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PS4

Review: The Bit.Trip

Dec 15 // Ben Davis
The Bit.Trip (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, PS3)Developer: Choice ProvisionsPublisher: Choice ProvisionsMSRP: $9.99 (Cross-Buy)Released: December 5, 2015 (PS4, PS Vita), TBA (PS3) The Bit.Trip is a collection of all six games in the Bit.Trip series which were originally released on WiiWare, similar to Bit.Trip Complete for Wii and Bit.Trip Saga for 3DS from a few years ago. It may have a different name than the other compilations, but it's largely the same aside from the controls, menus, and a few extras. The Bit.Trip differs in that it offers Trophies and leaderboards, which already existed for the PC versions of the games, but not for the Wii and 3DS versions. However, it's lacking all of the bonus content and extra challenge levels introduced in Bit.Trip Complete. Those extras would have been a nice addition here as a way to entice people who have already played some of the games before, but as it stands, it's basically just a straightforward compilation. [embed]326911:61531:0[/embed] Even so, the Bit.Trip games still hold up incredibly well, and the price is perfect for anyone looking to experience them again (or for the first time). All six games can be accessed from the slick main menu, featuring some neat concept art whenever a title is selected. Each game also allows the player to choose between Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings, which is nice because the Bit.Trip games can be quite difficult, even on Easy! For those who haven't played Bit.Trip before, the series spans several different genres with an emphasis on rhythm-based gameplay, all held together with similar themes to tell the story of the life and death of Commander Video. Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Flux are very Pong-like in nature, requiring the player to move a paddle up and down to bounce incoming beats back to the rhythm. Bit.Trip Runner switches things up as a rhythmic auto-running platformer, while Bit.Trip Fate takes the series in another drastically different direction as a musical on-rails shooter. Bit.Trip Core and Bit.Trip Void are a bit harder to describe, but they both offer gameplay that is completely unique to the series. Core gives players control of an X and Y axis which can zap any beats that pass over them, while Void has players controlling an ever-expanding black hole which must consume other black shapes while avoiding white ones. Void is actually my personal favorite of the series, simply because I've never played anything else quite like it. The biggest difference for the PlayStation versions of these games is of course going to be the controls. I found playing with the Dualshock 4 to be quite comfortable and intuitive, easily on par with the Wii controls. Both Core and Void let the player choose between the left analog stick or the d-pad for movement. I found the analog stick to be preferable in most situations, although the d-pad was useful for a certain boss in Void which requires precision movements, and some players will probably prefer to use the d-pad to play Core (I found it to be a little uncomfortable after a while). Fate uses both analog sticks -- one for movement and one for aiming and shooting -- and it felt perfect. The controls for Runner are about what you'd expect, since it only requires simple button inputs. It would be kind of hard to mess those up. As for Beat and Flux, the controls work similarly to the Wii Remote in that you simply have to tilt the Dualshock 4 forward and back to move the paddle. It seemed to really pick up on my hands shaking though, which caused the paddle to sort of vibrate slightly up and down all the time. This made it feel as though I didn't have as much control over the paddle as I would have like, but it wasn't too much of a deal-breaker for me since I wasn't going for high scores or anything. However, it did make the final boss of Beat especially difficult since it's easier to win by hitting the beats back with the very tip of the paddle. I kept missing even the slow-moving beats by the slightest degree, most likely because of the vibrations. Finally, for players interested in leaderboards, they'll be happy to know that each game has separate leaderboards for every individual level, divided between the three difficulty settings. These can be accessed directly from the main menu or individually from the menus of the specific games. While The Bit.Trip could have been made marginally better with the addition of any kind of bonus content (such as the extra challenges found in Bit.Trip Complete), it's still a solid compilation of an excellent series of games. Thankfully, they hold up just as well on PlayStation consoles as they did on the Wii. If you still haven't taken the dive into the rhythmic, arcade-y goodness of Bit.Trip, or if you've been looking for a reason to play through it all again, now would be the perfect time to do so. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
The Bit.Trip review photo
SERIES.COMPLETE
The Bit.Trip series holds a special place in my heart. With a wonderful blend of rhythm-based mechanics and arcade-style gameplay spanning various genres, the games are easy to pick up, quick to fall in love with, and yet inc...

Review: SteamWorld Heist

Dec 09 // Chris Carter
SteamWorld Heist (3DS [reviewed], PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Image & FormPublisher: Image & FormMSRP: $19.99 ($16.99 until December 31, with a 3DS theme)Released: December 10, 2015 (3DS), TBA (PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One) Although Heist is confirmed to take place in the same universe as Dig, the only thing that's remotely similar is the art style. Set in the future after the presumed fictional wild west period, the cast of the game is now spacebound, complete with more advanced weaponry at their disposal. The star of the narrative is Piper, captain of a smuggling ship who gets wrapped up in the ongoing conflict with pirates. Along the way you'll pick up more cast members to add to your home ship, Mass Effect style, all of whom boast unique abilities and statlines. The presentation is just as charming as Dig to boot, with gibberish dialogue (outside of the announcer), memorable characters, and some awesome vocal music tracks. One thing I wasn't too keen on though was the lack of character development, despite the fast-moving plot that gives you plenty of excuses to blow stuff up. While I felt very connected to Dig due to the smaller scale of its world that left me wanting more, the galactic conflict of Heist wasn't quite as compelling. Gameplay-wise, gone is the action platformer conceit, as things are now at a more deliberate pace. Think of how Valkyria Chronicles works -- players get a limited amount of movement, and can perform one action, including a skill or an attack, before their turn ends. You'll get to aim manually, and target any body part or object you wish. You can also opt to sprint further than your allotted movement, though it will immediately end your turn. Many strategy RPGs have used this same system, but I was surprised at how well it works in Heist's 2D space. [embed]324048:61439:0[/embed] Action is relatively fast-going, and there are a ton of nuances built into the combat system to constantly keep things interesting. For instance, weapon loadouts drastically change the way one approaches a situation, as some guns have laser sights, different rates of fire, or new ammo types altogether. When you add in the fact that headshots increase the chance for a critical hit, and that you can knock off enemy hats to add to your collection (of which there are nearly 100), it gets even more interesting. The whole equipment system alone is well crafted, from the way it starts off manageable and eventually ramps up, to the utility of the items in general. Players will have to choose two items per character, shifting their builds significantly and essentially turning them into new playstyles. Selling items is as easy as pressing a button, which makes inventory management effortless and fun without being too streamlined for its own good. Items like extra movement shoes, armor that restricts movement, and healing packs all come into play, and can be used in a static manner or more dynamically as a reaction to each scenario. It's deep without being too overwhelming, so newcomers shouldn't have any issues acclimating to it -- especially since you can alter the difficulty setting on every mission. It helps that maps are always interesting as well, providing multiple paths of entry even earlier into the experience. Because of how open each arena is, placement of your party is important, and finding cover can be relatively difficult when nearly all of it can be destroyed or blown up depending on the situation. There are so many variables involved in every level that missions never truly felt the same, even if I was repeating them to pick up some loot I missed, or clear an objective I previously failed. SteamWorld Heist is both a great entry point for people who normally shy away from strategy games and a good recommendation for veterans. With a deep combat system and a sliding difficulty scale, pretty much everyone can find something they'll like. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SteamWorld Heist review photo
Smugglers with hearts of gold
SteamWorld Dig is a criminally underrated game. Although some were quick to judge its short length, it's the perfect thing to pick up and play at the drop of a hat, and the pacing is basically perfect. Heist is a co...

Final Fantasy VII Remake 'would not fit into a single release,' includes cross-dressing and new ATB combat

Dec 07 // Steven Hansen
[embed]324562:61408:0[/embed] Final Fantasy VII Remake also aims for, "a seamless active battle." Again with the lengthier answer, Nomura says, "Regarding the battle speed and tempo, for the sake of a stress-free battle, we want to do something on the level of Dissidia Final Fantasy. As far as the degree of action goes, it’s Dissidia Final Fantasy, then Kingdom Hearts, then Final Fantasy VII Remake. There won’t be any actions that require a technique. By using the new system, we want to do action battles while also being able to fight while thinking strategically."  The ATB gauge (and Limit Breaks) still exists despite this, but "with new ways to be used." You can see the gauge in the video and should pay attention to when it fills and turns red (Barret's attack at 1:22 in the trailer). There will still be three party members, but you can switch freely between them (or just play as one of them, which means AI will handle the others and you can do a Final Fantasy VII run through as just Yuffie). Cloud still cross-dresses for Don Corneo, too. Though there will be other story changes, according to Kitase, "I don’t want the remake to end as something nostalgic. I want to get the fans of the original version excited.We’ll be making adjustments to the story with this feeling in mind." Other tidbits: there are other external collaborators besides just CyberConnect2, "Final Fantasy VII Remake" is the full title (if you couldn't tell), and Advent Children's character models are too old and "deformed" (the bodies are too unrealistic) to be used. From the Famitsu interview, it's noted that, " CyberConnect2’s production tastes differ from that of Square Enix" and that, "Director Tetsuya Nomura was annoyed by the direction of the latest trailer, so Square Enix changed it to be closer to its own style," which I guess implies CyberConnect2 produced it first? Also, I'm starting a tech sex startup called Cyber2Connect. ファイナルファンタジーVII リメイク』北瀬佳範氏&野村哲也氏に訊く分作の意図――バトルはATBありのアクションに!? [Famitsu]『FFVII リメイク』のバトルにはお馴染みのリミットブレイクも搭載。分作にした経緯にも迫る[Dengeki]Final Fantasy VII Remake details: reason for multi-part release, CyberConnect2 collaboration, more [Gematsu]
FFVII Remake details photo
Three person party with free switching
Now that we have the first in-game (Unreal Engine 4) trailer for Final Fantasy VII Remake, people are facing the tangible result of months-long concern over Square's previously discussed decision to change the battle system. ...

Review: Fat Princess Adventures

Dec 07 // Chris Carter
Fat Princess Adventures (PS4)Developer: Fun BitsPublisher: SonyMSRP: $19.99Released: December 5, 2015 The entire gimmick this time around of Adventures is a Gauntlet-style hack-and-slash. Gone are the days of setting up elaborate base defenses and competing with other players in a giant game of Capture the Flag -- instead, you're mostly going to be pushing one of two attack buttons as you slaughter hundreds of foes on a relatively linear quest. Now, that's not inherently a bad thing, as Adventures is a competent action game with a few tricks up its sleeve. This time, the classes have been streamlined to four jobs: Warrior, Engineer, Mage, and Archer. The former two are melee based and the latter two are ranged, so it's pretty straightforward from there. As stated though the actual combat bits are quite good, despite their mindless foundation. Power attacks like a shield stun can often augment the effectiveness of other abilities, and the lock-on feature is simple to use, but flawless in execution. What I like in particular is that players can swap out classes at any time after hitting a checkpoint, which keeps things fresh through every stage, especially when more people are involved. Yep, Adventures commits to its hack-and-slash nature, and supports four players both offline and online. It's a drop-in and drop-out enabled game, so even playing solo can be enjoyable, as others will join in randomly, equip new roles, and switch up the flow of a match in an instant. Loot is also distributed rather swiftly, ensuring that you have a constant need to try out new playstyles. [embed]325020:61446:0[/embed] Having said that, the actual loot system isn't all that exciting. Sure, there are cool modifiers like a burn debuff for fire swords and the like, but none of it really transcends the realm of "slash slash slash," which is particularly grating when the enemy troops are mostly cannon fodder. But just as things are starting to get dull, an elite enemy (a la Diablo) will swoop in and grant you some new piece of loot, and all will be well again.  Once each level is completed, you can also go to the "Grindhouse" -- a mode that allows you to replay stages with extra rewards in tow, and challenge modifiers, like the restriction of using only one class. With local friends on board, this mechanic will last you quite a while. Bosses on the other hand could have used a bit more effort on Fun Bits' part. To be frank, they rely on the tired old mechanic of throwing "adds" (additional enemies) at players with reckless abandon. Some of the ideas are cool (using the overdrive mechanic as the only means of damaging a boss, or throwing cake at NPCs to power them up), but the strategy is almost always the same in the end: dodge power attacks, which are usually in a line, slash the adds, then focus the boss. In line with the uninspired boss encounters, don't expect a whole lot of substance outside of the quirky veneer. The story is rather trite, mostly consisting of a narrative that involves both princesses being captured by the evil Bitter Queen. It's something you've seen a million times before, and it's not done any better than all of the cartoons and games before it. The massive voice cast (with veterans like Nolan North, Steve Blum, and Tara Strong) does help its case though, as do the gallons of blood that flow from enemies, contrasting nicely with the cutesy fairy tale setup. Fat Princess Adventures is an enjoyable distraction for hardcore fans of the hack-and-slash genre, but now I just want a proper new Princess game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Fat Princess review photo
I hope this leads to another core entry
I'm going to come out and say it -- Fat Princess was criminally underrated. With a charming art style and an incredibly deep combat system, it shot its way into my heart at launch, despite the fact that the community die...

Final Fantasy VII Remake photo
'You're doing this for the planet'
[extremely nerds voice] "You're doing this for the planet, same as us!" There's a bit of actual, early gameplay from the Final Fantasy VII PS4 remake announced at E3 this year. You can see a bit of the, "more realistic gamep...

Revenant Kingdom photo
New Level-5 RPG coming to PS4
I was just thinking recently about how quiet Level-5 has been with Ni no Kuni since 2013's Wrath of the White Witch and, well, there's that. During the PlayStation Experience, Namco Bandai (its international publisher) annou...

Review: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege

Dec 02 // Chris Carter
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftMSRP: $59.99Release Date: December 1, 2015  First and foremost, let me make it clear that Siege is still very much a strategic game, despite an increased emphasis on action. The crux is engrossed in the "siege" concept, where two teams of players are placed on opposing sides of offense and defense. The former is tasked with infiltrating a specific area, usually a building of some sort, and the latter will put up barricades and properly booby-trap the zone to protect an objective. Defensive capabilities are quite versatile beyond placing traps, with the ability to patch up windows à la Call of Duty's zombies mode, or deploy items for the rest of your team. The sheer entropy that comes out of this simple premise is lovely. There are so many options for breaching and a litany of defensive options that no one game is the same. Players can rappel up almost any window and break in, sneak around and breach doors with charges or a good old fashioned sledgehammer, or blow up walls and create new entrances. The concept of a destructible environment is not new (games like the original Red Faction have been doing it for ages), but the development team really follows through here, with a good balance of destruction to keep things tense. Part of the variety comes from the 20 Operators, which are essentially the classes of Siege. Archetypes range from a bruiser, to a "brainy" tech girl, to a medic, but all of them have a unique twist gameplay-wise that sets them apart from one another. It's also imperative that your team works together, choosing combinations that complement each ability -- this is partially forced by the fact that the game doesn't allow two people on a team to pick the same Operator. In the end though, any combo works relatively well as long as the team is on top of things, and players don't run blindly into rooms without thinking of all of the options available. [embed]323032:61291:0[/embed] While the 5v5 asymmetrical game type is the core mode, there are also two more facets at play -- Terrorist Hunt (PVE) and Situations (single player). The former is a lot like horde mode with a twist, as players will be dropped into levels with randomized objectives and enemy placement, with three varying levels of difficulty to choose from. While I prefer the insanity of playing human opponents given the open-ended nature of the game, I really enjoyed taking breaks with the PVE mode, as it really does provide a ton of different scenarios across its 11 maps. It's tough, too, as one bad move can result in a near-death experience, requiring others to rally around your low health pool, and bust out tactics like going in a vanguard formation with a shield-wielding Operator. From what I've seen people really attempt to use a mic, and if you strive for a shooter that transcends the "point and shoot" mentality, you'll find solace with Siege. If desired, players can also go at it solo, which is a nice option for those of you who don't love being online all the time. Having said that, there is no campaign whatsoever. Instead, you'll have your pick of 11 Situations, which are very similar to Terrorist Hunt, but with their own set of challenges. For instance, finishing a level with a certain amount of health or completing specific tasks will net you instant renown. I actually really like this mode, as objectives can be completed individually, even if you fail a mission -- so there's incentive to come back over time and eventually "three-star" each Situation. It's absolutely not a substitute for a full-on story mode, but it's one of my favorite non-campaign additions in a while, in a sea of multiplayer-only shooters. As previously stated, the way these characters are unlocked will likely turn off some, but it's very much par for the course for the genre, and even ahead of the curve in many ways, actually. In fact, I'm sitting here, having only played the game for a few days, with 10 of the 20 Operators, which isn't bad at all. If you hate the idea of microtransactions on principle you'll likely be angry here, but on my end, I was easily able to ignore them and still enjoy Siege. As for server issues, I've heard reports of other platforms' lack of stability, but Siege has been very reliable for me on Xbox One in the past 48 hours. While there are occasional bouts of connection problems after booting up the game, the issue is resolved in seconds, and I've played hours-long sessions with no problems. Rainbow Six Siege has a lot going for it when it comes to the long haul. While three modes doesn't sound like a lot, the sheer volume of variables involved will result in an experience that constantly stays fresh, even with the current pool of 11 maps. While a few other major shooters have let me down this year, I think Siege is one of the games I'll be playing the most going forward.
Rainbow Six Siege photo
A new taste of Rainbow
The original Rainbow Six was one of the first squad shooters I ever played, outside of the Delta Force series (both debuted in the same year). I still remember hanging out at my friend's house with his dad, who also...

Very Quick Tips: Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

Nov 24 // Chris Carter
[embed]322164:61224:0[/embed] General tips (contains light, general spoilers): For a quick rundown of how to access the DLC, check out the video above. To locate the object to fight the optional boss, get to the point where you raise the giant elevator after the first boss fight (the room with the two human hunters). Step on and then step off to raise another platform. Grab that item and return to the main room in the Cathedral near the start of the DLC. Note that this one seems to be paced to fight after the first. If you're struggling with the DLC, try to at least have a Soul Level of 100 before attempting it. As always, it's possible to beat it no matter what your current level is, just keep that in mind. To obtain the Holy Moonlight Sword, talk to the head that appears after the first boss battle. If that doesn't work, equip the rune you obtained after beating him (Rally Bonus) and try again. If that fails, kill the head and take the weapon. For the boss that has multiple enemies, try to focus in on one at a time and quickly take them out. If you wait too long and don't keep track of the ones you've damaged, they will overwhelm you. When they summon the meteor attack, try to sprint around the arena clockwise. If you roll, you might get stunlocked. Alternatively, the Old Hunter's Bone spell is a great thing to trigger and use when the meteor chant is initiated. This one took me a while. After defeating the third boss (the humanoid opponent inside the clock room, pictured above), to get to the final area, you'll need to use the item you get from that fight on the giant window. At first I wasn't positioned correctly and nothing came up, so try to move around a bit if it doesn't trigger.
Bloodborne DLC tips photo
Wake up from the nightmare
When Bloodborne launched, I provided a series of tips for newcomers. They're still very much relevant for the dawn of the Old Hunters DLC pack, which debuts today, but I figured I'd provide a few add-on specific pieces of info. Note that there are light non-specific spoilers involved.

Review: Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

Nov 23 // Chris Carter
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters (PS4)Developer: From SoftwarePublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: November 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 (requires core game) Throughout my complete five hour playthrough of The Old Hunters, I couldn't help but think that most of it could have just been in the full game. In fact, a lot of layouts are straight-up reused, not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but in a literal sense. The grand cathedral steps are recreated and only slightly altered, and roughly half of the DLC feels like it could have just been an extension of Yharnam. In some ways that's perfectly fine as it matches up with the rest of the experience, but in others, it's underwhelming. The enemies in particular are new, but a chunk of them aren't as memorable as the foes from other Souls DLCs, in the sense that I didn't really have to alter my tactics to confront them -- a large reason why I love add-ons for previous iterations. The biggest draw of course is the abundance of the titular Hunters, humanoid enemies that operate similarly to the player character. Sure there were a handful of them in the base game, but here, they're front and center, ready to flip some of your own tactics on you. Other enemies aren't as iconic, as there's a decent amount of repeats, from werewolves, to the Cthulu-esque giants, to standard infected townsfolk. The zones are a mixed bag as well. It wasn't until the last stretch of the DLC that I really saw something unique, even if everything up to that point was well designed. Most areas are open, and in the latter half, there's a decent amount of exploration and puzzle solving required. There's also a few mysterious NPCs to deal with, which is a Souls tradition, and I'm happy it was carried over here. [embed]320746:61140:0[/embed] So how are the boss fights? Par for the course, really. While I won't spoil anything, the first major encounter is heavily entwined in the game's lore, and this hulking monstrosity is a sufficient challenge if you're going at it solo. The rest of the boss fights are down down to earth, featuring smaller enemies that mirror the encounters with the aforementioned Hunters. I wasn't blown away by any of them, but I enjoyed the fights all the same, mostly because of the fact that I'm a sucker for smaller scale battles. In all, you're getting roughly five hours worth of content for the core story (about 10 if you do everything), 10 weapons (including a new, good shield), and five bosses. The new "League" update is available to everyone, and augments the overall package quite well. I might sound down on a lot of aspects of The Old Hunters, but ultimately, it will satiate most fans out there. The fact that it was supposed to be two DLCs that were merged into one makes sense, as part of it feels like cut content, and the other half seems like wholly original work. While I'm glad I had an excuse to drop into the world of Yharnam once again, there's a part of me that feels disappointed that this will be the last, and only add-on for Bloodborne. If you're curious as to how to access the DLC, check out the video above. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Bloodborne DLC review photo
All Nightmare Long
While many gamers out there are fighting the good fight against DLC, From Software is certainly making the case for it. Dark Souls had one of the most fantastic add-ons of all time in the form of Artorias of the Abyss, w...

Review: Star Wars Battlefront

Nov 17 // Chris Carter
Star Wars Battlefront (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE)Publisher: Electronic ArtsMSRP: $59.99Release Date: November 17, 2015 My main problem with Star Wars Battlefront is how arcadey the game feels, when it's very clear DICE is trying to push a fully-fledged shooter on you. The end result is a Frankenstein's monster of sorts, with a lot of fun bits, and some elements of overproduction and bloat fixed in to boot. Let's start with how the game handles class creation. "Cards" are basically uninspired loadout options, with the tired gating process to boot. Why does the game feature a "credits" system on top of ranked level gating? Call of Duty solved this conundrum ages ago with tokens, which simplify everything with a singular in-game currency that you can use to unlock things. With Battlefront, it feels like DICE is actively gating you at every turn, and willingly deterring you from experimentation. Once you actually open up your options they aren't exactly mind-blowing either, with generic powers like "focus fire" (more temporary accuracy), or Thermal Detonators, which are just grenades. The only standout is the jump pack. All of the aesthetic options lack personality as well, and beyond the token gender and race choices, everything looks the same. Whereas previous titles would allow players to choose between multiple races with drastically different abilities (read: droids), every Battlefront player is humanoid in nature, whether they're a Twi'lek rebel or a Stormtrooper, they all operate the same. [embed]320463:61122:0[/embed] That isn't to say that the game isn't fun. Locations are sprawling and full of life, even if the character models aren't nearly as vibrant. Every single environment is detailed to the point where it looks like it was taken directly from the films, and most of the time, there's a gigantic battle playing out in the skies above, adding a dire feel to every match. I really like most of the modes, particularly Supremacy, Fighter Squadron, and Hero Hunt. There are nine in all, and all of them are fine in their own way. Supremacy is basically the new core mode of the game, featuring a "capture the point" tug of war system. It fits with Star Wars' high-octane action, as tons of different vehicles are scattered about at a frantic pace, to the point where every spawn is interesting. This game type is pretty much always fun when it's featured in a Battlefront game, and I haven't had a bad experience yet. Fighter Squadron, while rudimentary, is also a go-to of mine. Across several landscapes two teams will battle it out in the sky, solely in vehicles. It's not even close to the thrill of a proper X-Wing or Tie Fighter game, but again, as an arcade-like experience, it does the trick. Barrel rolls, quick turns, shields, and missile locks are all in, and it feels unique enough to set itself apart from other similar titles. My other standout favorite is Hero Hunt. This one basically teeters from a team-based mode to a free-for-all in an instant, placing a collective of soldiers against one named character -- the person to score the killing blow gets to play as that hero. It's a rush due to the fact that heroes cycle after every death, and fighting the jet-pack wielding Boba Fett is a completely different experience than taking on a Force user. You're constantly forced to change up how you approach any given situation (and learn all of their abilities, and how they impact the flow of a match), and the recognizable characters elevate the mode. Playing online is the gift that keeps on giving with Battlefront. There's a wide variety of game types to choose from without having so many that the community feels segmented. Even in EA Access there are plenty of people online, and games fill rather quickly. Then you have the mission mode, which is separate from everything else. I'm not convinced that it's much more than a fleeting fancy, even with an online or offline co-op partner. The first half consists of basic "versus" battles with or without placing players in the shoes of heroes and villains, and survival essentially amounts to another horde mode. What's weird about the former is that it's so incredibly limited, almost for no reason. The game forces you to play with "tokens," similar to Call of Duty's "Kill Confirmed," and with just four maps, it gets old in an afternoon. Why did it have to be like this? Why aren't there more maps, and better bots available? It feels rushed, almost like EA had to add in a token offline game type just to have it in there. The same goes for survival, because while I do like that the wave-based mode has an "end," unlike many other boring infinite horde modes, there isn't much to it. Occasionally waves will throw an AT-ST or Tie Fighter at you, and all players have to do is blast it into oblivion with environmental weapons or their normal gear. They have a lot of health even on normal, so it can get incredibly tedious. In short, do not count on a reliable single player component. Star Wars Battlefront feels authentic in many ways, but that authenticity is aggressively pursued at the cost of gameplay, and is often tacked-on. If you're in the mood for a relatively shallow shooter with caveats you likely won't be disappointed, but I wish that DICE had a little more time to polish it and add more substance. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher, as well as time spent online with the EA Access program on Xbox One, purchased by the reviewer.]
Star Wars review photo
Ready are you? What know you of ready?
Star Wars has been a part of my reality ever since my parents showed me the first film on VHS. From there I attended the release of every movie in the series, including the re-releases of the original trilogy -- if you'r...

Star Wars Battlefront's full version hasn't really swayed me

Nov 12 // Chris Carter
Firstly, I have to say I'm surprised at how smooth the EA Access build has been. I've had no issues connecting to any matches, and online play has been very smooth. There's also plenty of people in the program, and nearly every match I've played has filled up immediately. Additionally, nine modes in all is enough to keep people interested without having the unfortunate effect of splitting the community. In addition to the modes I already covered, another addition really stood out -- Hero Hunt. It's a 1v7 mode essentially, where one player takes the place of an iconic hero, and defends themselves against a group of standard soldiers. Whoever kills said character becomes one next. It's pretty fun, mostly because of how formidable each hero is. I love that it's constantly changing up the hero after each kill, as it forces players to adjust their tactics The other breakout mode is Fighter Squadron, which is an entirely vehicular based affair, similar to a Star Fox skirmish. It's a far better way to handle ships than the lame "power-up" style pickups in the core modes, and there are even hero ships like the Falcon involved. AI is also built in to make it feel more full and "epic," which I'm mostly okay with since it feels more arcadey than anything. As for the rest of the modes they're pretty standard fare (team deathmatch, escort), and across all of them I noticed the same stilted animations from the beta. It feels cheap, even in comparison to DICE's recent efforts like Battlefield 4. Voicework for standard grunts and heroes alike also feels rush and hastily injected. Pop-in is a major issue, and one of my soldiers even grew hair in the intro -- it was hilarious, but when it happens in-game it's just annoying. [embed]320256:61076:0[/embed] Thankfully the offline modes have been fully unlocked as well, allowing me a much bigger taste in comparison to the one horde mode mission in the beta. As a note, all of the following supports online and split-screen play, the latter of which sees a small drop in quality as well as the framerate, but is still presented in a very much playable state. The first of the two modes is "Battles," which are essentially team deathmatch confrontations with AI built in. There are only four maps to choose from (Hoth, Tatooine, Endor, and Sullust), and both support regular or hero battles -- the latter of which allows players to control a named character (Luke, Han, Leia, Vader, Palpatine, or Boba). It's...straight-up Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. After downing a foe they'll drop tokens, which you'll have to collect to score points. Do that 100 times and the match is over. If you want you can turn off your AI support, which makes the gametype even more like a horde mode than it already is. Sadly, the AI is a bit dull even on the "master" difficulty, so they never really take the gameplay to the next level. The same exact four maps are available in Survival mode, which delivers enemies in waves like a traditional horde experience. It's a fun distraction, but it doesn't ever go the full mile, heavily relying on nostalgia, like the classic soundtrack from the original trilogy. Ultimately, both modes feel the same. The former is framed more as a versus match, but still places multiple AI opponents in each arena with you -- it just isn't presented in a wave-based format. For those of you who were holding out hope for a more involved single-player component in lieu of a campaign, prepare to be disappointed. I obviously need more time to deliver a final verdict, so stay tuned for a full review sometime next week. In the meantime, you can download the game now if you're in the EA Early Access program or you happened to get a free token recently.
Star Wars Battlefront photo
EA Access impressions
I wasn't all that smitten with the Star Wars Battlefront beta, but today the full game launches for EA Early Access members, with a 10-hour time limit caveat. Now the game is free of content locks, with all modes available for play in addition to the offline component, which features split-screen support and bots. The final build hasn't really changed my mind all that much.

Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (Patch 3.1)

Nov 11 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)Released: June 23, 2015 Whereas past patches tended to lead towards an epic conclusion with a pesky Primal, 3.1, As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness in many ways is a table-setting diversion. The brand new trial encounter (Knights of the Round EX) is not gated by the main story questline -- players can just pick that up from the Mor Dhona bar -- and the tale essentially consists of a series of errands and cutscenes, with only one instanced mission at the end. All said, it will take you roughly an hour to complete. It basically deals with locating missing comrades after the events of the story and has no real payoff other than furthering the Warrior of Darkness arc, which will likely slowly play out throughout the entire course of Heavensward, until another expansion comes around. That said, it still has a lot of personality. I enjoyed seeing the new cast interact with one another. The real star of this patch though is the new exploratory mission mode. Billed as an open-world sandbox, you're thrown into a randomly generated high-level zone with various objectives, including combat challenges and gathering activities. In a Guild Wars 2-like twist, players will share rewards and XP if they fight named creatures in this mode while encountering other parties, and everyone can contribute to objectives as a party.  The rewards are excellent, and the entire affair plays out like a giant randomized hunt. It's a rush to fly around with a bunch of strangers and locate targets, and killing a bunch of high-priority enemies will spawn newer, tougher bosses. While it's meant to be played as a group you can still solo queue for it, as long as you're okay with rolling greed for everything against everyone else. I played this more than anything else this patch and don't see myself getting tired of it. [embed]320086:61066:0[/embed] Players can also head into two new dungeons and the 24-person Void Ark raid, meant to mirror the Crystal Tower casual activities in vanilla Realm Reborn. I'm happy with how the two dungeons (Saint Mocianne's Arboretum and Pharos Sirius Hard) turned out. The developers have it down to a science now (the same goes for the new EX encounter, King Thordan, which is just as fun as every EX in the past, and perfectly tuned in terms of difficulty). Bosses are fun without being too tough for people just passing through in matchmaking, and the locations, although heavily gated to prevent speedrunning, are full of detail. While patches typically provide three new dungeons, I'm actually fine with a pair of them, and the trend of one new location and one remake is something I can get behind. The Void Ark is very similar in that regard, but it also provides a brand new arc, which I personally feel is stronger than Crystal Tower's. The encounters are a tad easier than the previous casual raids, which I'm starting to have mixed feelings about. I get that the philosophy is accessibility, but at the same time, I feel like the developers aren't preparing the player base for tougher activities, some of which support matchmaking tools. On the flipside, I'm a bit more invested in the story this time around, as they've weaved Diabolos into it, as well as another fan-favorite character from the series that I won't spoil here. So what else does 3.1 entail? A bunch of ancillary stuff. For one, you have the Vanu Vanu beast tribe quests, which will provide hardcore players with another faction to grind for. I was never big on the tribes as they felt far too repetitive for menial rewards, and only adding one tribe feels like a half-measure -- people will just grind it out in a few minutes and move on daily. The Gold Saucer also got a small update in the form of a new wing, two new mini-games, and the Lord of Verminion strategy game, as well as some new Triple Triad cards. I'm really glad the team is still pushing this zone, as it's the perfect place to go while you're waiting for queue times, or if you want to spend a few minutes in the game without doing anything important. No, Verminion isn't quite Pokémon, but it adds in another use for minions, and it's definitely fun enough to play a few times on a weekly basis. Other quality-of-life fixes are in, like the fact that the DualShock 4 is now plug and play on PC. There are new camera options, enhanced companion functionality like full support for other mounts, a small Ninja buff to bring them in line with other DPS, more flying mounts, and the ability to ride in Idyllshire. Another controversial change is the "solution" to the housing market -- demolition -- or as other MMOs call it, "decay." After 45 days, your house will be demolished, unless you log in and prevent it. It's...a very typical strategy for more hardcore games, but for a casual MMO like Final Fantasy, it feels out of place. I wish Square Enix would just fix the housing issue with bigger wards and more of them, but the developers haven't actually addressed it in months. All in all, I'm a bit conflicted on 3.1 I adore the exploratory missions, and find them to be one of my favorite gametypes in an MMO to date. The new dungeons (as well as the Void Ark) are strong, and the story, while brief, is engaging. But at the same time, this is clearly a catch-up patch, with the typical loop consisting of players grinding for Poetic Tomes to better face the existing Alexander Savage raid. Sadly, there's no new wing for Alexander, and most disappointing of all, the anticipated continuation of the Zodiac weapon questline is nowhere to be found, as it has been pushed to a later patch I'm not sure if As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness is enough to really pull anyone back in if they quit recently, but I'm having fun with it regardless. I can see myself doing the Void Ark weekly for the foreseeable future, and logging in regularly to do more exploratory missions. I just hope the team has more up its sleeve sooner than later. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Final Fantasy XIV photo
As Goes Light, So Goes Darkness
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward was a tremendous expansion, all things considered. It brought in a whole new storyline that was worth getting invested in, new classes, and tons of additional activities including a raid. B...

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Nov 09 // Steven Hansen
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One [reviewed], Xbox 360, PC, PS4)Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Xbox One), Nixxes Software (Xbox 360)Publisher: Microsoft (Xbox One, 360); Square Enix (PC, PS4)MSRP: $59.99Released: November 10, 2015 (Xbox One, Xbox 360); Q1 2016 (PC); Q4 2016 (PS4) Having previously glimpsed the supernatural, Rise of the Tomb Raider's Lara is open to the wild theories of ancient immortality that consumed her father. A brief trip into Syria introduces the new enemy, a highly-funded, obviously evil group called Trinity led by Konstantin, a religious zealot and less comic book version of Uncharted 2's Lazarević. Lara then tries to beat the stonejaw-led shadowy entity to the Siberian wilderness, where most of the game takes place. The first thing I noticed in Syria was its rich orange sands, a strong contrast to the last Tomb Raider's much more muted palette. Then it was Lara's powerful blue glow stick as she began navigating tombs, providing the same orange/cyan look you find in most Hollywood movie color grading. Naturally, when Lara goes to off to Russia and the blue-white snow and ice, she's suddenly packing orange glow sticks. It's not a bad thing, though. Rise of the Tomb Raider is not shy about using unrealistic lighting to set a mood and it works, like when the blizzarding night sky is illuminated with an eerie deep red light thanks to Trinity flares. It's one of the best-looking games this year, but it also goes beyond stylish at times and helps set the mood. Coupled with a camera that occasionally, but never annoyingly, takes control from you to frame the next impressive mountain establishment or some such thing you have to climb. [embed]319740:61038:0[/embed] The combination of framing, use of color, and lighting are welcomed Hollywood cribbing. Most of the additions since the last entry are welcomed, too. The stealth options make more sense in a supposedly serious game hellbent on showing the brutality Lara deals with (gruesome death close-ups are still plentiful), rather than the more discordant Lara-as-Terminator that doesn't jive with the story being told. That said, you can still mostly do that. Even when the game hinted I could stealth through an environment, unless I saw an obvious path, it was easy to loose bows from afar into enemies' heads. Rise also touted the tombs pre-release, which are peppered throughout the world. They're probably the highlight. I think Tomb Raider is a better platformer than shooter and working out these beautiful, often complex environmental puzzles had me yearning for a more ICO-like distribution of puzzle/platforming versus murder. The stealth, too, kind of hints at a game that could've made death and killing meaningful in line with the narrative, but instead we're left with a refinement of the Uncharted series sans one-liners.  Except for the bloat, which kind of flies in the face of the snappy movie cues and Uncharted's beats. Rise borrows slightly from the Legend of Zelda formula in that there are distinct areas ("hubs") organically woven together, but requiring back-tracking with new gear and items. It's a very game-y conceit. In the cinematics I asked why Lara hadn't a camera (or even a cell phone) to prove (evidence!) the things her father died over, but she didn't even slip an iPhone out of her pocket. At the same, coming across a rope and being told I can't cut it until I find a knife, well, why the hell does Lara not have a knife? People who like busywork will probably appreciate the hub areas replete with open-world style challenges (burn all 10 communist propaganda posters, cut down all the snared rabbits, etc.), but it kind of grated on me. I didn't open the map until a few hours in and I immediately wanted to slam it shut after seeing the Assassin's Creed-style unreadable mess of icons. And while these tasks often yield rewards, including XP, it just feels to unnecessary. Which is kind of true, given that I got through the game fine without doing anything but the most convenient extras, and didn't find a +2 damage Polished Barrel to affect my capacity to kill folks all that much. So why's any of it there at all? Rise has a very pressing, dire narrative, and is a joy when you're moving around and exploring the gorgeous environments. Constant IU flashes (10XP!!!) only serve as an intrusion and gum up the works. Having to pause the game and look at a static menu screen to hear picked-up audio logs (already a bit of a lazy, all too convenient way to shove more story into your game) kills momentum, tension, excitement. You just have to stare at a render of a tape recorder if you want to know why the big bad bleeds from his hands. The story handles the necessary, telegraphed third act turn to the supernatural well, but generally suffers from a glossing over. The Burberry-clade arm of Trinity trying to beat Lara to the punch are well-acted, but pretty one-dimensional (even with everything wrapped up in explanatory audio logs). An entire society isolated in the Siberian wilderness speaks perfect English. It's perfunctory Hollywood boilerplate, down to the set up for the sequel, but competently done. Worth noting: I ran into an odd problem late in the game where enemies would disappear. First right before me when I was swinging an ice axe at them as if Lara did so with enough force to banish them from this plane of existence, but then sometimes they'd vanish completely on their own. Once this locked me in a room because whatever needed to trigger to open the door couldn't and I had to restart (not losing much progress), while it also happened during the game's final boss fight, which was anticlimactic. The loss of XP from these tactical Houdinis might impact games on harder difficulty settings where the leveling and crafting system could prove more necessary, though on normal I got to a point where I didn't even care to spend my skill points. That excess is a problem shared with the last Tomb Raider, which bills itself (and thematically tries to be) a survivalist game, but simply isn't. It's a bit goofy ruining the beautiful colors of the world by constantly jamming down the "survival instincts" button to light up objects of interest and clambering around to strip trees of their boughs. Eventually I stopped going out of my way to pick up trash, yet I still always had ammo and arrows. Crafting, skill trees, open-world-style quests: it just feels like bloat. Busy work. And it isn't consistent with the story. Moving around, on the other hand, is sublime. It is odd, though. There's an animation for when Lara is pushed up against a short, maybe knee-high lip; pressing the jump button has her labor up it a bit. Yet if you push the jump button otherwise, she will leap clean four feet into the air like a cat. That amusing inconsistency aside, Lara's movement animations are all so fluid and impressive. If she barely makes a jump, she can slip and fall if you don't press a button. But rather than her needing to get a grip be a recurring quick-time event, it organically happens every time you barely snag a ledge. This means you can tell if that prompt is about to come up and can preemptively push it, and Lara will secure her grip and you can continue about fluidly climbing around. It's a good bit of adding interaction to the platforming without having to pre-plan bits of structure that will start to crumble when you grab them. Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than its predecessor, but only because of its additions; it doesn't fix any of the things that were wrong with Tomb Raider (2013). The story is smoothed down, much of it hidden away in dull audio logs. It's not about "survival" as billed, given the ease of mowing down dozens of folks and plenty of resources. But finding tombs wherein to clamber about ancient Rube Goldberg machines, coupled with the gorgeous visual flair and diverse environments, make Rise's wilderness one worth exploring and elevate Tomb Raider's otherwise perfunctory take on the third-person action platformer. I still get a strong sinking feeling in my stomach when I've misjudged a jump and watch Lara careening towards a splat. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tomb Raider review photo
Get to know 'er
I sometimes forget that Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981. Its breezy pulp adventure quality carries only obvious signifiers of its era (like, Nazis), and the repetition of these tropes act as enough hand waving to the...

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Nov 06 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Treyarch (PC, PS4, Xbox One), Beenox/Mercenary Technology (PS3, Xbox 360)Publisher: ActivisionMSRP: $59.99Released: November 6, 2015 I'm just going to get right into it -- this is the weakest campaign yet from Treyarch. Right from the start you can see what it's going for, and things get way too heavy-handed and exposition-laden without actually saying anything. There's lots of talk about a "new Cold War" in the future, and after rescuing an Egyptian minister after an uprising in Cairo, it's off to the races. There's plenty of Terminator-esque "Man vs. Machine" going on with the 2065 backdrop and a touch of surrealism, but all of it has been seen before and done better. To boot, none of the characters are memorable or compelling in any way, and the dialogue is the most generic it's ever been. Part of it is because you're now "The Player" (male or female) instead of someone like Modern Warfare's Soap MacTavish, a character you can somewhat connect with while you're playing. You're kind of just there, and the relationships with each cast member never really have a chance to flourish across all 11 missions. Treyarch seems to have a knack for historical narratives, but I'm not really buying its grimdark sales pitch here. Now, that doesn't mean that the campaign is all bad. The powers that be have now implemented a system where you can choose any mission you want, right from the start, without having played any prior stages. That way if you get bored and want to see the ending, you can skip right to the end. Additionally, the hub center where you can switch your abilities, weapons, and loadout around is convenient, as is the progression system with full XP rewards to encourage multiplayer playthroughs. There's also an arena-based "combat immersion" center to test weapons out in, which looks a lot like Metal Gear's VR missions. [embed]318891:61008:0[/embed] Split-screen play (for two players) is also in, as is online play for the story, on top of a "Nightmare mode" that remixes every level with undead foes. With the recent removal of split-screen from Halo 5, support for multiple players on the same console is a breath of fresh air. Yes, the framerate does suffer as a result of playing couch co-op, but I'm very glad it's there, and that Treyarch is still actively pushing for it. Hell, LAN play is even supported on consoles -- in 2015, that's pretty damn rare. Now, we get to the good stuff -- all the other modes besides the campaign. Although light, the Freerun gametype is a cool way to show off all of the new mechanics (wallrunning and the toned-down jetpack). It's only playable solo and has a scant four maps, but it's really reminiscent of Mirror's Edge's abstract DLC packs, which were my favorite part of the game. Plus, it has leaderboards, which are a major plus for a mode like this. I don't want to spoil much, but the Smash TV-like Dead Ops Arcade is back, and it's better than it was before. Of course, it wouldn't be a Treyarch game without zombies, and I think it's assembled the best cast, alongside of the most interesting setting to date. I'm talking Jeff Goldblum, Heather Graham, Ron Perlman, and Neal McDonough in a Lovecraftian noir city unique. Seeing Goldblum play a washed-up scumbag magician is a treat, and the actors really give it their all for this new chapter of the zombie saga, "Shadows of Evil." While I did appreciate the campaign tie-in for Advanced Warfare's zombie mode, I like where this particular setting is going, and I hope it can keep this same cast going forward. It's also the most fully-featured from a gameplay perspective, with customizable weapon loadouts, individual upgrades, and a leveling system. You can also change up your "Gobblegum Gumballs," which are like miniature $500 soda machines that grant temporary perks. It's a tiny little thing, but it really helps you play the way you want, which is only a recent concept for zombies. In terms of secrets I think this is going to be the most challenging one yet for the community, as a lot of it hinges on changing into the "beast" (read: a Cthulian creature) to unlock specific areas and bonuses. I've spent nearly 15 hours in Shadows of Evil alone and I feel like I've only scratched the surface. What the campaign lacks in personality, zombies makes up for in spades, and that principle also goes for multiplayer. Now players will choose a "specialist," when playing traditional multiplayer, which operates a lot like a unique character skin, with an added ability in tow. For instance, the robot "Reaper" has access to a minigun power-up that comes out of his arm, or a skill that creates non-lethal clones of himself to run around the battlefield. One dude even looks like The Fury from Snake Eater, complete with a flamethrower special. They clearly had a lot of fun designing these creations, and it plays that way. Most of the powers feel balanced, especially when you consider the fact that they can only be used once you earn enough meter for them, which is typically only one or two times per match. This is on top of the classic scorestreak rewards -- but since those reset your meter upon death and the specialist powers don't, it's a way for casual players to engage without feeling like they're never earning anything. Wallrunning also adds a new depth to arenas (of which there are 12 at launch), where specific chokepoints can be circumvented by traversing raised platforms on the sides of some bases. Likewise, swimming, as simple of a mechanic as it is, bids a welcome return from Advanced Warfare, with a lot more freedom in terms of movement and combat. Those of you who found Advanced's crazy twitch movement system to be too frenetic will be pleased to hear that it's been toned down for Black Ops III, as the jetpack is now essentially a double jump, or a slide boost, and that's it. While I did like airdashing and all of the craziness that the last iteration entailed, I'm happy that each game has a distinctly different feel to it. Multiplayer has been overhauled from a features standpoint too, as there's now full support for streaming (including a cavalcade of spectator options), arena ranked playlists with seasons, and an even more convenient instant menu option for perma-muting anyone outside of your party. There have been hundreds of people populating Black Ops III's servers during this testing period without issues, but if anything changes we'll provide updates as needed on the front page. At this point, at least two of the Call of Duty developers (Treyarch and Sledgehammer), have it figured out. They now have a three-year development cycle, which means that technically, each individual game is not a rushed "annual" iteration. While the campaign could certainly be a lot stronger, Black Ops III is living proof of that concept. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Call of Duty review photo
Zombies...uh...zombies, find a way
Call of Duty campaigns are some of the most inconsistent storylines in all of gaming. While some entries are content with wowing you on a constant basis with new setpieces and unique sequences, a number of them (Ghosts&n...

Review: Need for Speed

Nov 03 // Chris Carter
Need for Speed (PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Ghost GamesPublisher: Electronic ArtsMSRP: $59.99Released: November 3, 2015 As you may have heard, Need for Speed is an online-centric game, and jumping in from the title screen will place you into a multiplayer lobby, similar to GTA Online. Thankfully, you can play fully solo if you want. For the most part, online play has been rather sound (with a large pool of EA Access players available), minus a few small hiccups like another person spawning on top of my car and some minor frame-skipping when players are connecting. Most of them are amusing, and not really game-breaking in any way. The story this time is...a bit like a Fast & Furious movie, before they turned into the entertaining heists they are today. Speed utilizes an age-old technique of live-action FMVs to progress its narrative, with real actors playing both the digitized and cinematic renditions of themselves. Now, I like silly popcorn storylines as much as the next guy, but this one is a lot of white noise. Said FMVs also aren't integrated directly into gameplay in a unique way -- they're just cutscenes, and don't segue seamlessly into the in-game engine. You play the part of a young kid who has just been invited to a local street racing event. Much like Paul Walker in the first Fast film, you'll join a crew, and slowly work your way up the ranks to earn REP (experience) and progress through the storyline. Said crew involves a female mechanic with an attitude, a fast and loose crew leader, and your personal best friend, Spike, a trust-fund kid who lives for danger. Uh, yeah. Need for Speed tries to introduce "memorable" characters by having them all do quirky things after meeting them, but the performances never really sell it. It's cool that they periodically call you up, and you can place a name to their face (plus, a lot of effort went into the FMVs themselves in terms of locations and extras), but I've already forgotten who most of them are as I type out this review. The heavy emphasis on tweets, hashtags, and social media doesn't help elevate the tone, either.  [embed]318070:60920:0[/embed] When it comes to the in-game visuals on the other hand, I'm torn. The actual street and cars look great, but structures don't have a lot of detail. Ghost Games boasts that the map is twice as big as Rivals, but I didn't really notice since a lot of locales looked the exact same. The game is locked in at 30 frames per second on consoles, which is disappointing (as is the lack of split-screen support), but like past titles I didn't have any issues acclimating. For those who are interested in what type of music plays on the radio, here's an example of the musical stylings you can expect from Speed -- again, like the engine, it's hit or miss. Gameplay-wise, Speed does a great job of accommodating both veterans and casual fans alike. It's mostly an arcade-style racer, with tight handling and simplistic driving conditions, but players can tweak cars individually to their liking, as well as customize loadouts. You can go as far as swapping out your hood, lights, mirrors, fenders, trunk, exhaust, license plate, wheels, side skirts, and more. What's great about Speed out of the gate is that there are apparently no plans for paid DLC or microtransactions, and every car is unlocked from the start -- provided you have the cash to buy them. Starting off, players can choose between a Honda Civic, a Ford Mustang, and a Subaru BRZ. From there, you'll work from $8,000 Volvos all the way up to $200,000 Ferraris. Cash is earned at a rather generous rate, so you can keep filling up your garage and customizing at will. It's sad that it's weird to see a AAA game these days without double XP Red Bull bonuses and microtransactions, but here you go. As you tear through the core story, you'll have plenty of activities to choose from, which is great news for when you start nodding off after the FMVs. There's daily challenges, a fully featured one-button snapshot and share mechanic, and hundreds of events to find all over the world. It's also really fun to just drive around aimlessly, as the game uses a Tony Hawk-like combo system that constantly earns you REP (along with multipliers) for doing dangerous things like reaching top speed, driving into incoming traffic, and triggering near misses. The longer your combo, the more REP you earn, so it gives you an incentive to play the way you want. Autolog, which shares your scores and allows you to compete with your friends constantly, is still a thing. When you factor in Need for Speed's forgettable story, you're left with a slightly above average racing game that's not as enjoyable as past series entries. From a pure gameplay perspective, it works, but it never manages to elevate itself. If you're in the mood for a new cinematic racer though, you could do a whole lot worse. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Need for Speed photo
Neither first, nor last
I can't believe Need for Speed has been around for over 20 years. I remember playing the initial entry on my PC for the first time, and I spent many an hour escaping cops in the first Hot Pursuit. But as the years went on, the Speed series had a bunch of ups and downs, with odd side stories alongside of core titles. The latest game falls somewhere in-between.

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: 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...

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.

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 LFG.net 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 more...social? 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 game...online. 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: 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: 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...


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