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Pokemon Scarlet And Violet - The Hidden Treasure Of Area Zero Review In Progress

Thu, 09/21/2023 - 23:12

Editor's Note: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet's expansion comes in two parts and can't be purchased individually. Because of this, we've decided to share our impressions of Part One and will update it with a full review of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero when both parts are available. The score attached to this review is subject to change based on this.

The fan reception to Scarlet and Violet's launch varied wildly within the community. Every Pokemon fan seems to know what's best for the series, and they were happy to share their opinions on Scarlet and Violet with anyone who would listen. Some fans decried the bugs, the struggling frame rate, and other technical problems, while others appreciated the new mechanics, open world, and story enough to make peace with these issues. Whichever side you fell on, the community was split as always.

However, the further we get away from release, the more the community cools off. And those who've stuck around for the long-term, namely competitive players, have dug their claws deep into the meta. This is where Pokemon is at its best, and The Teal Mask bolsters that side of the series through new and returning Pokemon, more TMs and moves, and some welcome quality-of-life changes. This is all wrapped up in a rich new region with a heartfelt story. While The Teal Mask doesn't do much to address Scarlet and Violet's poor technical performance, its changes and additions offer an exciting first part in a larger expansion.

The Teal Mask is billed as a class field trip. A handful of students are randomly selected to study abroad in a new rural Japan-inspired region called Kitakami. Your character is among the lucky few, and you're whisked away to the countryside. It's a punchy introduction that gets you to the new area quickly and has you catching new and returning Pokemon right away.

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NBA 2K24 Review - Breaking Ankles, Breaking Banks

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 18:18

Some sports game franchises often have their problems attributed to a lack of competition in their respective genres. Fans will proclaim that certain sports sim series would be better if only they were up against a similar product when players went looking to buy one. NBA 2K hasn't had a consistent competitor for most of the last decade, and it's been a reliably fun simulation of basketball regardless. That is still largely the case in NBA 2K24, but the eminently enjoyable on-court sim is hampered more than ever by the game's pay-to-win economy.

In NBA 2K24, the mainstays of MyCareer, MyTeam, and MyNBA return, and even last year's Jordan Challenge gets a pseudo-sequel in Mamba Moments, shifting the spotlight from the GOAT to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. But Mamba Moments winds up emblematic of some of 2K24's issues: It's noticeably less interesting and less involved than that which came before it. Maybe some of that is owed to the fact that Bryant's career achievements can't quite stack up to Jordan's, so the figurative ceiling for a mode that lets you recreate some of his greatest career moments isn't going to be nearly as mesmerizing.

Mamba Moments is a fun addition to the game, but it can't stack up to last year's Jordan Challenge.

But even then, Mamba Moments lacks some of the attention and care this studio normally pours into its new toys. Unlike Jordan Challenge, Mamba Moments doesn't feature interview segments with players, coaches, and broadcasters who were pivotal to each chapter of the Jordan Challenge's story. Bryant's legacy mode doesn't get the same documentary-style treatment, and only about half as many games--seven--are playable this time. That makes it a shorter and less robust mode, though other fun details like era-appropriate presentation and well-researched in-game commentary remain. I was impressed when the color commentators started talking about a travel delay the Lakers suffered due to inclement weather some 20 years ago. As ever, this studio has done its homework, and it shows.

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Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review - The Songbird Sings

Wed, 09/20/2023 - 16:00

The appeal of Night City was in its impressive scope and dazzling visuals, which painted a bleak neon-lit future dictated by technological exploitation and unfettered capitalism. Within that were tragic, human stories to pull at your heartstrings and a whole lot of violent action often perpetuated by its gameplay systems. But what if you took the best parts of Cyberpunk 2077 and condensed them into a tight, cohesive package for a heart-wrenching political action thriller? That's what Phantom Liberty does in an expansion that seamlessly fits into the original game.

Phantom Liberty showcases the full potential of Cyberpunk 2077 with a new, captivating story about the faults of loyalty, reckoning with your past and its consequences, and self-preservation in a tech-fueled dystopia. These are familiar themes, for sure, but Phantom Liberty is intimate, raw, and earnest--all told through the lens of a strong cast of characters elevated by poignant writing and delivered through sharp performances. It's able to execute on these narrative ambitions because, more often than not, the missions that drive the plot feature top-tier action set pieces that let the revamped RPG mechanics sing, then break the pace with a variety of tense and well-crafted non-combat scenarios, which gives the experience a constant and steady momentum.

More than anything, Phantom Liberty goes above and beyond with not one, but two finales that are wildly different yet equally stunning--hell, you could even argue it's three when counting the added ending for the original story. It's a fantastic mix of nearly everything you could ask of Cyberpunk. And after taking 30 hours to experience all of its content--both main story routes, the new ending, all the side missions and gigs, and more--I can't imagine Cyberpunk 2077 without Phantom Liberty.

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Mortal Kombat 1 Review - New Era, Familiar Kombat

Tue, 09/19/2023 - 19:39

NetherRealm Studios had a tall order to fill with Mortal Kombat 1. As the game is positioned as the franchise's second lore restart in 12 years, the team had to find ways to make this new era of Mortal Kombat feel as fresh and new as the storyline demanded, all while maintaining the high bar of quality the fanbase has come to expect over the series' 30-year lifespan. Mortal Kombat 1 mostly accomplishes this goal through fun new mechanics and an unpredictable storyline, but the overall package lacks the depth needed to make this a masterpiece.

Mortal Kombat 1 picks up right where MK11 Aftermath left off, with Liu Kang ascending to godhood. As the Keeper Of Time, he is able to create a new universe as he sees fit, and his creation puts familiar faces on new and interesting paths. Raiden, for instance, is no longer the all-powerful Thunder God; instead, he is a simple farmer from a small village. Every character sees some kind of fundamental change, though some are less noticeable than others.

This results in a playable roster that features only returning characters from the series' past; there's not a single brand-new fighter to be seen. However, because of the game's narrative focus, each character feels like they're new--or at the very least has some new elements to their style--which creates the sense of discovery normally reserved for brand-new faces. MK1 takes existing names and reinvents them and it's a novel idea that works really well across the majority of the characters, though some don't feel as revolutionary as they could have.

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Lies Of P Review - No Strings Attached

Wed, 09/13/2023 - 16:00

There's no shortage of Souls-likes vying for our attention, but only one can claim to put a dark and twisted spin on the everlasting story of Pinocchio. Developed by South Korean studio Neowiz Games, Lies of P presents a very loose retelling of Italian author Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. This grim reimagining, combined with a striking Belle Epoque-infused setting, ensures that Lies of P's aesthetic stands apart from other Souls-likes, including From Software's own. Bloodborne is still a clear inspiration, as its tonal atmosphere and combat design call to mind the cosmic horror masterpiece, leading to it feeling overly derivative at times. Still, Neowiz also implements just enough originality for Lies of P to eke out its own identity, even if it's as thin as a puppet string.

The story sees you take on the role of P, a lifelike puppet who wakes up amidst the carnage of a puppet-led invasion of the fictional city of Krat. If you're familiar with Pinocchio, you'll likely recognize character names such as the puppet-maker Geppetto and the talking cricket Gemini. Their names are usually where the similarities end, however--either in relation to the book or any Disney-produced retellings. For one, Gemini isn't an anthropomorphic insect but rather a tiny puppet caged in a lantern on P's belt, acting as both a guide and source of light. Similarly, characters like the Fox, Cat, and Alidoro are reimagined as common criminals and thieves, who don their respective animal masks in order to achieve both anonymity and infamy.

It's this unique take on a familiar tale that makes Lies of P such an intriguing proposition, so it's hard not to feel disappointed when the story doesn't kick into gear until close to its final act. For the most part, you're tasked with visiting various locations where you'll need to either rescue someone or defeat a specific enemy before returning to the game's central hub. Without an overarching goal to propel you forward, it feels unfocused and only attains a sense of momentum in its final few hours once the antagonist reveals themself. There's very little to latch onto before this point, outside of a curiosity to see where the narrative could potentially go. It's not a case where the game is holding back and being intentionally opaque either. The story is predominantly told via expositional dumps and there's little sense of mystery as a result. There are interesting moments dotted throughout but they're fleeting, and I don't think it's too harsh to expect more considering the source material.

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Sea Of Stars Review - Playing With Power

Fri, 09/08/2023 - 20:55

At the risk of sounding cliche, Sea Of Stars made me feel like a kid again. And I really mean that; while playing this game, I warped back to an era where I'd turn the TV to channel 4 to get my Nintendo games to appear on the screen before I'd dive into games like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. Developer Sabotage Studio's ability to conjure the feelings of the past in a modern game astounds me, but it's obvious a lot of hard work and due diligence has paid off here. Sea Of Stars reflects the best of a bygone era, and it does so with a quality that makes it stand out not only among the giants of the past, but also among those in the present day.

Sea Of Stars is a turn-based RPG and a prequel to The Messenger, Sabotage Studio's other retro-tinged romp that focused on 2D Metroidvania elements. The story follows Zale and Valere, two children of destiny who train to become Solstice Warriors, aka mighty fighters who wield the power of the sun and moon. Zale represents the sun, while Valere takes on the powers of the moon. Right away, the game establishes that these two will be inseparable for the entire adventure, but it allows players to choose which of the two party members they want to take the lead, though the choice only affects which character is at the front of the line during the adventure. I like this flexibility, as it gives the player a small bit of agency in an otherwise linear story experience.

Zale and Valere take on a years-long struggle between the Solstice Warriors and The Fleshmancer, a standard RPG villain who wants to take the world for themselves by any means necessary, which for them means summoning powerful demons and unleashing them on the innocent. The villains are a colorful bunch, ranging from a shadowy quartet named One, Two, Three, and Four who are pulling strings behind the scenes, to a necromancer named Romaya who makes creatures from spare bones and flesh piles during our battle. While the story does take some turns I didn't see coming, for the most part I was able to call out story beats before they happened. I still enjoyed seeing them play out, but the predictability dulled their impact.

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Starfield Review - To Infinity, But Not Beyond

Thu, 08/31/2023 - 17:00

It's hard to ponder the infinite possibilities of space and not get romantic about it. Our imagination of the cosmos has taken many artistic forms, and the hard science behind the greatest discoveries on the final frontier has been just as enthralling. It's this sense of wonder that makes the prospect of Starfield so intriguing--even more so than if it were just Bethesda Game Studios' next major RPG. However, it's best to cast aside that love and fascination with space because, at its core, Starfield follows a very familiar formula without meaningfully engaging with its setting or the gameplay systems therein.

Starfield is undoubtedly impressive in scale, from the sheer number of star systems and planets you can explore to the multitude of gameplay mechanics that tie the experience together. But once you start to see how all these big ideas are interconnected from a narrative perspective and technical standpoint, the illusion of a grand cosmic voyage shatters and the veneer starts to wear thin. And so, somewhere along my 55 or so hours spent playing Starfield, I dropped the notion of finding that wondrous space adventure and accepted Starfield for what it is: a shooter-focused RPG in the traditional Bethesda framework that has its wild and fun moments but one that's ultimately a mile wide and an inch deep.

Starfield's main quest is the most emblematic of the game's shortcomings. Despite romanticizing the idea of taking to the stars to explore the great unknown, these narrative ambitions fall into shallow stories that undersell the spacefaring premise. You start as a lowly miner extracting resources for a faceless corporation and within minutes, come in contact with an "Artifact" that activates mysterious visions of something bigger out in the galaxy--a sort of leaving-the-vault moment like in Fallout. You're then shuffled into the ranks of a small organization called Constellation, whose sole purpose is to chase these Artifacts and uncover their purpose. With the handful of characters who make up the group, Starfield tries to instill personality into its story, but consistently weak writing and generic dialogue means these characters--who do have a few interesting moments along the way--largely fall flat.

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Armored Core 6: Fires Of Rubicon Review - Mechlike

Wed, 08/23/2023 - 16:00

Rubicon 3, the setting for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, is a far cry from the likes of Lordran and The Lands Between, immediately establishing a striking sci-fi aesthetic that's unlike anything From Software has created in the past decade. Lessons learned from the studio's most recent output are evident in Armored Core VI, but don't go in expecting this to be Dark Souls with mechs. The sixth numbered entry in the series is a decidedly Armored Core game, meshing exciting mech-on-mech action with the highly customizable assembly of your giant robot. It's a game for the die-hards but also represents the most approachable game in the series thus far--one that sees From Software return to its roots in triumphant fashion.

Though Rubicon 3 might be able to sustain human life, it's still an incredibly hostile place. Occupying corporations wage war against each other, local resistance fighters, and a governmental space force, for control of the planet and its valuable resources. Dilapidated cities, arid deserts, and frozen wastelands serve as the battlefields for mechanized warfare, as missiles, bullets, and laser cannons frequently collide with steel. Even the planet itself is imposing. Giant metallic structures stretch thousands of feet into the sky and then spread outwards like branches, each one carpeted in blinking lights that replace the stars they're obscuring. When you do catch a glimpse of the sky, you'll notice pockets of the planet's atmosphere burning red like fire.

The reason Rubicon 3 is such a hotbed of action is because it's home to Coral. This mysterious substance is immensely valuable, causing a number of extraplanetary corporations to descend upon the planet in an all-out war to harness it. You enter the fray as an independent mercenary employed by the enigmatic Handler Walter, who orders you to complete jobs on behalf of whichever faction is willing to pay. Referred to only as 621 or your callsign, Raven, the story in Armored Core VI has an oddly impersonal feel. Much of the narrative is delivered through audio on a static screen, with nary a human face in sight. Being a silent protagonist also makes it difficult to escape the feeling that you're a puppet for those pulling the strings. This is seemingly intentional, although the story never quite delves deep enough into this feeling of detachment to say anything meaningful. Most of the characters are fairly cliched, even if the voice acting is generally entertaining, and while there are interesting aspects to the lore, the story is ultimately disappointing without ever being particularly bad.

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Fort Solis Review - Strife On Mars

Tue, 08/22/2023 - 19:00

Put a few humans in outer space for a story set in the future and the result always seems to be that nothing will go their way. That's once again the broad strokes of this latest space thriller, Fort Solis, but the intrigue, as ever, is in the details. Developer Fallen Leaf does a good job of hiding the satisfying answers to its central mysteries up to the very end, which makes its story consistently absorbing even as some of its gameplay elements betray its own Hollywood-inspired intentions.

Fort Solis is a third-person adventure game that tells a story reminiscent of Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's slow, sometimes to a fault, and more concerned with its message and themes than action set-pieces. That doesn't mean it's a low-stakes tale. On the contrary, the secrets tucked away in Fort Solis are existential, but it's expressed through the eyes of a small cast of interesting characters whom you'll get to know over the game's five-hour story.

Fort Solis has AAA aspirations, and it shows quite clearly in a few ways. For one, the game looks gorgeous. Built in Unreal Engine and presenting gameplay in an over-the-shoulder style, it would be easy to mistake this indie for the next big-budget cinematic thriller. That's further solidified by its exceptional cast headlined by Roger Clark and Troy Baker, but the complete cast of about 10 or so people is just as well-written and with great performances to match. Clark's Leary and Julia Brown's Jessica Appleton do well to color in the world in the first hour, including their own characters who would otherwise be amorphous Mars transplants in drab uniforms.

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Immortals Of Aveum Review - Run And Gun

Tue, 08/22/2023 - 05:00

At first, Immortals of Aveum pleasantly surprised me, putting a lot more stock into its narrative themes of environmentalism than I expected its wartime story to cover. The focus for this first-person shooter, however, is still on blasting baddies, albeit with a variety of bullet-inspired spells instead of traditional firearms. And although all the shooting is exciting for the first half of the game, it becomes increasingly annoying in the latter half when firefights get longer and more frequent. These shoot-outs interrupt the story's momentum by dragging it out, curating an irritating sense of repetitive tedium.

Though you're slinging spells in Immortals, the magic you're casting is more cosmetic flavoring to what is otherwise a fairly traditional military shooter. Red magic unleashes with all the concussive force of a shotgun while green magic slowly ramps with the heated ferocity of a light machine gun and blue magic slices through the air with the precision of a bolt-action rifle. You switch between them at the push of the button, though annoyingly only in a cycle of blue to red to green and back to blue. There's no way to immediately leapfrog to the magic you need.

The lack of a quality-of-life feature as mainstream as a weapon wheel is quite noticeable in Immortals, which sees you frequently switch between your three equipped styles of magic. Not only does each color of magic fire differently, many enemies are armored against all but one color, meaning you need to oftentimes switch to a specific color when focusing on a new target. Early into the game, when you're only fighting a handful of enemies at a time, this drawback isn't that noticeable. But once you get far enough into Immortals' story, you find yourself fighting wave after wave of dozen-odd enemies, each of which requires a specific color of magic to defeat. And having to cycle through the animation of summoning green magic just to have the option to switch to the blue magic I need can be costly in as fast-paced a shooter as Immortals, where enemies hit hard and nimbly move about the battlefield. A carefully lined-up shot may no longer be there by the time you switch to the needed color.

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Madden NFL 24 Review - One Yard Forward, Two Yards Back

Mon, 08/21/2023 - 21:41

One of my fondest memories as a football fan is Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season in 2009. As arguably the fastest player the league has ever seen, the running back forever known as CJ2K was a one-man highlight reel, turning would-be six-yard gains into 50+ yard touchdowns all season long. But if you watch those highlights, you'll find a common theme: Titans wideout Kenny Britt was so often downfield blocking, creating vital running lanes through which CJ would weave with his unrivaled quickness. Britt is an unsung hero of CJ's historic season. In Madden 24, it's been great to find players can now enjoy similarly helpful downfield blocking like never before. This fix to the running game is precisely the sort of tangible improvement I hope for with every new Madden game. But examples such as this are overshadowed by a lack of major additions to Madden's suite of features and modes.

That improvement to blocking has been a minor bullet point of EA's marketing in the run-up to release and is known as the Tactical Blocking System, essentially referring to an overhaul of how the AI linemen and other blockers target which defenders to remove from the play. This is easily my favorite new toy in Madden as its changes are apparent and make the ground game, or running after the catch, much more lifelike than before. But the publisher didn't hype up this change as much as others. Instead, EA buried this highlight behind two returning features: minigames and Superstar mode.

In neither case is their return nearly as helpful or interesting as some of the on-field tweaks. In the case of minigames, I find their return to be uneven at best. On one hand, a full Training Camp simulation that gives Franchise players a faster track to player improvements is at least rewarding, but the minigames themselves range from fun and clever to boring and simple. With bronze, silver, and gold medals correlating to XP earned for the player, it's worth playing for the XP attached to those awards, but some of the minigames are much better or worse than others.

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Blasphemous 2 Review - Unholy Pilgrimage

Thu, 08/17/2023 - 18:51

Whether it's a giant woman willfully letting the Children of Moonlight deglove one of her hands; a bearded man leaking golden honey out of gaping wounds in his palms, face, and back; or a vendor that's simply an arm protruding from a towering pile of goods, developer The Game Kitchen has a knack for creating surreal pixel art imagery. Blasphemous 2 sees the Seville-based studio delve further into Andalusian and Spanish culture, iconography, and folklore to concoct a gothic, quasi-Catholic world that's as gruesome as it is fascinating. Inspired by the religious paintings of Francisco Goya and the architecture of cities like Seville and Cadiz, Blasphemous 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, mixing its unique and harrowing aesthetic with a gameplay amalgam of Metroidvanias and Souls-likes. Where the first game faltered, however, its sequel makes significant improvements, resulting in a thrilling adventure that doesn't run out of steam.

As solid as the original game was, monotony did seep into its latter half due to a lack of variety--with one-dimensional combat limited by a single weapon--and some frustrating platforming. Thankfully, Blasphemous 2 rectifies both of these issues by introducing a robust combat system in tandem with more varied traversal that doesn't rely on an overabundance of spike traps. You'll still encounter the occasional pitfall intended to punish mistimed leaps, but plunging onto a bed of jagged spikes doesn't result in instant death anymore. This is a crucial change since an expanded repertoire of abilities has resulted in more demanding platforming, yet you're unlikely to feel disheartened if you do make a mistake while traversing this labyrinthine world.

When it comes to story, Blasphemous 2 is as obfuscated as its predecessor. Much of its heady lore can be interpreted from dialogue with friendly NPCs and loquacious item descriptions, but if you're anything like me, you'll need an in-depth lore video to fully grasp it all. Nevertheless, the setup is rather simple. Picking up right where Blasphemous' Wounds of Eventide DLC left off, Blasphemous 2 begins with the return of the all-powerful deity known as The Miracle, who is prophesied to give birth to a so-called miracle child. This forces The Penitent One to awaken from his final resting place in order to slay the unholy newborn and every other grotesque monstrosity in his path. Along the way, myriad NPCs will shine a faint light on the mysterious new world the Penitent One finds himself in and its hidden secrets, but only if you choose to seek out these ancillary threads. Much like the inscrutable fables of From Software, you'll only take out as much as you're willing to put in. This style of storytelling isn't for everyone, but even if you can't or aren't willing to comprehend all of its machinations, the tales you do fully engage with are likely to engross.

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Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew Review - Spectacul-arrrr

Wed, 08/16/2023 - 14:00

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an ideal summer movie. The franchise went on to become single-mindedly obsessed with its breakout star, Captain Jack Sparrow, but the first movie was an agile, lightly spooky swashbuckling adventure. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew shares that movie's spirit of goofy haunted slapstick with a heart and real dramatic stakes, and blends it with an expertly crafted stealth-strategy campaign. It all comes together into one of my favorite games of the year.

Shadow Gambit centers around the Red Marley, a living, talking ghost ship with an undead crew who have fallen to the Inquisition of the Burning Maiden. You play primarily as Afia, as she revives the cursed compatriots one by one and gathers information on the hidden treasure of the Red Marley's captain, Captain Mordechai, who is conspicuously absent. The search for Mordechai's treasure is an intriguing hook that propels the plot forward and balances well against the often eccentric subplots of the individual characters.

The crew is distinctly drawn with one-of-a-kind visual attributes and backgrounds that makes discovering each team member a joy. Afia is permanently seen with a spectral sword sticking out of her chest, which she draws to eliminate enemies. Suleidy looks as if she's been partially consumed by plant-life. Pinkus is a fancy lad in a powdered wig, while Quintin the treasurer carries around his own golden skull. For a game about the undead, the personalities are just crackling with life and personality.

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Review - Thrill Of The Hunt

Mon, 08/14/2023 - 20:13

1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a horror landmark. It's gritty like no other, unflinching in its brutality, and downright terrifying as often as it wants to be. Bringing those same qualities to a video game adaptation of the movie milestone would be paramount, which is exactly what Gun Media and Sumo Nottingham have done. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (TCM) is every bit as nauseatingly tense as the classic movie, all while cleverly gamifying its scares in ways that are satisfying and built for the long haul.

Asymmetrical horror multiplayer games have been experiencing a golden age for several years now, but TCM is already my favorite of them. In TCM, a unique 4v3 setup allows each round to play out like an actual horror movie. What I didn't realize until I played it for review is that to properly balance this particular game, creating an even playing field isn't necessarily the best approach. Each round is a horror story, and its team of "victims" intentionally have the odds stacked against them, often coming down to just one Final Girl (or Guy) who might limp off the property to salvation. The high-stakes game of hide-and-seek is better for it.

A cast of five victims and five Slaughter family members, including two newly created characters who fit right into the world, make up the roster. While those playing the family have what are essentially class-based villains to pick from, the victims are closer in performance to each other, save for a special ability they each uniquely possess and starting stats that make up their various but customizable builds. As the victims start out in the basement impaled on meat hooks, the goal is simple and exciting in horror movie terms: Get the hell out of there. That encompasses first needing to climb off the hook, then unlocking an escape route, then traversing a labyrinthine and treacherous outside section no matter which of the game's three maps they're on, all while being hunted. Needless to say, survival is never easy.

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Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical Review - Worthy Of An Encore

Wed, 08/09/2023 - 15:00

I've played plenty of video games over the years that have both rewarded and punished me for the choices I've made, creating this powerful sense of agency in the narrative. Those games feel like I have a hand in shaping the outcome of the story, one in which successfully navigating a tricky conversation is empowering and not quite finding the words for a tough heart-to-heart is devastating. Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical builds on that sensation but within the three-act structure of a musical. This combination is an impressive accomplishment, and it's incredible to watch how all those choices can build on one another, culminating in a finale that you helped shape. Together, it makes Stray Gods one of the most memorable gaming experiences I've ever had.

Set within our world--but one in which there's an ounce of truth to the myths surrounding the Greek gods, titans, and their multitude of offspring--Stray Gods starts off like your typical visual novel. Conversations pause in order to present you with a multitude of dialogue options, some of which allow you to gain additional insight into other characters while others push the story forward to the next scene. Almost immediately, you have a chance to flirt with your cute best friend and kickstart one of several different romances. There's comfort in this familiarity. And then the game quickly reveals what separates itself from its contemporaries: the music.

You can adjust the settings to remove the time limit when it comes to selecting choices during songs.

You actively participate in every musical number during Stray Gods runtime, of which there are many across its three acts. Like conversations in choice-driven visual novels and RPGs, each song can branch, and the effects of your choices impact not only the direction of that particular song but every performance that succeeds it. Choices are divided into three categories--Kickass, Clever, and Charming--informing both the method by which you're trying to convince someone of something, and how a song can transform. Kickass choices are aggressive and confrontational and make songs take on a more punk rock vibe, while Clever choices are thoughtful and strategic and lean into jazz. Charming choices, on the other hand, are empathetic and caring and create a more melodious tune. Though all of the songs might begin one way, they can drastically change depending on what you choose.

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WrestleQuest Review - Not The Excellence Of Execution

Tue, 08/08/2023 - 00:44

Comedian and HBO host John Oliver once said "wrestling is better than the things you like." The same can't always be said of wrestling games, but WrestleQuest, a new role-playing game (RPG) from Mega Cat Studios, had the potential to give truth to that statement. Unfortunately, though, WrestleQuest is marred by a litany of issues. Some are directly tied to its gameplay mechanics, while others are related to its presentation. Together they mean that what could've been a promising offering for fans of wrestling has its charm wear off in a short span of time.

Your journey in WrestleQuest starts with podcast hosts regaling you of an exciting tale, one where athletes come from humble beginnings, taking on all challenges before reaching the big leagues. You're introduced to one of the main characters, the Muchacho Man Randy Santos, an obvious nod to Macho Man Randy Savage. With big goals and big dreams, Randy is joined by friends who are also seeking to prove themselves in the squared circle.

Soon thereafter, you meet Brink Logan and his siblings from the cold north. Without the pink and black motif, you might not notice that Brink is a reference to Bret "The Hitman" Hart, until he starts talking about being the "excellence of execution," along with moves alluding to the Sharpshooter and a getup akin to a mob hitman.

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The Expanse: A Telltale Series Review – Choices That Matter

Tue, 08/01/2023 - 18:25

[Editor's note: This review encompasses episodes one, two, and three of The Expanse: A Telltale Series]

Within minutes of firing up the first episode of The Expanse: A Telltale Series, you'll be faced with a series of life-or-death choices. Though some choices may seem trivial at first, nearly all of them result in "[character name] will remember that" appearing in the top-left corner of the screen, leaving you to wonder what exactly will happen if that choice comes back to bite you a few episodes later. These kinds of narrative choices and consequences are a staple of the Telltale brand and, at first glance, one might mistake The Expanse for a clone of the studio's previous games, reskinned to reflect the appropriate franchise--but this couldn't be further from the truth.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Deck Nine Games--the studio that developed Life Is Strange: True Colors and is iTelltale's co-developer for this project--has quite literally added a new dimension to the standard Telltale formula. In The Expanse, players can freely explore the three-dimensional game environment, a first for Telltale, as the studio's previous games provided very little opportunity for exploration and freedom of movement.

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Exoprimal Review - Prehistoric Warfare

Tue, 08/01/2023 - 17:49

Multiplayer games can live or die based on first impressions, with many games putting their best foot forward by immediately showing off the variety of content they have. Exoprimal takes the opposite approach, only sharing a slice of what it has to offer for the first few hours of gameplay, risking people bouncing off due to a lack of content. It holds back its best moments and more interesting missions for anyone willing to put in the work. Intense and exciting surprises await those who put in the time to reach them--something that it's well worth doing.

Exoprimal is a 5v5 shooter, except that the majority of your time will be spent shooting hordes of AI-controlled dinosaurs and not the enemy team. Players race to complete a series of objectives, culminating in a final one that sometimes has PvP elements. Most missions follow this structure, with a few special missions taking place later in the story that deviate from this formula.

The gameplay itself is primarily about fighting off hordes of dinosaurs, utilizing your suits specific loadout. The different Exosuits can drastically change the feel of combat, with damage focused suits utilizing a regular machine gun, grenade launcher, or melee weapons. The tank and healer classes each have their own weapons and feel, but with the addition of either a shield ability or healing ability. But the difference between Exosuits, like the counter-focused tank Murasame and the machine gun wielding Krieger tank, is more than enough to make each suit feel fresh in combat. All this brings a nice variety to gameplay, with the shooting itself feeling solid and the different enemies and weak points rewarding accurate shooting.

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Categories: Games

Venba Review - Tourist To Your Own Culture

Mon, 07/31/2023 - 22:28

Venba is a game that has been on my radar since its announcement trailer was released in 2020. It comes from a mainly South Asian development team, with its aesthetics, character designs, and sound design drawing its inspiration from the culture to tell a story about a South Asian family trying to reclaim and archive their own underrepresented culture after immigrating to Canada. It is an incredibly ambitious title to pursue when many video games do not try to engage with having cultures or identities outside of the white/western represented.

Venba is about trying to figure out your own identity (or sometimes lack thereof) in an all-new environment. This new environment is not kind or accommodating to people who are not considered white, and if you are underrepresented from a culture of color you are swayed and forced to assimilate, leaving what made you unique behind to survive this new place.

The game starts off in 1988, when Venba and Paavalan, the two main characters, are arguing right after Venba wakes up. Venba wants to make her husband Paavalan lunch, while Paavalan says he will skip lunch so as not to bother her. Since Paavalan is not the best at cooking, Venba gets up and heads straight to the kitchen. This is where the main gameplay mechanics of the game start. You will be making idli, a fluffy rice cake from lentil batter.

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Categories: Games

Disney Illusion Island Review

Thu, 07/27/2023 - 13:00

Among the best-remembered Disney games are Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion on the Genesis/Mega Drive. In an era when you could expect most Disney games to be of pretty good quality (with some outliers--I'm looking at you, Mickey Mousecapade and Fantasia), these two titles stood out for being solid platformers with fun mechanics that also integrated that trademark Disney whimsy and wonder into the mix. The developers of the cartoon-themed action platforming title Disney Illusion Island have said that it chose the word "Illusion" for its title because it conveys a sense of high-quality adventure based on those games' legacy. That's a pretty high bar to shoot for and there are a few major flaws that keep it just short of legendary greatness. But, in many ways, Illusion Island manages to hit the mark.

The premise of Illusion Island sees Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy getting invited to an off-the-grid location for a charming summer picnic. This turns out to be a ruse to bring them to the island of Monoth, which is reeling from having three magical tomes stolen. The cartoon crew needs to recover these books to both prevent impending disaster and get that tasty outdoor outing they were promised. It's a simplistic story but it's presented well enough: Important events are depicted in lengthy animated cutscenes, while more gameplay-focused happenings are usually delivered through text boxes. If there's any real fault in the narrative, it's that it often tries to be a bit too witty.

Ultimately, though, the plot is just a means to set our heroes off on an adventure through Monoth, a bright and colorful world featuring a multitude of different biomes ranging from forests and farmland to cloudy, star-studded gardens to mechanical mailrooms to ocean depths. Everything's connected through a massive but tightly-designed map in a way that keeps load times to a minimum and allows one area to visually flow seamlessly into the next.

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Categories: Games