually a reason to pick different Autobots. Devastation also sports an appropriate Saturday morning cartoon narrative that would fit nicely into an afternoon special block. The voices are either spot-on replications (including the campy Teletraan-1), or actual members of the original cast. The gist is that Megatron is yet again after another massive power source, and it's up to the Autobots to save the day -- so don't expect anything new here -- but again, the nonstop action helps propel players from start to finish. There are a few shortcomings, though. For starters, the game is priced at $50, and feels somewhere in-between a full retail release and a downloadable game. There's a lot to sift through here, but I could have gone for more characters, secrets, and unlockable modes (a challenge mode is basically it). Additionally, the RPG systems in place feel like a half-measure, particularly the loot system. While the equippable upgrade chips are a nice touch (and are coupled with a fun little crafting mini-game), managing loot is a nightmare. Throughout each mission, you'll likely acquire something in the neighborhood of 10 weapons, most of which are garbage or only marginally better than what you're using. To really take advantage of these duds, you'll have to synthesize them into better parts, but it's far too much of a chore to do that constantly when you can just forge ahead to more action. The loot system should have been scrapped entirely or pared down far more than its current incarnation. While not a deal-breaker, it could have been handled a lot better. I'm not even sure if there are G1 fans out there anymore. It shouldn't be a deciding factor when picking up Transformers: Devastation though, as it's a great action romp by any right. Just be ready to deal with a few nitpicky issues.
Transformers review photo
None shall fall
I've been a fan of Transformers since I was old enough to understand what television was. The bright colors and toy lines drew me in, but I've been a fan ever since. It's not merely nostalgia that fuels that fire -- it's...

Review: Rock Band 4

Oct 05 // Chris Carter
Rock Band 4 (PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: HarmonixPublisher: Harmonix (with distribution by Mad Catz)Released: October 6, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (game), $129.99 (guitar bundle), $249.99 (Band-in-a-Box) So let's get right into it. The setlist (seen here) is going to be a point of contention for many. Point blank, I'm not really a fan of most of it, for multiple reasons. Firstly, U2 (the Guy Fieri of music) was added last-minute, and features not one but two songs featured in career mode. This completely obliterated the "random" feature for one of the groups I played with, as they hilariously refused to play U2 on the principle that they "might" come up. Then you have the issue of era disparity due to a disjointed design. Often times you'll find similar types of music grouped together, but generally speaking, Rock Band 4 is all over the place. For instance, there's one Elvis song ("Suspicious Minds," which I really dig), but then, there's nothing else even close to that age or style of music. You also have the issue of showcasing a heavy helping of B-hits from major artists, like "Kick it Out" from Heart or "Prayer" from Disturbed. Of course, music is subjective, but my major issue is the lack of any real epic rock tracks (and I don't mean "epic" in the bad meme sense) on offer here, which every rhythm game tends to provide. I mean, "That Smell" from Lynyrd Skynyrd? You can't help but feel like the rights to a lot of big-ticket songs weren't on the table, some of which instead went to Activision's Guitar Hero Live. But I think this weaker setlist is kind of what Harmonix is going for. They're banking on the fact that you already own a ton of DLC, or are willing to shell out for it. That's going to be a point of contention for many people, who may have started out in the Rock Band ecosystem on Xbox, but like most of this generation, have since switched to PS4 exclusively. I'm kind of torn on where I stand personally, because while I do see Rock Band as a "platform," I wish the included setlist were as strong as it has been in the past. Just to clarify with Harmonix as of this week, I double-checked on the DLC roadmap beyond the singles in the store now (of which there are hundreds of piecemeal tracks). Track packs (read: those discs of songs you bought) are being worked on currently, and aren't up for launch. Additionally, title exports (Rock Band 1 and 2 songs mostly) are not available yet, and have no time frame at the moment. Finally, Harmonix is "looking into" exporting Rock Band 3 but nothing is finalized. None of this affects this review as it's all theoretical, but it's good to know. As disappointed as I am with the base setlist, the game, as always, is sound. The common theme here with Rock Band 4 is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," which is great for those of you who just want a current-gen Rock Band, and bad if you wanted something revolutionary. While the voting system (which allows players to select tracks, or vague categories such as eras and genres in a democratic fashion) is very cool, the career mode, despite promises of a major shakeup with the choice system, is largely the same. [embed]312826:60607:0[/embed] While there are choices such as picking between selling out and making more money in the short term or going on the road and garnering more long-term fans, they all feel very gamey in the end ("do you want fans or money?"). I really like the little story blurbs that pop up along the way that provide updates for the narrative such as "your van that you bought for next to nothing lost a door," but they really are more fluff than substance. Plus, the concept of playing tons of gigs with set songs (and some open-ended lists) for cash to buy new accessories never appealed to me -- when combined with the so-so story and the fact that every song is unlocked from the get-go, it doesn't feel like a gametype worth the effort. As a result, most of my time was spent with the quick tour and freeplay modes, which are still a lot of fun with a group. It's as simple as syncing the instruments (which is incredibly easy to do now) and pressing start, then you're ready to rock. The aforementioned voting system is a ton of fun, as it accepts every band member's choices, then triggers a slot machine-like animation that randomly picks one. It's fair, and it's a nice break from manually choosing songs. In terms of the adjustments to the instruments themselves, I also have mixed feelings. Everything has been marginally upgraded (both physically and in-game), but I'm still reeling from the complete lack of keyboard and Pro Guitar support. Harmonix certainly has a strong argument in that most players simply did not use these features last time around, but I can't help but feel like Rock Band 4 has been downgraded as a result. While I never really preferred the Rock Band style guitars (X-plorer for life), the build is noticeably more sturdy, which also applies for the new drum kit and microphone. The new gameplay feature with the guitar is the addition of freestyle sections, which no longer bound players to the rigors of tough solo portions. For casual players, this change is pretty great, and allows anyone to rock out in a fashion that more accurately portrays the spirit of the franchise. In essence, during your solo spots, you'll see new markers for blue and orange freestyle notations in the track. You'll simply strum to the beat, with the blue portion notating the top frets and the orange noting the bottom, and that's basically it. Sometimes you'll have to strum once and hold, for others, you'll have to shift rapidly to different frets. You won't lose any momentum here if you screw up, and every fret will cue a different sound, so you can come up with your own concoctions. The best part is this is wholly optional, so if you want to shred "Through the Fire and Flames" on expert, you can. Also, every song supports a full-time freestyle solo through a separate menu option. The drums have remained mostly the same, outside of Dynamic Drum Fills, and, as an exception to the lack of Pro instruments, Pro Drums (if you buy the Mad Catz Rock Band 4 Cymbal Expansion Kit of course). The former feature allows you to deploy Overdrive (Star Power) during pre-determined sections -- it's a minor change, and fortunately, like most of the new stuff, you can also turn this off. If you rock the mic, you'll have a few other marginal improvements as well. Now there's Freestyle Vocals, which allows people to improvise a bit. As long as you still sing on key, you'll be able to score points. It makes things a little more fun for singers as they don't have to follow as rigid of a pattern. Again, every instrument has been improved on paper, but not in a way that completely eclipses a lot of the advancements made with the last iteration. The physical element of bringing over instruments is also a bit strained, partially outside of Harmonix's purview. Firstly, you'll have to follow their compatibility chart here to see if your device will even work with the new game. Additionally, due to the shift in technology from the 360 to the Xbox One, you'll need a $20 adapter to even use your old instruments that do work. When you add in that nothing works cross-console family, things get even more tricky, as it'll cost you $250 to grab a new guitar, drum kit, and a mic -- and if you want to get a second guitar, it gets even pricier.  Rock Band 4 is a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, it's not only a hassle to switch generations due to the fact that so many elements don't work with the new one, but additionally -- Rock Band 3 is still a thing, supports all of your DLC, and has more features. On the other, there's nothing inherently wrong with this iteration, and for those of you who missed out in the past or have broken 360s or PS3s, you'll still be able to rock out into the night with friends and have a whole lot of fun. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. The Band-in-a-Box bundle with a guitar, drum kit, and mic was assessed for this review. DLC or pre-order content of any kind was not provided, and was purchased by the reviewer.]
Rock Band 4 photo
Back in plastic
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the preview. I personally didn't work with Chester ...

Review: Read Only Memories

Oct 02 // Ben Davis
Read Only Memories (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: MidBossPublisher: MidBossReleased: October 6, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The story of Read Only Memories begins with the appearance of a peculiar robot named Turing, who breaks into the player character's apartment after their creator, Hayden, was mysteriously kidnapped. Turing decides that the player character, who is a journalist and a friend of Hayden's, is the most statistically likely to be able to help them. Thus begins the search for Hayden in the technologically advanced, cyberpunk-inspired city of Neo-San Francisco in 2064. In this futuristic setting, scientists have discovered many new ways of enhancing the human body through cybernetics as well as genetic modification, meaning it's common to see people with robotic limbs, blue skin, rabbit ears, and other such bizarre enhancements walking around as if it's completely normal. Not to mention the ROMs, robots like Turing, which are just as commonplace and are on the verge of becoming sapient, able to think and feel as humans do. As expected, anti-hybrid and -cybernetic groups such as the Human Revolution have begun to pop up warning people of the dangers of such technologies. [embed]313479:60589:0[/embed] During the player's search for Hayden, they will meet a colorful cast of strange and interesting characters and be asked to participate in some rather shady activities, sneaking around the law in an attempt to learn secrets and uncover truths. Some characters can be trusted while other cannot, but they're all able to provide leads, information, and other helpful things if the player can successfully persuade them. The gameplay largely consists of your typical point-and-click adventure mechanics, nothing really new here but it works just fine. People and objects can be interacted with by looking, touching, talking, or using an item. Interacting with the same thing multiple times might yield different results, so sometimes it's a good idea to look at, touch, or talk to someone or something more than once. There's also a wide variety of items at the player's disposal, which can be picked up and used in certain situations. There is no item combining to be done, however, and pixel hunting is not a problem since anything that can be interacted with will be highlighted by mousing over it, so many of the more annoying adventure game elements were left alone. Much of the gameplay centers around conversations and choosing dialogue options, but there are plenty of puzzle-solving sections as well. These include direct puzzles, such as looking at a map and closing off intersections in order to divert a cab back to the player, as well as more indirect puzzles like trying to find the right item to gain access to a house or figuring out how to coerce someone into giving up information. None of the puzzles are too obtuse, and some of them are rather forgiving if the player messes up at first. The story features several branching paths and alternate endings, depending on how the player chooses to interact with characters and how successful they are at figuring out puzzles. It's possible to befriend or make enemies with several of the characters, so try and decide who will be the most helpful and choose the appropriate responses. Breaking the law and causing mischief seem to be unavoidable, but how it's done is up to the player. As most of Read Only Memories involves reading text, I found the writing to be entertaining and engaging, if overly-technical at times. They did a great job of giving every character a thorough backstory, making each of them interesting and relatable with their own quirks and behaviors. I particularly enjoyed Turing's fondness for painting and the player character's strange obsession with plants. There were, however, a few groan-worthy references and an occasionally disappointing lack of variety in dialogue options. Read Only Memories originally set out to do one thing: foster the inclusion of diverse characters, especially those of the LGBT persuasion. Thankfully, the end product is much more than just that. The characters' sexualities and gender identities, which include plenty of gay and straight, trans- and cis-gendered individuals, are revealed in a natural way or left up to the player's imagination. Meanwhile, we have a story built around mystery and intrigue, with topics of crime, technology, and politics taking the forefront of the discussion in the lives of these characters who just happen to be a certain way. Personally, I felt the LGBT themes were handled appropriately and naturally without being too heavy-handed, but I'm sure some will disagree with me. I would recommend Read Only Memories to anyone who enjoys point-and-click adventure games, as it's an excellent addition to the genre, borrowing many of its key elements while ditching some of the more obnoxious ones. It's also a great choice for anyone who is looking for more diversity in their video games, as it does a wonderful job of promoting inclusion without making it the sole focus. Plus, there's an awesome, adorable little robot friend to hang out with, and who doesn't want that? [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Read Only Memories review photo
Cyberpunk chic
MidBoss, the team behind the LGBT-centric gaming convention, GaymerX, has been having quite a successful time lately. After reaching its Kickstarter funding goals at the end of 2013, the team has been hard at work creating it...

Review: LEGO Dimensions

Oct 01 // Chris Carter
LEGO Dimensions (PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Traveller's TalesPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: September 27, 2015MSRP: $99.99 (Starter Pack), $29.99 (Level Pack), $14.99 (Fun Pack) Yet again, I'll explain how the toys are factored in, especially since LEGO Dimensions in particular can get confusing. For $99.99 you'll get the Starter Pack (reviewed here), which consists of the core game, three physical characters (Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle), a physical Batmobile, and real life LEGOs to build the portal (called a Toy Pad). There are two major things to factor in here -- it's pricier than most toys-to-life games by at least $20, augmented by the fact that you're actually getting an actual miniature LEGO set. Straight-up, a lot of your enjoyment for LEGO Dimensions hinges on how much you enjoy playing with LEGOs as a whole. For example, to build the base, my wife and I spent roughly an hour. If you have a kid who plays with toys on a regular basis, this is a no-brainer -- for everyone else, that prospect may seem like too much of a task, and you're basically paying the premium for that. On the other end you have two additional purchasing options, Level Packs and Fun Packs, which are essentially DLC. The former unlocks a hub for $29.99 and comes with a character and two objects, and the latter unlocks a mission and one object. Oh, and then there's the Team Packs for $24.99, with two characters and two objects. Confused yet? Yeah it's all a bit much, and if you weren't averse to toys-to-life before, you probably will be now. But for everyone else, here's the rub -- you can play the entire story with just the Starter Kit, and for each franchise you buy a toy for, you'll unlock additional worlds. So for Portal, the only way to gain access to that DLC set is through a sole Level Pack, but some franchises (like Ghostbusters and The Simpsons) may have multiple Level or Fun Packs. No one ever said LEGOs or figure-based games was a cheap hobby, and now they've been Frankensteined together. [embed]313069:60565:0[/embed] But despite all that, LEGO Dimensions is one of the more interesting Traveller's Tales titles in years. As it turns out mixing up all of these properties involves some hilarious results, mostly thanks to the wit of the writing staff. Of particular note is Homer Simpson's breaking of the fourth wall to comment on cross-branding, and Batman's interactions with various characters like the Wicked Witch of the West. It surpasses the "that's so random!" realm of comedy and succeeds in melding all 14 (!) IPs together. The campaign's story is dead simple -- an evil entity wants to rule all worlds -- but the journey is where it excels. Due to the nature of the three starter characters you'll mostly play through the three hub worlds (Lord of the Rings, DC Universe, and the LEGO Movie), but you'll also cross paths with other worlds briefly, like the aforementioned Oz, Springfield, and Scooby Doo's realm. It's refreshing, and you never linger in one zone for too long. With this setup, it's far more fun than most of the other LEGO games, which tend to overstay their welcome over time with just one theme. LEGO Dimensions' use of the physical toys and portal is also a step ahead of its competition. For one, you can place up to six characters (most only allow two), one vehicle, and other objects all at once. Another cool mechanic involves the placement of the toys themselves during boss fights. Some encounters will actually force you to move your figures on the physical base to avoid attacks -- that's some serious Metal Gear Psycho Mantis-like stuff right there. Traveller's Tales succeeds in mixing up that type of gameplay all throughout the experience, and I never felt like I was missing out with just the Starter Kit. However, I couldn't help but feel like it was still an above average $60 LEGO game with $40 of additional baggage. Again, you're getting real LEGO blocks here, but I would have preferred a smaller premium to get them. Also, WB has planned out DLC and content packs all the way through May 2016, which leaves them plenty of room to develop another potential sequel next year. I'm sort of torn in LEGO Dimensions. It's one of the most expensive propositions in all of gaming right now, but the gameplay is there and the Starter Pack stands on its own. While the campaign can be a bit uneven at times, the always reliable LEGO charm and the innovation of the physical aspect of Dimensions allows it to excel. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Only the Starter Pack was provided.]
LEGO Dimensions photo
An expensive, but fun hobby
As I've talked about in the past, I'm usually the go-to person for the toys-to-life genre. I'm a kid at heart, and occasionally, I can enjoy a silly kids movie for the fun of it. No series has encapsulated that silliness more...

Review: The Beginner's Guide

Oct 01 // Darren Nakamura
The Beginner's Guide (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Everything Unlimited LtdPublisher: Everything Unlimited LtdReleased: October 1, 2015MSRP: $9.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The Beginner's Guide opens on a de_dust-like Counter-Strike map with Wreden narrating. It isn't Wreden narrating to save money on a voice actor or Wreden narrating the in-game story. Davey Wreden is narrating as Davey Wreden, telling a story about his personal life. He was once friends with another game designer named Coda. Ever since meeting at a game jam, he had been fascinated with Coda's work. Most of the games are short, five to ten-minute affairs involving walking and philosophical musing. All were built in Source, but the art styles vary. Coda never released his games publicly, but Wreden hounded him to play each one upon completion. What we play through is Coda's entire body of work, presented chronologically. All the while, Wreden offers insight about game design, from the nuts and bolts of the tools used to the deeper symbolism of a particular segment, whether it was intentional or unintentional. [embed]313130:60582:0[/embed] Unlike a lot of these narrative-focused games, which allow the player to passively experience the story, absorbing or ignoring as much as desired, it's the kind of experience that demands intellectual engagement. I mean that literally; Wreden explicitly asks the player to send him critical analysis, providing an email address toward that end. There is exactly one puzzle in The Beginner's Guide, and it is repeated a few times. It involves two doors and solving it requires an irreversible step. When solved, the entrance is sealed and the exit is open, providing only one possible path: forward. Wreden's interpretation of this puzzle involves a symbolic closure of the past, marking something as "complete" and putting it out of mind. While I was playing through, my mind went to thoughts about having to take risks in order to progress and the idea of finding comfort in familiar things.  The structure provides a strange sense of immersion only a few games can manage. I am not the avatar of the character in these environments navigating through them; I am the guy sitting at his computer, playing a game while another guy talks to me about it. The story being told is a history that took place in the real world, and together we are piecing together the deeper meaning behind these weird art games. The roundabout immersion is ironic in a way. Normally making it clear the player is just someone playing a game adds a layer of disconnect. Since the reality matches with the premise in The Beginner's Guide, it actually drew me into the meta-narrative even more closely. I realized about halfway through just how emotionally invested I had become. I found myself marveling at Coda's creations just as Wreden had done before me. I spent time reading every note posted in one section even after being told I didn't have to. I wanted to understand the person who made these just as much as Wreden. I was grateful for his aid when it came to surpassing the intentionally frustrating or impossible barriers. I had to see it through to the end. And then, just as my emotional investment hit its peak, the revelatory climax rolls in. Maybe Coda isn't the enigma Wreden paints him as. Maybe he just wants to be left alone. Wait, maybe he wouldn't want me playing his games. Maybe I'm violating his personal space by participating. Maybe I'm an asshole for doing things against someone else's wishes. Maybe I'm a bigger asshole for writing a whole review about it. My involvement as just the guy sitting at his computer playing a game is non-negligible at this point. I've been thinking about this game a lot for the past 36 hours. It demanded I think about it, at first only superficially, but later more substantively. I mulled over a lot of questions when I should have been sleeping. I continued thinking right when I woke up. I think I dreamed about it in between. I won't spoil with the explicit questions here, but I'm sure we will be talking more frankly soon. On the surface, The Beginner's Guide is a game about game design and critical analysis. Digging deeper, it provides a window into the mind of a man I might not have fully understood otherwise. It does all of this in a way only a video game could. More than anything else, it has caused me a lot of introspection, a feat few games ever achieve. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Beginner's Guide review photo
Start here
The Stanley Parable is famous for its fourth wall-breaking narrative, taking the maligned "walking simulator" genre and showing how effective it can be in the hands of a capable designer. When writer Davey Wreden surprise-ann...

Review: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5

Sep 29 // Chris Carter
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: RobomodoPublisher: ActivisionReleased: September 29, 2015 (PS4, Xbox One) / November 10, 2015 (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $59.99 (!) So let's get right into it. Just as before, you'll have the option to ollie, grind, manual, and revert your way into lengthy combos, with the added power of the "slam" mechanic. This new move will allow you to drop quickly to the ground straight into a grind. It's really gamey, but kind of cool once you actually get used to it. Personally, I tend to hold the button quite a bit to pre-load my grinds, so it was jarring at first. Everything else is still here, like spine transfers, plants, and special tricks. In the end though, it seems as if Robomodo can't be trusted to make a glitch-free game. I really liked Tony Hawk HD, but man was it a glitch-fest, filled with wonky physics and collision issues. It's the same thing in Tony Hawk 5, but worse to an extent. Revert timing and the like feels on-point, but it's mostly the objects and solid areas, some of which aren't filled in properly, that cause issues. Additionally, missions lag when they start up for a few seconds, sometimes rendering the level in real-time. There are some online issues at launch, namely causing players to stand still for periods of time or disappear entirely. That's not to say the game is fundamentally broken however, as these problems usually come up every 10 minutes or so on certain surfaces. The frame rate dips a bit on some levels, but for the most part, it is playable. It just needs a lot more polish. [embed]312863:60562:0[/embed] Career mode is par for the course, bringing you through a handful of levels with mission-based objectives, on top of the typical "find the DVD/VHS tape" and "S-K-A-T-E letters" challenges. The series has been mission-centric for a long while now (ever since THPS 4), but I've never really been a fan. I like how the first three games were literally free skate levels that just happened to have objectives in them. The unlock method is also rigid in Tony Hawk 5 -- earning stars for new levels isn't cumulative, as you'll need to earn 15 in each preceding level to unlock the new one. I do like the levels as a general rule, but they feel so middle-of-the-road, and I probably won't remember them as fondly as I remember a lot of the classic stages. With all that said, the core gameplay is there. I like how you need to beat every mission in a stage on the highest "Sick" rating to unlock new Pro challenges, and despite it working against you at times, it will test your skills as a digital skater, regardless of whether or not you're a seasoned veteran. Good lines for fun combo strings are still present, and every level will have you thinking of new ways to combo, like a puzzle. Additionally, the online portion of the game (which basically transforms levels into inoffensive social hubs) doesn't hurt anything, and you can still play the entire game solo if you want. Speaking of online play, it's also available in the form of side modes, but they're a pain to set up, and don't involve split-screen couch co-op. You can queue a round for quick match, trick attack, deathmatch, combo mambo (single combos win out over total score), big head (you have to do tricks to refresh your life bar), and king of the hill. It's a diversion for sure, and one you can skip out on entirely. In the meantime, I'm having trouble connecting to games and getting people in, possibly because versus modes are hidden in the in-game menu. The create-a-park mode is also back, and even though there are only five themes, the entire affair isn't as limited as it was in past titles. This is mostly because the Complexity Meter is a bit more lenient, allowing for players to place hundreds of different objects in a single arena before it caps out. There's sadly no "create-a-skater" option, but you can customize the pros available, and change their costumes to some sufficiently wacky outfits (like cops and robots). On a higher note, the soundtrack is actually pretty good, and although it doesn't have an iconic song like "Superman," it gets the job done and feels authentic. I didn't outright hate Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, as it distills a lot of the franchise's good points into an arcadey modern format. There are flashes of brilliance, but much of that is piggybacking off of the foundation its predecessors have already created. Considering that Activision signed a deal with Tony Hawk for more games a while back that's set to expire soon, I sincerely hope change is on the horizon if more titles are in the cards. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tony Hawk 5 review photo
This franchise needs a new developer
I grew up with the Tony Hawk franchise -- at least, Neversoft's vision of it. Game after game, even some of the more questionable ones, held my interest until Proving Ground led the series astray. But in 2007, ...

Review: Laserlife

Sep 29 // Ben Davis
Laserlife (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Choice ProvisionsPublisher: Choice ProvisionsReleased: September 22, 2015 (PC, PS4), TBA (Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 Laserlife tells the story of an astronaut who died out in space, whose body drifts aimlessly along with the wreckage of a space ship. The body is discovered by "future intelligences who have no concept of humankind" as they delve into the astronaut's subconscious to extract memories in an attempt to learn of the skeleton's history and how this human ended up dead in outer space. Players control the future extraterrestrial entity in the form of two lasers. Each laser is controlled separately with the analog sticks, and they can both reach any part of the screen. Movement is very fluid and the lasers feel great to control as they spin and dance effortlessly around the screen. Each level consists of four stages. During the first stage, Memory Molecule Collection, players must move into position and press the trigger buttons at the right moment to collect memory molecules. Later levels introduce molecules which must be held in position as well as ones which must be moved to a new position. An insufficient amount of molecules collected during the first stage will reset the level, but this was never a problem for me while playing on normal difficulty. [embed]313018:60553:0[/embed] The second stage, Memory Harmonization, involves moving into position in order to hit targets. The hit boxes for the targets seem to be smaller than they are for memory molecules, so movements need to be slightly more precise, although the targets turn green once the lasers are in the correct position. These were the most difficult stages for me personally, even though they just involve moving around without having to time button presses. The final two stages are the easiest. During the Warp Phase, players must avoid colliding with red barriers, or mental blocks, by moving towards the openings. Finally, the Memory Materialization stage finishes out the level with the player moving the analog sticks as quickly as possible until the bar at the top of the screen has depleted. Once all of this has been completed, the memory will be fully extracted and appear as a physical manifestation of a significant object from the astronaut's life. If players find that the game is too challenging, or too easy, there are a few difficulty settings to choose from which will increase or decrease the amount of obstacles to deal with. There are also leaderboards to browse, with separate leaderboards for each difficulty, if that's something that interests you. Music is obviously a huge part of any rhythm game, and the soundtrack could easily make or break the game. Laserlife's soundtrack is very chill and atmospheric, which fits perfectly with the outer space setting. It's best to play this game with headphones in order to really focus on the music. I felt the soundtrack could have been a bit more varied at times, however, since all of the songs are very spacey and sometimes started to sound a bit similar after a while. Maybe they could have had some tracks that fit more with the theme of some of the memories, like a lullaby for the childhood memories, or even mixed in more spoken parts. One of my favorite tracks was used towards the end of the game, which had mission control voices being played over the music. I felt that was an idea they could have experimented with a bit more, because it worked really well for that one level. Unlike the Bit.Trip games, the sound effects from collecting memories and hitting targets don't really add much to the music itself, which was slightly disappointing. Obstacles are arranged so that they match up to the music of course, but interacting with them merely makes a dull sound which is often barely audible against the soundtrack. Having more robust sound effects might have helped make the soundtrack pop a bit more, and it would also be easier for the player to tell when they missed something. Laserlife has a lot of big ideas and an interesting premise. I love the concept of extraterrestrial life coming into contact with a human skeleton adrift in space, and trying to learn something about the strange creature's origins. The grand themes of human existence and the persistence of memory are ideas that I would like to see more games try to tackle. In this case, however, I found the overall experience to be a little underwhelming. It's fun for a short rhythm game, but with only 12 levels, it felt like Laserlife never really got a chance to fully explore the broad topics it brought to the table. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Laserlife review photo
Drifting through space
Choice Provisions is best known for the excellent rhythm-based series, Bit.Trip, a saga spanning six games (and one spin-off) which abstractly dealt with themes about a man's journey through life. The studio has been toying w...

Review: Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1

Sep 29 // Chris Carter
Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developers: Redacted StudiosPublisher: Versus EvilReleased: September 22, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 (standard), $34.99 (trilogy bundle), $54.99 (ultimate pack) To give you a bit of background, this series does not feature the titular Afro Samurai (though he is around somewhat) -- instead, it focuses on Kuma, who as no surprise wears a giant bear head. Billed as a "brave warrior who once protected the great temple," he was betrayed by Afro, and now walks the Earth in search of revenge. You'll learn a bit more about how Kuma died during the course of this first volume, which is a continuation of the original game. The entire time during my play session, I was basically asking myself why this had to exist. There are elements of the Afro Samurai franchise I like, but forcing people to play through this new, quite frankly terrible series to delve into it is almost insulting. Why not just produce an OVA or even a web short? Much of the game consists of beyond campy voice acting, like anyone was invited into the studio for recording sessions, and simple art stills that fail to effectively tell any sort of cohesive narrative. There's also a really weird (but mostly good) RZA score that is peppered throughout Afro Samurai 2 that doesn't quite fit with the rest of the game. It just feels like this shouldn't have even gone to the developmental stages as a video game. The lack of quality control is most apparent with the sound editing, which is so bad you'll hear loud beats during key story sequences that drown out entire bits of dialogue. Major issues even pile up beyond that, as I noticed multiple sequences where the narrative audio was cut out prematurely, and the game has constant framerate issues both in and out of combat, leading to an overall shaky experience. One time I even entered a tutorial, came back out, and subsequently fell off a cliff, forcing me to restart the chapter. [embed]312865:60543:0[/embed] I thought the non-playable bits were bad, but I wasn't quite ready for everything else. There are some really weird "interactive" cutscenes that mostly consist of your character crawling on the ground during some dramatic event and picking up items or looking for some obscure object. If these were meant to instill some sort of emotional effect, they utterly failed, partially due to the wonky physics and broken game engine. The action sequences are also horrid, partially due to the aforementioned framerate issues, but also because of the fact that it doesn't even feel like a budget game that would be welcome on the original PlayStation. Kuma has access to counters, attacks, jumps, and a typical rage (Devil Trigger) ability, as well as the power to switch styles. It's all painfully slow, and to add insult to injury, many of the animations don't even connect. You're basically just going to mash attack and counter occasionally with very little nuance involved. The camera is also a huge problem, as it's fixed and it constantly flips out in a seizure-worthy fashion. What's particularly troubling about the way the camera works is when you're traversing stages, you often can't see what's ahead of you, leading to some lame pitfall deaths or ambushes. It's not like the game is hard by any means as it's essentially a button-masher, but it's constantly working against you at all turns through technical faults. This lurid affair will last roughly two hours, which is the standard for episodic games. Yet, the fact that you have to suffer through this begs the question entirely -- "why was this episodic at all?" Were they going to lose the license or something? I usually hold off on telling people not to get an episodic game until more of it is available, but even after playing the first volume of Afro Samurai 2, I can say with authority, "do not get this."
Afro Samurai 2 review photo
Digital seppuku
In the words of Samuel L. Jackson, "what kind of fucked up repugnant shit is this?" It's Afro Samurai 2.

Review: Skylanders: SuperChargers

Sep 28 // Chris Carter
Skylanders SuperChargers (3DS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Vicarious VisionsPublisher: ActivisionReleased: September 20, 2015MSRP: $74.99 (Starter pack, two characters, vehicle, base, game) To be frank, I was worried about the state of Skylanders after Trap Team. I mean, sure, it was a great action game and still had its charms, but I was starting to think that Activision had been scraping the bottom of the barrel with its newest gimmick. With the vehicular-based focus however, Vicarious Visions has turned the formula on its head again, going back to basics with old-school, sensible tendencies. The focus here is vehicles, and not just cars. Land, sea, and air-based transportation is at the crux of the experience, with the Starter Pack providing the former. To be clear, there are elemental gates for ancillary content (forcing players to use certain toys to access some areas), but the fact that the entire core game can be completed with one land vehicle, and the vast majority of sidequests are accessible with just one sea and air toy respectively is a massive step up from past titles. Yes, you will have to spend a bit of extra cash to get everything, but I was completely satisfied with the main campaign on its own terms. Speaking of the toys themselves, they're still at the top of their game. All of the vehicles sport moving parts, and take me back to my Micro Machines days, racing cars across a table with glee. There are fewer new characters this time around in favor of the vehicles, which is fine in my book, as they're much easier to wrap your head around with three distinct varieties. Just like before, two players can play together on the same console with two different Skylanders -- here, a vehicle can be added to the mix with the new portal. Yes, that's one vehicle. While I initially thought it was a limitation, it actually feels like a more deliberate design choice, as sharing a ride is much more fun as a co-op experience. [embed]312286:60536:0[/embed] One person drives, and the other shoots -- it's that simple. With the touch of a button you can switch roles, should someone else want to take the driver's seat. Movement is intuitive, as the driver is only focusing on traversal, and the shooting bits cleverly make use of a reticle to avoid the need for the driver to always be in sync with their partner. In short, it allows everyone a ton of freedom, but it isn't too overwhelming of a prospect to hop from car to car. The story this time around doesn't require any prior knowledge of the series, which simultaneously works in its favor and hurts the setup. Once again, Kaos (who is still charming as "Not Invader Zim," but is getting a bit old at this point) reigns supreme, it's just that this time he's taken the noble Eon captive, leaving your ragtag team of Patrick Warburton and company to save the day. It's a plot that belongs in a Saturday morning cartoon, but the sleek visuals and upbeat performances sell it well enough. During the 10-hour campaign, you'll find plenty of variety when it comes to mission types, enemy patterns, themes, and gameplay. One moment you might be diving underwater in an obstacle course of sorts with a submarine, and the next, you're up in the air dogfighting, Star Fox style (yes, you can barrel roll). The pacing is excellent, and boss fights are seen in a whole new light as vehicular confrontations. But this time you'll have Mario Kart-esque races as a distraction as well, which are easily the best pieces of side content yet for the series. The entire affair feels thoroughly integrated into the game itself, without feeling like a tacked-on "me too" mode. One race for instance features a level populated by two giant dragons, who constantly are visible throughout the track, and occasionally pop out to cause havoc for the participants. Each level feels like it was given a sufficient amount of love, to the point where I'd put many of them on par with classics like Diddy Kong Racing and some of the best Mario Kart games. That's not to say that it completely measures up to its contemporaries. The item system feels limited, and the combat system in general (all cars can use their standard attacks during races) is disjointed, as some elements from the campaign don't quite work in this gametype. Plus, you'll need to buy a certain number of toys to access every track. No, it's not perfect, but again, as a side mode, it does its job and then some. Online play for the campaign and racing modes also don't hurt its case, on top of the revamped Triple Triad-like Skystones mini-game. I'm utterly surprised that Activision hasn't run this franchise into the ground yet. Skylanders: SuperChargers reinvigorates my interest in the series, and I'd go so far as to say that I wouldn't mind a full-on SuperChargers racing spin-off in the same vein as a proper Mario Kart game (note that the Wii and 3DS editions are racing games, essentially). After all, a little competition never hurt anyone -- maybe they can put that Crash Bandicoot license to good use. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. The Starter Pack and a few additional toys were provided as well.]
Skylanders review photo
Back to business
Year after year, I can generally count on the Skylanders games. I had zero hope for Spyro's return back in 2011, but every single iteration has been a competent brawler. While Activision can be accused of running franchi...

Review: Destiny: The Taken King

Sep 25 // Chris Carter
Destiny: The Taken King (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BungiePublisher: Activision Released: September 15, 2015MSRP: $39.99 (digital) / $59.99 (physical) Lets start with the multitude of changes Bungie has made to this husk of a game since launch. It took a full year, but now, the vault is finally sufficient for storing a realistic amount of items. The Gunsmith, once a pointless relic a week after launch, now actually does something meaningful, and has his own questlines in tow. Ghost shells and class items have defense ratings, you can recreate and upgrade Exotics at will, class quests have been implemented to help players acclimate, and armor materials have been streamlined. This is in addition to a ton of quality of life updates the game has accrued this past year like alternative methods of gathering reagents. It's finally starting to take shape. Other major shifts include Nolan North completely taking over for Dinklebot as your companion, who has been completely and utterly erased from existence due to the online-only nature of the game. Ghost now sounds a little more enthusiastic, and presumably will have more actual voicework going forward for future DLCs -- great decision, Bungie, as Dinklage's previous DLC work felt like archived, pasted voices. Another big addition is the quest log, which, while barebones, actually provides players with some vague idea of what to do and where to go when choosing missions, which is leaps and bounds better than the nonexistent system before. Nightfalls, the ultimate weekly activity outside of the raid, are now less tedious, as they don't instantly boot you to orbit anymore upon death, all but ensuring that players won't camp out in the same cheese (exploit) spot for fear of having to restart 30 or more minutes of progress. Likewise, Weekly Heroics are now thankfully removed and integrated into a playlist with better rewards, and the daily heroic only needs to be completed by one character for account-wide rewards. Finally, all of the PlayStation exclusive Year One content is now available for Xbox platforms. Every single one of these aforementioned changes is positive, though this is how Destiny should have been at launch. But even still, Bungie has proven it can't write a story for beans. The narrative this time around is that a new big bad, Oryx, the father of Crota (who you killed in the first DLC), has entered the picture. It's everyone versus him basically, and that's pretty much all you need to know from start to finish. While it has all the makings of a basic moustache-twirling villain plot, it's actually coherent this time around, which is a massive step up from the awful story of the original. It's a step in the right direction, but coherency doesn't automatically translate into quality -- it's still pretty bad. [embed]312285:60513:0[/embed] It's just that this time, Bungie decided to put Nathan Fillion's character Cayde-6 at the forefront, where he has plenty of time to do Fillion-type things and crack wise at every turn. Your mileage may vary in terms of how much you enjoy the Mal Reynolds character that Firefly fans (and Fillion himself) have been clinging to all these years, but suffice to say I'm kind of tired of the shtick. Not to mention the fact that it's a bit odd that Cayde, who practically said nothing during Year One, is suddenly chatty. Also, all of the meaningful lore still isn't accessible in-game, instead forcing players to go online to to access the Grimoire system. After a full year this is utterly indefensible. So how is the actual content that you're paying at least $40 for? Well, somewhere in-between a DLC and another full game's worth. You're getting roughly nine (short) story missions, four Strikes (three for Xbox), a raid, three new subclasses, seven PVP maps, a small number of sidequests (including an arena diversion called the Court of Oryx), and new pieces of gear. Once again though, the story bits are rather disappointing, mostly consisting of missions you can breeze through in 10 minutes or so. That isn't to say that they aren't fun, but most players are likely going to conquer the entire story in a casual afternoon, which isn't the greatest feeling if you already spent $60 to $90 on the previous versions of the game on top of the Taken King. Oh, and roughly half of the areas are re-used, too. Alternatively, the third subclass quests for each class are actually pretty fun and inventive, even if they also only last 10 minutes or so, and take place in the same areas as the campaign (or borrow existing locations from PVP). It also helps that since every class can now control all three elements, dungeons and raids are that much more fun with so many different combinations of loadouts. The saving grace however is the Dreadnaught, an entirely new location to be patrolled, with its own set of missions and Strikes. Billed as Oryx's home base, this Hive ship is actually pretty cool looking, and is the first actually new exploration hub (the tiny Reef was pretty pathetic) Bungie has implemented since the launch of the game. Why the previous DLCs didn't have something like this is beyond me. The gimmick this time around is the "Taken," enemy type, which are basically souped-up denizens of Oryx. He restructures their bodies to serve him, and as a result, have this shadowy sort of glow going on. They're cool on paper, but once you realize that the Taken are literally just reskinned existing enemies, they lose their luster quite a bit. In my mind, they basically sum up Destiny's constant need to re-use existing content rather than actually provide something new. The Strikes however, like the attempt at a story, are another step in the right direction. Bungie has overhauled them so they're a bit more streamlined, and provide players with more to do than just shoot regular enemies before they face a giant bullet sponge boss. For instance, one tasks party members with grabbing a ball as a key of sorts, and running through the level with it to unlock various doors. Shield Brothers features a fun fight with two bosses, and Sunless Cell hosts a final boss encounter in complete darkness. When you add in the fact that the new Strike playlists actually give good rewards, they're suddenly much more fun to play. Additionally, the raid, King's Fall, is par for the course. Raids are easily my favorite aspect of the experience, and give us a quick one hour glimpse each week into the game that Destiny could be. The boss fights here are fast, fun, and puzzling, and I had a blast trying to figure it out with my group. Once again though many players won't even see this raid, as it still requires them to manually find a group and meet the entry requirements. Finally, PVP is getting seven new maps (eight on PSN), as well as a few modes. My personal favorite is The Drifter, which is an abandoned ship in The Reef, sporting a really cool atmosphere and design. PVP is a bit more robust now in general, with three new modes in tow. Mayhem is a hyper-ability based mode, Rift is like a capture the flag/basketball hybrid, and Zone Control is basically what the original PVP mode should have been -- where only capturing objectives, not kills, obtain points for your team. This is very close to the same competent but flawed shooter you played last year. Brand new players should probably jump on this opportunity to try the game out with the "Legendary Edition," which provides the base game, both DLCs, and the Taken King expansion, but anyone who hated Year One will only find the improvements to be incremental at best. Slowly but surely, Bungie is morphing this chimera of a game into something more presentable. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Destiny DLC review photo
The beta period is over
Year One Destiny players got taken for a ride. It's very clear that Bungie shipped an unfinished game, riddled with questionable design decisions, a bare-bones story, and a distinct lack of content. Hell, the developer w...

Review: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

Sep 22 // Chris Carter
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4)Developer: NIS Publisher: NIS Released: October 6, 2015MSRP: $59.99 This time around, Void Dark, an evil overlord, sparks the largest Netherworld war in history. As a result of essentially alienating the entire galaxy, a heap of rival overlords rise up in revolt, one of which is led by the stoic warrior Killia. Because of the focus on global (or universal) conflict, the narrative feels more sprawling in Alliance of Vengeance, which works both for and against it. This is more of a gradual story, building up over time, than the small-group feel of most of the series. Hell, in Disgaea 3, the main character wants to kill his dad for smashing his video games. As a result, the characters aren't quite as crazy or manic as Laharl and Mao -- they have bigger things at stake. Killia's silent archetype does get old after a while, but his style actually works from a gameplay perspective, so I never felt fully disconnected from him. Seraphina, the Princess Overlord of the Gorgeous, is a bit more annoying. She has that "hohohoho!" laugh that's popular in anime, and her jokes of dominating everyone around her get old very quickly. But like all Disgaea characters, she opens up over time and reveals more depth, particularly with her backstory. She also fills in for Etna in-between chapters, delivering the comedic interludes that are clearly too absurd to be canon. There are plenty of side-conversations to have, and an archive function in the game's hub world allows players to re-watch cutscenes or dialog bits. Ailliance of Vengeance's weakest point is probably the narrative this time around. Particularly for the first 10 hours or so, the pace is relatively slow. You know nothing of the true motivations of most of the cast, and the main draw seems to be "fight, fight, fight until we get to Void Dark." You'll get a few flashes of story here and there, but for the most part it's one-dimensional, at least for the first half. [embed]309993:60317:0[/embed] As for the rest of the cast, it's about par for the course -- you have your meathead, your subservient Prinnies, your overconfident youngsters, and so on. There wasn't anyone I outright loved like Almaz or Mr. Champloo from Disgaea 3, but no one is excessively annoying or not worth using during missions. I've always felt like Disgaea is what you make it, party-wise. Since the class creation system is more robust than ever, you can literally custom-tailor your own characters if you don't like the core cast. It helps that the animations are beautiful, as is the artwork. It's not going to push the PS4 even close to its limits, but it's far better looking than the last entries on PS3, and it's crazy how gorgeous anime-style games look on current consoles. It's all so smooth, colorful, and well-crafted. Even characters that belong to the same class look different enough, especially when they wield a variety of weapons, which yield their own sets of personality. Disgaea 5 kicks off in record time, as you're placed into the main hub in minutes. Like every other game in the series, you'll launch missions from here, equip your party, and shoot the breeze with various NPCs. The tools available are a bit more expansive than other games, most notably the crazy character creation mechanic I mentioned above. In addition to a name and color scheme, you'll also be able to hire them at your current level, alter their personality, and change every single one of their skills if you wish. For instance, you could create a fury-crazed warrior with a red hue named Immortan Joe, debuff his ranged attacks, and reapply those points into close-combat, high-risk abilities. As usual, the "all at once" player turns in combat work splendidly. If you've never played a Disgaea game before, your entire team gets to do their turn, and then the enemy team does theirs. It's an interesting juxtaposition to the alternating scheme used in most SRPGs, and it's even more nuanced when you take into account the "execute" function that lets you play out part of your turn in the order that you selected. This is on top of the crazy counter-attacks that will play out randomly (as well as counter-counters and counter-counter-counters), and team-up attacks that initiate when you're near a party member on the grid. You also need to watch for enemy "Evilties" this time, which may produce effects like making foes stronger next to other baddies, and so on. Likewise, your team has their own set of Evilties, like Seraphina's ability to do more damage to males. Combined with the Geo system (colored zones that also provide buffs or debuffs), you'll have to pay attention at all times to get the most out of a battle. Eventually, you'll unlock the power to place characters in "Support Squads," granting them special bonuses with the caveat that each squad is limited in number. Oh, and there's the Revenge system that powers up characters after the death of a connected party member, the Item World and council system return, and new classes like Dark Knights (one of my new favorites), Maids (an item-based class), and Fairies (who absorb magic) join the fray. Thankfully, there are a lot of game options to customize the experience as well, including jacking up the movement speed during hub sequences, upping combat speed, skipping animations, and auto-scrolling conversations, which are mostly fully-voiced. While I don't have access to it yet and it didn't influence this review, Alliance of Vengeance still has the contentious DLC strategy as past titles. I feel like the series has enough content to last you at least 100 hours on its own, but I still don't like the idea of selling fan-favorite characters piecemeal directly after launch. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance may not have the best story or cast in the series, but it gets the job done, and brings a ton of advancements with it in the process. I'll probably be playing this one for years to come, and I sincerely hope NIS is able to continue this series. It's still one of the best SRPG franchises in the business. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Disgaea 5 review photo
Finding The Lost
I can count on the Disgaea series. While NIS always seems to be trying to recreate the magic of the initial release, every game manages to capture the essence of SRPGs in a charming and robust manner. The story isn't as impressive as the last entry, but Alliance of Vengeance has made a number of advancements to the Disgaea formula.

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