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

Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3

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

Review: Disney Infinity 3.0

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

Review: Mega Man Legacy Collection

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

Review: Until Dawn

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

Review: Toy Soldiers: War Chest

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

Review: Galak-Z: The Dimensional

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

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Reckoning

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

Review: Life is Strange: Dark Room

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

Review: King's Quest: A Knight To Remember

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

Review: N++

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

How the hell did Galak-Z hide a Gundam for three years?

Jul 24 // Steven Hansen
Let's recap for a second if you haven't been following along. Galak-Z is broken into five seasons each with five episodes. The fifth season will be added in for free post launch. This is one diversion from the typical roguelike set up, in that when you die, you don't start all the way at the beginning of the game, but rather at the beginning of whichever "season" you're on. "One of [Kazdal's] pet peeves with roguelikes" is that playing very beginning segments over and over can get boring, so this blends that death-based need to replay with earned progression. More typically, levels are randomly generated, and you get different fractions of story and dialogue every time. This way you won't hear the same repeated bits death after death, but slowly glean more information until you finally get through the season. The space shooting half we already knew about is not just a twin-stick shooter, either. The ship maps thrusters (and a boost) to the triggers. There's also a backwards thruster so you can shoot and flee, a dodge thruster, and a a barrel roll (square) that juts the ship "toward" you like it's coming out of the screen (and over incoming bullets on the 2D plane). You have your standard weapon and an Itano Circus missile salvo (limited, but you can buy more if you find the shop during levels). [embed]296589:59676:0[/embed] Ok, so the not-Gundam? You can morph the ship into the robot at any time with a smooth, Transformers-like animation and change up the playstyle completely. It has a beam sword, which can be charged for a stronger, wider attack, and a shield that has parry capabilities. Perhaps most fun, though, is the extending claw arm that can grab dangerous space junk and throw it at enemies, or grab enemies themselves, bringing them in close so you can start wailing on them with punches. Keeping the mech locked up this long is impressive. The feature was locked off in the many public shows Galak-Z has been demoed at and no one slipped up about it. Kazdal tells me there were plans for a third, stealth-focused character, initially, but that it made for too many mental hoops in dealing with all the other things that could be happening at any given moment. Galak-Z is smooth, feels great to play, and the mech is a welcomed addition, adding one more layer to the game. There are warring factions you can sometimes pit against each other, environmental hazards to be aware of (and sometimes use to your advantage -- thanks alien trapdoor spider who saved my ass!), and instant shifts between ranged and close-quarters combat. It's tough, gorgeous, encourages exploration (beyond mission goals, there are blueprints for new gear and other upgrades to find), and a ton of fun.
HANDS ON: Galak-Z  photo
Spelunky by way of Macross...and Gundam
We've covered the "Spelunky by way of Macross" space shooting roguelike for a couple of years now and the follow-up from Skulls of the Shogun developer 17-bit is almost here, coming to PS4 August 4 and PC a few months down th...

Review: Onechanbara Z2: Chaos

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

Review: Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max

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

Review: Tembo the Badass Elephant

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

Dead Island 2 photo
Still doing Dead Island 2
Deep Silver has announced it is parting ways with Dead Island 2 developer Yager (Spec Ops: The Line). Just a few months ago, Deep Silver delayed the game into 2016 over quality concerns. The publisher made this announcement w...

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family

Jul 14 // Chris Carter
Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $6.99Released: July 14, 2015 (for Season Pass holders) / July 21, 2015 (wide release) The Batmobile takes a backseat this time in favor of a tale told entirely from Barbara Gordon's perspective before the events of Arkham Knight. WB just couldn't resist the chance to bring The Joker back yet again, and it uses every opportunity to let you know that this is his DLC without really having him do all that much. In other more exciting news, Harley Quinn is back, but with her red and black Animated Series get-up for the first time in the Arkham games. It looks great. All of the action takes place in the Seagate Amusement Park, which can be thought of as a tiny little sandbox that hosts the new DLC area. The Joker has captured Jim Gordon, and it's up to Barbara (and Robin) to save the day. Family kicks things off with a by-the-book Dual Play combat session, then it's off to free roam for Batgirl. For the most part (like all the other playable characters so far), Batgirl operates just like Batman -- she even has identical detective vision. Combat is relatively the same, and even though WB Montreal notes that she's "weaker" than Bruce, it doesn't really feel that way at all. It's very cool grappling about with Robin, but other than the use of a new type of gadget (advanced hacking), it's the tried and true Arkham formula. In Family, Barbara can use her remote hacking device as a "catch-all" basically, to do all sorts of things like short-circuit devices or manipulate objects. Think of it like a super gadget that can do a lot. It's presumably done so you don't have to micro-manage all of Bats' tools all over again, and to give Batgirl a slightly different feel. Here's the thing -- it does work at a base level, mostly because it distills the experience down to a lot of the good bits, and takes away the pesky forced Batmobile sessions. In other ways it feels limited, as you're stripped of most of those wonderful toys. [embed]295688:59441:0[/embed] None of the environments are particularly memorable outside of a nice little cameo I found in a water tank (in fact, most zones are even less interesting than the random spots you'll find in Gotham proper), but the linear format isn't jarring, either. That's mostly because of the fact that the DLC is so short. Normally that would be fine, but the story never really goes anywhere until the very end. Even then, it feels like a footnote rather than an impactful part of the overall narrative. In terms of length, it's meatier than the Harley DLC, but not by much. You can complete the main story in roughly an hour, and sort out all of the other collectibles in another 30 minutes. What I would have really loved to see is a full-roam option with Red Hood, Harley, and Batgirl (I mean, the models are already in the game with grappling and combat animations), but it's not meant to be -- the latter is still confined to her tiny add-on area. There are eight Achievements/Trophies though if you're into that sort of thing. Warner Bros. is really employing an odd strategy with Batman: Arkham Knight's post-launch content and the relatively expensive $40 Season Pass. All that's been revealed so far beyond a bunch of throwaway content (skins, races) is a handful of bite-sized episodes such as this; it's a far cry from the competent Cold, Cold Heart add-on for Arkham Origins last year. While A Matter of Family may be worth it for hardcore Batgirl fans, WB will have to do a lot better than this to justify the cost of the pass. [This review is based on a retail build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman DLC review photo
The Killing DLC
Enough time has passed for me to make a solid judgement on Batman: Arkham Knight. For the most part, I agree with the sentiments expressed in Steven's review of the core game -- Rocksteady tried too hard in many respects, and...

Review: Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess

Jul 14 // Chris Carter
Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita)Developer: Tecmo KoeiPublisher: Tecmo KoeiMSRP: $49.99 (PS4)Released: July 14, 2015 Since the core experience hasn't changed all that much, head to the original review to get a full breakdown of the main mechanics. The gist is that you'll be controlling a character that, for all intents and purposes, can't attack on their own, and must rig an elaborate combination of traps to do their dirty work for them. You'll do this by pausing the game, bringing up a menu, and placing a number of wall, ceiling, and floor traps that can be used with one another for maximum mayhem. For instance, you can hold an enemy in place with a beartrap, shock them with a wall taser, then drop a giant boulder on their head from the ceiling. It's glorious. So before you get confused, The Nightmare Princess is an all-new SKU that includes everything in the original package on top of another story with 100 quests, a new character with a different moveset, and a "Studio" mode so you can create your own scenarios. The extra campaign is easily the new draw, and I have to say, newcomer Velguirie holds her own here. Her tale runs concurrently with Laegrinna's and doesn't feel tacked-on in the slightest. 100 new quests also isn't really anything to shake a stick at either, though it must be said that there's only a few new zones (which are rather small), as some quests re-use old areas from the base game. The second campaign does stand up on its own, and even playing both stories back to back, they didn't overstay their individual welcomes. Velguirie's big gimmick is that she can kick enemies now -- something no other protagonist was able to do in the history of the franchise. [embed]295432:59487:0[/embed] But it's important to put things into perspective here. She can't just karate-kick bad guys into oblivion with flashy combos. It's a simple timed kick on a cooldown that can be used to tactically slot foes into position for traps (or stomp them on the ground), which are still going to do the real legwork here. It's not a game-changer, but again, the story, bonus traps, and the new character design themselves are enough to carry another playthrough. Yep, I said bonus traps, including a deadly toilet, a bolt of lightning, a wardrobe that eats armor, and sticky flooring. At this point there are so many trap combos at your disposal that you're only limited by your imagination.  You'll get to test your inner demon plenty with the Studio mode, the other big addition in Nightmare Princess. Here, you can create enemies with various custom parts and name them, placing each creation inside an existing arena. You can craft fun scenarios like battling the entire Justice League, and even download or upload them online for all to see. It's not as expansive as I would have liked, but the fact that you can download new missions every so often is a breakthrough for the series. Keep in mind that your fun is also going to be limited by how many actual parts you have, which are unlocked by completing both campaigns. Here's the bad news for those of you who already bought the original. While the new story is enjoyable and the Studio is fun to mess around with, you aren't getting a substantial new expansion to pour over for weeks here. Think of it more like a hefty DLC package. In other words, unless you absolutely love Deception, it probably isn't a good idea to shell out $50 for Nightmare Princess. It's a really weird thing for Koei Tecmo to do, as it could have easily provided an "upgrade" for say, $20, and then released a package version on the side. As it stands, you either have to go all or nothing. At the very least, there is the added bonus of being able to import your old save data, so you don't have to complete the original campaign all over again to reap the unlock benefits. Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess is in a really weird spot, but here's the rub -- as a Deception enthusiast, I was more than happy enough to take Velguirie's story for a spin, and I found myself beating the original game again as well as creating a few levels in the Studio. Just know exactly what you're getting into with Nightmare and make an informed decision. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Deception IV review photo
Hardcore trappers only
I really liked the original release of Deception IV. It was refreshing to see the series get another lease on life after taking a hiatus with Trapt all the way back in 2005, and newcomer Laegrinna fit right in. This...

Review: Skullgirls 2nd Encore

Jul 11 // Jonathan Holmes
Skullgirls 2nd Encore (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)Developers: Lab Zero GamesPublisher: Autum GamesReleased: July 7, 2015 So now that we've established that Skullgirls is great, we can get to the question you're all probably dying for answers about -- what the heck is a 2nd Encore? Well in this case, it's a boost in visual fidelity, tons of newly recorded voice acting, an 882 page virtual art book (with special pin ups by the likes of Chamba, Robaato, and OMOCAT), a few new single player modes, and five and a half new characters that you may have already download for the prior version of the game. If you haven't been keeping up with the Skullgirls DLC as its been released, then 2nd Encore is undoubtedly a worthy purchase for you. If you have been picking them up as they've been periodically put on the market since last year, then the price tag here may not be worth your while. It all depends on how much you care about owning the most complete, clean looking/sounding version of the game, Visually, Skullgirls 2nd Encore looks heaps better on the PS4 than Skullgirls or Skullgirls Encore did on the PS3. The black bars on the top and bottom of the screen are gone, allowing characters to stretch to their proper proportions, and everything looks brighter and sharper. As for sound, every cutscene now has full voice acting, which does a lot to make the game's world feel more alive. As Skullgirls fans already know, the game has a deep, fairly complicated story, filled with around 100 characters big and small. That said, fighting games aren't exactly well known for their vocal performances, but gratefully, the acting here is all top notch, thanks in large part to the direction of Christina Vee.  [embed]295474:59465:0[/embed] As for new modes, there's stuff for both newcomers and veterans alike. The new Survival and Challenge modes are great for old pros who are looking for new ways to tackle the CPU, and the new Trials mode is a great way to learn new combos or brush up on old ones. There's also a new Quick Match CPU mode that lets you do take on the computer without having to sit through any of the pre-fight delays you might find in Arcade or Story mode. That's all well and good, but the real stars of the show here are the new characters. The only true newcomer here is Robo-Fortune. She's a default part of the 2nd Encore package, but has also been released as a free download for those who already own Skullgirls Encore, so she's not exactly exclusive. That doesn't diminish how exciting she is to play though. Robo-Fortune is a great example of what I was saying about how the developers of Skullgirls seem to take the strangeness inherent in fighting games for granted, and as a result, have built upon that strangeness in ways that's filled with next-level weirdness.  Robo-Fortune was original planned to be a remixed version of Ms. Fortune, one of the original members of the Skullgirls roster and the game's resident "cat girl with a detachable head that can attack independently from its body." If that wasn't thought provoking enough for you, Robo-Fortune takes that concept and adds a few levels of surreal to it. She's a robot copy of a cat girl with a detachable head, and she can actually fire her head into the air like a rocket, only to grow a new one in its place. These stack-able, detached robot heads are a major part of her arsenal, along with her Cable-like beam attacks. She's also extremely chatty, which will likely turn off some players, while others are sure to fall in love with her immediately. Her two big catch phrases are "Beep Boop Meow" and "What am I fighting for!?!" These are questions I ask myself every day, which makes it all the more gratifying to see them finally expressed on the big screen by a robot cat woman thing.  The other four and a half other DLC characters (Beowulf, Big Band, Eliza, Squigly, and Filia's semi-clone Fukua) are equally fantastic, so if you missed out on them before, you'd do best to grab them now. It's also worth mentioning that the game is a Cross-Buy purchase, with a PS Vita port coming later this year. It all shapes up to the definitive, and maybe final version of one of the most beautiful, detailed, and passionately developed fighting games in recent memory. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Skullgirls review photo
Hold your applause, the show's not over
Skullgirls is one of my favorite fighting games ever. With an innovative combat engine spearheaded by top tier BlazBlue expert Mike Z, animation direction by Mariel Cartwright, and world and character design by Alex Ahad...

Call of Goldbum photo
DLC...DLC finds...a way
Activision has sent us a great deal of information regarding Call of Duty: Black Ops III's upcoming zombie mode today, revealed at its San Diego Comic-Con panel. For starters, the all-new zombies cast features Jeff Goldblum ...

The Red Hood DLC pack for Arkham Knight is disgustingly short

Jul 03 // Chris Carter
[embed]295280:59335:0[/embed] [Straight-up, I'm not going to spoil the story for you, but be aware that this tale takes place after the events of Arkham Knight, and that many commenters may indeed spoil it for you below -- you have been warned.] First, the good news. Red Hood takes the path of least resistance, and can be seen as an anti-Batman vigilante of sorts -- Under the Red Hood was a fantastic film, and I think Rocksteady nailed that vibe here. Red Hood is pissed (for good reason), and he isn't going to let anyone get away with their crime sprees -- unlike Batman, who is content with putting people back in Arkham only for them to break out at a later date. Similar to Harley and all of the other characters in Knight, Hood feels the exact same in the close-combat sections (just mash attack and the counter simple-minded AI), with the added power of some unique animations like...murdering people with his pistols. Unlike Harley who simply couldn't use silent takedowns, this gives the DLC a distinctly different feel, and the tone is fairly unique to the series in general. I'm also a fan of Black Mask, so seeing him return was a treat. All of this is cut short by the fact that it's roughly 10 minutes long, which naturally gives it no room to grow any of the characters or deliver anything worthwhile. You'll be greeted with a combat scene, a brief Predator sequence, then another combat bit with Black Mask, who doesn't exhibit any real unique boss qualities (again, it's "this boss throws adds at you constantly, have fun"). It's a disappointment, to say the least, as both DLCs could have been so much more if they were an hour long, had more involved stories, and interesting boss mechanics. Rocksteady is teasing a few more of these "Arkham Stories" with the Season Pass, and I sincerely hope they're more than this.
Red Hood photo
Man do I love this character though
Just yesterday, we gave you the rundown on the Harley Quinn DLC pack for Batman: Arkham Knight. Much like many aspects of the core game, it was a letdown, mostly due to its length and the fact that it doesn't really provide a...

The Harley Quinn DLC pack for Arkham Knight is painfully brief

Jul 02 // Chris Carter
[embed]295181:59315:0[/embed] Much like Azrael and Batman's other playable companions, Harley's fighting style is nearly identical to the Dark Knight, and other than a few new animations, feels exactly the same -- though, she does have a "party popper" batarang substitute that functions like a Spider-Man web trap. Sadly, the most enemy waves will throw at you is roughly four standard foes and a shield-wielding cop, which doesn't really allow you to dig deep with the Free Flow combat system. A lack of nuanced gameplay permeates in the stealth portions too. In the few Predator sequences that are included, stealth is not really a priority for Harley. She employs laughing gas rather than smoke bombs, tumbles and leaps up walls instead of grappling, and so on, including exploding jack-in-the-boxes rather than explosive gel. Thankfully there are a few differences, most notably the fact that her "detective vision" shows her more demented side with graffiti written on the walls. Harley also cannot employ silent takedowns -- in fact, they're called "loud takedowns," and will always alert guards. She can however use a "Mayhem" ability that lets her knock out enemies in one hit for a limited time, and use Ivy's plants to take out enemies from afar. The entire affair is far too linear, taking place in the Blüdhaven Police Department. It's a prequel, so you know exactly how it plays out if you watch the intro, with a bit of stupid Penguin chatter (I never really liked Arkham's rendition of him) littered between the loose collections of challenge rooms. It all culminates with a final battle with a major hero from the story that uses the tired "throw adds at the player until he wins or loses" mechanic. There are some bright spots, like the idea of Harleen's inner self trying to reason with her insane "Harley" personality, but those concepts aren't really explored in half an hour. If you're a huge fan of Harley you can buy it this fall once its "pre-order exclusivity" (so dumb) is up, or you can just wait for the Game of the Year Edition where it will most likely appear as well. The same goes for the GameStop exclusive Red Hood pack, the PS4 exclusive Scarecrow DLC, and all the costume exclusives.
Harley Quinn photo
Less than 30 minutes
Harley Quinn is at it again this time with a pre-order exclusive DLC (yuck) for Batman: Arkham Knight. I have good news for everyone who didn't bother pre-ordering -- you aren't missing much. The entire add-on basically amounts to less than 30 minutes of the same core gameplay as Knight, minus the Batmobile-fest.

Review: J-Stars Victory VS+

Jun 28 // Laura Kate Dale
J-Stars Victory Vs+ (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita) Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease: June 26, 2015 (EU), June 30, 2015 (US) I may not be the most knowledgeable anime fan out there, but I'm always willing to try out a new series if it looks interesting. As such, I was pretty excited coming into J-Stars Victory VS+. I was hoping to experience well known characters I already knew, as well as finding new characters to get invested in and try watching going forward. Unfortunately, J-Stars Victory VS+ was a bit of a disappointment in that regard. The representations of characters I already knew didn't feel accurate and the hooks to get invested in new series just weren't there for me. So, as this is a fighting game first and foremost, let's talk about the fighting mechanics at play. Every character has one light attack button, a heavy attack button, a special attack button, a block and a dash. While these are tailored to each character, the movesets all feel very similar to play using. While it's cool to see Ichigo pull off a Getsuga Tensho and Goku a Kamehameha, both on a mechanical level act near identically. Every move is an approximation designed to fit a specific combat system's mold, which ultimately takes away some of what makes these characters unique. Defensive techniques like cancels are minimal, so if you wait for an attack animation to start then start mashing buttons you'll usually win. J-Stars Victory VS+ is not a game of skill, it's a game of waiting for any enemy to attempt anything slower than a light attack, interrupting with a light attack then button mashing while they remain locked in your combo. [embed]294934:59255:0[/embed] So, ignoring the fact the combat system itself lacks depth, lets look at how this functions as a pure fanservice game. Just looking at the numbers there is a lot here for fans of Shonen anime to love. There's representation from newer series like D.Gray-man as well as older series like Rurouni Kenshin and a whole host of series in between. There's even inclusions from my super niche sports anime, but only as support characters rather than full playable roster members. Damn, I was just about ready to praise this game for supporting my niche interests. So, let's talk about the modes on offer in J-Stars Victory VS+. There's J-Adventure, where you sail around the world on a tiny boat given to you by god to earn your way into a tournament of champions, where everyone involved seems perfectly fine with the fact god gave them a boat that couldn't get most of the places it needed to go and needlessly pads out the experience with narrative fluff between fights. This mode has four arcs, each of them near narratively identical. I couldn't see any reason players would want to go through all four of these, they're all equally padded and dull. Your other options are Victory Road which sets up special fights loosely themed around anime dream team fights, a standard Arcade mode which offers minimal challenge, local free battles and online free battles. None of these modes felt terribly coherent or fleshed out. On paper, the roster of nearly 40 playable characters is certainly impressive, but what makes these characters unique is rarely utilized fully. Each character's ultimate attack feels decidedly less visually impressive than comparable titles like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. The story mode offered on disk features static 2D images of characters that may say the odd single word to each other, but otherwise remain silent. Their dialogue feels terribly homogeneous, stripped down so that every character speaks with the same uniform voice. This doesn't feel like a series of characters clashing for the first time, rather it feels like one person in many different outfits badly acting out their alternative universe fanfiction. Where the games opening cinematic gave me hope for a visually impressive, fanservice heavy experience, the single player largely boiled down to watching static images talk to each other in a weirdly unemotional tone then fight for no adequately explained reason. It just wasn't compelling. Ultimately, J-Stars Victory VS+ only succeeds as numbers on paper, the game itself being largely disappointing. The roster have had much of what made them unique stripped down, stopping me getting truly excited about the characters I knew and preventing me getting a sense of which characters were worth me investing future time watching. The mechanics are shallow, the fanservice is surface level and it only succeeds in terms of its pure number of supported characters. Overall, I walked away rather disappointed. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
J-Stars Victory VS+ photo
Mash, mash, mash, mash, mash, mash......
J-Stars Victory VS+ is a game that's mechanically light, heavy on fanservice volume but that only ever skims the surface of the characters it includes. If you want an anime brawler that focuses on the sheer volume of anime ch...

Review: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

Jun 26 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)Released: June 19, 2015 (Early Access), June 23, 2015 The "40 hours" of questing claim by Square Enix for the main story (levels 50-60) is accurate, but there's a caveat. You'll have to do a combination of sidequests, daily hunt marks (which can be done solo), and dungeons to push through some gaps, particularly in the middle levels. A few portions can be off-putting sometimes in terms of pacing, especially since the sidequests aren't nearly as good as the main story questline. Having said that, there wasn't any point, even the aforementioned lows, where I stopped having fun. There's just so much to do at this juncture of Final Fantasy XIV. I would frequently stop to do world hunts, which respawn every few hours or so in each area. They're even more fun now once you've unlocked flight for that particular zone, and all of the old hunts still exist too, albeit with smaller rewards for kills. You could hunt all day if you wanted to. I'd visit my new apartment in my friend's beachfront property villa in the Mist, and see what was going on with their new workshop -- a feature that lets you build Free Company (guild) airships in Heavensward, which go on expeditions for more items, similar to Retainer quests. Although I don't tend to craft in any MMO I play, I hung out with a group of crafters and chatted for hours about the new crafter meta and theories for some testing, which are insanely deep. For those who aren't aware, each crafting and gathering class has its own miniature storyline, and crafters in particular now have a even more complicated method of creating new high quality items. Crafting was always like a puzzle, allowing players to learn the best rotations for creating the best items, but now, there's an "endgame" of sorts for the profession, featuring a separate system of crafting in guilds to help build airships, and more complicated patterns that will fetch big gains on the auction house. Flying makes gathering nodes more fun, which is a big improvement on the 2.0 system -- and more nuanced with new gathering abilities. I also took a break and started a Dark Knight, Astrologian, and Machinist, which are all new jobs in Heavensward. Although there's a debate going on regarding the latter's low damage output, I've grouped and played all of them, and each brings something unique to the table. The Dark Knight is really fun to tank with, as he can drop his "Grit" stance (having it on lets you take less damage) on occasion, which unlocks a whole host of damage-dealing abilities. [embed]294750:59242:0[/embed] As a general rule you always want to be doing your core job and tanking with Grit, but when you need that extra push, the Dark Knight is ready and willing, and feels far more engaging than the existing Warrior. The Astrologian sacrifices a bit of firepower (compared to the White Mage and Scholar) but makes up for it with a variety of different healing tricks, and the Machinist is one of the most complicated DPS classes in the game. They are all worthwhile additions, and each role (tank, healer, ranged DPS) fits perfectly in the current meta. By the time I was done with the story and hit level 60, I had played far more than 40 hours. While there are some predictable plot points and far too much Final Fantasy grandstanding, I have to say I enjoyed it as a whole. I really dig the dragon theme that permeates throughout the expansion (they commit to it), and I was satisfied with the conclusion, especially the final boss, which Final Fantasy fans will love. The epilogue also does its job of sufficiently teasing all of the upcoming free content updates, so I'm pumped to see where this goes. The dungeons are all par for the course, which again, is a theme with this expansion. Every dungeon, including the three level 60 ones at the end, have the same linear design that is crafted to prevent you from speedrunning them. Gone are the labyrinthine paths of some low-level dungeons, as well as the tricks of the trade of the vanilla endgame areas; the structure is basically the same every time. Thankfully, the boss fights are spectacular, and nearly every zone features an encounter that has something I've never seen before. Without spoiling it, my favorite dungeon has a fight where a bird flies up into the air, and causes the entire battlefield to fill with fog, forcing you to find his shadow before he comes back down. Another hilariously tasks players with picking up totems and placing them in certain areas to prevent a boss from casting a ritual that ties his health to them. Every fight is intuitive so you won't be scratching your head going "how does this work?" but you will have to actually try. It's a good balance, even if I wish some of the dungeons were a bit more open. The two Primals (Ravana and Bismarck) are worthy additions to the game, and both have EX (extreme) versions that will test your might at level 60. Ravana is an awesome fight that I refer to as "the ninja bug," and it basically feels like how Titan should have been, with a circular arena that you can fall off of. Bismarck on the other hand is like nothing else in Final Fantasy XIV, featuring the titular whale flying right next to a floating rock that the party is standing on. Players will have to hook him with harpoons (you can shout "call me Ishmael" while doing it) and whale on the whale's weak point temporarily. I feel like Ravana is faster-paced and more fun, but again, Bismarck is unique. Currently the endgame consists of gathering law tomes (obtained by high-level dungeons and hunts), buying item level i170 gear, and upgrading them to i180 by way of items from seals. Bismarck EX will net you i175 weapons, and Ravana earns you i190. You have two weeks to fully upgrade your left and right-side gear to face the first part of the Alexander raid, who will debut at that time (with the tougher "Savage" difficulty unlocking two weeks after that). Said raids will be even better thanks to the new loot systems, which can give a raid leader more control over who gets what (finally). With everything there is to do in the game though, it doesn't feel like a grind to get to that point. Did I mention Heavensward was beautiful? I'm pretty sure I have often, but I'll do it again just to drive the point home. It looks fantastic, from the snowy landscape of Ishgard to the Souls-esque Dravanian Hinterlands, complete with lush plains and hellish mountains filled with fiery depths. I would often stop just to admire the scenery, which is even easier thanks to flying mounts. Every time I visit an old content area I long for the chance to use a flying mount, but alas, it's only available in new zones. Specifically regarding the PS4 version, it's starting to feel the sting of the more open areas a bit, particularly when it comes to longer load times (which can be a pain while zoning in for hunts) and some slowdown. I should mention that said slowdown never becomes unplayable, even with 50 other players slashing away at the same world hunt target. It can just get a bit sluggish is all. My view is partially colored by the fact that the new Direct X 11 version on PC looks gorgeous and runs smoothly. Down the line you have new storylines to look forward to, as well as the aforementioned Alexander raid, more 24-player casual raids (which aren't currently in yet), a new PVP map, and a new multi-part relic weapon quest that will debut next month for all jobs. None of this was factored into this review, but it's something to be aware of -- based on its past track record, Square Enix will continue to evolve the game and make it better. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward is more A Realm Reborn, which is a fine thing to strive for in my book. Whether you're the type of player who enjoys crafting, endgame content, or role-playing, there's so much to do here for people of all skill levels it's insane. While I fizzled out a bit after completing the main story in 2.5, Heavensward has rekindled my flame. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Heavensward review photo
Par for the heavens
When our story began last week, I was a level 53 Paladin, soldiering through the new content for Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. I stand before you now as a level 60, having played everything that's currently available. My opinion on the expansion hasn't changed much, which is a good thing.

Review: Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition

Jun 23 // Chris Carter
Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomMSRP: $24.99Release Date: June 23, 2015 After booting it up, you'll have the option to play the original campaign with Nero and Dante, solely as Vergil, or a joint story of Lady and Trish, mirroring the former pair's split-story. Each character has their own customizable set of controls, and the Legendary Dark Knight mode (previously exclusive to the PC version) is open from the very start. I immediately sprung for Vergil and was not disappointed. If you're a newcomer, you'll likely want to replay the base story for some background, as the new characters merely have a new intro and ending to cap things off. It's essentially the exact same levels and bosses, but thanks to the fundamentally reworked movesets, the experiences feel nothing alike. Also for newcomers, the "automatic" control option returns for easier combos, as well as an automatic level-up function where the game chooses your upgrades for you. Veterans will be pleased to find a turbo option (increasing the speed by 20%) as well as your typical lock-on tweaks. Those of you out there who never played the PC version are in for a treat, as Legendary Dark Knight is about as balls-to-the-wall as it gets. The entire screen in nearly every area is littered with enemies, and it even goes so far as to add in endgame foes in the second mission. [embed]293573:58903:0[/embed] Despite the fact that there aren't any other major new modes, this is not a lazy remake by any means, as the three aforementioned character additions spice things up considerably. Vergil is probably my personal favorite new playstyle; possibly my favorite of the entire series. His style is fast and flashy, as he can still "trick" teleport up, down (which can also be used to cancel attacks), and forward, but he has a major new mechanic to manage that makes him more unique. Vergil now has a "concentration" gauge, which increases when he is walking, taunting, or connecting with abilities, and lowers when he runs, whiffs attacks, or gets hit. Raising this gauge increases your statline and opens up some new powers that are reliant on a full meter. It completely changes the way you play, as walking like a badass is now a priority, and missing attacks is more punishing. That's not to say that the game is "impossible" if you don't feel like mastering concentration on a normal or easy difficulty level, it just makes it more fun -- though it will increase your chances of survival later on. Take one advanced tactic from Vergil: teleporting. By using a sword projectile, Vergil can "stick" an enemy for later. By using the forward trick, you can instantly teleport to that marked baddie. He's extremely mobile, much like Dante's trickster style in Devil May Cry 3 or his appearance herein. To me, Vergil is the main event. Trish and Lady crash as well, starting with a small pizza party intro with Dante. Lady's playstyle, like Vergil before her, completely changes the way one would approach Devil May Cry, mostly because of her reliance on guns. In previous games, guns could always be used with effectiveness, but weren't really ideal. With Lady though, they're front and center. She has her Kalina Ann rocket launcher (which doubles as a grappling hook to mirror Nero's platforming abilities in the story), handguns, and a shotgun. While the latter two guns mesh with Dante's gunslinger style, the Kalina Ann acts almost nothing like it did in Devil May Cry 3. Her rocket sports a few melee abilities, a rocket-jump boost, and a throw, but the focus for her is ranged combat. Additionally, since Lady is human, she uses a super grenade blast instead of a Devil Trigger. It's really hard to get a good style rating at first, but once you learn to start chaining throws and juggling with different guns and abilities, it gets real fun real fast. Classic bosses like Berial are seen in a whole new light when you're trying to turtle and keep them at bay with rockets. I didn't expect much from Trish, but she's come a long way since her appearance in the first game. Her entire style hinges on the fact that she can't switch weapons, and instead just has a shit-ton of moves at her disposal. This sounds lame on paper. It's anything but in practice, as said moves are a ton of fun. In addition to a smorgasbord of powers from the entire series, she also sports some movesets from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as well as Round Trip, a boomerang of sorts that will continue to attack enemies while she's doing her thing. Dante himself though is still the king. He has access to his five styles (Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, Royalguard, and Dark Slayer), which can be switched out at any time using the d-pad. If you haven't seen the absolutely insane combos and possibilities that this system creates, take a look at this. Yes, with 1080p visuals and 60fps, you can still craft and employ advanced frame-specific mechanics, and beyond. With how deep the combat system is even to this day, I expect plenty of similar discoveries for the rest of the cast. That cast, by the way, is added in a way that feels like a natural continuation of Devil May Cry 3, which is a nice touch. I love little details like the fact that everyone has their own lock-on reticle. Sadly, the bad news is that all of this extra content doesn't necessarily fix the level design. The core problem hinges with the halfway point of the campaign, in which Dante (or Vergil/Trish) backtracks through the story, fighting the same exact bosses all over again. Not every level is exactly the same per se, but it's enough to grate on most players, especially since the pacing slows down a bit near the end. To unlock Dante, you'll have to play as Nero, and to unlock Trish, you'll have to play as Lady for a while. It's not that this system is bad per se because of how strong the combat systems are, it's just odd, as it feels like Capcom rushed its development a bit. The boss fights themselves are challenging and enjoyable, but having to do them all over again (or more, once you hit a gauntlet-like area at the end) is a bummer. The same goes for trekking through locales you've already seen at length. Having said all that, the juice is worth the squeeze, even more-so than before because of the new playstyles. While Nero operated like a handicapped Dante in the original edition, Vergil, Trish, and Lady have all cemented their places into the pantheon of Devil May Cry, to the point where I would love to see at least one of them (if not all) return in a future iteration. Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition reaffirms the series' status as the current king of the action genre. It may not fix some of the blemishes inherent to the game's campaign, but the new characters and styles are fantastic, and will have players creating combo videos for years to come. With respect to DmC and everything it accomplished, this is the Devil May Cry I want to see in the future, Capcom. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Devil May Cry review photo
Real Dante returns
It wasn't until I played the very first Devil May Cry game that I knew I was an action fan. I must have beaten it five times at launch, pouring through every facet over weeks, perfecting my frame-by-frame combat abilities -- ...

Review in Progress: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

Jun 19 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month)Released: June 19, 2015 (Early Access), June 23, 2015 Picking up directly where the last campaign left off, the first quest of Heavensward is located in the Coerthas Central Highlands, directing you to Ishgard. Yep, you heard that right -- it continues the story of the core game, so you'll need to complete the main campaign (ending with "Before the Dawn") and reach level 50 first. Newer players will find at least double the experience from the original vanilla quests to help boost them up a bit. According to Square Enix, the new Heavensward story is roughly 50 hours, and based on my pace so far in at 10, that's fairly accurate. It's about the same length as the original game, which is quite a feat, and about the sweet spot for a campaign in my mind. There's so much other stuff to do to keep you busy at this point. The flow of the process is to get from levels 50 to 60 with mostly story quests, which has worked out for the most part with my first character -- so far, I'm level 53 and counting. I decided to take on the leveling process with my trusty Paladin, who would be able to jump into queues at a moment's notice. Most classes have a handful of new abilities, and in the Paladin's case, there are five in total. I've acquired one so far -- the power to use a pinch block ability to give him some extra durability. There are a few new combo abilities that mix up your rotation quite a bit, as well as a few tweaks (like an accuracy buff to Shield Oath). It's just enough to keep you on your toes and get you interested in leveling without making things too tricky. Ishgard is the new capital city and the expansion hosts nine new locations, all of which are much larger than the original zones in A Realm Reborn. This is mostly because they now support flying mounts, a brand new mechanic in Heavensward. You can't just fly right off the bat, though -- you'll have to attune to each zone through a combination of locating aether and completing key quests. The idea is that you'll have fully explored the area by the time you're done, opening up a more vertical approach later on. [embed]294029:59024:0[/embed] It sounds like it could be annoying, but you'll get a compass item that will help you find said aether currents with instructions that aren't too vague and aren't on-the-nose either. It's a fun mechanic that reminds me a lot of the same design philosophies found in Guild Wars 2. Some of the currents are even built around jumping puzzles. Flying isn't as glorious as in, say, Aion, but it's very fun to soar about when tracking down hunt targets. I can see Square Enix doing a lot of cool things with future updates like hidden areas and quests; there's some of that already now. Speaking of flying, your personal Chocobo will allow you to do just that at a certain point in the story, so everyone can easily get on track and enjoy the ride. Having said that, the PlayStation 4 version is starting to show its age already. Although this is launch so there's lots more people concentrated in specific areas, the frame rate crawls a bit more than it used to in vanilla Realm Reborn, especially since most of these zones are so much bigger. It's not game-breaking, but it is odd. The PS4 was previously a powerhouse and nearly on par with the PC. I haven't tested it for that long, but the newly minted DirectX 11 engine on PC (that also released today) is drastically better than ever before, alleviating nearly all of my concerns. I'll provide more information on this in the future. The quality of the story is improved overall, drawing from what the development team learned from all of the superior updates. It deals with a thousand-year conflict between Ishgard and Dravania. I'm interested in seeing where this goes, and I'll provide a spoiler-free update when I complete it. The actual quests haven't been any better or worse than A Realm Reborn, and so far, the theme of the expansion seems to be "more of a good thing, without re-inventing the wheel." There are two starting zones to alleviate the congestion, which have worked, on top of the fact that roughly half of the post-level-50 community is going back to the old content with the new jobs anyway. As for other content, there are a handful of new dungeons, one of which I've tried out already called Dusk Vigil. It's about on par with the recent additions in the newer updates. That is to say they're very flashy, filled with their own lore bits, and while they cut down on exploration quite a bit, they're all designed to be completed casually with the occasional peppering of a challenge. The pacing is spot on, and they don't drag like a few of the vanilla dungeons. The same goes for the first hard mode trial (read: group instanced boss) I've encountered, which features a really badass bug that I don't want to spoil here. Suffice to say, it's a little more interesting than the initial Primals you meet in A Realm Reborn. Several other classes have gotten a few major shakeups, like the Bard, who now has a DPS-based Limit Break, and the Black Mage, which must stay within Ley Lines, a magical circle, to gain extra damage by way of haste. Every class now has a unique level-three Limit Break animation, which is great. All of these changes help make your job feel more unique and make Final Fantasy XIV a more well-rounded MMO as a whole. Switching to my other jobs for a few moments felt different, especially the Bard. You can really notice even just a few extra skills in dungeon runs. As for the three new jobs, I had a chance to try out Dark Knight, but there's also the Astrologian and Machinist. Unlocking them is as easy as reaching Ishgard and talking to a specific quest starter in town, then doing a 10-minute quest for each -- that's it! They all start at level 30, and come equipped with a few pieces of gear and roughly 10 skills each at first. It's perfect, as there's just enough there to give you plenty to do right away, but not so much that you're overwhelmed. While I need more time to test them, I think they all bring something unique to the table, and I love the Dark Knight's risk-reward mechanic. It's the freshest take on tanking yet. Other extras that I still need to dig into include the all new Au Ra race, the DirectX11 visual upgrade on PC, new hunt targets, a more comprehensive loot system for raids, the power to queue for dungeons with less than five players, Free Company (guild) upgrades like Workshops and Airships, crafting upgrades, Bismarck and Ravana as new Primals, more Triple Triad cards, a future new Frontlines PVP map, an all-new Relic questline set to debut in 3.1, and a new Alexander raid, which will unlock at a later date. Stay tuned as I continue to play through Heavensward, work my way up to level 60, and try out the new classes. Only then will I provide my full review for the expansion.+ [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Final Fantasy XIV review photo
Par for the heavens
The story of how Square Enix turned Final Fantasy XIV around is still incredible to me. I always tell people about playing it at E3 in 2010 for the very first time, pre-Realm Reborn, and how it was one of the least fun MMOs I...

Star Ocean photo
SO5 producer on how new game came to be
During an interview with Destructoid today, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness producer Shuichi Kobayashi intimated the series was in a state of upheaval after the launch of Star Ocean 4. Kobayashi told me "nobody would ...

Just Cause 3 somehow makes explosions easier than ever before

Jun 16 // Brett Makedonski
Immediately after beginning, fellow editor Jordan Devore tethered three grapples to the crotch on a statue of an oppressive ruler, pulled it until the entire thing crumbled to pieces (dick tater, am I right?), hooked the statue's head to a helicopter, and flew it off a cliff to a fiery death. Yep, Just Cause 3 is pretty fucking wonderful. The third installment in Avalanche's over-the-top action thriller franchise has a plot, but you wouldn't know it from what we played. Now that he has a few kills under his belt, Rico's returned to the Mediterranean-inspired area that he left as a child to overthrow an evil dictator. Our sandbox was more concerned with defying physics with the parachute and grappling hook, and using the wingsuit to glide far over the land and sea alike. Ironically, the wingsuit moments provided a nice touch of tranquility as we floated over the gorgeous landscape. From that high up, everything looked so serene and peaceful -- it was almost impossible to believe it's the work of an oppressive regime. That was immediately cut short when the next thought was "this needs more explosions." Because Just Cause 3 prioritizes the ridiculous over the believable, Rico is a one-man demolition crew and his supply never wanes. Avalanche has equipped him with a never-ending supply of C4, meaning that explosions are never more than a second or two away. What's the best way to dismantle this factory or to put this bridge out of commission? Our good friend C4 does the trick nicely. A lot of the design decisions were seemingly made as a result of Avalanche shrugging its shoulders. Regarding infinite C4, a studio representative told us "Why not?" Likewise, a new helicopter stunt trick where you hang upside down from the bottom was implemented because "That's just cool." After playing Just Cause 3 for a half hour, it appears that the developer put anything in the game that would make for a good time. It's certainly not a bad direction to take. Another point of emphasis for Avalanche pertains to traversal. The developer wanted to create a world that's easy and fun to move around. That's why the wingsuit, grappling hook, and parachute seemingly offer an infinite amount of momentum -- because slowing to a crawl just isn't as thrilling. It's also the reason why cars can be saved in garages and then recalled anytime you're near one. Hey, if you're going to take the discreet way around Just Cause 3, you may as well do it in style. Regardless of method, getting around Just Cause 3 may take a bit longer than you'd think. Avalanche developers tell us that the world is at least as big as Just Cause 2, but the layout's inherently different. The third installment will feature lots of islands, archipelagos, and little towns (Just Cause 2 kind of did too, but we're just going with what we're told). Also, Avalanche says that all the towns feel varied from one another and have their own sense of culture, so to speak. We wouldn't know a ton about that, because we were restricted to the first area of the game. Zooming out on the map, we could see the other two regions. They were significantly larger, and, as we were assured, significantly more difficult. When that's all available, players will get to experience what might be the developer's biggest goal: To create a perfect flow through the world. When all is said and done, Avalanche wants you to be able to flawlessly travel anywhere you want, however you want, and have a blast doing it. While it was nice seeing first-hand that Just Cause 3 nails all the things you'd expect Just Cause to nail, it was almost disappointing that the demo was completely unstructured. Okay, the sandbox element works great, but what does it have to offer players who want a reason to press forward? We weren't given a glimpse at that. Hopefully it's as competent as the free reign component is. Really, the takeaway from our time with Just Cause 3 is blowing up a lot of stuff makes for an enthralling time. It's not a revelation necessarily, so much as it is a good reminder. As we concluded the demo by demolishing a water tower that towered over a military base, a rep for the developer told us with a half-grin on his face "we're not really into subtlety." That's great, Avalanche, because neither are we.
Just Cause preview photo
That's saying something
So many preview events obsess themselves with presenting a carefully crafted slice of game. Here's a chunk of gameplay that puts the title's best foot forward. Don't deviate too far off the path, stick to the rules, and a P...

Transformers photo
Later this year on everything but Wii U
After Best Buy and a leak spilled the beans, we now have official confirmation from Activision -- Platinum Games will develop Transformers: Devastation, an upcoming action project based on the Transformers universe. It ...

It's actually happening! photo
It's actually happening!
Wow. When a release exists so far in the realm of improbability that it becomes a joke -- like The Last Guardian or Agent or Half-Life 3 -- and then, bam, E3 gets a damn car battery to the gonads as one of these things actua...

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